Virtual Natural History Museum

Palaeontology – the study of past life – is a key element of understanding biology, changes in life over time and responses to large scale environmental changes. Trips to physical museums to learn more are valuable experiences, but can be challenging for schools for a variety of reasons and are often one-off events. Exploring online digital collections can be an alternative, but these tend to be research-oriented and not constructed or presented to facilitate public or educational use – or keep children engaged.

In an effort to find a solution, the Virtual Natural History Museum is a novel engagement project that aims to consolidate palaeontological multimedia into a single educational resource. The website takes the form of a giant computer game museum which visitors can explore, just as they would a physical museum, viewing digital versions of fossils and other items you’d find in a museum as they go. It will be free to use, and won’t require any specialised software. Anyone with an internet connection will be able access world-class natural history collections and learn about fossils and past environments, from wherever they are.

In order to understand how the team behind the museum can continue to create this exciting new resource in a way that will best suit schools and teachers, we are engaging with teachers and students from primary and secondary schools, as well as science communicators, in research to find out where they should go next. The V-NHM project is hosted by the University of Bristol, with UWE Bristol leading this pilot research to inform its future development.

For more information about this research, please contact Dr Laura Hobbs; to find out more about the Virtual Natural History Museum please contact the project lead, Dave Marshall.

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