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We were delighted to talk about our Techxibit Coding Culture workshops at the Irish Museums Association Education and Outreach Forum which took place in the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks on the 5th July. You can read an abridged version of our presentation below, presented by Shannon Wilson, Education and Outreach Officer at EPIC, and Claire Murray, Head of Education at the Irish Family History Centre.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the Arts are often at loggerheads, competing for space, place, funding and attention. However, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is a social history museum, where artefacts are supplemented by technology, and weaving through the vaults is a roller coaster of emotion due to the fascinating stories of the Irish diaspora. We tell our stories through digital technology, using a mix of video, images and audio.

 

Digital Technologies at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

An example of the technology used in EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

While traditionally, history as a subject can be text heavy – and seemingly far removed from the lives of those in classrooms – the medium of technology aids us in overcoming these boundaries to reach students in a number of innovative ways. This includes providing a more engaging, participatory, involved and immersive sensory learning experience, but perhaps even more importantly, it consists of showing students the possibilities that a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) partnership offers – a partnership that they will most certainly need to be fluent in to be successful in the future.

The Techxibit workshops grew out of these ideals. We wanted to create something that not only allowed students to engage with these stories in their own way, but that empowered them to actually create the technology needed to do so. A programme that got them learning a vital skillset, thinking outside the box and challenging the bias that science and the arts were incompatible. Breaking down our exhibition to its most basic form – code, we paired this with the community experience provided by school clubs such as CoderDojo.

Digital Technologies at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

Music and Dance: one of the 20 interactive galleries at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

The programme was created at two levels – a primary level and a secondary level – with a similar overall structure in place for both. School groups start off their day with a tech-focused tour of the museum, which combines stories of historical significance from the museum’s content, with some of the specific ins-and-outs of the technology that is used to bring them to life. This is then complimented by a practical and hands-on coding workshop.

While primary school classes utilise ‘Scratch’, a coding software similar to digital Lego blocks, to create their own mini-digital museum game, secondary level use trinket.io, HTML and CSS to code a museum website. This may sound complex, but both programmes were developed to be incredibly flexible in terms of delivery – for total beginners, the tasks are set out in easy-to-follow handouts, so they can work at their own pace without feeling rushed. There are then more complex tasks that students with a lot of experience already can try. Whatever their level, students are free to adapt the content to suit their own particular needs and interests, expressing their own skill and creativity. With help from CoderDojo at development level, the programme was also built to encourage peer-learning and problem solving. While we talk through the tasks with the class group, we don’t stipulate to the students exactly what is required, and if they have a question, we tease out the answer together as a group, teaching vital problem solving skills. Learning is therefore a conversation – not a lecture.

What remains constant across all age groups are the materials provided. Each student works on a laptop and receives a step-by-step coding guidebook, which includes instructions for the session and bonus activities for home. They also receive character passports, which reveal facts and stories about key figures featured in the museum, from Anne Bonny to Bram Stoker, which they can use to as part of the content to build their software. All of this works together to provide the perfect STEAM learning environment, no matter the age group.

Coding workshop at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

A child coding their own mini-digital museum at our recent workshop at EPIC

For further information about upcoming programmes, please contact groups@epicchq2018.wpengine.com.

Header photo: Shannon Wilson, Education and Outreach Officer at EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, and Claire Murray, Head of Education at the Irish Family History Centre, pictured above at the Irish Museums Association Education and Outreach Forum on July 5th 2019.