In spring 2013, and motivated by the University's Call for Ideas for its inaugural May Festival, researchers from the Centre for Scandinavian Studies devised a new public engagement format called The Viking Teabreak to encourage discussion and stimulate interest in research taking place in the Centre. The concept was shaped through researchers visiting school groups in advance to gain ideas and feedback.
The event, presented to both schools and family audiences, featured a Camtasia (narrated slideshow) style presentation followed by small-group table discussions led by researchers that were rotated every 15 minutes. To add to the informality, refreshments, research poster boards, crafts to make toy swords, shields and helmets, runes for copying and drawing were available. Younger children were seated at the craft table, allowing older siblings plenty of opportunities to chat. Discussion and participation was encouraged through a ‘Best Question’ and costume competition.
- The team
Dr Lisa Collinson submitted the original idea to the University of Aberdeen's May Festival Call for Ideas and the subsequent project creation and development was led by postgraduate researchers Claire Organ and Lisa Nitsche of the Centre for Scandinavian Studies. Dr Irene Losquino Garcia, seconded to the Public Engagement with Research Unit through an AHRC Cultural Engagement grant, also helped in skills training for the researchers involved.
- Who benefitted?
The whole process benefitted us as researchers as we were encouraged to view our research from an alternative mind-set and develop our presentation and speaking skills in order to interpret our work in an accessible way for our target audiences. The events also helped raise the profile and interest in Scandinavian studies, important generally when seeking ongoing funding or making cases for the relevance of our work. In addition, we formed ongoing partnerships with the schools involved and plan to continue visiting them.
The children involved in the events benefitted by developing an interest and further understanding of their world and history around them and this was an alternative and fun way to explore historical research. It supported the related learning they will receive in the classroom.
- Why did we engage?
We were interested in sharing our research with a school age audience in order to bring historical studies to life and stimulate interest in local history in ways that might not be achieved or possible in the classroom. We were also interested in developing our presentation and organisational skills that are fundamental to our postgraduate studies. We worked closely with teachers and the University's Researcher Development and Public Engagement with Research Units to help achieve this.
- Wider impact
The event was evaluated using audience feedback forms, plus a structured report from an assigned observer. The event was promoted throughout the May Festival communications and even included pictures of children in Viking dress in the press coverage.
The observer commented that "The atmosphere was good from the start and stayed good throughout the programme. Scholars were competent, inviting and friendly … Scholars and guests looked comfortable and engaged. Although some individuals might potentially have found the high number of researchers present overwhelming."