Integrating Object, Image and Text in Oxford Teaching

In addition to its reputation for academic excellence, the University of Oxford possesses extraordinary library and museum collections that have, from their inception, been at the heart of the University’s teaching.  The Cabinet project aims to make these resources more accessible for teaching and research through digitisation (both 2D and 3D) and bringing these resources into a single intuitive interface.   The main aim is to embed images and objects from collections in Oxford and elsewhere more seamlessly into teaching and learning, from tutorial to lecture room, enriching the sources available to students and tutors.

Accessed through Weblearn via Single Sign-On, the Cabinet platform provides tools for the exploration, annotation and discussion of collections from Oxford and externally.  The ease of navigation between sources encourages new connections to be made and new insights to be shared by students and tutors alike. Annotation and discussion features increase the potential for fruitful individual and collective study.

Designed from the beginning to work seamlessly with mobile devices, Cabinet can be used to zoom, spin and annotate sources regardless of the user’s location.  Digital photogrammetry is used to produce highly detailed full colour 3D models of objects, ranging from minute artefacts a few centimetres across to entire monuments from the Oxford landscape.  Access to artefacts and architecture is greatly improved for teaching and research, whilst simultaneously freeing up museum curatorial time and reducing wear on the original object.  Far from ‘replacing’ the experience of viewing the physical object, research has shown that the study of digital surrogates encourages new curiosity to explore the original, and other resources related to it.

The first course to use Cabinet was offered by the History Faculty in Michaelmas 2016, combining sites, objects, images, and texts (primarily drawn from the Ashmolean, Museum of the History of Science, Bodleian Libraries and Oxford’s built environment) to aid study of the development of scientific thought in the seventeenth century.  Students were extremely enthusiastic about the benefits of Cabinet, using it as preparation for class, during lectures and tutorials, as well as revising and preparing for extended essays. Cabinet allowed them to become more comfortable and familiar with ‘reading’ objects alongside texts, and encouraged them to engage with museum collections both within and outside the platform. Quantitative data on the use of the site confirm its popularity and the patterns of use described by students.

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