Museum as classroom

6 October 2021

Object based learning in the University setting

The chance to handle museum objects is bringing study to life for students from across the disciplines, with object-based learning preparing for a second semester.

When sir Charles Nicholson created Australia’s first university museum, it was his vision that it would allow students to develop a material understanding of history and culture through getting up-close to artefacts and artworks.

As the University’s collections grew, the scope for hands-on learning broadened to include more diverse cultures and disciplines. The Chau Chak Wing Museum was designed to take this to the next level, with three purpose-built teaching spaces and a new, wide-reaching program.

Facilitated by Academic Engagement Curators, Dr Eve Guerry and Jane Thogersen, the object-based learning program launched in semester one this year, with classes from across the entire University.

Dalyell Scholars discover creative ways to connect artefacts, specimens and instruments from across the Chau Chak Wing Museum collections.

As an example, last semester art students went beyond looking at works; they handled and examined sculptures, prints, paintings and much more, to analyse how they were made or discover hidden notes on the back of a canvas.

A particular highlight from the first semester of this new program was a series of twelve interdisciplinary workshops for staff and students hosted in partnership with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC).With the goal of activating transdisciplinary skills and perspectives, participants were presented with diverse objects and activities exploring histories, concepts and issues relating to Southeast Asia.

This collaboration with SSEAC allowed undergraduate students to engage with their peers from all across campus, and the transdisciplinary and multicultural perspectives provoked by the collection items were rich and enthralling.
Dr Eve Guerry

So far, the University of Sydney Business School introduced over 2000 postgraduate students, both online and on-site, to the Museum’s collections, to explore creative and analytical mindsets.

Anatomy students studying mounted human foot bones (ET89.8.23), practice observation, analysis and communication skills in a new context.

Anatomy students from the Faculty of Medicine and Health have examined mummified human remains and the medical imaging technology featured in The Mummy Room.

Most schools within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences have worked with the Museum, with classes including languages, education, archaeology, social justice, and history, spending time in the object-based learning studios and examining the collections online. Semester two will welcome new cohorts to the Museum as the program continues to grow.

Tim Allender, Professor and Chair of History and Curriculum, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said "the preparation and careful distilling of the craft of the museum was superb. Our students were full of beans after this experience and even keener to get into their respective classrooms in a few weeks’ time. What more could we ask for?”

Following an extended COVID shutdown, students will once more be able to get hands-on with collection items connected to their course or research topic when the Chau Chak Wing Museum reopens in October.

Banner image: A history student presents her interpretation of British and modern European history through art (UA1865.5)  

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