The contribution of Special Collections (Rare Books, Prints and Rare Music) to exhibitions, public lectures and other events and to staff and postgraduate research projects at the University and beyond is widely recognised. These collections are also perfectly placed to enhance student engagement by incorporating object-based learning within a wide range of coursework subjects and through small collection-based projects.
Object-based classes promote active and experiential learning through close hands-on encounters with primary resource materials. As well as promoting cultural literacy, these classes develop communication skills and team work and are highly engaging for students: the thrill, for many, of interacting with rare and special items provides a powerful learning experience.
Object-based learning is increasingly being utilised in tertiary teaching; and the University of Melbourne’s commitment to this pedagogic method is evident in the object-based learning laboratories and extensive display spaces in Arts West, the new home for Bachelor of Arts students.
Special Collections has long been involved in object-based learning with excellent results, but we welcome contact from other academics keen to increase the engagement of their students with our rich and varied collections. A project funded by a Melbourne Engagement Grant and led by the Prints curator Kerrianne Stone led to the development of an online resource, ‘Teaching with unique collections’. This site highlights a selection of Special Collections, Grainger Museum, Ian Potter Museum of Art and Archives objects that have the potential to enhance teaching across a wide range of subjects; a complete teaching resource is downloadable for each object.
In addition to focused object-based learning there are also opportunities for academics to engage broad audiences through public lectures and seminars as part of the University’s engagement vision (PDF). Objects are freed from the storage room and brought into a public lecture space where they reveal their secrets to captivated spectators. These innovative seminars enable academics to engage meaningfully with objects and the public.
SMALL COLLECTION-BASED PROJECTS
Curators, assisted by other cultural collections staff, frequently work one-to-one with students involved in projects which draw on Special Collections. These include research and cataloguing projects, and interpretation and exhibition development. Some projects are undertaken and assessed as part of a student’s course load, overseen by the student’s course coordinator, while others form part of the Cultural Collections Projects Program. Both provide worthwhile professional experiences, promote student employability and are of genuine benefit to our collections.
Enquiries from academic staff and students are welcome.