I get notices about the weekly Nickle at Noon presentations at the University of Calgary. They always look interesting, and the one for this week was especially close to my areas of interest. First zoology, botany and paleontology. Then education, and finally, making use of museum collections to enhance teaching and learning from first hand sources.
Inspired by the Pecha Kucha style, the simple presentations were 15 slides in 5 minutes. After hearing their stories, we mingled with the presenters who had moved to tables with some specimens from their prized collections. The presenters were:
- Michele Hardy, Curator, Nickle Galleries, Libraries and Cultural Resources
- Marina Fischer, Curator, Numismatics
- Jana Vamosi, Associate Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology & Herbarium Director, Department of Biological Sciences
- Annie Murray, Associate University Librarian, Archives & Special Collections, Libraries and Cultural Resources
- Nicola Howard, Curatorial Technician, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
- Jessica Madeleine Theodor, Associate Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Department of Biological Sciences
There was a lot to learn from these short presentations. I made more than five pages of notes. My ears particularly perked up when Jana Vamosi told us how the collection of over 90,000 dried plant specimens suddenly became very popular when the "genomics crowd" discovered that DNA could be extracted from these old specimens.
All the presenters emphasized the value to student learning of maintaining and using these collections. They used phrases like:
- providing hands-on learning
- helping to develop a sense of time and space
- facilitating a sense of deep transformative learning from primary sources
- fostering new, creative connections through immediacy and context of learning
- assigning activities that help students develop new knowledge or develop scientific skills.
There was general agreement that learning comes alive when the specimen moves out of the glass case and can be touched and handled. Additionally, new technologies are used to bring the specimens alive for an even wider audience. For example, 3-D printing has been used to make exact copies, which then allow for more invasive examination techniques that could not be used on the originals.
As much as we might josh about the rivalries between University of Calgary and University of Alberta, we learned that there is a great deal of cooperation so that each university can provide excellent collections for their students. Additionally, larger specimens that can cause space issues within the university end up going to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. With the advent of the internet, many of these collections have been put online. This has piqued interest from scientists around the world who may spot a specimen of particular interest online and then arrange to come out to visit, or possible have the specimen loaned to their home university.
So if you are in Calgary, take advantage of the learning opportunities on campus. If you are not in this area, perhaps your local college or university is a setting for informative talks and presentations.
Links of interest:
PechKucha 20x20 FAQ
Nickle Galleries events page
Online Nickle galleries
Online data bases
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