Teaching & Learning


Redesigning object handling workshops for online teaching

Jessica Clarke (History Department) describes reinventing how students engage with historical objects and artefacts via Zoom during a period of online teaching.

Student taking a picture of an object from the Grant Museum

22 July 2021

Benefits of object-based learning

Like students in a wide range of disciplines, History students are encouraged to engage with artefacts and objects that taken them beyond the theory and document analysis. 

The benefits of object-based learning include:

  • They provide a direct link with a topic or 'the past' and can really enhance interest in and understanding of a topic/subject.
  • They encourage learners to use all their senses.
  • They help to develop the important skill of drawing conclusions based on an examination of evidence, together with an understanding of the limitations and reliability of evidence.
  • They are ideal for generating group and class discussion (UCL Culture, 2021).

Appraising objects via Zoom

In this case study, Jessica Clarke (History Department) describes a creative approach to reinventing an ‘object handling workshop’ for online teaching. Using Zoom breakouts, Jessica found a way to support student learning and develop students’ abilities to critically appraise material culture; she found the necessary changes actually offered some unexpected advantages.

The discussion was incorporating lots of different people and to me that was showing that they were enjoying the session and they were engaged...There were very contrasting suggestions for a single object; we modelled what happens when two academics will approach an object and give different answers. Jessica Clarke (History Department). 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/iJ1hJ72A

Length of video: 16 minutes.

Jump to a specific section

  • Chapter 1: Context
  • Chapter 2: How object handling workshops worked pre-Covid
  • Chapter 3: The importance of object handling
  • Chapter 4: The shift online: engaging students with material culture at a distance
  • Chapter 5: Use of Zoom breakout rooms and ‘send to all’ function
  • Chapter 6: Monitoring and maintaining focus
  • Chapter 7: Student responses to the activity
  • Chapter 8: Indicators of student engagement
  • Chapter 9: What was lost; what was gained

Get creative with Zoom

For advice on how to exploit Zoom functions and breakout rooms, speak to your Faculty Learning Technologist or contact the Digital Education team.

To discuss the underpinning teaching and learning approaches referenced here, contact Arena colleagues.

Further reading

  1. UCL Culture (2021) Teaching and object-based learning. 
  2. Compton, M. and Gilmour, A. (2020) The time has come to make your breakout: opportunities and pitfalls when using breakouts in live online sessions