How Mediated Interactions with Artworks Delivered via Mobile Technology Foster Intellectual Curiosity among College Students

Tools / Qualtrics, MaxQDA, SPSS, Transkript F5, Recordable, MapsAlive    Role / Research Design, Prototyping, Data Collection & Analysis, Literature Review

The assumptions art museums make about their increasingly young and technology savvy audiences are not always informed by research. This study investigated if there are any differences in college students’ intellectual curiosity when their art museum experience is mediated by scripted vs. open-ended content formats delivered via mobile technology. 

Findings revealed the college students’ art museum expectations and preferences, their aesthetic experience when viewing modern and contemporary art, and how different content formats (scripted vs. open-ended) delivered via mobile technology can foster intellectual curiosity. ​The prototypes of scripted vs. open-ended experiences are created based on the new museum pedagogy employed by docents, and the existing audio guide of the museum. The purpose of the study was to assess the effectiveness of certain design features of a working prototype that can later guide to design and develop a system; therefore, the generalizability of results is limited.

Research Questions:

Main Question: Are there differences in college students’ intellectual curiosity as evidenced in meaning- making, building connections, generating questions, or seeking answers that arise from scripted (i.e. factual information about artworks) vs. open-ended (i.e. posing questions with no right or wrong answers) formats of content delivered via mobile technology? If so what is the nature of those differences?

Sub-Question #1: To what degree did participants rely on audio commentaries and labels in directing their museum experience?

Sub-Question #2: Do open-ended prompts show lesser or greater engagement with artworks based on the content?

Sub-Question #3: What patterns emerged in coding participant responses? Are there differences in participants' responses among groups?

Sub-Question #4: Is there a relationship between behaviors and what participants said when talking about artworks?

Research Design:

Participating undergraduate students from NC State University completed a 3 part online survey.


The survey included a demographic questionnaire, Aesthetic Experience Questionnaire* and Trait Curiosity Sub-scale**


(*Adapted from Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson, 1990 | **Taken from Naylor, 1980 Melbourne Curiosity Inventory)

102 participants visited the museum, and were assigned to Audio, Q/A, and Walk-Around groups through stratified sampling while keeping the average Trait Curiosity scores constant among groups.

Audio Group participants were given the museum's audio guide displayed on an interactive map.

Q/A Group participants were given a list of questions to prompt their think-aloud.

Walk-Around Group participants were asked to walk around, look at artworks, and think-aloud.

After completing the survey participants set a date with the researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Art to view the contemporary and modern collection.


At the museum they were asked to think aloud while viewing the exhibition. They were video, audio, and when available screen recorded*

(*Only the Audio Group participants who used an interactive map with audio commentaries were screen recorded)

Each participant was audio recorded during a semi-structured interview with the researcher after completing the museum visit.





Data Analysis:

Qualitative data analysis included transcribing,coding, and categorizing think-aloud and interview audio, to understand how participants observe, interpret artworks, and make meaning. Video footage was used to  understand how participants navigated the space and if there were differences in their behaviors among groups. The screen-recoding of Audio Group participants' use of the interactive map was used to determine which and how much of the audio commentaries they listened to.


Quantitative data analysis included statistical analysis of the differences among groups according to time spent, artworks viewed, and quantified distribution of participant activity in each room. 93 navigational maps (>3000 minutes of footage) were created using video observations to understand how participants navigate the space. The space was divided into nine different rooms to mark the ones in which participants viewed more than 3 artworks, 2 artworks, and 1 artwork. Additionally, the rooms participants skipped, walked through without viewing artworks, and scanned while walking through are also marked for evaluation.


Main Findings:

1) Grounded Theory Emerged from this study is that when the mediated interactions with artworks encourage verbalizing observations and thoughts visitors are more likely to engage in information seeking behavior such as observation, reading labels, and listening to auditory information, and be more comprehensive and reflective in interpreting art. 

2) Overall, the activity of thinking aloud alone had the most influence on how much participants observed an artwork, paid attention to details, asked questions, and sought answers by reading labels, listening to audio commentaries, or comparing artworks on display to one another or real-life experiences.

3) Three main categories of comments and questions emerged in all three groups are found to be “naïve,” “reflective,” and “comprehensive.”

4) This study hypothesized that asking open-ended questions would result in participants engaging longer with artworks, generating questions, building connections, and seeking information—all of which result in more time spent in the gallery. Although the Q/A group spent less time viewing art compared to the other two groups, the difference in total time spent in the gallery viewing artworks was not statistically significant across groups; F (2,99) = .741, p = .479​ Additionally, the difference in the average number of artworks viewed among groups was also found to be statistically not significant; F (2, 90) = 1.882, p = .158

5) This study hypothesized that open-ended questions had the potential to create a scavenger hunt type of behavior, resulting in participants going back and forth between already viewed artworks to answer some of the questions. Although Q/A Group participants  on average revisited more artworks than the other two groups, the mean comparison of the number of artworks viewed multiple times across groups was statistically not significant; F (2, 90) = .979, p = .380 ​The interviews and the observations revealed that data collection method think-aloud was a confounding factor in assessing the effect of scripted vs. open-ended content formats.

© 2019 by Pinar Ceyhan