Creating virtual classrooms for schools - Museums Association

Creating virtual classrooms for schools

National Museums Liverpool shares how community engagement has shaped its transatlantic slavery workshops
Penny Arque
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Meet the Mummy workshop at NML Dave Jones

Covid has changed the way in which people work and learn. Early on in the pandemic, we knew we had to adapt our way of working and engaging with schools and groups.

National Museums Liverpool (NML) began developing our virtual classrooms in May 2020, in response to a growing need from schools and teachers in lockdown. The classrooms are interactive curriculum-linked workshops led by museum experts bringing history to life and inspiring pupils’ imaginations by engaging them in activities based on real artefacts. 

Topics are varied, ranging from Egyptian mummification, transatlantic slavery, the Titanic and the history of Liverpool itself.

This month we have launched a new workshop called The Art of Wellbeing – creating a safe environment for pupils to look at their own mental wellbeing and engage in self-care.

Student use artworks from the collections of the Walker Art Gallery to provide inspiration to students as they discuss their emotions, mental wellbeing and the positive effects of working creatively. The inspiration for this session was a response to how young people and students were being affected by life in a pandemic.

Next month, as part of Black History Month, we will also launch two new virtual classrooms called Legacies of Transatlantic Slavery, suitable for Key Stages 2 and 3.

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The new legacies workshops explore the transatlantic slave trade and its ongoing impact on the world today, giving pupils the opportunity to learn about significant Black British role models and consider themes of racism and discrimination. 

For these workshops, we ran community engagement with a range of organisations, including experts at the Schools Improvement Liverpool Service and Liverpool Cultural Education Partnership, before entering the development stage.

We also engaged with teachers themselves, developing a survey on the kind of subjects they’d want to see us tackle and their priorities in the classroom. Many of the responses highlighted the need to support students’ wellbeing – helping them to overcome the isolation of home schooling and improving their teamwork skills at a time when students were forced to be separated.

Our new workshop on the legacies of transatlantic slavery also called for an extensive period of community engagement. Working within our local diverse communities, we held online workshops with schools, teachers, and communities from across the city region.

Our work has been shaped by this dialogue, including creative commissions for bespoke films, interviews and performance poetry. It was important to us that we incorporated paid expertise from within our Black communities for these resources.

Challenges

Challenges faced when creating the virtual classrooms ranged from finding the best and most suitable technology to use for delivery, to building a new online booking platform from scratch.

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We created brand new online safeguarding protocols, benchmarking this against other organisations and building this into how we work. There is also the risk of oversaturation for audiences already overwhelmed by the rapid shift to online learning.

Ensuring that interactivity is embedded in our virtual classrooms has also been a challenge - trying to encourage students to get involved without being able to actively meet in person.

To overcome this, we send out a package of pre- and post-workshop resources to be completed in school with teachers. These resources include activities such as arts and crafts, role play, quizzes and puzzles encouraging creativity and teamwork.

We use a system called Open Broadcaster Software Studio, which has enabled us to share a range of videos, music and images and showcase our unique artefacts.

Since we started, we’ve received exclusively positive feedback from our evaluations, enabling us to massively increase our reach. One benefit of working online means we’ve been able to deliver sessions to schools across the world, from Germany to the US, Canada to Italy, lending an international aspect to this important work.

More information on NML’s virtual classrooms,  including  how to book and safeguarding policies is available on our website .

Penny Arque is the learning and participation manager (schools) at National Museums Liverpool

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