Graduate intern update: Beth

Graduate intern Beth Hall updates us on what she’s been up to recently…

Hello! It’s Beth, back with another update on my Archives and Special Collections internship. This month I’ve been with the Learning and Engagement team who are based at the Oriental Museum and here at PGL. I’ve seen them around the building and requesting material for their sessions so I’ve been curious to see what they actually get up to – I certainly found out!

Do remember, (for how could we forget) that a lot of what the learning team did while I was with them was adapted to COVID restrictions, i.e. being unable to have large groups in the building or to go out to schools. However, this does mean they’ve fine-tuned their digital learning sessions to adapt to remote teaching and I was lucky to witness how they manage it.

One session I sat in was an online class for Year 9s about careers and university study in the Arts and Humanities sector. I was introduced to digital session structure and how the technology for interacting with the classrooms gets set up (and how inevitable technical failures were impressively dealt with while live on a call). I even got called in to do a little spontaneous question-answering about my own university and work experience. More typically, the team uses the collections to teach aspects of the curriculum. Another session I saw was about the Scottish soldiers that were found beneath the Palace Green library and subsequently, how archaeologists learn from and deal with human remains. It was fascinating to learn more about the collections and the building’s history, especially since I’d seen we used to have exhibition about the soldiers when I was with Visitor Services. Mostly though, it was valuable to see how the learning team engage with the collections to teach – a new way of looking at ASC materials and how they can benefit a wider community outside the university.

Behind-the-scenes on a digital session

I got to take a look at how the team delivered digital sessions in the Oriental Museum. Most of the sessions on Ancient Egypt are taught from the museum as the team can use their surroundings to engage the students and, importantly, can utilise the impressive Egyptian mummy in their teaching. This was also my first experience of producing the digital session sessions myself (so a pretty exciting day for me!). I observed the first session of the day, paying attention to both the responsibilities of the producer and the teaching and engagement methods used during the call. Everyone has their own style, but all make deliberate adaptations to each session based on how the class is responding to keep the pupils involved. I marvelled at the team’s ability to be flexible and adapt on the spot when something was or wasn’t working and to fit the session around each school’s schedule. Producing the second session myself, I negotiated the Teams call with live feedback from whoever delivered the session by pulling up PowerPoints, muting and turning off the camera and switching between camera inputs to the visualizer and back.

The mummy’s big moment!

My favourite part of the month was the opportunity at the end of my placement to do some real-life community outreach. I was enlisted to assist with the Street Museum, a project the team had planned with families based at Black Hall to encourage local community engagement with the university and its collections. It was a day-long event consisting of five separate sessions each run by a member of the learning team and a volunteer. About 80 visitors were scheduled to attend the event, rotating around each session in five groups. We concluded with a group activity – dragon dancing and ‘ostracon’ voting. It was exciting to get out there and do something face-to-face – the whole day had a bit of a school trip energy to it.

We set off from the Oriental Museum with all the things we would need to set up the day. This included pieces from the museum’s handling collection, clay and tools for Ancient Egyptian Shabti doll making, and the large dragons and instruments for the dragon dancing. I helped with the Weighing of the Heart ceremony, a lively and fun session taking some willing volunteers through the process of mummification. I spent the day building up to delivering the session by myself, which incredibly I managed! It was a fun and tiring day, visitors went home at about 4pm, where we tidied up and got everything back to the museum.

The dream team at Black Hall

Well, what a month it’s been! I can only begin to cover what I did this month in one blog post. It was a great opportunity to work with an entirely different team with a new and unique approach to working with the collections, with different collections and locations than I’m used to. I’ve learned a lot this month and it was a bit of a personal challenge. Previously, if you’d asked me if I ever wanted to teach I would have wholeheartedly said no, but this team’s enthusiasm and welcoming attitude not only got me involved with digital and physical teaching sessions, but had me having a great time doing it. To finish my placement by leading a face-to-face session in front of a group of parents and children on a subject I hadn’t really studied was just so rewarding. It’s been eye-opening, too, to reflect on the accessibility of our collections and how important, and at times challenging, encouraging engagement with different types of people outside of the university can be.

I’ve loved a lot of my time with the teams here at Palace Green, the more diverse a range of people I work with, the more I appreciate just how much this sector has to offer and the amount of work and thought that goes in to managing and using archives and special collections. Do join me for my next placements with the Governance Support Unit and Ushaw College!

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