Innovation and Digital Education at Oxford University Museums

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Helen Ward

In advance of this summer’s joint event with Oxford University Museums Partnership (OUMP) , Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager shares some of the digital learning initiatives happening in Oxford’s University Museums

A key area of interest over the past few years has been investigating how we can utilise digital to enhance our learning offer, making it more engaging, effective, and accessible to a larger number of people. We have been fortunate that we have been able to support this with a programme we have run since 2012: the Innovation Fund (part of our Arts Council Major Partner Museum programme). This is an internal funding stream to which colleagues from across the museums can apply for a modest amount of money to support projects that experiment with new ways of working and engaging audiences.

One of the first projects that we funded was Digital Sketchbooks. The Ashmolean had already been utilising third party apps to support facilitated secondary Art and Design visits, helping students to gather their stimuli more quickly, and collate and present their work in different ways. For the project the team created a series of videos for teachers and students explaining how these apps could be used to enhance an Art and Design visit. These have been very successful, being picked up and promoted by iTunes not long after they were launched, and through the Innovation Fund we are in fact now supporting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum to explore a similar resource for family visitors, explaining how they can use free third party apps to create their own trails and activities. Find out more 

Another project we supported was the Sensing Evolution app at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, designed to facilitate the teaching of evolution at the museum for both primary and secondary groups.  Linked to new specimen touch tables in the museum court that are designed to tell the story of evolution, the app takes students from this display out to other objects in the collection that relate to evolution in a kind of scavenger hunt. Students are given clues to locate objects, which will unlock a video – presented by Steve Backshall for primary students and Alice Roberts for secondary students – and they are then asked a question about what they learnt in the video to unlock the next object: http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/visiting/evolution.htm.

In the most recent round of the Innovation Fund, again looking at Art and Design, we worked across the four museums with our Art Education Coordinator on Museum Sketchbooks. GCSE and A Level students often come into the museums to get inspiration for themed sketchbook pages that they submit as part of the examination portfolio. For the project we wanted to digitise example sketchbook pages, selecting examples that best reflect the examination criteria, to make them more accessible, but we also wanted to take it a step further. So as well as digitising the sketchbooks we created a platform which allowed us to put hotspots anywhere on the image, giving our teaching staff the opportunity to provide more information about individual elements of the sketchbooks eg why objects and techniques were selected. This project is due to fully launch after Easter.

We have learnt a lot over the past few years, but there are still a lot of areas where we would like to expand our knowledge, for example methods for refining student and teacher needs, evaluating our impact in the formal learning context, and integrating digital seamlessly into our education strategy. We see this upcoming conference and partnership with DLNET as a fantastic opportunity to expand our knowledge by sharing thoughts and ideas with colleagues across the sector.

Digital Learning in Museums Conference – 16 June 2017, Museum of Natural History, Oxford

The call for papers is now open, closing midday on 10 April 2017 – full details: http://www.oxfordaspiremuseums.org/news/call-papers-digital-learning-museums

Tickets will go on sale on Wednesday 19 April 2017.

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