Bee Ready to Play

An introduction to the new bee-themed interactive game at The MERL

In the summer of 2022, PhD student Shauna Walker started designing new content for the museum’s table-top interactive as part of her research placement. The project aimed to incorporate more opportunities for visitors to think about the relationship between sustainability and farming and we thought the interactive was a great way to approach this topic. In this blog post, Shauna talks about how she completed the project.

Bee Friendly: Introducing the Museum’s New Interactive Table

My brief in designing the new interactive was to to consider how to use the museum’s existing collections to explore a relevant subject, whilst also adapting to the technological limits of the table. A week into the project, I discovered that the museum holds The Cowan Bee collection which includes over 2000 books and pamphlets as well as some excellent bee illustrations. I decided that this would be a great example of the environmental impact of farming since agriculture is one of the main causes of declining bee numbers across the globe. Bees are key pollinators which means that without them our food systems would potentially collapse. With this in mind, the new interactive has been designed to highlight both the cultural and ecological value of bees within human society.

The management of bees / Bagster, Samuel, 1800-1835. From the Cowan Bee Collection at The MERL

In the end, I decided that the interactive should be written using a question-and-answer format. The questions focus on different scenarios and dilemmas which are at the centre of debates on maintaining bee populations. With this format, the goal of the interactive is to shed light on the conflicting interests and priorities of different social groups. For example, how can farmers make the transition towards more bee friendly practices whilst also ensuring that farms remain productive? And how can we embrace technology whilst also prioritising biodiversity.

This was a fascinating topic to research but at times writing the new content wasn’t always easy. This was largely because the table is operated by push buttons rather than a touchscreen and there is a limited amount of available space for text and images. To help me work through these issues, I ran a focus group with MERL volunteers who offered some incredibly useful feedback on how to make sure that the table was accessible, educational, and engaging. After the focus group, I decided that a useful way to appeal to a wide range of age groups was to include an optional QR code so that visitors could choose whether they would like to learn more about the topic.

a group of people stand around a round table with a game projected onto it from above in the Our Country Lives gallery at The MERL
Volunteers trying out the interactive game in Our Country Lives as part of the focus group activity

Even though the interactive sets out to educate visitors, the main goal is to ultimately give visitors a chance to express their own opinions and allow them to feel personally connected to eco-friendly agriculture and gardening. The table reflects The MERL’s ongoing commitment to exploring our changing environment and speaks to other programmes such as Museum Partnership Reading’s ongoing Our Green Stories campaign, the 2022 ‘CARE’ programme and community activities for Earth Day as part of the recent Create a Buzz project. I was particularly impressed by The MERL’s garden and the central role of volunteers and community participation at the museum and I hope that the new interactive is another chance for visitors to feel involved!

School children enjoying a create a buzz activity in the MERL garden, with a member of staff wearing a large daffodil head dress
School children wearing bee masks play a bee themed game in the MERL garden as part of the Create a Buzz project

You can play the game in the Our Country Lives gallery at The MERL.

A visitor operating the new bee-themed table top interactive at The MERL. Brightly coloured bees and flowers are projected onto the table.
A visitor operating the new bee-themed table top interactive at The MERL

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