International Exchange in Brazil: Innovation and Education in Museums

In October 2017 a small team from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, along with colleagues from the Great North Museum Hancock, visited the visited the Pontifica Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on a knowledge exchange programme with colleagues from the PUCRS Science and Technology Museum and related departments.

The four day exchange culminated in a conference Connecting Museums (UK-BR): leadership, innovation and education in science museums on 17 October for students, researchers and academics at PUCRS.

The morning saw the Directors discuss the strategic aims of their respective organisations, and how they foster innovation.

Melissa Guerra Simoes Pires, the Director of the PUCRS Science and Technology Museum opened the proceedings by introducing the home museum and its strategic aims. She also spoke about the huge success of their Traveling Museum Programme (PROMUSIT) which takes versions of the interactive scientific experiments on display in the museum at PUCRS out to communities that would struggle to access the museum. Transported in a truck specially designed for that purpose, over 70 experiments are arranged in an area of approximately 600m2. PROMUSIT has delivered more than 140 events since its inception in 2001, engaging more than 2 million members of the community.

Caroline McDonald, Director of the Great North Museum Hancock, spoke about how the museum has been working with OUCRS Science and Technology Museum to develop parallel exhibitions on the topic of evolution, ‘Bones’ in Newcastle, and ‘Traces of Evolution’ in Porto Alegre. Caroline discussed the process of sharing knowledge and approaches to engagement between the two countries.

Finally in the morning session Professor Paul Smith, Director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History focussed on how museums can embrace innovation. He shared the example of the Dodo Roadshow, an award winning campaign that saw museum staff take their iconic dodo on a road trip from Land’s End at the far south of the United Kingdom to John O’Groats at the most northern tip of Scotland in just one week, visiting with local museums on the way for the Dodo to ‘meet’ with star objects from other museums for a series of Q&A articles on the museum’s website.

The afternoon session focussed on education programmes within the museum. The session was opened by Jose Luis Ferraro, the coordinator for Education for the PUCRS Science and Technology Museum, speaking about the development and success of their education programmes. He was followed by Janet Stott, Deputy Director and Head of Public Engagement at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who shared insights from her museum’s learning programme, with a particular focus on engaging young people outside the formal education setting. Adam Goldwater, Learning Officer at the Great North Museum then discussed his work with local schools to better embed museum learning into curriculum teaching in the classroom. Finally Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager for Oxford University Museums discussed some of the ways that Oxford’s museums are using mobile to enhance their onsite visitor experience.

Attended by over 50 delegates from across PUCRS, the day evoked a lively and fruitful discussion. Thanks to our hosts at PUCRS for a productive and fruitful visit.

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