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Coronavirus: how museums are providing alternative education

During the pandemic, Museums are turning to the internet to continue providing education to both visitors and the community.

Museums have the skills, knowledge and tools to provide education to a wide range of ages and communities. With coronavirus forcing many to stay indoors and out of school, museums are now turning to the internet to continue this key service.

Museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions around the world are providing a huge range of educational resources online for free during the coronavirus pandemic, and beyond. Here are some examples of what is on offer, for both children and adults. This shows how museums can support visitors beyond their four walls.

We’ve also looked at some resources and information for museums wanting to set up their own digital learning projects.

home education girl writing - museums are providing resources during coronavirus

Museum education for children during the coronavirus pandemic 

With schools in several countries closed to stop the spread of coronavirus, children across the world are learning from home. To give parents and carers a helping hand during the coronavirus crisis, museums are promoting their existing home education resources, or creating new ones.

Field Museum – The Brain Scoop

Chicago’s Field Museum hosts an educational YouTube channel called The Brain Scoop. This is hosted by its Chief Curiosity Correspondent, Emily Graslie. Videos on The Brain Scoop explore the world of natural history, both within the museum and its collection and further afield.

Topics include what museums should do with their dead, venoms vs. poisons and cooking with bugs.

Adler Planetarium – Let’s Do Science

For at-home science lessons, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago provides a YouTube channel filled with fascinating experiments. These only need household materials and are easy to replicate at home. They are created specifically for families and educators. The videos introduce scientific concepts and engage young people in STEM subjects.

The channel features topics such as how to make your own lava lamp and how to float an egg.

The Roald Dahl Museum – Things to Do Indoors

The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, UK, is dedicated to the much-loved children’s author, famed for his vivid imaginary worlds. During the coronavirus outbreak, the museum has turned to its website to offer education, as well as some fun too.

Visitors to the site can find out how to repeat some easy experiments at home. For example, how to build a volcano, and how to pop a balloon. There are also resources for educators available, with lesson plans that parents or teachers can use. These are based on Roald Dahl’s popular stories such as Matilda and Fantastic Mr Fox.

The Tate – Tate Kids

London’s Tate Museum has a dedicated part of its website for children and young people, called Tate Kids. This includes fun activities such as games, quizzes and crafts. In addition, it also provides easy to understand insights into the world of art.

For example, visitors to the site can read an introduction to the Impressionist movement, with videos, examples and links to find out more about key painters of the time. Each page leads to connected painters and topics, allowing kids to continue exploring and learning. 

Museum education for adults during the coronavirus crisis

While children are learning at home, many adults have also found themselves with time on their hands and the desire to learn something new. There is a wide variety of online museum education available for adults too.

The Museum of Modern Art – MoMA learning

The Museum of Modern Art in New York provides a treasure trove of educational resources through MoMA Learning, which is ideal for those wanting to discover something new during the coronavirus pandemic.

This includes slideshows, films, worksheets, questions and more. For example, visitors can learn about minimalism, conceptual art, expressionism and more. The museum also offers full courses through Coursera.

The Smithsonian Institution – Smithsonian Learning Lab

The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a comprehensive collection of resources from the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. The site is home to millions of Smithsonian digital images, recordings, texts, and videos.

smithsonian learning lab - museum education coronavirus

Topics covered include history, art and culture, and the sciences. For instance, visitors to the Learning Lab can find out all about natural disasters, food, or women’s history. Users can even create their own collections on a topic they are interested in, drawing from the huge amount of material available.

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History  – Peabody@Home 

While many of these educational resources already existed before the coronavirus pandemic, The Peabody is one of the institutions that has stepped up to create something new as a result.

Peabody@Home contains digital resources and educational tools, as well as a look at interesting content from the museum’s collection. It features lesson plans, an online Knowledge Bowl and even virtual microscopy. The museum will continue to add to the page during its closure.

The National WWII Museum – daily Zoom webinars

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is providing a free webinar via Zoom every weekday. These are available to watch live and also to watch again at a later date. They are hosted by the museum’s curators as well as other experts.

One example is a webinar that explores the role of animals in WWII from horses to pigeons, led by Author Toni M. Kiser.  

Other examples of online outreach by museums

Many museums are taking to social media platforms such as Twitter to offer education during the coronavirus crisis. Here, they can use hashtags to join the conversation.

A lot of these hashtags, for example, #CreepiestObject and #MuseumMomentOfZen, are designed to be a bit of fun or provide a distraction. However, they are also keeping the dialogue open.

Many museums are also offering virtual tours. This means that visitors can still enjoy collections while the coronavirus social distancing measures are in place, either to educate themselves or just to escape for a while.

Others are moving to places where young people will be, for example, the popular Nintendo game Animal Crossing.

By engaging with audiences and creating conversations, these museums are ensuring that the public has a positive image of them throughout the period of closure. By keeping their ‘brand’ in mind, museums can prepare to hit the ground running when they do reopen.

Coronavirus closures: how to move museum education online

The importance of museums staying connected with audiences during the crisis is clear.

Many larger museums often have existing collections of online resources, which they have been promoting through social media. But education is possible on smaller budgets too. A glance at the #MuseumFromHome hashtag on Twitter shows dedicated museum staff around the world, working to create and upload new content.

For example, Oregon’s High Desert Museum is hosting twice-weekly Facebook Live sessions, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic ran a live Q&A with Merlin the Macaw and many others have been tweeting fascinating snippets of information every day.

Museum education during the coronavirus crisis can be achieved through high-tech collections of virtual resources. But it can also be done through connections with the humans behind the collections. Museum teams have been working remotely to create podcasts, webinars, YouTube videos, lectures, Q&A sessions, quizzes and more.

Education during the coronavirus outbreak – resources for museums

Much of this is easy to achieve at a distance without a huge amount of technical know-how. Other than some social media skills. There are also lots of resources to help museums achieve this educational outreach. For example, the Museums Association has published a step by step guide to creating a successful museum podcast. Its website also has tips on digital marketing and creating video content.

social media icons museum education during coronavirus through social media

The MCN has made its special interest groups free for non-members during the pandemic. This provides a space where museum staff can connect with colleagues and discuss topics such as social media, education and more. Inspiration can also be found on MCN’s list of virtual museum resources, e-learning, and online collections.

Similarly, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has published the Museum Distance Learning Repository, a directory of educational resources. The AAM blog also features case studies from museums using the #MuseumFromHome hashtag to connect. For example, the Akron Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

In more positive news, some German museums are beginning to reopen. Museums in Berlin will open their doors 4 May, while some institutions in Brandenburg state are already open. However, they must put in place new restrictions and safety measures.

Background image kind courtesy of The Field Museum, by Lucy Hewett 2018

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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