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How Do Teacher and Students Use Museum Web Sites? Part II

(Slide 11) Many museum resources aren’t used because teachers can’t find them. Museums, and maybe especially art museums, are notoriously bad at indexing their sites so that when teachers and students Google a keyword or phrase, the museum site appears in the search returns. It’s also important to realize that many users don’t come in the front door of a Web site, and museum educators don’t always have control about what’s represented on the front door of the museum Web site. While the front door of a museum Web site may be narrow for teachers and students, museum educators can make the back door wide open by indexing and linking their resources to online searches. For procedures on this, see my blog: “How to Help Teachers Find Your Online Resources” dated May 10, 2007.

Teachers also may have trouble finding things on museum Web sites. On ArtsConnectEd, a joint educational portal developed by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center, teachers searched for terms such as “painting” and didn’t find anything because the museum classifies paintings as “oil on canvas.” Projects such as ArtsConnectEd II ( and Steve ( that utilize Web 2.0 tools such as social tagging will no doubt offer some remedy for these problems in the future.

(Slide 12) Teachers never use lesson plans or other online activities as museum educators design them. Teachers almost always break these materials apart and select “pieces” that will serve their individual classroom goals. This absolutely does not mean that museums should stop putting lesson plans on their Web sites. In fact lesson plans usually follow a format teachers are comfortable with, and offer easy to find ideas with along with practical information, such as materials needed to teach the lesson. But museums don’t need to agonize over which lesson plan format to use, or what standards to reference, etc. Any well written, pedagogically sound lesson plan will do.

On the topic of standards – state standards can be unreliable and should be used with caution. In the first version of ArtsConnectEd, museum staff spent hours mapping all the ArtsConnectEd resources to state standards, only to have a new governor elected the following year who threw out all the state standards. National standards are better, because most state standards are based on the national standards, because they are less likely to suffer political manipulation, and because when museum resources go online they are available to the world, not just the state where the museum lives.

(Slide 13) Teacher will put materials into the hands of students if they can. The time a teacher spends considering materials, planning how to implement them and revising them to suit his or her educational goals can be relatively long. But once a teacher slots material into their curriculum, it is a short step to handing those materials off to students. Good teachers spend an enormous amount of time revising things so that students can use them, because they know a handout with instructions and a worksheet in the hands of students is more powerful than a teacher lecturing for an hour at the front of the classroom. Museums can help teachers out by creating materials that can be easily handed off to students.

(Slide 14) Teachers view museum Web sites as authoritative sources, different from Google image search or Wikipedia. A teacher told me a story once about a middle school student who included a picture of an Egyptian pyramid in a paper, and cited the pyramid as coming from some guy’s Web site. Not the PICTURE of the pyramid, the student cited the picture as if John Doe had created the pyramid itself on his trip to Egypt in 1993. Teachers’ don’t have any trouble accepting material or information from students if the students can show they found it on a museum Web site.

(Slide 15) When museums think of their visitors, they often think of them as repeat visitors. As a result, museums change exhibitions often and upgrade services to keep the museum fresh and to meet the needs of the repeat visitor, as well as to tell the story of the museum over time. Teachers operate in exactly the opposite paradigm. Teachers use the same resources over and over as new students who have never experienced their lessons enter their classrooms each semester or year. Museums who want teachers to use their online resources have to leave them up and leave them alone, not an easy thing for many museums to do. But teachers count on resources being there over time, and if a teacher discovers that a museum takes down or significantly changes their online teaching resources after a year or two, that teacher probably won’t come back because he or she views the museum’s Web site as unreliable.

(Slide 16) It’s also useful to consider WHY teachers use museum Web sites, because how they use them is constantly changing. (Slide 17) According to Ferdi Serim in “NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet” (Ferdi Serim and Melissa Koch, O’Reilly Publishers, June 1996) teachers use the Internet:

– To find low-cost or free materials
– To connect the classroom to the larger world.
– To help teachers manage time more efficiently.
– To motivate students.
– To give students opportunities to learn by doing.
– To expand opportunities for “telementoring”
– To help teachers communicate; share experience and ideas with other teachers.
– To help bring the school and the community closer together.
– To help teachers spread good news about what’s happening in their classrooms.
– To “rejuvenate” teachers’ professional lives.

Even though the tools of the Internet have changed a great deal since 1996, my guess is that Mr. Serim’s list of reasons for teachers using the Internet is still pretty accurate.

Finally, if you can, take all this into account and then try something. I recently worked on an interdisciplinary online resource for teachers and students on behalf of The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. (Integrating the Arts: Mummies, Manuscripts and Madonnas There are many activities on the Web site, some designed to be printed and others designed to be online interactives. The most popular activity of all is a matching game, where students match up pictures of proverbs from a Renaissance manuscript with the written proverb the picture represents. Language teachers love the activity, because it allows kids to practice reading comprehension, because it’s a way for kids who don’t write well to be successful, and because it’s an excellent exercise for students who are just learning English. We didn’t think of all that when we created it, we just put it out there. But once teachers gave us the feedback about why they were using it, we realized that our little proverb matching game actually addresses numbers one through five in the list above about why teachers use the Internet.