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Building Communities of Interest with Museum Collections, Libraries, and Archives



Part 3: “Smithsonian Teachers Night” is an annual event designed to celebrate education and to strengthen bonds between local audiences and Smithsonian experts. In an attempt to scale up this ...

Part 3: “Smithsonian Teachers Night” is an annual event designed to celebrate education and to strengthen bonds between local audiences and Smithsonian experts. In an attempt to scale up this experience by connecting experts with collections, and making those connections visible and interactive, SCEMS developed a series of online interactive education conferences examining one topic through the diverse historical, artistic, cultural, and scientific collections and expertise residing within the Smithsonian. These conferences provide a unique perspective on topics such as Abraham Lincoln (examining not only history, but artistic interpretations, and scientific explorations that defined this period), but also provide an opportunity for new communities within the Smithsonian to form, for example, bridging together the often-segregated professional worlds of art and science. These new communities proved to be a powerful draw as they connected with communities of interest, students and the general public, from more than 100 counties participating.



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  • Role of SCEMS – increase the Smithsonian’s role and impact as an educational institution and to support the excellent work of the more than 30 educational teams that work at SI
  • Smithsonian Teacher’s Night18 years3-4000 educators from the DC regionMore than 30 Smithsonian exhibitors offering educational advice and classroom materials from each of the Smithsonian museums and research centers – these are exhibitors are educators and expertsAs well as demonstrations and, wineThe goal is to build connections between a local audience that is vital to the Smithsonian, teachers (and their students) to create connections between educators from the classroom and those from the museums.
  • A lot of what we do in my office is think about how the opportunities and experiences that take place in Washington can be shared with those who can’t easily be in the physical space. So, how do you scale this up, how do make the opportunities that the educators who are local to DC have at an event like this possible for the other 5+ million educators in the US?Is there a way that technology could help us achieve this?
  • There were a couple of important birthday bicentennials in 2009, Darwin was one, does anyone know the other?
  • We begin to ask ourselves what the Smithsonian is going to be doing for Lincoln, to mark the bicentennial of his birthday. We being to ask ourselves, how can we begin to share our resources related to Lincoln with educators from the across the country. So, the two ideas converge, and the Smithsonian Online Conference Series is launched.
  • So, what is a online/virtual conference? Its totally online, not a simulcast of a live event, it is a program designed to be an online conversation. A connection between the audience and the presenter in a online social format.So what does this look like?
  • Harry RubensteinChair, Division of Politics and ReformSmithsonian’s National Museum of American History
  • So what we see is that Harry is not giving a lecture, but rather is engaging in a dialogue with the participants.We begin to see students voices, we begin to see others from museums. Broader appeal, what began to happen is that students, teachers, enthusiasts and experts began talking to each other.Now, this might be the type of session that one would expect in a conference on Lincoln. “Abraham Lincoln, an Extraordinary Life” but the aim of the conference was the bring together educators not only involved in history and social studies, but to broaden the reach to all educators. So, we had some other sessions:
  • So, who came, how were we surprised and how did it change how we planned the futureBecame less about a professional development experience to insert our collections into the classroom, and more about creating opportunities for dialogue and debate around our research and collections.
  • Challenge:Building audiences each time as the themechanges (participants come the event because of interest in the content)These are our 2 most recent events, the first on Climate Change brought together diverse points of view, Smithsonian environmental scientists to discuss the data and research behind the current climate change, but also paleo-climatologists to look at how changes in the past affected life, anthropologists to talk about how changes are affected people living in the arctic, etc.Second challenge: Sustaining the dialogue and the connections after the sessions end – there are message boards but they do not typically stay active beyond a week or two
  • One way we are addressing it is through the Shout Program. This is a partnership between Microsoft Partners in Learning (who are providing spaces for educators to share resources and discuss approaches to teaching the content presented in the conferences), Taking it Global (which is providing spaces for students to participate in real life missions that focus on the subjects of the conference) and the Smithsonian who will continue to provide expertise through online conferences.Shoutlearning.orgCurators/contemporary artists addressing global climate change

Building Communities of Interest with Museum Collections, Libraries, and Archives Building Communities of Interest with Museum Collections, Libraries, and Archives Presentation Transcript

  • Smithsonian Teachers’ Night

    Smithsonian Online Conference SeriesDarren MilliganSmithsonian Center for Education and Museum StudiesMCN2010October 30, 2010
  • 2009
  • 2009
    Abraham Lincoln turns 200
  • "Education [is]... the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.”
    Abraham Lincoln
    March 9, 1832, First Political Announcement
    Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • The huge potential of informal education is now within our grasp through online interactions with curators, scholars and historians. Web technologies now make geographical distances disappear; teachers and students all over the world are able to learn from each other in sustained dialogue.
    Educators in my hometown of Douglas, Georgia, have joined the ever-growing Smithsonian Community of Learners. As Douglas high-school teacher Lorraine Fussell said of the Lincoln conference: "Most valuable to my students (and to me) were the responses [by Smithsonian …] to several of our comments. In high-school lingo, that was 'cool.'”
    -G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Results
    45% - educators16% - students16% - parent13% - museum people
  • challenges
  • Darren Milligan