Museum Studies and Digital Learning: A Work Placement

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Martin Bazley

One of the final parts of the Museum Studies MA at University of Leicester is a two month work placement in a museum or gallery. It is an important part of the course, as it is a chance for all students to put into practice what they have been learning about all year and get some hands on experience. I have been fortunate enough to carry out my placement at the Imperial War Museum London as part of the Digital Learning team.

Throughout my MA, I have been drawn to learning more about how museums are using digital technology and the different conversations that are happening within the sector as to how best it can be employed now and in the future. A placement with a Digital Learning team interested me as I wanted to learn more about how museums are reacting to the changing learning habits of children today and the ways that an institution such as the IWM is using technology to engage with them. Digital Learning is also an area that is developing quickly and something I would like to pursue as part of my career.

During my placement I have worked on a variety of different projects; I have researched and created an online learning resource on the Gallipoli Campaign (hopefully going live soon), helped with other resources particularly one on Fighting in the Trenches during the First World War, assisted in developing a new format of online learning resources based around enquiry questions, worked on resources for a BBC News School Report project, networked with various different people and departments across the museum as well as being part of other projects away from digital learning. This was a lot of work to squeeze into an 8 week placement and has given me invaluable experience into working on digital learning projects.

© IWM (Q 13392)

An image from the upcoming Gallipoli resource. © IWM (Q 13392)

I think one of the most important concepts I have learnt through this placement is that the emphasis here is not on digital but on learning. Digital technology is simply a tool through which learning can occur and the ‘digital’ in digital learning is more than just an indication of the technology in use, it is a reference to the type of learning that is happening. Digital technology has changed the way that people learn; they now expect information to be immediate, in small concise chunks that give control of learning to the user. Rather than being simply a transfer of knowledge from museum to student, it becomes more of a journey where learners become more empowered and active pursuers of knowledge. The public now demand more control over their learning and leisure time and museums are responding to this by providing educational material that moves away from more conventional learning models using their collections and hopefully encouraging more people to visit the museum.

For me this has been one of the most enjoyable and successful work placements that I have undertaken over the last few years. One of the main things which I think has made this placement such a positive experience, and is a key part of all such work placements within museums, is the planning, discussion and support given throughout the role to ensure an understanding of the tasks to be undertaken and that the outcomes are mutually beneficial for both .

On my first day, I sat down with Charlie Keitch, the Digital Learning Officer at Imperial War Museums who acted as my manager throughout my placement and we met regularly to discuss projects and update on progress. Charlie gave me advice on work when I needed but has also allowed me to work independently. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at IWM and I am certain that this experience and the skills that I have learnt will have a profound effect on the rest of my career.

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