The Value of Object-Based Learning within and between Higher Education Disciplines
Universities across the world have collections of huge historical value and many use these artefacts and specimens regularly for research, teaching and engaging wider audiences.1 However, little detailed research has been conducted into the impact that these unique collections can have for university student learning. Whereas a generation of scholarship has shown the high-quality learning that can be unlocked through close contact with museum objects in school and museum settings (Durbin, Morris and Wilkinson, 1990; Paris, 2002; Lane and Wallace, 2007), the opportunities for similar educational gains in higher education have gone largely unscrutinised. At University College London (UCL), a programme of research is showing, for the first time, the specific value of object-based learning for university teaching and learning. This research is strongly linked to pedagogies of active and experiential learning and is uncovering the ways in which the use of museum objects can enhance undergraduate and postgraduate learning across a whole spectrum of disciplines. Researchers at UCL have considered both the practical (Cain, 2010) and the theoretical aspects of using objects in university classrooms (Chatterjee, 2008a), and have used mixed methods to interrogate the cognitive effects of sensory engagement with objects of study. The research not only reveals that object-based learning can lead to better outcomes for students by encouraging active over passive approaches to learning, but it is also clarifying the detail of what actually happens when university students learn from specimens and artefacts instead of textbooks and lectures (Duhs, 2010; Chatterjee, 2011; Hannan,
Duhs and Chatterjee, 2013). Moreover, by presenting and publishing on these findings, the UCL research team has been able to influence institutional policy on teaching and learning, ensuring that a greater number of students encounter this form of learning as part of their university experience (Chatterjee, 2008b). These advances make teaching-focused collaborations between museums and university staff much more likely in the future and have the potential to change practice across higher education and the museums sector.