From Challenge to Triumph: Virtual Study Abroad Program Pivots, Succeeds Through AdaptationShare this page
Like most professors, the University of West Georgia’s Dr. Ann McCleary had to adapt her graduate Museum Education and Interpretation class to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. She originally intended for her history students to embark on a study abroad program to visit museums in South Africa, but due to travel restrictions, the program was canceled.
“Many students were very disappointed,” recalled McCleary, professor of history and director of the Center for Public History. “So when I saw an announcement that there was funding for virtual study abroad projects, I contacted EDU Africa to ask if we could organize one for our class. I was really excited for the opportunity to try it, and I was pleased to receive the funding.”
EDU Africa organizes global educational opportunities for universities. McCleary and team chose a program, Online Study Abroad to South Africa, which EDU Africa tailored to fit UWG’s needs.
The program allowed students to experience different museums across Cape Town, South Africa, in a virtual setting. During the course of three weeks, students had the opportunity to meet with representatives from three different museums and later completed a project about one of the museums visited.
Even though McCleary was not able to take her students physically to South Africa, she appreciated the opportunity the virtual experience provided. The museums participating in the program were the District Six Museum, Robben Island Museum and !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre, all located in Cape Town, South Africa. Each museum was specifically chosen to meet a certain goal of the program and proposed different project ideas.
McCleary said the objective of the program was to learn more about museum education and interpretation programs from a global perspective in order to understand the challenge that museums across the world are facing and how they are overcoming these challenges. McCleary expressed her gratitude for the museum educators and their creative approaches to the projects proposed for the students.
Student Autumn Smith expressed her gratitude and said the experience was educational and exciting.
“The Heritage Center is remarkable, and we are grateful to offer these ideas and hope they will be of some assistance to the museum’s mission and vision,” she said. “Although we were not able to visit South Africa physically, we were still able to enjoy a fantastic experience. The lessons we received will continue with us throughout our careers.”
Another student, Rachael Scott, echoed the sentiment.
“The opportunity to work with South Africa museums has been amazing and changed the way we think about the role of museums and what they can be,” Scott said. “We learned so much from this experience and are thankful we could assist with this project.”
A group of students will be presenting a poster about their experience during the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) conference this September. Because of their success this year, McCleary plans to complete similar virtual projects with her history students during the 2021-22 academic year and hopes to travel abroad to South Africa in 2023.