Research at Nebraska 2019-2020 Report
Annie Mumgaard, virtual learning coordinator, gives a virtual tour of the museum’s geology collection to more than 120 young students.

Virtual Field Trips Take Museum to Students

Morrill Hall’s corridors went silent in March, robbed of their usual spring arrival of curious schoolchildren marveling at the wonders of discovery.

It was “kind of heart-wrenching,” said Susan Weller, director of the University of Nebraska State Museum. But staff didn’t let the pandemic stop their mission. They built on a previously established online presence to launch a variety of lessons. The effort met needs during a unique time and just might point the way to how the museum will do business in the future.

“Once we knew schools were shutting down … we thought through what we could do to support parents and teachers who are home and trying to support their children’s learning,” Weller said. “That meant taking what we usually do face to face and pivoting to deliver it remotely.”

The museum had begun creating virtual field trips about five years ago with an initial lineup of eight lessons. In April and May, museum staff made those lessons available via Zoom at scheduled times. Facebook Live learning sessions were posted weekly and archived on the museum’s website. The Mueller Planetarium posted new content exploring space and astronomy every Wednesday. Hands-on activities that require only minimal supplies likely to be available at home are online as well.

Historically, museums have worried that making too much of their content available online could discourage people from visiting the brick-and-mortar buildings. The pandemic forced them to rethink this and likely will change their way of doing business for good.

The online experience can enrich museums’ contributions as they coordinate it with in-person visits, Weller said. The emphasis on home learning “brings us back to our roots, if you will, as observers of nature and of science, because your basic tools for doing science are your eyes, your ears, your hands, your nose.”

Weller said her staff already is thinking beyond this moment to how they can add more museum content online.

“There will be innovation that continues long after this pandemic is gone, and it will be a way for people to connect long after they’re here,” she said.

+ Additional content for Virtual Field Trips Take Museum to Students

Nebraska news release: Morrill Hall expands online content to meet pandemic challenge

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