Access and Widening Participation


Department of Anthropology

This case study focuses on UCL Anthropology's ‘Anthropo-box’ project.

What is your role at UCL?

Dr Alison Macdonald - Director of Teaching, Tutor for Access and WP (UCL Anthropology)

What were the main aims of your project?

The Access and WP initiatives in my department aim to introduce anthropology to state school pupils and connect with curriculum subjects. This involves giving taster lectures and delivering anthropology workshops using the ‘Anthropo-box’ – a box of cultural objects that introduces anthropology via object based learning.

Who else did you work with?

I worked with:

  • teachers to get feedback on Anthropo-box
  • central Access and WP office who have funded my project over the last 2 years
  • students to help me set up the initiative 
  • colleagues in my department

Description of the project 

The Anthropo-box is a resource that uses artefacts and cultural objects from the anthropology department's ethnographic collection to promote the study of anthropology as a degree subject in state schools. Objects are a great way to attract people’s attention and our quirky, mysterious looking objects from the collection certainly arouse curiosity.

We use the box to deliver fun, practice-based sessions that use objects to illuminate anthropological ideas and ways of thinking. Our sessions are adaptable and can be delivered to any year group in varying class sizes from twelve to thirty pupils. Our most popular session so far is the ‘Introduction to Anthropology’ class, which involves pupils trying to work out the meaning of the objects without being given any information. During the group work, pupils look for clues by handing the objects and make informed judgments about the object’s use and its source community through processes of deduction and problem solving based on the physical characteristics in front of them. Pupils are ultimately led through a process of discovery to the true nature of the object, which is then connected explicitly by the session co-ordinator to anthropological themes and any curriculum themes of the class.

We advertise ourselves through our Access and WP networks at UCL, via UCL careers and recruitment and through word of mouth and personal connections. We also ‘cold call’ schools via email with information about our resources. We are working on developing a departmental website which will eventually showcase all out activities and enable schools to ‘book the box’ for a workshop or taster lecture. 

We have just started recruiting PhD students to become Access and WP ‘ambassadors’ and we train them to use the anthropo-box and go into schools to deliver workshops and taster lectures. Our students go into schools all though the academic year.

How did you evaluate the project?

At the moment we use feedback forms which pupils and teachers fill out after the event. This works well to get information about the success of the event. However, we need to start tracking the impact of whether our activities convert into applications and offers! We are starting to look into more systematic evaluation by mapping our activities with Access and WP admissions.

What went well?

We know our workshops are really engaging – teachers and pupils tell us whenever we go into a school. I personally love interacting with school kids and trying to inspire them to be curious about anthropology.

Any advice for someone wanting to run a similar project? 

It takes time so be patient. It’s taken me 2 years to get the project up and running and even now I am still progressing slowly because of other work commitments. Access and WP needs to be made an even higher priority by UCL – we need more resources and more dedicated staff!

Just go for it and start something! Galvanise your students because more often than not they are passionate about their subject and promoting it to young people. I couldn’t have done my project without the support of several undergraduate and postgraduate students. 

Gaining feedback from teachers is essential and this feedback needs to be processual – gaining advice every step of the way ensures your project is developing in ways that is still relevant and useful to schools.