Learning about ULC’s Learning and Engagement Team

By Kelly Hetherington, Repository Officer at University Library and Collections.

On Wednesday 11 May, the University Library and Collections Learning and Engagement Team invited staff from the rest of our vast department to come and learn about what they do on their team.

Seeing as my role involves so much computer work, I jumped at the chance to have a trip out for the following reasons:

  • The session was held at the Oriental Museum – a lovely change of scene from home working / Bill Bryson Library office because it is full of fascinating artefacts.
  • Our colleagues there regularly hold sessions for school children.  This means they are fun, engaging, and lovely so I knew the session would be interesting and I’d learn something new.
  • This was a session about ‘object centred engagement’ – we’d be able to touch real life old artefacts! (More on this later).

Upon arrival at the training session, Ross Wilkinson, Learning and Engagement Manager, talked us through the day-to-day life of the team.  As a member of staff who engages with this team on a personal basis through attendance at the many public events the team run through the year such as Diwali, Holi Festival, Buddha’s Birthday, I think I had some idea about the amount of dedication the team puts into planning.  However, I think it is fair to say, that myself and colleagues who attended were amazed at the breadth of work and the importance of it to both the university and the wider community.

For a fairly small team, the number of our heritage venues covered is very impressive.  You might find them at the following places:

The most eye-opening fact that I learned about the team was how crucial they are to the university’s ‘widening participation’ mission.  The work they do with young people increases awareness of Higher Education and helps young people from different backgrounds, who may think university is not for them, develop the skills they need to consider all their options for Higher Education and their futures.  This mission starts from primary school.  

We got a ‘taster’ of one of the team’s sessions that would be suitable for school children.  We each got an Egyptian artefact and had to work out what it was. I was excited to correctly guess one of the artefacts – a pot for Egyptian eye liner!  We also had a lid for an organ container from a tomb (yuk!) and a stone used on the end of a stick to whip slaves (yikes!). We used the sheets provided by the team to help facilitate our investigation. It is easy to see how interesting and exciting this opportunity must be for school children. Jo Coe took us through the task and her enthusiasm was so engaging – she is a qualified teacher and has a lot of knowledge about how to make the sessions inclusive to a wide range of learners.

The team also enrich the local community through the informal learning programme. I can personally vouch for the success of events such as Holi Festival and Diwali, which I have attended with my young children.  It is a fantastic opportunity for families to learn about other cultures and the Learning and Engagement team help facilitate a wide range of different local groups to come together, celebrate and share their culture in such a positive way. We’ve also enjoyed the hugely popular weekly ‘Little Dragons’ group for pre-school children which allows the children to engage with the museum collections and have lots of fun. There’s also Durham Archaeology Explorers (DAX) for slightly older children (age 7-11). You can see what is coming up on their website.

Although my experience with the team relates mostly to activities that benefit my young family, I was interested to learn about other activities, such as a weekly dementia-friendly art group; working with refugees and providing spaces for faith groups who do not have their own place of worship in Durham.  By this point in the session, I was totally in awe at the breadth of the work taking place.

Finally, like the whole world, the team have had to adapt from providing face to face workshops on one of the many sites they covered, to online learning during the pandemic.  The team are delighted they are now able to start hosting in person sessions again but the appetite for online learning hasn’t just gone away… the team have recently worked with a school in Kent which wouldn’t have been an option pre-pandemic.  To assist with interactive and effective online learning, the team have media equipment (available to all library colleagues) which allows them to teach live through Teams, with a specialist scanner that allows students to get up close with artefacts remotely.

Picture: Jo demonstrates how online learning takes place. On the laptop screen you can see a tiny artefact that is being magnified by the scanner.

Thank you to Ross and Jo for showing us their work.

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