Thursday, 16 October 2014

Our Art Education Officer

Hello - I’m Adrian and I am the art education officer across four of the Oxford University Museums, which include the Ashmolean, the Museum of the History of Science, the Pitt Rivers and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History Museum. I have been in post for the past six years and before that I was a Head of Art in a secondary school in Oxfordshire.

Adrian Brooks - Art Education Officer © Pitt Rivers Museum

My role is to support secondary and college art groups visiting the collections. In practice that means offering tailored introductions, running workshops for pupils, organising teacher INSET, preparing educational resources and generally keeping the museums high on the teachers’ agenda.
Last year we focused particularly on the use of digital sketchbooks as a means of collecting information during a museum visit. Fortunately we were able to secure funding from Arts Council England through their Major Partner Museum funding programme.  As a result we have been able to create an online learning package that includes a series of short films. 

Here is an article I co-authored with Helen Ward, Deputy Head of Education at the Ashmolean, reviewing the project. 

Styluses versus Pencils
The use of digital sketchbooks in museums and galleries

As Museum educators in Oxford we work with literally thousands of pupils every year who visit the collections of the Ashmolean (Oxford University Museums) to research their art themes.  Interestingly we also see hundreds of Asian pupils on group visits engaged in a similar task of research. One of the subtle differences between the two groups however is that the British pupils come armed with pencils, while the Asian pupils carry styluses.

This observation prompted a series of discussions with the local network of art teachers called Oxford Art Teach (OAT) and colleagues from the NSEAD in which we mapped the use of digital sketchbooks as a tool for research among secondary art departments. The results were a patchwork of answers shaped by financial constraints, the multiplicity of apps and a lack of technical confidence.

Working with the Ashmolean, and with support from Arts Council England through their Partner Museum Funding Programme we decided to make a series of online tutorial films. In partnership with The Marlborough Church of England School, their art staff and year 9 and 12 pupils, we featured 3 free apps; Pic Collage, Brushes3 and 123D Catch. The Oxford University Media Production Unit filmed in the galleries of the Museum and in the school sessions: 

You can watch more of the films here. The aim was to show how simple, effective and fun tablets are for gathering information. We found in every session the pupils were engaged with annotating, photographing, drawing, editing and searching the web to extend their research. We hoped the films would also provide the inspiration for teachers to start integrating these technologies into their future museum and gallery visits.  

On reflection of course there is no real battle between the Stylus and the Pencil. The pencil offers the potential for scale, immediacy and a personal signature that is unique. But in terms of quickly harvesting information in a museum or gallery, the digital sketchbook wins hands down. It can replicate media from watercolour to oil paint, capture, crop and store photos, annotate, draw with anything from charcoal to a 6H pencil, and then undo and start again in second.  Finally, the work can be sent home and arrive before the pupils have left the galleries.

Read more about the digital sketchbooks project.

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