SunDial is an iPhone app that uses GPS to lead families at a local science center on a geocaching adventure in which each cache contains a learning module. The app used the map function to lead families to the cache, and then allowed interactive responses to questions about the module.

This study points to a number of useful considerations around the design of museum technologies that support informal science education. Using handhelds to breach the boundary of the museum allowed us to create engaging ISE experiences that would be difficult to replicate in most museums. Mobility also supported the use of navigation as both an educational tool in and of itself and as a way to provide both guidance and autonomy to learners.

However, many designs for mobile technology assume the device belongs to a single user; this assumption is often false in museum and educational settings, and as we saw, when handhelds are used by groups, issues of access, control, and sharing of the technology arise that can affect learners’ autonomy and engagement. Designs can also err by requiring too much attention—as Sundial did, through presenting its instructions as text—which can harm engagement.

More generally, our experience demonstrates the value of explicitly using pedagogical guidelines, such as the recent NSF and NRC reports on supporting informal science education and the New York State Curriculum and Instruction Guide in Science, as resources in the design of these technologies. We tried hard to tie the specific goals and features of the device to objectives and activities specified by these guidelines, and although we do not have direct measures of learning, we do have good evidence that the technology supported engagement with informal science education. Our experience suggests that museums, science centers, and other venues that promote informal science education might also benefit from careful attention to these guidelines when designing exhibits and technologies to support them.


Megan Halpern, Dan Cosley, Max Evjen, Michael Lin, Steven Tseou, Erica Horowitz, Tejas Peesapati, Geri Gay


Halpern, M. K., Evjen, Cosley, Lin, M., Tseou, S., Horowitz, E., Peesapati, T., Gay, G. (2011). Sundial: Embodied informal science education using GPS. Mediekultur, 27(50), 48-65. [ MedieKultur | PDF ]

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