A visit to the British Museum’s Samsung Digital Discovery Centre

“There are few museums in the world who are doing work with young people on the scale we are doing:” Shouvik Datta discovers how Samsung is helping the British Museum to engage with a younger audience.

I was recently checking the website of the British Museum, when I came across with interest and surprise the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre. I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about the Centre’s work, and how it came to be set up in the country of Alan Turing and graphene. I went to visit the Centre on the day the European Information Security Conference was being held at the BM.

Picture 1 - by Benedict Johnson
Primary students using digital cameras and tablets to explore the galleries.
(Photo credit: Benedict Johnson, courtesy of British Museum)

The Digital Centre was set up at the British Museum in the Spring of 2009. I asked what was the main purpose of the Centre. “It is to use digital technologies to help young people and families to engage with the museum more,” said Richard Woff, Head of Schools and Young Audiences at the British Museum.

The Digital Centre has visits from 5,000 students and their visitors annually, plus between 5,000 – 6,000 family visitors every year as well. “The Centre engages young audiences, organises workshops, improves young people’s ICT skills and coordinates with the national curriculum,” said Johanna Perez Strand, one of the Digital Centre Managers.

Ms Perez Strand said: “We offer Special Education Needs (SEN) sessions at the Samsung Centre, in which the participants discover a particular theme by using the interactive e-board and handling objects. The participants get to explore the galleries and use digital cameras to collect pictures of objects.” Digital cameras are used in different ways in SEN sessions, for example taking pictures, making short videos or sound recordings or interviewing other participants.

The Centre uses over 20 laptops, and over 40 10-inch Galaxy tablets. Besides, it uses other smaller tablets, mobile phones, digital cameras, digital video cameras and printers. This equipment is all provided by Samsung.

Schools reserve sessions at the Centre three to four months in advance. Mr Woff said that Samsung had just agreed with the Centre for further funding from 2014-19. The sessions are always fully booked, and people often come back for more experience at the Centre.

The Centre has two full-time digital learning programme managers and a part-time technician who works three days per week. In addition, the digital centre uses a number of other freelance and part-time staff.

“If it wasn’t for Samsung, there would not be a digital technology centre. It has brought a whole new added dimension to the weekend programme. There are few museums in the world who are doing work with young people on the scale we are doing,” said Richard Woff.

Children taking part in an animation workshop
Children taking part in an animation workshop.
(Photo credit: Benedict Johnson, courtesy of British Museum)

Ms Perez Strand said that the workshops use digital microscopes and 3D modelling, and make intensive use of Samsung’s Galaxy tablets to engage the students more. There are plans for 3D printers to be used as well. Photos, text, videos, drawings and voice recordings on the tablet can be uploaded onto cloud storage and make it quick and easy to send this work back to schools for further study.

The Digital Centre uses a variety of different media to help children learn. For example, children can also handle objects directly, or practise wearing costumes from different parts of the world. “We use a blended learning approach, where you integrate and blend together different sorts of media,” said Mr Woff.

When asked if the Centre marketed any digital products, Mr Woff replied: “Everything here is free; all the Samsung sessions are free.”

I asked if the Centre worked jointly with London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, or with London’s Korean Cultural Centre. Richard Woff replied that work was done with them on a project by project basis, but there was so far no sustained coordination from the Digital Centre.

Samsung’s technology at the Centre is important for education and culture in the UK. In a separate relationship, Samsung now uses graphics processors by Cambridge-based ARM Holdings in its smartphone. I thought that this excellent Centre was a sign of Samsung and Korea’s growing engagement with the UK, and an important investment in the country’s educational life.

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