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UCL Qatar: Introducing Innovation Labs to Zambian Cultural Heritage Institutions

GuestBlogger25 September 2019

By Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Associate Professor, Library and Information Studies, UCL Qatar.

Over the years, UCL academics have contributed in different ways to the six Grand Challenges. One of them is Cultural Understanding, and it looks at the differing, complex, and evolving relationships between people, communities, and culture in the interconnected world of today.

After many years of digitisation in libraries, museums and archives around the globe, there is a vast accumulation of digital content. We are used to it at our fingertips on any digital device. But imagine that you are interested in the diaries and other objects related to the explorations of David Livingstone in Zambia. They have already been digitised, but you must take a trip to consult the digitised collection of the museum on-site because it is not available online.

This is still the case with plenty of cultural and scientific heritage digital content from the Global South, a region which suffers the digital divide.

The digital divide results in many deficits in access to knowledge due to missing, or the very slow adoption of, modern technology. In the cultural heritage domain, the digital divide results in the lack of exposure of digital content which exists but is not made available online. There are various explanations why this is the case – ranging from lack of suitable infrastructure for digital asset management to inadequate or missing policies for user engagement with the digital content.

Led by the desire to explore what this means in the Sub Saharan African context, I submitted a proposal to the most recent call for teaching activities in Africa and the Middle East of the Global Engagement Office at UCL. It aimed to deliver the first workshop in innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions for Sub Saharan Africa in Zambia.

Having two major obstacles in mind – inadequate infrastructures and lack of user engagement policies – we designed a workshop which addressed both areas. In a world where Open Science becomes increasingly popular, the opportunities for digital presence are changing. One solution to the issue of not sharing content online due to inadequate institutional infrastructure is to start using open platforms.

The exciting work started when my proposal received support, and we scheduled our workshop to be delivered on 1 August 2019 at Livingstone Museum, Zambia.

Fig. 1. Zambian digital content is mostly available for consultation in-house – thus world users cannot access it as a consequence of the digital divide

The rationale of the workshop was to spread the innovative knowledge accumulated at UCL Qatar to setting up successful innovation labs in cultural heritage institutions in Zambia. The workshop targeted professionals from Cultural Heritage Institutions who have responsibilities to manage digital collections and those with future intentions of engaging in the curation of a digital collection in Zambia. The workshop aimed to:

  • Equip museum and library professionals in Zambia with knowledge on the approaches to setting innovation labs and discussing how local institutions can work towards creating such labs.
  • Raise awareness on the role cultural institutions offering digital content play in boosting the digital skills of scholars, educators, learners, and creatives.

UCL Qatar worked with several institutions in Zambia to prepare and deliver the workshop, including the National Museums Board of Zambia – an umbrella institution for national museums, the National Archives of Zambia, and the Department of Library and Information Science from the University of Zambia (UNZA). It also included online interventions from the British Library.

We focused the content of the workshop on state-of-the-art digitisation, examples of digitisation projects from Zambia, and setting up innovation labs in libraries, museums, and archives. There was also plenty of discussions and a practical exercise on understanding better the needs of users of digital collections.

Participants

Initially designed for 15 participants, the workshop was delivered to a total of 27 participants (see Fig. 2)

Fig. 2.  Profiles of participants
Figure 3: Workshop participants

Feedback and impact

Eighteen out of the 27 participants provided feedback and it was overwhelmingly positive. The participants were asked to rate the content of the workshop and also to comment on the value of the knowledge for themselves and their institutions.

One participant said:

“The programme should be repeated for other professionals in Zambia and if it comes I will recommend it to others.”

There were also opinions on how to take forward the knowledge shared at the workshop:

“Put the knowledge acquired in the workshop to use ASAP, conduct a follow up workshop to determine progress in created innovation labs, and massive awareness creation of the existence of the innovation labs created to potential users”

“Embrace new trends and technologies relating to digital platforms and information sharing through innovation labs”

“I’m suggesting that maybe if its possible to continue having such workshops every year so that we learn more new techniques on how to improve our libraries. Also, the workshop should have taken at least three days to allow participants learn more”.

The workshop received media coverage from three newspapers and some local radio stations.

Another innovative outcome from this event was that UCL Qatar added the first-ever dataset of the potential for Innovation labs in Africa on the UCL repository: Dobreva, M., and Phiri, F.. (2019, August 20). Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs in Africa (Version 1). figshare. https://doi.org/10.5522/04/9685127.v1

A Google folder with all the presentations, press coverage, and photos of the event is also openly available: Innovation Labs Workshop – Zambia

Conclusion

The Funding from GEO made it possible for UCL Qatar to host this first-of-its-kind workshop in Sub Saharan Africa.

This has resulted in a beneficial collaboration with local institutions in Zambia such as the National Museum Board of Zambia, University of Zambia and National Archives of Zambia to deliver of the first-ever workshop on Innovation Labs in Sub Saharan Africa.

The workshop also inspired a new sense of enthusiasm in participants to make their digital collection accessible online.

Acknowledgment

I would like to thank Dania Jalees for the infographics, Fred Nuyambe for the photograph and Fidelity Phiri who collaborated on this project.

UCL Qatar students changing libraries in Doha through UCL ChangeMakers project

GuestBlogger21 January 2019

By Bruce Bulmuo 

Master’s degree students at UCL Qatar have completed a UCL ChangeMakers project which offered students the opportunity to work with a school library in Doha to enhance practice-based learning for students in the Library and Information Studies program.

The students spent several months working with Al-Rowad International School to provide assessment and consultation services.

Recommendations were made to the authorities of the school on potential changes to the library to meet standards set by Qatar National School Accreditation (QNSA).

Meeting international standards 

To be eligible for full accreditation, schools in Qatar are required by QNSA to have well-resourced and functioning libraries that meet international standards. After a rigorous search, Al-Rowad International School was selected to be the first beneficiary of ChangeMakers in Qatar.

Led by Asma Al-Maadheed, the team of five students worked under the supervision of Dr. Milena Dobreva, Co-ordinator of the Library and Information Studies program at UCL Qatar, to write a library policy and install an automated library system for the school’s library.

Staff of the school were given basic training on how to operate the library system that was installed on their main library computer to ensure efficiency in the management of the library.

Fostering collaboration and innovation 

The UCL ChangeMakers project fosters collaboration and innovation to further enhance the learning experience of students. The project also forms part of commitment at UCL Qatar to prepare students for the work environment.

The project titled ‘Practice-based Team Learning through Assessing and Supporting School Libraries in Qatar’, also served as a hands-on practice for students in line with UCL’s mission of developing professionals through research based-based learning.

The students also considered the project as a form of corporate social responsibility that allowed them to give back to society the knowledge they have gained from the lecture halls.

UCL secures flagship training contract with Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Sian EGardiner10 December 2017

Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeUCL has won a flagship contract to train the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s staff and diplomats around the world in economics, with specialist subject matter to include how different markets and exchange rates operate, the economics of the environment and more.

In a significant coup for the university’s Economics department, UCL will train up to 300 FCO staff a year over four years. UCL won the contract through an open competition in which it scored particularly highly on content and focus on learner needs.

Shamik Dhar, FCO Chief Economist and Head of the Diplomatic Academy Economics and Prosperity Faculty, said: “UCL won the contract by really thinking through what our diplomats need in their day jobs and are designing a course that is accessible to the whole of the FCO’s global network.”

Bespoke online courses

The bespoke courses, aimed at degree level learners, will be predominantly delivered online. They will modernise the FCO’s current economics teaching and provide FCO staff with practical insights on the markets and economies in which they are posted.

The programme has been designed to suit staff out in the field who might be studying after the working day, and includes video on demand elements. Teaching will be broken into 15 to 20 minute sections, along with live interactive webinar sessions, to ensure staff can work at their own pace.

“We will be introducing learners to cutting edge research,” said Parama Chaudhury, a principal teaching fellow at UCL. “Learners in this programme will be equipped with the knowledge of the most reliable and current research on pressing issues, and what the experts in the field are presently recommending in terms of policy.”

Specialist subject matter

The course will consist of two main parts, with one billed as Core Learning (CL) and one as Job Specific Learning (JSL). Both will be practical in nature, enabling learners to see how the course subject matter can be applied practically in both their individual roles and the markets in which they work.

The specialist subject matter will include the macroeconomic crises, economics data, regulating markets, economic growth and development and more.Image

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (credit: p_a_h, source: Flickr)

Making Museums

KerryMilton1 September 2014

UCL has opened its doors to museum professionals from around the world through a new Museum Training School (MTS) – an innovative CPD programme developed in partnership with the British Council Global Skills Unit.

A group discussion at the Museum Training School

Participants from over 16 countries attended, selected from more than 450 applications.

100 cultural institutions and museums provided speakers, expertise and visits during the four weeks of the summer school, the programme made up of four courses each exploring the major facets of museum working:

  • How to build local, national and international partnerships
  • How to develop exhibitions
  • How to develop schools and learning programmes
  • How to develop community engagement programmes

Each course followed a project-based model of learning. Students in the ‘How to develop exhibitions’ course, for example, had the opportunity to handle authentic objects from the world renowned Petrie Museum Collection, then immediately apply this knowledge to a contemporary art exhibition which they curated at the end of the week.

In the ‘How to develop community engagement programmes’ course, participants created innovative projects to improve museum practice in their host institutions and countries.

How to build local, national and international partnerships course

A group get to work on developing an exhibition

At the end of their course, each participant presented partnership proposals to develop their museum’s practices. The Director of the National Museum Bangkok presented an innovative idea of getting staff training from a local airline to develop his staff’s customer service and people skills, essential for any museum.

How to develop exhibitions course

Participants on the Exhibitions course learned about the ground skills of exhibition work, from object handling to airport couriering. At the end of the week curatorial teams displayed a mini exhibition using the British Council’s contemporary art collection. The objects ranged from Hirst to Nicholson, but Shrigley’s headless ostrich proved a bit too tricky!

How to develop schools and learning programmes course

Working with experts at the Museum of Childhood, the participants produced educational games for children based on the displays and materials in the museum. The international cohort provided a mixed discussion on teaching methods and experienced practical examples of museum education for them to analyse.

How to develop community engagement programmes course

Participants for this course experienced community engagement programmes in local authority museums, national institutions and even outdoors. This broad range of experiences led our participants to produce community engagement action points ranging from corporate access events (Philippines) to an Arts farmers’ market (China).

The future

The Museum Training School was a huge success, with 80 people already registering interest in next year’s course.

A participant from China commented, “The highlight of the course was to meet with so many museum professionals. I learned new skills and met people only possible through this course.”

For any enquiries or comments on the Museum Training School, please email Edmund Connolly, Finance and Course Manager at museumtrainingschool@ucl.ac.uk