Smithsonian Launches Online Learning Lab for Teachers

By Taylor Lewis — June 24, 2016 2 min read
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Educators can now easily adapt the digital resources from one of the country’s most prominent museums for their lessons with this week’s launch of the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

After five years of development, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has released the full version of its free Learning Lab site, created to make the museum’s multimedia resources more accessible for teachers.

“In the past, the digitized collections objects were in one place, the education resources were in another, the videos were in another, and the Smithsonian had not pulled those together in one way,” said Darren Milligan, the Learning Lab’s project director.

The online toolkit allows users to both find and create collections for their lessons by drawing from teaching materials and digitized Smithsonian objects via the “Discover,” “Create” and “Share” tools. According to the center, annotations, quizzes and assignments can also be created, along with other interactive learning activities.

While created for teachers, anyone can use the Learning Lab. Milligan said he has already seen the site being applied in unanticipated ways, from a history teacher using art to analyze Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign to a user-created collection of insects in embroidery.

“The idea that we hope to inspire is that this becomes a learning community—one where teachers or enthusiasts or kids out there in the world are building upon collections that the Smithsonian’s made, and that the Smithsonian is seeing collections that users on the site have made, and building upon those,” said Milligan.

The release of the Learning Lab comes after years of research focused on how the center could improve on the Smithsonian Education site, launched in 2003.

Milligan said they found that educators were continually modifying those resources, and that the site’s design sometimes hindered that process. About 100 teachers from around the country were also brought in to work with software developers and the Smithsonian’s educational researchers to develop prototypes.

Last October, a beta site was released and social studies teachers in western Pennsylvania tested the toolkit in their classrooms. One of the biggest modifications generated from the teachers’ feedback is tutorials to help new users.
About 1.4 million resources are currently offered on the site, and as new objects are digitized, they are added. The Learning Lab can be used on all digital devices, with any modern browser, Milligan said.

“Literally every day when you go to the Lab, there are new resources that have been digitized the day before, available and searchable online,” he said.

Image of the Smithsonian Learning Lab courtesy of the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.