Virtual learning about the cultural heritage: the findings of research at the UOC

How are social and technological changes affecting learning? What can our museums and heritage centres do to provide or co-produce inspiring and meaningful online educational resources for different publics? Janine Sprünker has dealt with all of this and more in her thesis, which we have asked her to summarize so as to share it with you in our blog. The thesis has been distinguished with a well-deserved summa cum laude. Congratulations, Janine, and thanks for condensing several years of research and hundreds of pages for us here!

On July 1, I defended the thesis entitled ‘Heritage Education Using Online Educational Resources with Cultural Content and Learning Networks’ before the UOC open university. Before attempting to summarize the thesis 🙂 I would like to thank the Museu Picasso and Conxa Rodà for inviting me to write this post and giving me the opportunity to share with you some of the conclusions and one of the research questions that is challenging us again.

This PhD thesis seeks to provide new knowledge in the field of the cultural heritage, and specifically in the area of heritage education. We decided to use action research (Reason/Bradbury, 2008:4) and carry out an experiment in the Catalan territorial context involving cultural managers, teachers, secondary-school students and a coordinator in a single virtual learning platform as co-producers of online cultural heritage educational resources. We set two lines of action:

– to create and energize learning networks integrating the different players identified above, in order to observe what processes of teaching and learning were generated and whether quality criteria for heritage education were defined;

– to compare how the cultural heritage was integrated into the curriculum and how students embraced knowledge of it through the creation and use of online educational resources focused on the cultural heritage.

Example of digital objects created by the students

We have established by analysis of the practices of three cases carried out in the action research that students can acquire particular skills and knowledge through the creation and use of a digital object that a cultural institution might make available on its website, but the activity must be ordered if the prescribed cultural institution is to achieve certain goals. The activities that may involve the creation and use of digital objects must be supported by guidelines and/or social interaction, and it must be said that the involvement of a cultural manger or an educator is important because it mobilizes certain contents related to the cultural heritage and to curricular objectives that cannot be worked with in other activities.

Therefore, among other factors, if students are to participate actively in decisions about the conservation of the cultural heritage they must progressively acquire certain skills and knowledge, and this will entail an acquisition of basic key capabilities (Lauret/Marie, 2010). We drew up a guideline for developing heritage education on the basis of online educational resources and learning networks with cultural heritage content, which includes a taxonomy that begins with the category ‘find out, recall and memorize’ and ends with the category ‘create’; at the same time, this guide also embraces aspects such as how we can create learning networks and the joint planning that includes points to bear in mind when drawing up a programme.

Example of digital objects created by the students

So, what now? Currently, we are realizing that things are moving on beyond promoting the activities of a cultural institution only through its website or the social networks, etc. Now we need to look for ways of inspiring or educating different types of public. Learning via the Internet is the option most in demand among the people who took part in a recent Arts Council England survey (2010). Those canvassed in the report Digital audiences: engagement with arts and culture online (Arts Council England, 2010) state that they regularly — and increasingly — use online content to increase their knowledge of a topic of interest, and that this gives them greater pleasure and a deeper involvement in culture and the arts. In addition, we found that the students who participated in the research were interested or willing to take part in the educational project, to learn about the cultural heritage and technological tools. Students rated the experience positively and wanted to visit the cultural institution. Clearly, we have to stop thinking that people regard materials and activities on the Internet as a reason not to visit the cultural institution, because in fact they motivate and/or promote interest in making an in situ visit.

There are cases, reports and professionals meetings which indicate that nowadays cultural heritage education via the Internet generates a lot of interest, and if we add in the results of this research, we have good reason to affirm that it’s time to plan, implement and evaluate the educational function of the museum on the Internet, in which the educator or the cultural manager as educator has a relevant role. And now we need to ask ourselves: What role and what functions does/will the educator and/or the cultural manager as educator have in virtual communities or on the social networks?

‘The abundance of resources and relationships offered by open content repositories and social networks is challenging museum professionals to revisit their roles as educators.’ (Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts, 2010).

Janine Sprünker Cardó
UOC, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

1 Comment
  • Jordi
    September 26, 2011

    Una bona iniciativa és anar a un museu de nit. Per exemple al Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Es pot fer amb només enviar les teves dades aquí. A més, regalen llibres electrònics, que també tinc ganes de tenir un.

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