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Meet Darren Milligan, Senior Digital Strategist

darren12Here’s a problem I’ve been mulling over for years. Imagine you’re a teacher and you’re looking for online resources about ancient Egypt for your students. You’re aware that museums have ancient Egyptian artifacts in their collections, and vaguely aware that museums sometimes put resources for teachers on their websites. Where to begin? You’d have to know which museums are likely to have large ancient Egyptian holdings, go to their websites and start to dig. Resources may be under “Education” but often that menu item is called something else: learning, etc. Once you get to the proper page, you might have to dive deeper to find K12 resources.

Even though museums have gotten fairly good at publishing K12 resources online, teachers are still ill equipped to find them. A colleague of mine several years ago asked me: so now that I’ve got these great teacher resources up on my museum’s Web site, where do I go to register them so they’ll be listed where teachers are looking?

Enter Darren Milligan, Senior Digital Strategist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. I became aware of Darren and his work when I read a summary of his lightening talk at Museums and the Web 2013. So I invited him to have a conversation with me here about the issues and solutions of publishing teacher resources online these days.

Darren: Kris, you are completely right that many museums are still operating in the age of “publish on the website and hope for the best,” either via the home page to educators section to learning resource path, or via search engines.

Part of what I talked about in the lightening talk at Museums and the Web in February and all of what I talked about in more detail at the Museum Computer Network Conference last November was exactly this. How do we, as museums, adapt to the changing world of education and the classroom.

Kris: I just watched the video of your Museums and the Web talk on slideshare, and I highly recommend it to everyone – you’ll find it at I’m especially interested in your explaining the Learning Registry and Learning Resource Metadata to our audience, and to me!

Darren: Both the Learning Registry and the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative are mechanisms that have been developed to adapt to the post-textbook world, towards what is envisioned as the next logical step in education, that is connecting the learner (ideally in some automated way) with the exact digital resources they need for a specific skill or outcome. This is beyond Google and basic search and is really about assisting educators to discover a suite of resources from across the internet. And it is all about metadata.

So, I think the Learning Registry is the logical place to begin. In 2010, Secretary Duncan, US Department of Education (DoE), Secretary Clough, Smithsonian Institution, and Chairman Genachowski of the FCC launched what would become the Learning Registry as a way to make educational resources from federal agencies more discoverable. This project, now a joint effort of the DoE and the Department of Defense has expanded to include any digital educational resource. Its goal is to help teachers locate content from a wide variety of sources. Important to understand though is that this is not a repository. It does not ask that content holders republish the resources themselves, just the metadata that describes them. Frank Catalano did a great short piece on this whole subject for Edsurge last November ( describing the Learning Registry as a “card catalog.” The system also allows for the collection of data about how those who discovered resources via the Learning Registry have used them, information like user ratings and comments, downloads/usage data, and alignments to standards of learning.

The Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) came out of the Association for Educational Publishers and folks at the Creative Commons. It is a standardized taxonomy for describing educational resources (the “metadata” that the Learning Registry consolidates). This taxonomy has been just recently accepted by the major search engines, so Google, Yahoo, and Bing will be using it when providing search results to its users. LRMI metadata has 7 or 8 properties like “time required” and “educational alignment” that we most likely are not already creating when describing our resources.

So what does this mean for museums and museum educators? We need to begin thinking about some additional steps in order to ensure that our digital educational resources are discovered. Many museums who have large libraries of educational materials are already creating metadata that describe their resources. What these changes mean is that we need to enhance what we already have created or are creating to align to this new standard. I would like to see a world in which the development of LRMI metadata is just standard practice for all of us as we design and publish new learning resources (in other words, its much easier to do when done by the educator at the time of creation). There are some tools that make it fairly simple, like the inBloom tagger.

Getting started in the Learning Registry may not seem as straight forward as it does require programming skills ( right now to publish your metadata. The Smithsonian side-stepped the technical process by publishing our metadata via the California State Department of Education site Brokers of Expertise. As part of our general approach to reaching our audiences, the Smithsonian, via my office, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, for a number of years has been sharing the metadata that describes our resources (about 2,000) widely to for- and non-profit organizations. (Our interests are in ensuring that teachers find and use our materials, regardless of where they first hear about them.) Brokers of Expertise was one of these organizations that ingested our metadata and published it for us to the Learning Registry.

Kris: This all make sense to me. So here’s the question I’m left with. What do museum educators DO? As in, I want to contribute my metadata, do I have to hire a programmer to do so? I easily tagged a museum resource I worked on with inBloom, but once my tags were created I sat staring at the screen wondering what to do with them. See what I mean?

Darren: This stuff is really just emerging and there are not easy interfaces. For museum educators, it really means building and growing the relationships you have with the tech folks at your organization.

So, for that LRMI code that you made, you would need to work with your web staff to have that metadata inserted onto the webpage where the resource lives. That is how the search engines can read it. This is the easy one.

For Learning Registry, the process is more complex. I am working on a guide for museums now that might help, but it is still months away from being out. The simplest way for museums to get involved is to share their metadata with an organization that is already connected to the Learning Registry. This might be their state educational learning platform. (A good example is Brokers of Expertise in CA:, which I mentioned above. This is how the Smithsonian is sharing its metadata into the Learning Registry now.

The LRMI have been doing some code-a-thons to train folks on how to generate LRMI code for their own resources as well. We are working with inBloom now and plan to offer a series of these workshops for museum folks next year.

Kris: This is all great news, and I’ll keep in touch so we can make sure Museum-Ed folks know when the resources you mentioned are available. It seems we are getting closer and closer to solving this problem of getting our museum resources into the hands of the people who need them, thanks to you and your colleagues. And thanks for sharing it all with us.


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