Saturday, January 31, 2015

Aquarium Interactions

We went to Toronto's aquarium last weekend to celebrate my birthday. It's been open a few months, but we heard the crowds were so bad we've been waiting for the crowds to thin out (they haven't). It was expensive and the line-up to get in was daunting, but in the end we had a great time!

There is a lot more to see then what I ever imagined in what from the outside seems like a small space beside the CN Tower.  They manage to pack a lot of cool stuff into their space. Our highlights were the jellyfish ("Planet Jellies"), the Canadian exhibits (which managed to make Great Lake fish interesting), and the an extensive tube for viewers to submerge themselves in a tank of sharks and rays ("Dangerous Lagoon").

As a parent and digital media aficionado, what I like best about it the aquarium is how interactive they made the experience for kids. I've blogged before about how traditional attractions, cultural sites, and museums are using digital media and interactivity as it's something I think can really entice people into a collection or site and make for a memorable, let alone enjoyable, experience. (Sadly, Toronto's sites actually seems to be getting worse at this, such as  the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum dismal track record.)

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada doesn't use a lot of digital media and doesn't have a mobile app.  I think people are excited enough to explore the novelty of our new aquarium that we don't yet need a mobile app - but it would be a great way to add more interactivity, engagement, and learning opportunities (and I'd be happy to help design such as app, by the way).

There are, however, ample forms of physical interactions in the forms of play structures, tubes to crawl through shark tanks, water tables (of Ontario's locks), buttons to press for sound & light effects, touching ponds, and a shark to put one's hand in to guess what they ate.

But there are so quite good digital experiences to be had to. In relation to the West Coast kelp forest, they had a fun video game.  I didn't notice any accompanying educational components, but I'm not one of those parents that thinks everything has to have an overt "educational" component to have value. Just engaging kids while at these types of places is enough - let alone avoiding the tedium that comes with row upon row of "glass boxes" (as my young daughter called them) such as found extensively now at the ROM.

There was a cool screen that allowed people to have their motions move and play with jellyfish (at least realistic looking digital representations). They also had a mini-program that allowed kids to put together their own jellyfish character. Usually with such programs, they give one the option to have the final creations emailed to you. In a stroke of marketing genius, this only gave kids the option to post to Facebook - or rather, since children aren't allowed to have Facebook accounts, to post to a parent's Facebook page (and free advertising will be achieved.)  Still my daughter really enjoyed doing this and it gave her a cheap souvenir.

But as much fun as the various interactivity was, when one goes to an aquarium there is one overriding expectation: cool sharks! In the end, it is all about the sharks and they delivered Discovery Channel style!

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