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Using Cultural Spaces for Learning

An exhibition with the theme of death may not immediately spring to mind as place for teaching and learning but proved to be a rich source of ideas for a group of MAAP students (Masters in Academic Practice) as part of their Leading Change in Higher Education Module.

I led this session at The Wellcome Collection, partly centred on the extraordinary exhibition Death, a Self Portrait and also in their permanent exhibition, Medicine Now. Students completed tasks which firstly asked them to closely look at the exhibits and find ideas  that can be incorporated into their own teaching discipline and practice. These included Law, Learning Technology and Psychology.  They were encouraged to find at least one artefact that stimulated some kind of profound connection.These ideas were shared in the final discussion and were wide-ranging, here is a sample:

  • Death and change, the death of  old processes leading to the new (innovation, and change management)
  • How visual information can be memorable, and meet the needs of those who best learn visually
  • Using a powerful painting on war and its destructive outcomes as a basis to discuss war crimes, human rights and build case studies
  • How our perceptions of death and the passing of time change according to our age and the era we live in (The Psychology of Time)
  • Skeletons as a positive cross cultural “object”, based on the saying” beauty is skin deep”, under that skin we are all bones. Focusing on commonality not difference.

For the second task we looked at the Medicine Now exhibition for interesting ways that could be used to display and exhibit student’s work.

In the final plenary we also discussed the idea of using these types of spaces for teaching.

Some barriers were identified including:

  • The logistics of bringing a group of students out for a two hour class.
  • Fitting in a visit during a 10 week module when coursework has to be covered
  • Would students get enough out of such a visit.

It happens that the day before this session I had taken two separate groups of 25 and 29  students on an external visit to another cultural  location. This was session 2 of an eleven week elective module The Reflective Practitioner. We had full attendance and  packed and productive sessions using  real time tasks, followed by student presentations.

MAAP students at The Wellcome Collection

Of course it does entail careful preparation including detailed advance briefing, giving the students relevant readings beforehand and sticking to a tight timetable during the visit. Over several years now I have developed ways of taking groups of up to 30 students on external visits and the resulting quality of coursework and positive feedback from students more than justifies the effort.

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