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How Do Teacher and Students Use Museum Web Sites? Part I

O.K. my AAM 2007 presentation, called “How Teachers and Students Use Museum Web Sites” is too long to put into one blog so I’ve split it into two parts. Also, it’s just now occurred to me that I should have put all these notes into my PowerPoint, because if I had the PowerPoint would contain everything, and the PowerPoint is downloadable on AAM’s Media and Technology Committee Web site (they sponsored our session, thank you very much) at You can also download my co-panelists Melanie Buffington’s PowerPoint there. Anyway I put slide notations in my blog text, just in case you want to download the PowerPoint and follow along with what is written here. Whew!

(Slide 1) Let me start by saying that my observations are gathered from several years of conducting focus groups and working with teachers in the field, around Minnesota, in Boston and Baltimore, and twelve K-12 schools around the country as part of a pilot for ARTstor. These ARTstor pilot schools were studied in order to document teachers’ use of digital images of works of art in the classroom, and many of the digital images in ARTstor came from art museum collections. While I’ve been working with K-12 schools, teachers and students for many years, I have less experience working with museums other than art museums. Almost all of my presentation is based on working with a wide variety of K-12 teachers to implement online ART museum resources in the classroom.

(Slide 2) Before I get into how teachers and students use museum Web sites, it’s helpful to define what we mean by “use.” I have heard some museums qualify their definition of use to mean teachers using a museum Web site in the classroom with students, but it also can be argued that a teacher who gets an idea from looking at a museum Web site is still using the museum Web site, even though he or she may never return to the Web site again or direct students to the Web site. The same argument applies to a teacher who takes text, images or media from a museum Web site, and never returns to the Web site with students.

The reasons teachers may find it difficult to return to a Web site again and again or use a Web site with students often don’t have anything to do with the Web site, as I’ll explain in a moment. So, I would advocate for the widest definition of use possible, without being bothered by low “hits” or small statistics that normally define use of Web sites.

(Slide 3) The good news is that today, most teachers browse the Internet, including museum sites, looking for resources. It is hard to find a teacher anywhere who doesn’t use the Internet, if not at school then at home, to browse for resources, references or ideas. (Slide 4) While all teachers browse the Internet, only some teachers use the Internet as a teaching tool in their classrooms. One reason that some teachers do not use the Internet this way is simply a lack of equipment. Teachers may have a computer in their classroom connected to the Internet, but lack access to an LCD projector, or even a screen. Other teachers have no access to computer labs, or are forced to have three or four students at a time on one computer, so they’ll skip it in favor of other, more familiar and available media equipment like an overhead projector. Some teachers have a computer in their classroom that’s used solely for grading, and so lack software needed to make use of Internet resources.

(Slide 5) Some teachers lack the technical expertise to implement online teaching strategies. If a teacher is afraid that their students know more than they do about computer hardware or software, they may feel too intimidated to try online teaching strategies. Some teachers are the only technical resource students have, and if a student gets stuck, the teacher may not have the technical expertise to solve computer and user problems on the fly.

(Slide 6) Some teachers lack technical support to implement online teaching strategies. While a teacher may have the expertise to solve student and computer problems, school network issues are most likely out of their hands. Schools may block sites due to policy set by administrators, and individual teachers are often powerless to change those policies. Internet connections that aren’t dependable discourage many teachers from teaching “live” online, and broken peripheral equipment like projectors, printers and monitors often stymie teachers’ efforts to use technology with their students. (Slide 7) Finally, teachers lack the time to develop online teaching strategies.

(Slide 8) Let’s unpack that “lack of time” barrier that we hear so much from teachers. First, like everyone else teachers will find the time to learn to use something they perceive as incredibly useful. They may not perceive your site as useful the first time they run across it, or the second time, but may sometime see how a museum’s online resources can be useful for their teaching, and then overcome barriers to using a museum Web site. (Slide 9) Connected to this idea is the reality that while teachers say they don’t have any time, what they really mean is that teaching is an enormously complex endeavor, and trying to figure out a meaningful space to slot museum materials into is as easy as putting a camel through the eye of a needle.

(Slide 10) Museums can help teachers create time to learn to use online museum resources by offering teacher-training courses. Teacher training gives teachers a block of time to concentrate on one set of things, and gives them time to generate ideas with each other and museum educators about how to use museum Web sites. Paying for substitute teachers is another way to create time for teachers. Many teachers aren’t willing to spend all of their evenings and weekends on professional development, and who could blame them? (Says the woman who delivered this presentation at a conference miles away from her family on Mother’s Day. But I digress.) Paying for substitute teachers gives teachers classroom time to learn about museum resources and how to use them. In other words, they are able to accomplish some professional development during working hours, like so many other professions.