On Friday 16 June Alison Hadfield presented a paper on behalf of the Through A Glass Darkly Project at the Digital Learning in Museums Conference in Oxford. Here she tells us more about the event and what she took away from the day.

The event was organised jointly by the Oxford University Museums Partnership and the Digital Learning Network and took place at the University Museum of Natural History in Oxford. The museum was a wonderfully characterful setting- with skeletons and specimens peek out from every corner of this spectacular Victorian Gothic building- the perfect place for a conference!

The conference was dedicated to the subject of digital learning in museums, with a focus on ‘formal learning’ – recognising that audiences increasingly expect to engage with museums via digital media. The day aimed to “share insights and lessons from current work happening across the sector, but also discuss bigger questions around the role of digital in terms of learning strategies and sustainability.”  Speakers were invited to discuss digital learning experiences they had developed or experimented with, to reflect upon the impact of digital learning programmes and share lessons learned along the way.

The conference attracted a really good mix of museums, galleries, arts organisations, digital developers and freelancers and this variety of perspectives was reflected through the wide-ranging presentations. It also made for interesting Q&A discussions and fruitful conversations over coffee! The OUMP Twitter page  gives a good flavour of the presentations, and some memorable slides, but these are the ones which stuck in my mind.

First up were Naomi Chapman of the Scott Polar Research Institute and Sarah-Jane Harknett of the Museum of the Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge. They described a research project they had conducted to establish how teachers use digital technology in the classroom, at every level, from early years to school leavers. They visited 5 different schools, observed 32 classroom lessons and interviewed teachers and pupils. Having had the foresight (and raised the funding) to take time out of their usual jobs to complete this ‘mass observation’ they gained some valuable insights into attitudes and take up of digital in schools. These include:

  • Big disparities in equipment provision amongst primary schools. Main types being used are Smartboards for practising fine motor skills, audio headsets for reading, and i-pads or laptops for research, but some schools only had the most basic equipment.
  • At secondary level equipment is much more individualised; more i-pads are used but not all classrooms have interactive whiteboards. Pupils may well be accessing content from their own phones – I’m sure many of us cringed at the thought of a secondary art lesson Sarah and Naomi had observed where pupils were asked to draw a fruit bowl, but with no real example in front of them to sketch they had to resort to images of fruit bowls on their phones!
  • At primary and secondary level teachers want to access ‘trusted sites’ such as BBC Bitesize where they can check facts
  • They want downloadable high resolution images, links to videos and digestible information. I was also pleased to hear that they are excited by any 3D scans they find!
  • Teachers have the skills, but lack time for any research so it’s vital that online material is easily located by topic through common search engines.

Ed Lawless from the British Museum showed us the impressive facilities they have at the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, which is used for both learning programmes and corporate functions. When demand for sessions began to exceed availability he had to look at other ways to increase capacity, which he has achieved largely through virtual visits. Ed introduced us to a number of very simple tools which can be used to run a live online session with a class anywhere in the world! These include Zoom, Skype or Google Hangout. All the usual objects, props (and even shy curators) can be brought in front of the camera for pupils to see and interactive with. Some of the tools also offer a split screen so that online material such as 3D digital can be shared and manipulated. Another interesting idea for us!

In the lightning talks I enjoyed seeing the beautiful interactive sketchbooks produced by Miranda Millard, Andrew McLellan and their colleagues at the Pitt Rivers Museum.  I was interested to hear that 67% of all their booked groups are secondary/FE students, nearly all of whom are visiting to support GCSE Art & Design. The aim of these visits is to help students build up their sketchbooks, which form a vital part of their course research. Having done this in the past with traditional paper sketchbooks the Pitt Rivers team experimented with a digital interactive version, designed and built with funding from the University of Oxford’s Innovation Fund. Examples of sketchbooks on different themes are available at www.museumsketchbooks.com to help teachers plan and follow up visits, but students can also work digitally in the museum using iPads and tablets and apps like Pro-Create and Pic-Collage. I think this could be an interesting direction to develop our current MUSA Young Artist Award workshops, which attract around 1300 pupils per year, helping them develop artistic and observational skills in the museum.

Screenshot of the Museum Sketchbooks

I was also excited to hear about the fabulous work being carried out by the Oxford Internet Institute in Dr Kathryn Eccles presentation; ‘Cabinet: Digitally Enhanced Teaching with Objects’. The objective of this project was to make more of Oxford’s fragile and rare collections available to University staff and students for teaching and revision. Again, they were able to build a customised tool with funding from the University’s Innovation Challenge Fund. Students can access a specific set of resources selected for their course using a Single Sign On and explore high resolution images of objects and text, as well as contextual information. During the pilot study the site analytics showed peaks in use immediately after tutorials and during revision and students gave very positive feedback. Kathryn and her team have also used photogrammetry extensively and trained students in the technique so we had lots of tips to share with each other! An online demo can be viewed here: http://cabinetproject.org/demo/

In terms of how this all relates to our own project there are clearly lots of other museums experimenting with photogrammetry and 3D digital representations of collections, but our own audience research provides new insights into questions such as:  What do users want? How will they use and adapt digital material for their own purposes? How does digital learning differ from other types of learning? It was great to have the opportunity to share our findings at the OUMP/DLNET conference and get such an encouraging response and brilliant advice from other delegates.

So lots to think about and contacts to exchange as we rounded off with ‘Drinks Under the Dinosaurs’ after an excellent day out at the museum!

Phone pics June 2017 256

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