With a launch date set for the end of May, The Museum of the Highlands digital learning hub is almost ready for you to explore. MHH Innovation and Network Manager, Nicola Henderson, offers a little background on how we got to this point and the aims of the project.
When the country went into lockdown in 2020, museums across the Highlands (like museums all over the world) looked for new ways to engage with their audiences. Many already had a digital presence, but it was very much secondary to the physical. Now digital was everything. This was particularly true for museum education content. How do you engage with young people and schools when your core asset – your museum – is closed? As a sector, we experimented with downloadable pdfs, online activities and virtual visits, to name a few initiatives. These were very successful, not just with our local audiences but with schools and families across the world. Suddenly, we weren’t just offering resources and activities for our local communities but for anyone, anywhere, who was interested. The potential was huge.
However, many of our small – medium-sized museums already work over capacity. As we began to open up our buildings and demand for in-person interactions rose again, maintaining and capitalising on the opportunity offered by this global reach was challenging.
Museums across the Highlands get together through monthly online ‘Heritage Cafes’ – informal gatherings on Zoom to share challenges, and successes, ask questions and meet with colleagues. The focus of one session was education and our museums. How could we meet this challenge, grabbing the opportunities while maintaining and nurturing local relationships?
Through discussion, we decided that a collaborative approach – a central hub that could host content and point to museums and their unique offers – could be the answer. Sharing the work, sharing the learning, sharing the reach and potential. This idea grew arms and legs. And, thanks to funding from Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland, has become the Museum of the Highlands digital learning hub.
Over the last year, we have worked with museums across the Highlands to create a dynamic digital learning hub enabling children, young people and teachers to discover and engage with museum collections in new and exciting ways. Fifteen museums from across the region have collaborated and worked closely with our Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialists by bringing objects from their collections together to create a digital portal into the rich history and culture of the Highlands.
The learning hub will allow users to access museum collections and learning resources related to objects and topics for use at home or in the classroom, with the functionality to contact museums directly to set up virtual or in-person learning visits.
The site is sponsored by Ilum Studio to help with ongoing maintenance costs and to develop new activities in the future. This ongoing support is essential to the project, ensuring that it doesn’t fall to our already overstretched museums to maintain – it will also allow the website to grow and adapt as feedback is received and we are very grateful to the team at Ilum Studio for supporting us through year 1.
The team of Rosie Goodwin and Freya Samuel as Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialists, have led the curation of the objects and designing the associated learning games and resources in partnership with teachers and young people. In the lead up to the launch of the website, Freya and Rosie will introduce you to the process and types of activities you will find on the site.
I am excited to share the project with you – it is no small task working with the collections of fifteen museums and ensuring content and activities meet the needs of teachers and parents. I believe we have created an engaging, fun and, most importantly, user-friendly site that will support schools, families and museums to engage meaningfully with museum collections in the classroom.