GUM workshop, November 9, 2023 /
On November 9th, 2023, Things That Talk (TTT) in collaboration with the Ghent University Museum (GUM) organized a workshop for the museum student team (MuST). These students come from various programs and help behind the scenes of the museum, attend workshops, and explore various collections and museums. The workshop focused on exploring the affect of objects and its effect on object-based teaching and learning (OBTL). Bart Grob (curator at Museum Boerhaave) inspired us to explore this concept in our workshops.
When it comes to teaching with objects, educators and curators might tend to focus on the materiality of objects and their history and provenance, overlooking their affect. In other words, what we see, smell, feel, hear or what we cannot sense when engaging with objects might activate emotions. Instead of ignoring the affect of objects, it is important to explore how this might influence the effect of our teachings and reconsider our pedagogies.
The workshop began with a short introduction of teaching with objects as a pedagogy, which highlighted the heterogeneity of practices and reflected on the benefits and challenges of this approach. This was followed by two hands-on activities involving various objects such as spoons and Barbies. For each activity, participants were first encouraged to reflect on the materiality of these objects before connecting them to the affects they might evoke in them and others. Then, they reflected on the impact this might have on teaching with objects practices. Finally, students were invited to design their own OBTL lesson, workshop, or tour. They defined learning objectives, explored how to achieve these goals, and how to use diversity to try and elevate their practices.
Overall, for us, this session has highlighted several points.
Students’ responsiveness and engagement during the workshop has highlighted the need and importance to make OBTL practices more inclusive. Part of our workshop relied on participants being vulnerable, sharing their own emotions and experiences. It was a possibility that students would have closed themselves off, however, instead several of them opened up. Similarly, during group work, all students seemed to be engaged in the discussions, designing inclusive OBTL practices. Among others, they drafted a very interesting exhibit concept showcasing the evolution of several objects. For instance, they highlighted the evolution of skin color pencils, going from one beige pencil to a wider variety of them. Maybe, the next step towards exploring new ways to make OBTL more inclusive involves deeper collaboration with students.
This workshop was a first step in trying to establish a deeper collaboration and communication with students, whose voices have been missing from discussions surrounding OBTL. While it was originally planned to design a survey to explore their experiences and perspectives, it appeared that this might not be the best way to do so. Students might not feel comfortable sharing their opinions on an OBTL lesson with those who gave the session. Moreover, it does not allow the collection of in-depth perspectives. As an alternative, it might be better to have short discussions with one or two students, allowing for more in-depth and constructive exploration of their experiences.
Overall, the workshop generated lively and productive discussions and consisted of a first step towards helping our project explore students’ perspective and new avenues to make teaching with objects more inclusive.