Thursday, 3 April 2014

Using objects to develop language skills

MoDA's collections are available to everyone, but as a university museum we are particularly interested in encouraging student engagement, and creating opportunities for learning through objects.  Most of our student visitors tend to be Middlesex University Art & Design undergraduates, seeking visual inspiration for their creative work. This might be as part of a group visit linked to a specific project, or an independent research visit they have organised themselves. But increasingly we are working with students from non-art & design courses, such as BA Hons Creative Writing and Journalism at Middlesex and BSc Hons Geography & Environmental Studies at the University of Hertfordshire.  

The visual nature of our collections means that they have a clear and obvious relevance for Art & Design students and those involved in the creative industries. But in developing a new approach to teaching and learning, based around object analysis and critical engagement, we are finding that the sessions we run
have the potential to support student learning across a range of different subjects and disciplines. 
The approach we now take is primarily concerned with helping students to learn from objects, rather than about the objects themselves.

We recently welcomed a group of Middlesex Presessional students to MoDA. These are students who do not speak English as their first language but would like to study at Middlesex.  The Object Analysis questionnaires we now use at MoDA provided a fantastic opportunity for the students to practice their descriptive language in particular, as they were asked to describe the visual appearance of the objects they encountered: what did they look like? how did they feel? how did they think the objects had been constructed? Working in small groups, the students were encouraged to discuss their thoughts with their peers, before writing down their answers on the form. They were then asked to think about what they thought the object was, what was it for? It is at this point that students need to look to their own experience and existing knowledge in order to try and understand the function of the object they have been confronted with. On the face of it this might seem particularly difficult for those not based in the UK. But talking to the students it soon became apparent that they were able to find connections between the MoDA objects and material they had encountered in their own countries and cultures.


As well as improving their English, Presessional students are also concerned with broadening their knowledge and understanding of British life, culture and history. We were able to help them achieve this by referring the students to related objects eg. photographs and retailers catalogues, allowing them to start to contextualise the objects they had analysed. For example one of the objects the students analysed was a tea cosy, which led us to talk about the significance of tea and tea drinking in British culture.



Having discussed their findings, the students then shared the results of their analysis with the rest of the group in the form of a short presentation.  It was great to see them working together on their presentations, using the answers from the questionnaires to construct sentences, and in doing so inform their peers about the objects they'd encountered.

The feedback from students and staff in response to the visits, has been very positive.  As a result we are already planning return visits for the Summer term.

If you work with students in Higher Education and are interested in knowing more about the sessions we run then please contact either Richard or Maggie.

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