Development of the Cole Museum resources for outreach and teaching and learning.

 Dr Amanda Callaghan, School of Biological Sciences


Cole Zoology Museum300The Cole Museum of Zoology (the Cole) houses a number of satellite collections for use in outreach, teaching and learning. In 2014 we transferred 50% of the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES) fossil collection to the Cole and in 2015 acquired the other half. As a result of this Teaching and Learning Development Fund project, most of the fossils and many more Cole specimens and archives have been catalogued and photographed and are now being transferred onto AdLib (a database for the cataloguing and publishing of information on collection objects) for wider use.


  • To improve the use of SAGES fossil/SBS zoology collections in outreach, T&L and research through improved access.
  • To catalogue and organise material, photograph where required and upload onto AdLib.


Around 50% of the University fossil collection was moved to the Cole in the School of Biological Sciences in 2014. This resource is used for teaching palaeontology and is still used by staff in Archaeology (GV2M5 Quaternary Global Climate Change). SBS are now increasingly using this resource in teaching and recently it has been used to teach BI1EZ1 Introduction to Zoology, BI1EAB1 Animal Diversity, BI2BS5 Vertebrate Zoology and BI3EAB8 Palaeozoology. The remaining 50% was moved in 2015 and required cataloguing, along with archival materials. Many of the Cole specimens and all of its archives have not been photographed and were therefore unavailable as images online.


Two UG students and one PhD student were employed, with the added value of two additional volunteers and two academic members of staff to supervise students. Remaining fossil specimens were transferred to the Cole, identified, labelled, photographed, catalogued and stored. Specimen photographs and details are now being uploaded onto the AdLib database by a volunteer. AdLib is used by collections across the University to catalogue and publish information on collection objects. It is accessible to students and staff through the Library website Enterprise.


This will allow staff and students across the university access to the collection.  Because the collection is organized and the catalogue available online, we now have a team of 8 undergraduate volunteers and enthusiasts who are able to work on proofreading and identifying specimens in the catalogue.  In addition to improving access to the collection for use in classes by students of Archaeology and SBS, an added impact of the work is that students are gaining skills in palaeontological curation and a certain level of expertise in zoology and fossil identification. A number of our students are interested in careers in the museum sector and this experience will put them in good stead for a job in this area.


At the end of the project all the fossils have been transferred, photographed and the digital catalogue was transferred online.  Considerable progress was made in identifying specimens and filling in missing taxonomic information. In addition to the fossil work, the opportunity to work in the museum during the summer with a dedicated team allowed us to photograph Cole specimens whilst the photography system was set up. We also engaged a PhD student, Verity Burke, to catalogue and organise the archival material. As a result she instigated a twitter exhibition #ColeEx.


The Cole is an accredited museum praised by the accrediting body (Museums and Libraries and Archives Council – it is now administered by the Arts Council England) for our collection management and collection care. We will now manage the fossil collection appropriately to make it more readily accessible for use and to bring it back to a good curatorial standard. The collection is now available for use in outreach, by colleagues in SBS and Archaeology for classes, for research, as well as by students on school placements to allow the development of new projects.

As a result of this project, we now are able to use the collection in new ways:

  1. Teaching and Learning. The entire fossil teaching collection is now used in teaching BI3EAB1, with students in the class able to use the online catalogue during practicals.
  2.  Research. A third year student is researching our ichthyosaur material for her final year project.
  3.  Engagement. The fossil collection is very popular among our students who are keen to be able to work with the fossils and help us to improve the information associated with each specimen.
  4. Outreach. The fossil collection is available for School visits and has already been used in University outreach activities.






Students like live lectures (and online ones as backup) by Rebecca Reynolds

Amy with pots 3
Dr Amy Smith, Ure Museum curator

Every year, students on the first year Analysing Museum Displays optional module have a talk from Dr Amy Smith at the Ure Museum, looking at the display there about the Greek symposium. This year I put the lecture online along with a transcript, photographs of the display, and a worksheet. I told them to use the materials instead of attending the weekly lecture that week.

Eighteen students filled in a questionnaire the following week giving responses to the lecture and saying whether they preferred it online, live or both. Nine students would prefer both, eight would prefer the live lecture only, and one student preferred the online lecture only.

Students liked the interactivity of live lectures, so the lecturer can go off script, students can ask questions and also learn from their peers. Students also preferred being in the actual museum, with four students saying this made the lecture more memorable. Two students said that they paid tuition fees for more than online learning. The main advantage of the online lecture was its usefulness for revision and its controllability.

In other words, what students valued was not the lecture format per se but the fact that they were with a real person in a real learning environment. Affective aspects connected with students’ reason for liking the live lecture could include some less easy to define such as the passion for their discipline shown by the lecturer, the fruitful discoveries and moments of realisation which can occur in a learning environment but which may be unconnected with the main topic of the session, and approaches to the subject shown by other students.

Recommendations are to make lectures as interactive as possible, and use online resources as backup. Tutors might also wish to ask students to listen to online lectures in their own time and save contact time for more interactive sessions – however, this holds practical challenges.

The online resource was developed as part of a JISC-funded digitisation project called OBL4HE (Object-based Learning for Higher Education), a partnership between UoR, University College London and the Collections Trust. The Reading side is based at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL).

The full report is here response to educational resources

Project blog:

Other resources developed as part of the project are available here (scroll to the bottom of the page):

Contact: Rebecca Reynolds –

Reading’s museum collections online by Rebecca Reynolds

Museum ethics, display design and object-based research are some of the areas for which online resources are being developed in a JISC-funded project between the University of Reading, University College London and the Collections Trust.

The project, called Object-Based Learning for Higher Education, prioritises usability and aims to make the resources part of syllabuses. On the Reading side the resources are primarily designed for the new Museum Studies joint honours due to start at Reading in October 2013, based at the Museum of English Rural Life.

human skeleton, Cole Museum

The skeleton in the picture on the left is from the collection at the Cole Museum of Zoology part of a resource on display ethics, looking at how museums make decisions about displaying human and animal remains.

In February 2012 we carried out a small-scale research study into students’ preferences regarding online learning, which found that the most important consideration for students was that online learning resources are relevant to course tasks. The report is here online learning preferences research report.

In addition, as part of the project many collections at the University’s museums are being digitised, adding images of objects and documents to the museums’ online databases.

For more information, visit the project blog at or contact Rebecca Reynolds.