Stephanie NORBY
Center for Learning and Digital Access, Smithsonian Institution 史密森尼博物院學習與數位資源研究中心

Engaging the Public Using Digital Museum Collections

The Smithsonian Institution is the national museum of the United States and includes nineteen museums, a zoo, and nine research centers. The Smithsonian has 138 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens. As a national museum, one of its greatest challenges is to make these collections accessible to everyone, no matter where they live.

One of the strategies for addressing this challenge is the digitization of our collections. The Smithsonian Institution published, Creating a Digital Smithsonian: Digitization Strategic Plan 2010 to 2015 ( ). Staff representing all of the museums collaborated to set goals and establish priorities. Using new technology and an assembly line efficiency, the Smithsonian is able to digitize objects at a rate of one every six seconds. As a result, some museums have digitized their entire collection in high resolution. Most recently, the Freer / Sackler, Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum completed this work. While digitization is valuable for all aspects of museum work, it is particularly valuable in supporting education.

The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA) is a central office of education at the Smithsonian that focuses on teachers and students as its primary audience. The Center built the Smithsonian Learning Lab ( ), a web-based platform for accessing all of the Smithsonian's digital collections. Teachers and students who visit the Lab are able to:

- Search for and create sets of digital objects: Educators identify "favorite" objects, recordings, images, and learning resources and save them in their personal profile. They also are able to link to or upload digital objects from other sites or their own work such as handouts or discussion guides.
- Use tools to customize: Educators find and organize digital objects for teaching, customize them using editing and annotation tools, and add instructional features such as assessments and discussion prompts.
- Share within networks: Educators share what they create within self-selected communities (a classroom of their students, for example) and publish widely to anyone using the platform.
- Collaborate within communities of practice: Educators may provide feedback, reuse, or adapt Smithsonian- or teacher-created sets to meet the needs of their own students.

The Center conducts ongoing research to understand how teachers and students discover, navigate, and use museum digital collections. (See a summary of findings at ). With a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, independent researchers are interviewing teachers and conducting classrooms observations to understand how teachers and students use museum digital resources and the impact on their teaching and learning. Preliminary findings suggest the following:

- Teachers use digital collections to introduce new ideas, teach concepts, and analyze source material.
- Students are highly engaged when digital collections are used in the classroom.
- The central barrier is the difficulty in finding appropriate digital resources and the time required to build teaching collections.
- Many digital objects do not have adequate metadata (support information) essential for effective use in the classroom.
- Teachers need training on how to use these resources effectively.

The presentation will focus on how digital images of Chinese collections are being used by teachers to enhance classroom instruction in world history and art courses and plans for refining and enhancing the Lab based on research results.