Learning during lockdown


Sydney Living Museums’ Learning Team found a range of ways to stay connected with students after the cancellation of school excursions in 2020. 

SLM’s Learning Team runs high-quality excursions at our properties, immersing students in history where it happened. In a normal year, we welcome around 70,000 students to our sites. 

Of course, 2020 wasn’t a normal year. When the NSW Department of Education cancelled all school excursions in March as part of measures to contain COVID-19, the Learning Team immediately refocused its efforts on ways to engage students who were ‘learning during lockdown’. Our goals were to continue to reach large numbers of students, and also ensure that individual students experienced something special and made connections to our sites, stories and collections. Online delivery makes this more challenging, but the results have been outstanding. 

Virtual excursions 

The Learning Team quickly developed a suite of virtual programs, using Zoom, that would give students access to our sites and stories via an online platform. SLM has offered virtual excursions for several years, but visitation was always dwarfed by the numbers attending our onsite programs. 

The pandemic changed everything. By December 2020, almost 45,000 primary students had participated in a virtual excursion with us – either an individual class session, or one of our live events. Highlights include Go Back to the Past at Vaucluse House in November, with 18,500 students. The Convict Love Tokens program in June, which welcomed more than 11,300 students to the Hyde Park Barracks via webinar, won an Innovation and Resilience Award in the Museums & Galleries of NSW 2020 Imagine Awards. 

Interactivity is a key consideration for primary students. Our virtual programs enable the presenter to ask and answer questions, and they also feature pre-prepared videos that allow students to visit places such as the Vaucluse House garden – virtually at least. Due to their popularity, we’ll continue to offer these virtual programs alongside our onsite offer. 

Having such a rich and engaging learning experience, when access to the museum itself was restricted, was a great way to consolidate my students’ knowledge.

Danielle Bosque, teacher, Sacred Heart Primary, Mount Druitt, attended the virtual program Convict Work at the Barracks

A digital makeover 

Another priority was the development of new learning resources on our website. The Learning Team worked with SLM’s graphic designers and Digital Team to redesign the learning webpages, making them engaging and user-friendly for primary students. 

In July we launched Gold Rush & Bushrangers!, an in-depth online resource for primary students studying the gold rush, a popular History topic. This project drew on expertise across the institution – including curatorial, digital, and collections management – and from several schools. It showcases collection materials from both SLM and NSW State Archives, and provides students and teachers with stories, activities and new perspectives on this period of Australian history. We can tell that the resource is useful and engaging because of the amount of time students are spending on it. 

We were delighted with our ability to stay connected to our audience through online learning, but we were also thrilled to finish the year by welcoming small numbers of schools back to our properties. Our newly enforced foray into the digital sphere was indeed a test, but the results speak for themselves.

About the Author

Head and shoulders portrait of man standing holding old bottle and in front of shelf of bottles.
Edward Washington
Program Producer – Learning
Public Programs
Ed is part of the Sydney Living Museums learning team, which provides curriculum-based programs to more than 60,000 students and teachers every year. In 2019 he received the Ruth Pope Bequest Annual Travelling Scholarship for international travel and study.

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our Members’ magazine.

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