Objects of Invention

Child examining object

Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford

'Objects of Invention' aimed generate interest in engineering and design amongst school pupils and museum visitors, whilst providing an opportunities for graduate engineers to develop their skills in engagement. We provided training in public engagement for 16 graduate engineers from the University’s Department of Engineering Sciences, and the opportunity to gain experience of planning and delivery events for secondary schools and the visiting public. The training programme consisted of four 2 hour sessions focussing on object handling, learning from objects, communication, and working with different types of audience. Supported by education and collections staff, the engineers were then involved in design and execution a programme of activities reflecting their own interests in research and engineering. The events included a theme day for families and the general public which took place in March 2013 during National Science and Engineering Week and attracted over 2,000 visitors, and three study day events for secondary school students involving over 160 students.

Visitors to the family day reported a high levels of enjoyment and 59% of respondents indicated they had learnt something about engineering citing examples indicating an increased awareness of engineering and current applications. Many comments showed appreciation of the interaction with engineers and the historical context provided by the Museum. All of the engineers reported an increase in their ‘knowledge of techniques of public engagement’ and their ‘knowledge of different audience needs. 80% reported an increased level of confidence in public engagement as a result of participating in public and schools’ engagement activities. They also enjoyed the experience of public engagement in a museum. The project reinforced the partnership between the Museum and the Joint Museums’ Volunteers’ Service providing an opportunity to share skills in the training and induction of volunteers, and had the unforeseen benefit of providing opportunities for an additional 13 community volunteers and 3 trainee education officers to take part many of whom commented on how much they enjoyed working alongside the engineers at events.