By Ersin Hussein, Swansea University

When was the last time you engaged with a museum display, exhibition, or event? What shape did this take? Was it in-person or online? What was the experience like? What were the benefits and/or challenges? These are some of the questions that lie at the heart of this blog post written by Ersin Hussein (Lecturer in Ancient History, Swansea University). In it, she reflects upon the benefits of object-centred learning using museum collections, the shape that connecting with collections is taking in light of the global pandemic and invites readers to provide feedback on their experiences of engaging with museums during this time. Feedback collated from the survey linked below will be used to guide a roundtable discussion at next year’s Classical Association 2022 conference on engaging with schools and community groups. Data will also be carefully digested to aid the development of museum resources for schools at Swansea University’s in-house museum, The Egypt Centre.


The pedagogical and wellbeing benefits of object-centred learning, whether engaging students, researchers, or the wider public, have long been recognised. It involves activities such as examining physical objects and their records individually or through curated displays, object handling, responding to artefacts by drawing them, writing about their histories or the responses they inspire. This list is of course, not exhaustive. Traditionally, engaging with artefacts using museum collections is memorable firstly because of the ‘wow-factor’ they inspire. Who cannot be anything but in awe of being able to get close to, or even better handle, artefacts from different periods of history and from different parts of the world? Secondly, the tactile nature of engaging with objects and using a range of senses has a lasting impact. Object-centred learning encourages critical thinking about material culture in creative ways. Engaging with objects, old and new, in the ways described above and more, can often inspire participants to interpret and communicate information about them and the topics they touch upon. For instance, archaeology and colonialism, daily life, the environment, the social history of a given place, cultural contact and exchanges. Direct experience of handling artefacts has been understood to develop proficiency in the following study and interpersonal skills:

  • Observation, curiosity, and critical thinking.
  • Communication (i.e., writing, speaking, and listening).
  • Values (i.e., tolerance, empathy, compassion).
  • Memory recall/retrieval.

The COVID-19 pandemic saw the necessary closure of museums globally. Many responded to this crisis by adapting their practices so that their collections and research activities were accessible to their audiences. For example, take Reading’s Ure Museum, Cambridge’s Museum of Classical Archaeology, the Harvard Art Museums and The Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning, and Swansea’s Egypt Centre. They enhanced their existing and varied provision by moving conferences and seminar series online, hosting workshops remotely, and delivering virtual handling sessions among other things. Their approach to the crisis has been flexible and dynamic.

The CA panel Object-Centred Learning in Museums: perspectives and lessons from COVID marks the start of research on the changing shape of object-centred learning and engagement. The panel will open with papers from abovementioned institutions which will draw on experiences from the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect upon the following issues: the challenges that museums faced, the practices put in place to overcome these, the impact of continued engagement with artefacts and collections on students and the wider public, and new approaches to object centred learning in museums that emerged from this crisis. The panel will then close with a roundtable on connecting themes that emerge from the papers, but it will also be guided by responses from teachers regarding their experiences during the past two academic years that have been disrupted by the pandemic. Their perspectives are crucial to discussion, and it is the aim of the session to establish ongoing dialogue on the issues raised that will have a lasting impact on the co-creation and evolution of museum resources.

So, if you would like to, how can you get involved?

At the end of this blog is a link to a survey that should take no more than 10 minutes to complete (open until January 31st 2022). All questions are multiple choice, with an option to add further comments should you wish. Data collated will be utilised for the conference roundtable (see above) and any publications and reports that emerge from the event. Responses will be treated anonymously. If you have any questions or would like to be more directly involved in the roundtable discussion that will take place at the CA conference, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

Link to the survey:


Useful reading on the benefits of object-centred learning include:

Chatterjee, H. and Hannan, L. eds. (2017) Engaging the Senses: Object-based Learning in Higher Education, London: Routledge.

Durbin, G., Morris, S., and Wilkinson, S. (1990) Learning from Objects: A Teacher’s Guide, London: English Heritage.

Galani, A. and Chalmers, M. (2010) ‘Empowering the Remote Visitor: Supporting Social Museum Experiences Among Local and Remote Visitors,’ in R. Parry ed. Museums in a Digital Age, New York, NY: Routledge: 159–169

Heath, C., and von Lehn, D. (2010) ‘Interactivity and Collaboration: New Forms of Participation in Museums, Galleries and Science Centres,’ in R. Parry ed. Museums in a Digital Age, New York, NY: Routledge: 266–280.

Lane, J., and Wallace, A. (2007) Hands On: Learning from Objects and Paintings. A Teacher’s Guide, Glasgow: Scottish Museums Council.

Paris, S.G. ed. (2002) Perspectives on Object-centered Learning in Museums, London: Routledge.

Parton, A., Newton, D.P., and Newton, L. (2017) ‘The Implementation of Object-centred Learning Through the Visual Arts: Engaging Students in Creative, Problem-based Learning,’ International Journal of Education through Art 13/2: 147–162.

Wiley, D.A. ed. (2000), The Instructional Use of Learning Objects (Bloomington, IN: Agency for Instructional Technology. Association for Educational Communications & Technology.