A New Frontier for Museums

This summer, Michelle Harrell (NCMA coordinator of teen and college programs) and I attended the Distance Learning Summit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. We gathered with over 40 other art museum educators from across the country who are engaged specifically in distance learning programs such as videoconferencing with schools, professional development for teachers, or online courses like the ones we offer.

A colorful visual representation of our case study. Photo courtesy Emily Kotecki

The NCMA is currently the only museum in the country developing online courses in conjunction with a state virtual school. We offer semesterlong, for-credit high school courses using art in our collection as a catalyst for learning about topics such as game design, fashion, and videography. We have presented our project at state and national conferences, but until this summer never had the opportunity to meet others in this niche of art museum education.

Museums are creating distance learning programs as a way to reach more visitors and rethink the way people can interact with and learn from museum objects. At the conference we heard case studies from Google Art Project and smARThistory, as well as how the Metropolitan Museum of Art uses webinars and blended learning for teacher professional development. We listened to educators from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum discuss their videoconferencing programs; they use this technology to reach audiences around the globe! We also had an opportunity to share our program.

Sitting in a space with cathedral ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows looking over the manmade waterways of the Crystal Bridges Museum, we spent three intense days paving the path to the future for art museums and distance learning. We worked in small groups, engaged in large-group discussion, and even presented ideas through song and dance.

An immediate action step we decided on as a group was to share our findings and experiences with our institution (Check!). The next is for the Crystal Bridges Museum to host a series of Google Hangouts with participating museums before launching a Web site that would include research on art museum distance learning. That second step is around the corner as Michelle and I participate in a live webinar with six other institutions on Wednesday October 16. Be part of the conversation as we discuss our project and the future of distance learning in art museums. Moderators will be taking questions, so we can talk with those listening or watching from around the world.

—Emily Kotecki is associate coordinator of teen and college programs at the NCMA.

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