Online teaching and learning with digitised collections in Higher Education contexts

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews


This project, submitted to the urgency call for the AHRC Towards a National Collection (TANC) programme, will track and evaluate digital teaching with university museum and cultural heritage collections in the 2020-21 academic year.

It will synthesise existing good practice and develop new case studies, investigate the pivot to online delivery of collections-based teaching and learning in universities, and identify gaps in skills, tools and infrastructure, as well as in the availability and interoperability of digital and digitised collections and of collections systems. The project will support university museums and other related collections custodians at a crucial turning point in their rapidly-developing collections work and teaching practice, and create guidance and case studies that will be of wider applicability in the sector.

Through the close partnership with a strong and collaborative existing regional network, the University Museums in Scotland (UMIS) group, the project can also take advantage of methodologies and case studies across museums of different sizes, scales, and in the context of universities which employ different teaching modes, cover different topics, and have different strategic priorities. It supports TANC by gathering time-sensitive data on how digitised collections are and could be used for university teaching and learning online, and by assessing areas for potential future investment or collaborations.


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Description The final project report identifies a number of factors that made things easier to start with:
* Pre-pandemic experience and capacity for digitistaion
* Existing digitised resources
* Skill-sharing and collaborative relationships

A number of aspects were identified as working well and likely to continue:
* Awareness and visibility of digitised collections
* Removal of operational barriers
* New potential for working across a wider range of subject areas

There were also a number of areas that were more challenging and could be reconsidered:
* Hybrid delivery was more difficult than blended delivery
* Assessment methods have not yet changed or adapted to reflect new opportunities offered by digital technology
* Digitisation resource and capacity is fragile
* Choices about tools and technologies, and access to online resources, should be carefully considered from the point of view of sustainability and accessibility

Finally, there were recommendations for next steps and further work:
* Time and resources re needed to support reflection on teaching practice, build on digital skills developed, and share experiences
* Consideration should be given to how contributions to teaching are supported, credited and recognised
* Greater clarity about licensing and copyright, and improved discoverability of collections, would enable more joined-up use to be made of them for teaching and learning
* Greater visibility of how collections are used as an integral part of taught modules and courses would be beneficial
Exploitation Route Final report will be published online in 2023, which contains more details and case studies of innovative practise. It will be shared freely with the sector.
In addition, the PI is engaged in sector discussions about next steps in this area.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description See policy and practise section
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Presentations and workshops during the project, and afterwards, inform and influence sector practise
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or improved professional practice