Thursday, 26 March 2015

Independent Project: Training Volunteers - Hannah Eastwood

The idea for my independent project has stemmed from my experience with my own career progression. My final placement is based in the joint museums volunteer & outreach office, which is where I fondly remember becoming a volunteer with the Oxford University museums & collections 6 years ago! 

As our final project is to be relevant to the work of our placement, I discussed the idea with my project coordinator and the head of the joint office to develop some training sessions for volunteers. 

Being in the joint office which covers all of the 4 museum’s collections I had the opportunity to choose which collection I would carry out my training in.In the end I decided to offer a training session for people who volunteer, or who would like to volunteer, at the Ashmolean

The focus will be to inform the volunteers about the Western Art paintings collection and to equip them with some basic knowledge and confidence to engage visitors with key paintings from the Ashmolean, and be able to explain their place in art history in general.  

Hannah preparing resources for her project

The subject of Art and more specifically painting is one which strikes people personally in many different ways. Some feel confident in their knowledge of art history as they have pursued this as a career choice or leisure activity but to most it would appear that you would need an art-history degree to ‘get’ what you are seeing. Questions might arise such as: why is an old painting of a woman smiling the most famous image in the world? How can one of the most acclaimed and most famous painters fail to sell a single work in his lifetime? Why do paintings of coloured squares sell for millions of dollars? These questions are all perfectly legitimate in the face of medium that can seem inaccessible. 

However by the end of this training session I hope that the volunteers will have fostered an understanding and an enthusiasm for elements of this erratic and fascinating art form.

The training will fit in with the volunteer services programme of introductions to each of the museums, to help build volunteers’ confidence in welcoming visitors and having some general background information to share. I hope the training I produce will have a longstanding legacy which could be used in the future, but more importantly, will be enjoyable and useful for the volunteers themselves!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Independent Projects -Neil Stevenson, Corie Edwards, Aisling Serrant, Rachel McLaughlan, Jenny Hulmes, Hannah Eastwood

A successful element of the Oxford Skills for the Future programme has been the trainees independent projects. Trainees are set a challenge to develop an independent project from scratch. It provides the trainees with an opportunity to put into practice the skills and knowledge they have developed throughout their training. The following information is given to them at the start of the traineeship:

The aim of this project is to enable the trainee to show that they can independently plan, undertake and then clearly report on an original learning project of their choice related to education in a museum, garden or arboretum. The project should have a clear goal that is attainable in the time available and must be relevant to the work of the collection where it is based. A project report must be submitted to the Project Coordinator and Heads of Education for comment. The report must be well written, detailing aims of the project, intended learning outcomes, intended audience, how the project was planned, delivered and executed, what problems were encountered, how they were solved, how the project was evaluated and how things could be improved for the future. The project report needs to show an understanding and application of learning theory.

Trainees are encouraged to start thinking about their projects once they reach the half-way point of their traineeship. This includes meeting with the Project Co-ordinator and Heads of Education to chat through initial ideas and to gain encouragement and advice for developing ideas into a project plan. Trainees spend time researching their ideas, speaking to colleagues and external professionals, and if relevant, visiting other museums to gain inspiration. Trainees are then asked to submit an independent project proposal to the Project Co-ordinator and placement mentors. If everybody is happy with the proposal the projects are greenlit and the trainee can then start work on the project itself.
The current trainees have just started the delivery of their independent projects. They share an overview of their projects below:

My final project, Made in Mt Olympus, is an on-line film series of 4 one minute videos on select Ashmolean Greek objects in the style of a popular UK reality show. With the assistance of three Oxford Brookes Film Students and 9 Oxford University Museums and Collections staff as 'actors' I will bring the object's stories to life in a modern context by parodying the reality show. It is about connecting the drama of Greek mythology to the drama of reality show today, i.e. taking the past and making it current. The overall aim of this project is to bring the information to the 16-30 year old audience (museum visitors and non-visitors) through styles and outlets they are extremely familiar with and use in everyday life.  

Corie planning her project

The films will be promoted on multiple social networks starting from behind the scenes all the way through to their premiers. The films will be released on the Ashmolean YouTube channel commencing on the week of the 7th of April. One video will be released each week that month.

I hope this project will raise awareness of the museum and its collections. I am also looking at the longevity of the project and how it can link into the Ashmolean's on-line educational resource page for teachers to replicate with their students.

Filming in the Cast Gallery at the Ashmolean

The idea for Craft Café developed when I recognized the potential to develop opportunities for adults to get together and get creative. I noticed that at Alice’s Day in Oxford, a day when the city is transformed into a wonderland of activities and events, there were very few creative activities I could join in with as an adult – and adults like getting crafty too! But it also works the other way round… at an evening event at the Ashmolean, when the crafts designed were primarily for grown-ups, adults were sometimes a little reluctant to get stuck in unsure of if the activities were meant for them, with a couple actually asking if they were allowed to participate! Adults do want to get creative as ‘knit & natter’ and ‘stitch & bitch’ groups springing up across the UK testify – it’s just about spreading the crafting love!

Aisling delivering the first meeting of the Craft Cafe

By creating Craft Café I wanted to provide a space for adults to come, relax, have a chat and do crafts – without needing the excuse of having a child with them. It just so happens I’ve also got access to an amazing museum crammed full of over a quarter of a million inspiring objects! The sessions will be informal and suitable for all adults - no previous skills or knowledge needed. Each session will start with a short tour of some objects in the galleries, before heading to the Museums’ Annexe to relax, chat and make a craft to take home.

For my final project, I will run a day workshop for KS3 students jointly at the Museum of the History of Science and the Botanic Garden. The subject is the history of medicine, focusing on the discovery, development and refinement of plants and other substances used as medicines. There will be a strong practical element on the day: The students will be handling accessioned objects from the Museum of the History of Science as well as using plants and other materials to process and create their own “medicines”. There are curriculum links in the scientific method, biology and chemistry. I was inspired by making ochre paint with KS2, they were fascinated by the physical processes to get from an unfamiliar object to a familiar one. I hope this session will inspire students to think creatively about science and feel that same fascination with the world.

Rachel developing her project


My final project, which is taking place within the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, is catered for an under 5s audience. It is hoped that the new activity trail I’ll be designing, will encourage under 5s and their families to visit the Museum more often, and help them engage with the Museum’s collections in fun and stimulating ways. Being restricted by the amount of things they can physically do, under 5s can struggle to join in with museum craft-based activities which require sufficient cutting, sticking and drawing skills. As a result, under 5s can often feel neglected, especially when they see their older siblings enjoying ‘making and doing’ activities.  The new under 5s activity trail I’ll be designing, will not be craft-based, but multi-sensory focused, increasing its accessibility whilst meeting the developmental and learning needs of its audience. 

Jenny's 'Curious Cubs' multi-sensory bag

Recently, I’ve visited Tring Natural History Museum to see the self-led activities they offer to under 5s and their families each Tuesday afternoon. The visit was really beneficial as it enabled me to learn more about how objects in the form of props and toys, which can be carried around (and worn!) in the galleries, can be used to provoke creative responses to museum collections through multi-sensory engagement and role play.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Carrying out a BSL Interpreted tour in a Museum – Jenny Hulmes

Since learning Level 1 British Sign Language last year, I’ve been interested in how Museum’s engage with deaf visitors. The Ashmolean Museum runs excellent interpreted tours for deaf visitors every three months which often involve object handling in the galleries, and ventures behind the scenes. The tours are led by the Museum’s Education Officer for Adults and Young People, and translated to the deaf visitors by two British Sign Language Interpreters. Two interpreters are booked to take it in turns to translate, as signing for a long period of time is tiring work and can induce RSI.


Last week, I was given the opportunity to lead an interpreted tour and chose to focus on the Ashmolean’s collection of European and East Asian ceramics. After greeting the deaf group at the main door, I led them to the Museum’s ‘West Meets East Gallery’, where we looked at East Asian influences on European culture, especially the rising popularity of tea in eighteenth-century England. I was fortunate that the Ashmolean Education Department has a fantastic handling collection, so brought some genuine Worcester teacups and a dessert plate into the galleries for the group to handle. Object handling in the galleries worked really well, as it provoked interesting responses from the group and provoked many to ask questions with the aid of the interpreters. For example, one gentleman had inherited a porcelain teapot from a family member and was keen to find out whether it was worth a penny or two! Having the handling objects there, also sparked conversations and reminiscences between members of the group. This was lovely to see as it increased the interactivity of the tour; however, it could be challenging when bringing the group back together to move the tour on. All in all I was very happy with how the tour went as the group seemed to enjoy it, especially hearing about unusual ceramics of the eighteenth-century, such as the puzzle jug, a vessel which was passed around pubs and challenged the holder to drink the alcoholic contents of the jug without spilling it down themselves; this could only be achieved by covering up all the holes around the rim with the fingers, then sucking on the spout. 

 This is my advice to anybody leading an interpreted tour in a Museum for the first time:  focus on objects which tell interesting stories; try to include object handling to raise the level of interactivity and engagement; choose spaces in the Museum which have good lighting so the interpreter’s signing can be seen clearly; find time to meet with the interpreters beforehand to go through what you’ll be talking about so they are prepared and know what to expect; and talk at an appropriate pace, being conscious of the Interpreter signing beside you. I started off the tour by talking a bit too fast, making it a challenge for the interpreter to catch up. I eventually found a suitable pace, glancing at the interpreter every so often to check that I wasn’t speeding ahead. I was worried that having the interpreter translating what I was saying, would be distracting, throwing me off course, but this wasn’t the case at all; it’s important to remember that the interpreters are there to facilitate, and that the focus of your attention as a tour guide, should always be on the individuals in the group. For example, when a deaf visitor asks a question ‘through’ an interpreter, your and eye-contact  should be with them, as opposed to the interpreter, which can sometimes be hard, especially as sign language is captivating to watch.