The MUSE (Models of University - Schools Engagement) project was a three year RCUK funded project which engaged secondary school pupils with cutting edge University research projects.
Twelve S4 (Year 11) pupils took part in an oral history project based on the changing industrial, economic and social landscape of Springburn, an inner city district in the north of Glasgow. The project ran for twenty four weeks and took the form of weekly workshop sessions delivered by a PhD student based in the Scottish Oral History Centre (who is currently writing a thesis on deindustrialisation and its impact in Scotland) and an undergraduate History student. The undergraduate student has gained a placement in the school as part of their History course and is considering teaching as a future career choice.
Over the first term of the project pupils learned about oral history research techniques and engaged in a series of group discussions around a broad topic before deciding on their final project aims. As it was an introduction to research methodology, the initial discussion was framed around the idea of 'what is a research topic?', considering how topics are formulated and the steps that have to be taken (thinking about available sources, who will be interested etc.). The topic that was settled on to form the primary focus of this project was the role of the locomotive industry in the rise and decline of the area, specifically looking at the social impact of workplace closure and subsequent socio-economic changes.
Pupils also learned about research methodologies including where to find source material. They used a mixture of contemporary and historical sources; the contemporary sources (newspaper headlines) were distributed first, as the pupils would have a more complete understanding of the context of each source. Following this, historical sources were distributed, and the researchers were delighted with the way that the pupils were able to analyse the information they contained, the authors of the information, and the reasons why each author produced the source.
The next step was to conduct original research, incorporating oral history interviews and archive materials. Four former railway workers participated in semi-structured oral history interviews led by the pupils, under the supervision of the PhD student. Following this, the project is looking to present its work in a variety of locations.
The project has inspired pupils, raised awareness of research and given them an understanding of their local area. They have developed both confidence and research skills. The students involved have also gained new skills in communication and teaching.
Andy Clark, the PhD student involved in the project, reflected on the benefits for all involved:
‘Working with the Scottish Oral History Centre MUSE project involving Springburn Academy has been a thoroughly rewarding venture thus far. The opportunity to speak with school pupils about the study of history, and to engage them with an interesting topic has been very enjoyable. I have benefited greatly from the opportunity to present historical data to a group with no prior knowledge of the subject, gaining significant experience in teaching the basics of the subject, before developing this into a far reaching analysis. Breaking the class into small groups and having them present the findings of some independent research has worked very well, both in teaching the material and developing the analytical and presentation skills of the pupils.'
Karen Watt, Deputy Head at Springburn Academy added:
'Our students are loving it. They are very keen and our member of staff Natasha is also enjoying it as well as finding it useful as a lot of the pupils involved are studying History.’