From the Mary Rose Museum to the British Museum – for one week only!
12-16 January 2015
The Mary Rose Learning department’s Clare Barnes spent a week at the British Museum as part of their Knowledge Exchange programme, learning about what they do…
The Knowledge Exchange programme was an exciting prospect. During my week at the British Museum my main aim was to investigate new areas of potential for the Mary Rose Learning Departmentin terms of both schools and family visitors. Other areas of interest included marketing and visitor services. Initially, as I walked through the gates I felt the full weight of the iconic British Museum and wondered what they would make of our museum and programmes. However, I soon found a warm welcome with the Partnerships team as well as lots in common! During the week, I met staff from various Departments. My programme had been carefully crafted to provide a range of different experiences: observing sessions; discussing practice; sitting in on meetings and (most importantly) chatting over lunch in the canteen! I also had the chance to visit the exhibitions, watch how teachers use the collections on self-guided visits and talk to volunteers in the galleries. Coming from a much smaller organisation, this variety was particularly valuable as in my own role I work closely across the departments.
The parallels between our two museums in terms of teaching and learning were striking. It was very pleasing to find that there was genuine sharing with BM staff – we learnt from each other which was the aim of the Knowledge Exchange. We quickly established that we had much in common but there were differences in scale and scope. My work revolves around one Tudor ship and her collection of artefacts and the BM learning programme encompasses the history of the world! A new area of experience for me was very young children so it was great to be able to observe two different sessions designed for this age group. Workshops were age-appropriate yet stretching and I was surprised to find how engaged 3/4 year olds were with the experience. Chinese vases and African culture were new experiences for me too! Seeing early years learning in action gave me lots of ideas and discussing the principles behind it has inspired me to re-design our workshops for this growing market at the Mary Rose. I’m sure children visiting for these new sessions will benefit from my experience at the BM.
Digital learning was another new area I wanted to investigate. Again the mixture of discussion with the Learning Team and observation of pupils in workshops and in the galleries proved invaluable. After seeing different digital learning options, I realise that there are exciting new applications of technology that we can utilise in our work. One of the Mary Rose cannons features in the BM’s ‘Teaching History in 100 Objects’online resource and we are currently working on a related session for secondary students which will be an ideal opportunity to trial some of these new ideas. The BM’s family offer was another area of interest. Discussion of research commissioned by the BM into family visits corroborated our anecdotal experience. Understanding current trends in this market will enlighten our programmes and museum experience. The knowledge I have gained will directly inform the work of two students from the University of Chichester who are carrying out a family learning project.
Despite the huge differences in size and visitor numbers, there were vast areas of common ground. Similar access initiatives are provided, such as tactile pictures for the visually-impaired and volunteer-run handling tables. Discussion of the challenges of managing the needs of many different audiences was mutually-beneficial and knowledge was shared. It was a real privilege to spend a week at the British Museum learning from colleagues across the organisation. The Knowledge Exchange programme will be one of my career highlights. I’d like to thank Katy Swift who organised the placement and the whole team who made me so welcome. I’m sure there will be more coming and going between the BM and the Mary Rose Museum in the future. There will be a warm welcome waiting in Portsmouth.
Follow Clare and the Mary Rose Learning Department on twitter at @MaryRoseLearn