Video Conferencing Museum Education Programs

Reflections from Perfecting the Blend Conference

paper-planeOn Friday (7th December) I attended a small part of the Perfecting the Blend Conference held at the impressive Earth Ed Centre at Mt Clear College here in Ballarat.  The whole conference ran for a full two days with a huge range of presenters talking about the innovative and seamless use of technology to support learning.  Unfortunately I was only able to attend two sessions on Friday afternoon, but they were a good opportunity to look at how Museums are using Video Conferencing to deliver Education Programs.

I was able to see presentations by Questacon and HistorySA.  Both were valuable to look at how video conferencing, in this case through Polycom, can be used to deliver museum-based learning to students offsite.

Questacon – Presented an example of one of the video conferencing programs that they will be running next year.  It is based on an onsite program called Refine – Paper Planes.  With a conference presenter in person and a live workshop presenter via Polycom we participated in the hands-on workshop to look at the maths, engineering and design behind effective paper planes as we built our own.  This was quite an effective style of lesson for the technology.  It allowed students to participate with simple tools (paper!) and gave them an incentive to listen and try.

Questacon highlighted that the sessions are designed to teach that science is fun, but also rewarding – if you put in a bit of effort you’ll get some really good rewards.  Their Video Conferencing programs have been designed as pre and post visit activities with the aim to increase the longevity of associated learning.  However there also seemed to be interest from the teachers in the room (the majority appeared to be primary) for these sessions to be available in isolation to a visit.

History SA – Presented their Online Program Bound for South Australia, which includes a video conferencing component.  The original project involved a real-time publication of stories surrounding the journey of the first ships to South Australia.  It was based around a blog that posted weekly updates from primary source material, with extensive education resources.

With support from Polycom they developed a video conference program for schools to support the online material.  As the quality of production was important to them, they hired a professional museum theatre performer to present the workshops.  The program engaged students in topics about ship life and settlement and used artefacts to demonstrate key ideas.  The presentations were delivered in three 45 minute sessions a day over a two week block and proved to be very popular.  They had particular success reaching schools through an Education Department mailout, although some tried to book without understanding the technical requirements (ie. needing their own Polycom unit).  They also found that regional schools, who were already utilising video conferencing, responded best.

Future of Video Conferencing for Museum Education

There are still a lot of questions around the video conferencing of Museum Education Programs: are they financially viable?  Should they accompany onsite visits?  Or are they to support equal access?  Are they engaging and are the students learning?  Will the schools use video programs to save on the limited funds allocated to excursions?

Schools are increasingly using video conferencing, particularly regional schools to allow greater academic opportunities to their students.  There are also examples of museums using video conferencing successfully on a large scale; Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trips are one example.  The two sessions at this conference showed me that there are opportunities for museums to deliver these kind of programs and schools are interested.  I can see this would work well for the delivery of ‘expert knowledge’ to regional areas and also to help prepare students for a visit.  However if time or funds didn’t allow this, I think museums would be better off focussing on using video conferencing for professional development for teachers.

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