Collection databases User experience

Will schools use collection content? The Learning Federation Pilot Report

Over the last 12 months the Powerhouse, along with the National Museum of Australia and Museum Victoria, has been involved in supplying collection data to joint pilot project between the Le@rning Federation (TLF) and the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) from March 2008 to May 2009

Museums have always had difficulty preparing material to service education audiences and there hasn’t been a great deal of specific work done looking at how schools actually end up using museum materials. Nor has there been an emphasis on developing ways of speeding up the process of delivering collection records to schools in usable formats and (re)written appropriate for classroom integration. Instead, museums have tended to focus on developing separate areas of their websites holding bespoke content made for schools and aligned with State and National curricula – in many ways mirroring the, often divisive, split in museums between curatorial and research areas and ‘education’ areas.

This pilot project looked at changing this. First it trialled programmatic ways of integrating existing collection content into the everyday teaching in school environments and then evaluated the relevance and use of museum collection records in these scenarios.

Each institution selected a bundle of collection records (643 in total – 2300 were initially envisioned) for the trial and then supplied them using the ANZ-LOM schema. These records were quality checked by Learning Federation specialists and then integrated into their Scootle platform where they could be mixed with other learning assets, tagged, shared, remixed and brought into lesson plans.

Schools, teachers and students discovered the objects with an ‘educational value statement’ through the Scootle portal and then could visit the museums’ own records directly (via persistent URLs) for further drilldown. This added a useful layer of contextualisation, discoverability, and syllabus mapping rarely found on the museums’ own websites (and never in collection databases).

Focus groups were then held with schools who were using the materials to look at exactly how museum objects were being used, and more importantly how teachers and students evaluated their usefulness.

The obvious hurdles of Copyright, content suitability, writing style at the museum end, and the teacher training at the schools end were far greater than any of the technical data supply issues.

Tellingly –

Of the 643 digital resources provided to schools as part of the new model of collaboration between TLF and the three museums, 55 digital resources were selected by schools to include in collaborative learning activities. Of this number, six resources were used more than once. (pg40)

. . .

Even though only a limited number of digital resources were available for the Trial, teachers were generally positive about the quality of these materials. While 73 per cent of teachers believed that the museum content was comparable in quality to other TLF resources, 100 per cent believed that it provided important background information and was well described for their purposes. (pg 41)

The report is available as a PDF from the Learning Federation directly (2mb).

Whilst the report is huge, it is important reading for everyone involved in trying to ensure museum content is written and delivered appropriately for the education sector.