Before the Covid-19 pandemic, online resource development at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge was largely project-based.
Initiatives were typically targeted at a secondary school audience who are less likely than primary schools to learn on site at the museum, as well as adult audiences keen to find out more about the collections.
The lockdown has provided us with the time as well as the impetus to develop our online offer for a wider audience.
In response to the lockdown we set up a blog to host resources and content. We have retained an audience-centred approach, developing categories for the blog with different audience needs in mind. We have focused on activities and content that we know from on site engagement and evaluation of our in-person learning programmes work well with our audiences.
The blog has six categories, including Wildlife From Your Window with activities such as bingo and a community photography gallery. We publish resources tailored to the primary science curriculum in Nature Classroom, while Our Changing Planet is aimed at secondary school students.
Puggle Club features stories and activities for under-5s, and we publish more creative games and makes for older children in the Crafty Creatures category.
Finally, under Research Stories, we feature scientist profiles, posts about research projects and stories of publications by research staff in and associated with the museum.
We started promoting the blog using social media channels as well as e-newsletters and mailing lists. We also issued a press release and now have Nature Classroom activities featured in Cambridge Independent, a local newspaper, once a fortnight.
We moved our Zoology Live festival in late June online, and used this to encourage engagement with the blog.
Our biggest challenge has been in encouraging interactivity with these resources and gathering feedback from users. We have also had to expand our digital skills and capacity – certain aspects such as a forum where people could share their findings directly were beyond the skillset and capacity of our small team.
This has been a gear change for us and our online offer. We wanted to make the blog and the resources we were producing future-proof beyond lockdown. I see it widening the levels of engagement we can achieve. It has also allowed us to be more playful and experimental and has provided a space for our audiences to share their work and experiences.
I see the digital activity being more clearly integrated into our learning programmes through having these frameworks in place.
My advice to other museums looking to offer learning activities online is to keep things clean, clear and easy to navigate. It takes more time than you would expect to keep resources image and activity focused and without too much text, but it is worth it in the long term.
Keeping the audience in mind has been key for us, as has having a clear idea of the aims of our online content. It doesn’t have to be complicated – some of our simplest ideas, like our Animal Alphabet videos exploring the specimens of the museum, have been the most popular.
Rosalyn Wade is the learning officer at the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology