Internship Post 2: Surveying the Smithsonian’s educational outreach

In the second month of the internship I browsed the websites of fifteen Smithsonian (SI) museums and learning centers to compile background information and compose survey questions about ways each site presents its educational outreach. To do this, I navigated through sites’ “education” or “learn” menu choices, and compiled data on various topics: who target audiences appear to be; whether sites refer to national learning standards or offer curricula; whether sites partner with external museums or offer interdisciplinary programs involving other SI museums’ collections; levels and aspects of interactivity; whether and how education appears in each site’s mission statement and in a five-year strategic plan SI published in 2017. A fringe benefit of this browsing was to come across some cool digital tools I will utilize in an upcoming course on the Civil War: an app, “Ripped Apart,” and an interactive game, “Who Am I? A History Mystery.” I uploaded text from the mission statements of each museum or center and of the SI Strategic Plan into Voyant-tools, and used some of its tools to show the frequency of references to word correlations with the term “education.” Using this data and the survey information, I compiled to write a short document, “Snapshot of Educational Outreach at the SI,” and to generate fifteen survey questions, which my supervisor indicates may be part of a survey the SI Learning Lab circulates among SI facilities for feedback on their educational programs. The Learning Lab, on behalf of the SI Office of the Under Secretary for Education, is interested to learn how the SI offers educational programs now as a basis for identifying best practices and bringing more uniformity to the SI’s educational outreach. After this task was completed, I reviewed the “For Educators” menu of the main SI website to check for broken links and to suggest items that I, as an educator, would expect to find on the page when visiting. The final assignment I had for this month was to browse and listen to the SI’s Sidedoor podcasts and to develop some lesson plans using them via the Learning Labs’ collections menu. The Learning Labs is interested to increase the podcasts’ usage by teachers. I finished a first lesson, using a podcast, “Votes for Hawaiians,” as well as other kinds of historical evidentiary sources I found in the SI digitized archives and at the Library of Congress’s online materials. I hope that collection can be published, so I can tell if it is of use to other educators.

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