The notion of immersion as a pedagogic tool when blended with the role of an ‘expert’ in a decision making role could heighten learning by students actively taking on a first-person position in a different context. Museums such as Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse have already experienced positive outcomes of such innovative practice through first person pauper experiences, whereby students observe staff in role and can ask general questions about their life and daily actions. I wanted to take this further; what if the students were also in role as fully immersed characters? How might this impact upon their engagement and learning?
The benefits of immersion can be seen when observing existing living museum activities, which range from costumed first person full immersive role play as part of a Suffragette rally (KS3/KS4); partial immersive role play such as Mrs Scroggins Pit Cottage sessions (KS2) where students are charged with the task of carrying out Victorian pit cottage chores to emphasise on miner’s lives, although aware that they are modern school children; to an ‘expert’ role workshop where the students remain modern student, but are charged with the task of resolving an historical problem.At that point, I noticed there was an opportunity to blend similar experiences, but instead connect this to a story of the Great War. After researching local stories, the design of the outreach and workshops began. At the non-living museum, the curatorial expert role was developed in order to enhance the core strengths of their existing exhibits. Four local soldiers’ stories (all of whom lived near to the students and within four streets of each other) were researched and relating ephemera, photographs, maps and objects were sourced. The experiential/immersive learning would commence with army drills. This would allow students to empathise with Western Front soldiers before being immersed into their expert curatorial roles. This workshop saw the pre-existing museum offer of an object handling session transform into a more immersive experience with students acting as a curator in residence, charged with piecing together the lives of the soldier from their area. Students could utilise ephemera and objects, with help from the staff, about what certain objects might mean or tell them before recreating maps of journey’s made and feeding back to the others about the fate of their fallen man.
The living museum used their living history experience to immerse the students into the roles of the Home Guard or V.A.D. They were asked to identify why a fifteen year old, Ferguson, who was from their local area, had enlisted as a solder. After a drill immersion and exploration of clues, students collaboratively devised questions to ask villagers, including during a scorning by a white feather girl. A debate as to their final decision would allow for in-depth conversation and a conclusion as to would they have made the same decision as Ferguson. Students, set in the time and the role of 1914 families, then baked plum puddings and cross stitched postcards with villagers to send to the soldiers on the front line. It was hoped that the tangibility of cross stitching and plum pudding making would help students to connect with life in 1914. All of these workshops and immersion would proceed outreach to support David Kolb’s notion that learning is experiential and ‘formed and reformed tested out in the experiences of the learner’.
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