Educating beyond the classroom

I had the privilege this morning of providing the opening keynote presentation to just over 100 members of Te Pu Tiaki Mana Taonga the association of educators beyond the classroom, on their virtual hui themed: “reimagining community based education”.

This group comprises a wide range of dedicated educators from NZ’s gallerys, libraries, archives and museums (the GLAM sector) located across all regions of Aotearoa/NZ – including everything from Te Papa, Archives NZ to the many smaller museums and galleries in regional towns and everything in between.

These institutions represent some of the most treasured ‘memories’ and ‘insights’ into our history, our environment and our life together in Aotearoa/NZ and have long been accessed by schools as a source of information and inspiration for learning.

Like most institutions in our society, these organisations have also been affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, which has provided some of the impetus for the focus of today’s hui around reimagining their future. In preparation for the talk to day I prepared a short video (see below) which participants could watch ahead of me coming online, which provided more opportunity to make my time online more interactive and responding to questions.

In my video I begin by reflecting on what the lockdown has meant for schools – with the structures that define and support us having been taken away for a short time, and the opportunity that has created to ‘reimagine’ how we might work more effectively in some areas once schools are fully open again. I then move on to consider briefly what this might then mean for those in the GLAM sector – providing an opportunity to create greater ‘virtual’ access to their collections and displays, thus opening up to a wider audience and doing this in ways that are engaging and interactive.

While only a 30 minute opportunity to engage, I was really impressed with the questions asked and the genuine level of interest in and enthusiasm shown for moving in this direction. That’s not to say that continuing to provide the physical, tactile experiences won’t remain important – rather, the venture into virtual provides opportunities to reach a wider audience, both in NZ and overseas, and allows for a continuum of engagement, so that those who have visited one of these places are then able to re-visit it virtually to re-live the experience or to go deeper in their inquiry into a particular aspect of what they saw or did for instance.

With so many organisations represented in this group I am aware that apart from some of the bigger and well known ones, most are the sorts of places that one ‘discovers’ when visiting regional NZ and can be otherwise ‘invisible’ to most New Zealanders. So I then began to ponder, what if each of the institutions represented here had their own kind of ‘virtual experience’ online, and that all of these were available via a single portal or interface?

Imagine a learner who begins by taking a visit to the International Antarctic Centre where they view the penguins, take a ride on the Hägglund, and learn about what a fragile ecosystem the Antarctic continent is. Imagine then, on return to school they begin to form their own inquiry into how it is that we have come to have research bases on the Antarctic continent, and what the history is behind that. Imagine if, using the online portal, that learner is then able to access some of that historical record from NZ History, and in the process discovers the history of the Antarctic Treaty – and imagine if that then sets the learner on a journey of discovery about what is meant by the idea of a ‘treaty’ and the responsibilities held by all who are signatories to it? And imagine further if that line of inquiry leads them then to consider the history and current day implications of the Treaty of Waitangi, leading them to take a virtual visit to the Waitangi museum where they are introduced to a raft of information and experiences available in the very place that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Just thinking here – but using the train of thought to consider the benefits of a more ‘joined up’ ecosystem of such experiences that could be available to our learners wherever they are in New Zealand. And such experiences are only likely to become more engaging and interactive when we consider the ways in which Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality might be used to bring the experience of ‘being there virtually’ much closer.

As we are about to venture into level 2 of the COVID-19 response, and with schools and many of these community spaces opening up again, perhaps in our re-imaging we can include those in the GLAM sector in our thinking, and consider how we might make something like a portal that provides a single point of access to these virtual worlds and tours etc a reality that we can include in our curriculum approaches moving forward?

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