Main menu

Digital Transformation of Teaching Through Objects

Digital Transformations Image

University members are invited to share their thoughts on a project proposal for the IT Innovation Fund.

The University of Oxford has possibly the most intact and extensive set of historic intellectual assets in the world, to be found in its libraries, museums, collections and built environment. It also has one of the world's oldest and most cherished models for teaching undergraduates. Yet in recent times, these two great resources have rarely been joined together.

In 2012, the Ashmolean created the University Engagement Programme with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the strengthening of students and faculty engagement with the Museum's collections. The subsequent years have seen more than 4000 visits from more than 25 departments spread across all four divisions of the University. This programme has piloted the re-integration of embodied learning through objects with text-based study, as the benefactor of Oxford's founding collections, Elias Ashmole, intended. It has also revealed the remarkable impact of such engagement on the students: the first test cases of integrated teaching have revealed clear potential for greater flexibility of thinking and much higher than average marks in exams, together with the sense from those marking student essays that something 'genuinely innovative' was being offered.

This proposal seeks to build on these promising early successes by developing digital means of facilitating the engagement of students with objects and images as well as texts. The impetus for this proposal arises from the increasing perception that if object-based study is to be accorded equivalence to text-based study, objects must be made as accessible for study and contemplation after the museum visit as texts are via the books borrowed from faculty and college libraries.

The key to accessibility is now provided by digital technology, which can enhance this important programme of work in three key ways. Firstly, a digital platform featuring selected object groups used for teaching would allow for digital engagement with these objects long after a museum or library visit. Secondly, an interactive platform allowing students to tag, annotate, and link features of objects to other objects and texts could greatly enhance student interaction with course materials and with one another outside as well as inside classes and tutorials. Thirdly, the platform could also serve as a repository for reflective work, individual and collaborative, in contextualising objects and collections. The first of these innovations allows for deep, sustained engagement with the object, and provides opportunities for students to revisit, revise and reflect. The second and third, more radical, transformations allow the object to become the focus of understanding, with different disciplinary lenses on single objects to showcase different intellectual approaches, different ways of knowing and asking questions. In the longer term, by opening up objects which are normally in the specialised museum domain to outside scrutiny, it also provides the means for this work to provide new public pathways to understanding objects through new interpretations and rich contextual material.

For more information, and to share your thoughts on the project, please visit the Oxford Ideas website (you are required to log in using your single sign on).