Since December I have focused on developing three lesson plans for high school and college history classes that incorporate the Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast, whose explore topics that touch on Smithsonian artifacts and include commentaries by Smithsonian researchers. Developing lesson plans has required learning about features of the Smithsonian Learning Lab’s collections platform, which allows organization of digitized resources from as well as outside the Smithsonian collections. For each lesson plan, I searched for resources that connected with the plan’s theme, wrote an overall description of the topic and lesson, ordered and annotated the resources for how students should encounter them, and wrote interpretive questions to guide students’ thinking. I also indicated learning skills that usage of each lesson plan develops, according to a menu of choices the Learning Lab offers.
While little of this work seems to relate to topics and skills developed in my certificate coursework, this experience has reinforced earlier content that focused on public history’s attention to audience analysis in designing online programs. Yet I have the impression that even (or especially) large if august institutions like the Smithsonian face challenges in gathering feedback on audiences’ interaction with those programs. An activity I have been assigned is to browse Smithsonian websites with the perspective of an educator and provide suggestions for better functionality. Hopefully this may be of value to the Smithsonian office sponsoring my internship.
According to my supervisor, the Learning Lab has also conducted some workshops with teachers in particular schools and school districts in the past, partly to gather feedback on how online resources are used in the classroom. I have attempted to replicate that exercise by asking my own graduate students who are high school history teachers to try out the Sidedoor lesson plans I have developed, though none has bravely volunteered.
As a goal I have of this internship is to learn how a museum like the Smithsonian provided educational resources to users, and whether and how the Smithsonian learns how users use its materials, this exercise with the Learning Lab’s collections has been a first step. The next step is to actually be able to publish the collections so that possible users may explore them. As I have discussed with my supervisor, I hope to get approval soon to publish the collections. The Smithsonian Office of Education, which is my internship host, is currently leading something of a redesign by the Smithsonian to more centrally locate K-12 education within its mission and programs. The redesign process may be a reason for some such hiccups in my internship experience, though it has been interesting to learn about the Smithsonian’s recasting its vision and resources towards K-12 educational outreach, and prodded me to think of ways to ameliorate the Office’s unresponsiveness and the challenge of generating user feedback on resource collections (and of course I can publish the collections myself at some point).
For example, after discussing with my supervisor the concept of learning rubrics in assessing students’ learning (drawing on some literature of Sam Wineburg and Lendol Calder assigned in HIST 689) I asked if the Learning Lab had any rubrics for its collections designed for K-12 students. My supervisor put me in touch with someone in the digital content area of the Smithsonian’s Center for Learning and Digital Access, who provided a rubric. I might have had this document before developing the collections, but it can be a basis for further tweaking now.