Smithsonian Learning Lab Offers Remote Access to Collections

(Photo: JISC, Creative Commons)

(Photo: JISC, Creative Commons)

The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has released the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which allows users to access digital museum resources as well as customize them and share them with others. This will allow teachers and students to view Smithsonian items and exhibits without making the trip.

The Learning Lab, which is designed primarily for use in the classroom, gives users the ability to find online versions of 1,000,000 resources via a robust search function. You can also view user-created collections relevant to a certain topic.

Any user can create a collection, according to the Learning Lab website. The feature allows you to use Smithsonian resources or add your own, in addition to annotating these resources and developing custom quizzes to go along with the collection.

Social Studies teacher Tom Gray of Shaler Area Middle School was invited to speak before a Congressional education committee about the Learning Lab and how he uses it in the classroom.

Along with 33 other middle school teachers in 15 Allegheny County schools, he tested out the Learning Lab in the year before its release thanks to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and Heinz History Center along with a grant from the Grable Foundation.

With the sharing function, users can publish a collection for public use, add metadata, share on Facebook or other social media websites, and create assignments for students complete with rosters and due dates.

For example, a search for "frogs" results in both ancient and modern art featuring frogs, as well as photographs of specimens and PDFs of documents. From the collection page, users could make a quiz about frog biology complete with a due date, or simply publish it (such as to serve as references for an art class).

Rachel Farkas of Trib Live quoted Gray, who said:

There's really nothing like teaching the Civil War and bringing up a photo from 1863.

…The kids are holding their iPads and you could see them twisting it around, as if they were actually holding the item, and zooming in and zooming out. I like to encourage kids to think in class. We don't do history like we did even four or five years ago anymore. There are no notes. We don't do lectures anymore. It's all hands-on learning.

It's really amazing to see kids walk into a history class, and [they] can't wait to get there.

He also mentioned that the at-risk students in his classes were some of the most engaged with the hands-on lessons.

The Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum, was founded in 1946. It consists of 19 museums and galleries, a zoo, and nine research facilities. The Smithsonian hosts a total of 138 million objects, specimens, and works of art, with more than 127 million at the Museum of Natural History.

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