Research - Bringing cultural heritage to the forefront of informal and non-formal e-learning

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Innovative approaches to support learning rapidly emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a focus on informal and non-formal education, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange xFORMAL project will pursue a novel approach to learning about European cultural heritage while promoting science. Anna Siri tells us more.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted educational systems around the world, affecting approximately 1.6 billion learners. As many formal learning settings were forced to close, educational providers were pushed to rethink the way students accessed their education. As a result, innovation accelerated in the education sector as well as the opportunities to reimagine how teaching could be delivered. The RISE Informal and Non-Formal E-Learning for Cultural Heritage (xFORMAL) project, led by Anna Siri, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Fellow, aims to expand on these opportunities.

“In addition to the coordinator of xFORMAL, the University of Genoa, the project’s partners consist of eleven valuable academic and non-academic institutions,” recognises Anna. They are the Italian Alteritas - Interazioni tra i popoli (Simona Marchesini), NCLOUD Srl (Fabrizio Ponti and Federico Turchi) and MIBACT - Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (Valentino Nizzo, Anna Tanzarella, Antonietta Simonelli), the Portuguese Instituto Politécnico de Bragança (Ana Pereira and Rui Pedro Lopes) and the Associação Ciência Viva Bragança (Ivone Fachada), the Spanish Universidad de Zaragoza (Francisco Beltrán Lloris) and the Gobierno de Aragon-Museo de Zaragoza (Isidro Aguilera Aragon), the French Université Bordeaux Montaigne (Coline Ruiz Darasse), the Finnish Forskningscentrum för Europeisk Flerspråkighet (Vittorio Dell'Aquila), and then the Polish Uniwerytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu (Wojciech Sowa) and the Dante Alighieri Society of Wroclaw (Gianluca Olcese).

Up close with Anna Siri

Co-founding member of the UNESCO Chair in 'Anthropology of Health - Biosphere and Healing Systems' and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Genoa, Anna obtained her Master’s degree with honours in Conservation of Cultural Heritage and a PhD at the School of Human Sciences at the University of Genoa. In 2021, she received the Seal of Excellence from the European Commission for another project proposal called "GENIE," submitted under the MSCA Individual Fellowships Programme. Anna engages in current debates regarding medical anthropology and public health through field research on everyday traditional health practices, with a particular interest in the representation of world, body and health among different cultures.

 “I also have a great interest in art, which was passed on to me by my parents. As a result of my passion, I decided to work on scientific projects and fundraising for the Museo di Etnomedicina A. Scarpa at the University of Genoa. It is a museum entirely dedicated to the collection, preservation and enhancement of objects and testimonies related to the different medical traditions of the world,” highlights Anna.

In addition to this, Anna collaborates on an ongoing basis with international research centres to valorise and promote material and immaterial cultural heritage linked to the traditional healing practices of people. “I have received some important awards in the valorisation of cultural heritage such as the prestigious research grant from the Accademia Ligure di Scienze e Lettere (Ligurian Academy of Sciences and Letters) and a grant from the Ministry for Cultural Heritage in the context of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage."

Opening up a new way to learn

The xFORMAL project aims to develop a framework in which science and technology meet citizens of all ages in an informal intergenerational educational environment. It will be based on a multimedia platform and games devoted to a common European cultural heritage.

“The key ingredients of the project are: a) the history of ancient Europe, mainly taught in formal education, b) the landscape, which is typically a non-formal learning base, c) the heutagogical approach, d) virtual/augmented reality which is generally recognised as an informal-learning tool, and e) the sharing of knowledge and experiences between researchers in humanities and ICT in an intersectoral setting,” explains Anna.

The project’s work is expected to help build a more scientifically interested and literate society as well as raise awareness and interest in a common cultural heritage. It also expects to help increase the number of scientists. “We seek to provide citizens with an understanding on how a knowledge-building process takes place and give them the opportunity to do it first-hand through a game, providing them with the tools and data used by scientists. I am convinced this will promote awareness of scientific research and help increase the number of future scientists,” says Anna.

A glimpse of what’s to come

Through the framework users will be able to experience, in the form of a game-route, Europe’s cultural heritage from the 8th Century BC to the 1st Century AD.

“During the landscape route, citizens of all ages will have to perform tasks involving technological and scientific content. This could include photogrammetry, georeferencing, geometry calculation of surfaces or altitude on the sea level etc,” notes Anna. Some of the tasks may refer to monuments, and require users to interpret, classify, or read inscriptions. On the platform linked to the game, all the necessary tools to solve the tasks will be available in the form of small video-lessons, explanatory sheets, maps, and alphabets.

“In this adventure game, users will need to overcome obstacles by moving through a complex world, accumulating adequate tools, until the treasure or goal is finally achieved,” highlights Anna. The focus will be on exploration and puzzle solving and feature long-term obstacles. The game will be based on key scenarios built by the scientific team and all the partners during secondments and online conferences.

Key innovative features of the project

The work of the project will increase awareness about the people settled in Europe before the rise of Rome – therefore promoting a common European heritage. “Additionally, xFORMAL will not only focus on science and technology but also on the scientific process per se. Both researchers and citizens will be led to reflect on how science is built,” outlines Anna. What’s more, informal and non-formal learning cases will be identified in the project, which will lead researchers to define borders and the way both types of learning may interface with formal learning – covering parts of knowledge that remain uncovered in the school curricula.

“The intersection of virtual reality/augmented reality with real life is a strong innovative feature of the framework, as the two modalities are usually exclusive,” adds Anna. Furthermore, by involving disciplines from a wide range of sectors in a cooperative environment – not only in the form of short meetings and workshops – but in a deeper modality such as the secondments will lead to a deeper knowledge transfer.

“On a final note, the xFORMAL will also help assure the sustainability of the objectives of the European Year of Cultural Heritage,” concludes Anna. Specifically, it will contribute to promoting the role of European cultural heritage as a pivotal component of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, promote solutions which make cultural heritage accessible to all and raise awareness of the importance of Europe’s cultural heritage through education and lifelong learning as well as highlight the potential of cooperation in matters of cultural heritage.

Jennifer Wills
MCAA Editorial Team

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