Thursday, 21 July 2011

What can museums learn from universities about online learning?

Last night I went to a seminar at the University of Westminster. The seminar was public but part of the Johns Hopkins University museum studies summer school. The students are part of an online museum studies course similar to the one I did at Leicester except the distance learning element is conducted online rather than through big blue folders of paper!

Phyllis Hecht the course director talked about how the course works and most particularly about how they have built a community online through social media, and through the various softwares they use as part of the course.

The course is mostly asychronous, but they do also have live webinars that are also recorded to listen to later. They have chat rooms and an online museum cafe where students can chat about anything they want, course related or not. I can really see the value of building this community online and really investing time and effort into it and making it a required and encouraged part of the learning experience. Distance learning can be such an isolating experience and there's a risk that you miss out on so much of the serendipitous stuff that you get from bumping into someone on a university campus or bouncing ideas off each other in seminars.

It made me think about whether museums should be running online courses in the same way (some already are of course) and whether or not it would be just as important to build that community. I imagine museum online courses would be much much shorter which is a key difference and probably would make the vast amounts of work that goes in to Phyllis's online community untenable and perhaps to an extent less necessary. I also thought that it would be very hard for a museum to resource the amount of interaction Phyllis described. Nevertheless, I do think that if museums did go down the road (or continue down it) of offering short online courses in the same way as some run short courses for adults onsite, it would be important that the course tutor invested some time in building some kind of community online in order to facilitate the learning experience by providing some of the social interaction that you would get in an onsite course.

The main problems that Phyllis encounters are to do with the technology failing and I think that would be a key thing for museums to consider carefully before embarking on running an online course.

Rebecca Sinker, Curator: Digital Learning at Tate also then talked about her role and some of the questions it raises. I found this fascinating because she raised so many questions that I've battled with myself and also some new ones that I hadn't thought of. I think it's clear that museums and galleries still have some way to go before they/we completely work out what online learning really means and what its implications are.

The conversations that then ensued from the floor were also fascinating. It was so great to be part of a group of intellectual and articulate people all theorising and raising interesting discussions about what I do on a daily basis. It's so easy to get lost in the day-to-day and so important to go to these kinds of discussions once in a while to remind yourself of the issues and remember why we work in this wonderful, interesting sector that's so full of great objects and promotes so many discussions all the time about the best ways to share them.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home