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Robert Bunzli
05 July, 2018

Personalised virtual tours of the Roman empire, Indigenous Australia, and beyond

Imagine a tailor-made tour of some of the world’s most important Roman artefacts – without leaving your classroom. Or an Indigenous program that targets the specific aspect of the curriculum your class is currently studying, be it rights struggles or frontier conflict.

Too good to be true? In fact, these unique virtual programs – and many more – are provided by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra to schools across the nation, including regional and remote areas from which travel could be prohibitive.

AARNet-connected schools can take advantage of their connectivity to Australia’s research network for high-quality virtual access to the museum’s rich and diverse collections, programs and exhibitions.

Discover a rare Rome collection

Uniquely, between September 2018 and February 2019 schools will be able to engage with over 200 of the British Museum’s most important Roman objects when the Rome: City and Empire exhibition arrives at the National Museum – the only location in Australia that will house this globally-significant collection.

Rome: City and Empire tells the story of how Rome grew from a series of small villages to become a mighty empire. Robert Bunzli, Digital Programs Coordinator, says that, as with all their virtual programs, Rome will be tailored to suit individual classes.

“We understand that teachers are often looking for something very specific to supplement their teaching of a subject so, wherever possible, we add material to a virtual tour to expressly address particular topics or curriculum links.

“We never run the same tour twice, and students can tell that it’s not pre-packaged, which we can see inspires them.”

Tours shaped around rich collections

Videoconferencing brings schools from around the world to the National Museum for programs based on its permanent and temporary collections. Indigenous culture and history sessions are particularly popular, explains Bunzli, with national and international schools.

“Topics we often explore include early contact, Indigenous astronomy, frontier conflict, Stolen Generations and the struggle for rights and freedoms.

“Because of the tailored and interactive nature of our programs, we can discuss more contentious issues for higher year levels, as they fit into the curriculum well. It also helps us talk about the nature of history, whose history it is and more.”

Other permanent collections that the museum can shape programs around include early exploration of Australia, the gold rushes, World War 1 and its impact on Australian society, post-World War 2 migration, water resources and sustainability, and investigating historical sources.

“One of the great things about our programs is that we don’t just focus on history. Geography and culture are very important and, because of the interactivity of the programs, the itinerary is often influenced by the questions and comments of the students.”

Promoting virtual engagement

Bunzli explains that the museum works hard to stimulate real conversations, to help deepen students’ engagement.

“We take ad-hoc questions and comments; topics are not locked down. We have an open connection and open microphone all the time, and students are very forthcoming about asking questions.

“When we can transition from questions and answers into a conversation, then we know we have a really engaged class.”

High speed broadband is important for the success of the programs, says Bunzli, as it guarantees seamless transmission.

“Signal interruptions or lag can seriously undermine natural interactions between students and the presenter.”

With the National Museum’s high-speed connection to AARNet’s research and education network, AARNet schools can rely on quality video conferences with the National Museum.

While they support a range of video conferencing solutions for their digital programs, the museum finds the Zoom video conferencing service the most effective environment for engagement.

“Screen sharing for sharing images of collections works really nicely in Zoom, and there’s a helpful record function so schools can record the session. It’s a very stable service, both in terms of the connection and the interface.

“Crucially, booking a videoconference on Zoom is as easy as following a link, and we always run a test connection with a school ahead of time.”

In Australia, AARNet provides the Zoom videoconferencing service to schools and hosts Zoom video conferences on AARNet servers. In increasing numbers, schools are realising the benefits of the service for virtual excursions, remote access to experts, teaching off-site students, and more.

Befitting the bespoke nature of their virtual programs, National Museum video conferences can be arranged at a time to suit individual schools. But be sure to book early for Rome: City and Empire, “we’re expecting it to be extremely popular,” Bunzli says.

Find out more and bookings

More about the National Museum of Australia’s digital programs.

Contact the education team at the National Museum of Australia.