Museums Offering Virtual Experiences during the Pandemic

March 26, 2020

We are all in this together, and museum communities around the world are sharing virtual experiences they have created before the pandemic or because of the pandemic. This past week I shared previous blog posts about the significance of virtual experiences in the museum field. Current events prove that virtual learning and experiences are vital more than ever. I have been researching virtual experiences that are currently being offered since I am currently working with the Education Committee at the Three Village Historical Society to create virtual learning experience, and this project was one of the reasons why I was inspired to see what museums are offering.

I came across Scholastic’s resources which provide online classroom resources and lesson plans from museums across the United States. One of the Scholastic’s resources includes a virtual field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution with Lauren Tarshis, author of the best-selling “I Survived” book series including “I Survived the American Revolution, 1776”. Including an introduction and a behind the scenes tour, the site also includes a vocabulary list, discussion questions, a frequently asked questions sheet, and Lauren Tarshis’s narrative nonfiction article “Blood, Smoke and Freedom,” about the experiences of one of the young soldiers featured in the virtual field trip for each grade level between grade 2 and grade 8. The Museum of the American Revolution itself provides resources from their own website available. In addition to the virtual field trip, the Museum of the American Revolution also other digital resources including but not limited to a virtual tour of the museum, an archive of Read the Revolution book excerpts, a digitized collection of the Museum’s art and artifacts, the Museum’s comprehensive lesson plans, and a free coloring book.

Another museum that has a virtual presence is the Mill Museum-The Windham Textile History Museum. The staff last month opened their new exhibit called “Unlacing the Corset, Unleashing the Vote” celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Because the museum was closed due to the coronavirus, they created a virtual version of this exhibit. According to the exhibit’s introduction label, the exhibit uses stories, fashion, undergarments, and photographs to explore the collective of Connecticut women’s experiences in the century since the 19th Amendment. The exhibit focuses on fashion for political empowerment which is reflected in increasing choices about clothes, styles, and comfort. The virtual exhibit features a narrative about early 20th century women’s history focused on women from mill towns of the northeast and photographs of the collections featured in the exhibit.

There are virtual experiences offered in museums outside of the United States. Some of the examples I found were on the MCN website. MCN, a not-for-profit corporation that envisions a world in which all museums are empowered digitally to achieve their missions, posted a very well detailed list of virtual museum experiences around the world in their post “The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections”. The list is broken up into a number of sections including virtual tours/online exhibits, e-learning, online collections, and digital archives & libraries as well as subsections for art, science, and history museums. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, for instance, offers an e-learning experience that has an interactive timeline on its website. The Canadian Museum of Nature has an e-learning experience for kids with coloring pages of Artic animals and plants, garden plants, and dinosaurs. The Musée du Louvre in Paris and the São Paolo Museum of Art in Brazil are offering a virtual tour of the museums. Also, Les Fruits de Mer, a non-profit French association based in Grand Case, Saint Martin, provided lists of resources of activities, books, films, et. cetera about Caribbean wildlife.

Museums have previously been offering museum experiences online to reach out to their audiences as our world is becoming more accessible through technology. This has been evident especially in previous blog posts I have re-shared on social media with lists of resources I found at the time I wrote those posts. With many museums closing their doors of their physical museums due to the pandemic, it is important for museums to connect to its audiences, reach out to new audiences, and its museum professionals with one another through the virtual world. Numerous resources from museums are available on the internet for individuals of all ages, and it would impossible to explain each one in full detail without making this blog post too overwhelming.

I have included a list of resources I have come across in my search for virtual experiences for all of you to explore in your own time. If there are any resources you would like to share, please continue to share them. Stay safe and be good to one another!

Resources:

https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome/grades-3-5.html

http://www.scholastic.com/beyondthebattlefield/

http://www.scholastic.com/webcasts/

https://www.amrevmuseum.org/education/digital-resources?utm_source=welcome-mark-text&utm_medium=cc&utm_campaign=welcome-mark-text-cc-ongoing-general1

https://millmuseum.org/current-exhibit/

http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/

https://springfieldmuseums.org/about/updates/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/68-cultural-historical-and-scientific-collections-you-can-explore-online-180974475/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200323-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42092612&spUserID=MTQ4MDg3NTIwNDQ0S0&spJobID=1722260882&spReportId=MTcyMjI2MDg4MgS2

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/weeks-best-livestream-learning-opportunities-180974465/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200323-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42092612&spUserID=MTQ4MDg3NTIwNDQ0S0&spJobID=1722260882&spReportId=MTcyMjI2MDg4MgS2

https://www.cilc.org/community

https://www.docsteach.org/

https://www.civicsrenewalnetwork.org/featured/resources-for-learning-at-home/

https://www.archives.gov/legislative/resources

https://founders.archives.gov/

https://anamericaninrome.com/wp/2020/03/italy-museums-visit-for-free-online/

https://adventuresinfamilyhood.com/20-virtual-field-trips-to-take-with-your-kids.html

https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

Previous Posts on Museums and the Virtual Experience:

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/05/13/museum-education-online-museums-position-in-the-virtual-world/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-of-museum-education/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2020/02/20/how-virtual-exhibits-can-be-accessible/

Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education

August 1, 2019

This week Museum Education Roundtable released the forty-fourth volume, number three edition of their journal, Journal of Museum Education, online. In case you are not familiar with the journal, the Journal of Museum Education is a peer-reviewed journal released by the Museum Education Roundtable four times a year that explores and reports on theory, training, and practice in the museum education field. Each journal is divided into at least four sections, and in the latest edition they are: Editorial; Articles; Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies; and Book Review. In this edition of the Journal, there are four articles focused on virtual reality, five pieces in the Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies, and a book review of the book Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact by Randi Korn.

On Museum Education Roundtable’s website, they released links to the articles from this edition Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live focusing on using virtual reality for museum experiences. I believe that utilizing virtual reality in museum education is a helpful tool for visitor experiences, and while it does not replace the in-person experience, but it especially is a benefit for individuals who are not able to for various reasons be in the physical space. I have limited experience with virtual reality, but I continuously seek professional development opportunities to advance my skills as a museum educator; which is why I took advantage of reading these articles.

At the Long Island Explorium, a children’s science museum, I have worked with virtual reality programs for educational and entertainment purposes. Each visitor had the opportunity to wear a virtual reality headset and participate in a couple of programs that came with the Microsoft virtual reality system. One of the programs allowed visitors to tour through the solar system wearing the headset and using the handsets participants can click on each star, planet, etc. to learn more about everything about solar systems. The second program gives participants two ancient ruins and their modern landscapes to tour through to learn the history of each civilization; participants can tour through either Peru or Rome. What was different about this program from the solar system program is participants can move around a little bit as if they were really standing in the locations. The Microsoft system we used connected to the PC and Smartboard which allowed individuals who were not wearing the headset to view what the person wearing it sees.

Since I was guiding visitors and showed the rest of the museum staff how to use the virtual reality, I have gained some experience using it and recognize the value of virtual reality in museums. Both programs provide an educational opportunity for visitors to explore space and civilizations where they are most likely have not been before. When I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education, I shared the sentiment the Editor-in-Chief, Cynthia Robinson, shared in the journal

“Although virtual access does not provide some of the authenticity of a physical encounter, it is no less meaningful than reading a history book to learn about and imagine the past, or viewing a filmed documentary of a place we would otherwise not visit.”

By including virtual reality in museums, museum professionals can provide another medium they will utilize for programs and exhibits to reach out to visitors. My experience with virtual reality showed me the potential of its use in a children’s science museum and based on the programs I worked with I have no doubt it could work with varying types of museums.

Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. According to one of the articles, “Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live”, Allyson Mitchell stated

“Museum educators already interpret the collections and content of their institutions through educational programming to meet the needs of family, school age, adult, senior, and community audiences. IVL [Interactive Virtual Learning] programs provide a similar real-time connection to a museum professional who facilitates personalized learning experiences that actively engage groups visiting virtually to forge deeper connection to cultural institutions and lifelong learning.”

IVL programs provide live interactive broadcasts that offer visitors at a distance real-time connection to a museum professional and resources. I had my first experience with an IVL program during a professional development program. During last year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference, I participated in a session called Virtual Field Trips: Traveling Through Time and Space to Connect Museums and Audiences in which session speakers discussed the benefits and challenges of running and planning virtual field trips. Also, they performed a demonstration what a virtual field trip is like using Skype by giving us a brief demonstration of what it would be like to be in space without wearing a space suit. As I continued to read the Journal of Museum Education, I realize the continued potential of virtual reality use in museums not only in programs but with museum collections.

In the article “Defining Interactive Virtual Learning in Museum Education: A Shared Perspective”, Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski & Lynda O’Leary discussed how all cultural institutions can benefit from a top-notch virtual learning program in terms of outreach, diversity, and promotion of collection. According to Gaylord-Opalewski and O’Leary, there are multiple benefits of using

“The world of IVL is commonly viewed as an addendum to an onsite experience with cultural institutions such as zoos, museums, libraries, science centers, and the like. Through dedicated virtual educators trained to interpret collections using synchronous technology, IVL programs serve not just as an addendum to onsite experiences, but rather as a conduit for greater outreach and promotion to audiences that may never have the opportunity to visit the collections of a museum in person – due to budget, physical limitations, or distance.”

While the program I used at the Long Island Explorium was used as one of the additions used onsite, I believe in the potential to reach out to many current and potential visitors who do not always have access to museums in person. Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

Discussion Questions: Have you used virtual reality, whether it was in a museum or not? What is your reaction to virtual reality? Do you think virtual reality could be useful in museums? Why or why not?

Resources:

www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-3-virtual-visits-museums-beaming-in-live/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/05/24/social-media-journalists-at-conferences-my-experience-as-one-at-nycmer-2018/

Museum Education Online: Museums’ Position in the Virtual World

Originally posted on Medium. December 8, 2016.

Museum education is continuing to evolve as a museum field after many years of creating programs for schools and the public. While I have over seven years’ experience in the field so far, I have seen many changes to advance the field and make an impact on the community around us. For instance, in my last blog I discussed the continuously evolving inclusion of programs for people with special needs. Also, the internet has given the world, especially the museums, opportunities to connect and provide ways to learn online. This week I am looking at museums in the virtual world, including social media and online learning, and my reactions to these changes. When I was growing up attending museums, the internet was still a new concept created and not many websites offered online learning. As a child, I visited more museums than finding out about museums on the internet. My family would drive down to see Washington D.C., Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and Gettysburg battleground during the summer. I used the internet later to assist me with research for school and I used the internet more when I went to college and graduate school.

When I was at Western New England getting my Bachelor’s degree I participated in different courses that used online tools as part of curriculum. Most of my classes were in person courses with activities and assignments taken in an online portal, MYWNEC, as a supplement to these courses. I took two online courses, and with some exceptions the class met online; my first course was a psychology course that was entirely online and my second course was an art history course that occasionally had assignments where I had to attend a museum to complete them. I had a few courses that took place completely in the classroom. Meanwhile while I was at Central Connecticut State University getting my Master’s degree, there were no online courses provided in the program but I used resources online as part of my research for papers and projects. For instance, when I worked on the proposal for Connecticut Historical Society’s next exhibit which was eventually accepted and became Cooking by the Book (it was displayed from January 2013 to April 2013), I used their online collections resource to decide which objects to include in the proposal. Outside of school I took a few online courses on edx.org about various subjects including history and interactions in the classroom; I take these courses at my own pace to keep my skills relevant and updated. While I was becoming a museum professional, I saw how museums utilized the internet to create websites that provide information about their exhibits, programs, and resources.

Each museum I worked for have various ways visitors and potential visitors can access what they offer on the internet. On Stanley-Whitman House’s website, it has the history of the house and information on the museum as well as information about education programs, adult group programs, and special events & programs. The Stanley-Whitman House also provides information about the collections, gardens, exhibits, and research services. On Connecticut Landmarks’ website, it provides information about the nine properties it owns especially the two properties I worked at, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House; the website also provides other information including information about the organization, upcoming special events, events calendar, a link to the facilities rental site, various ways individuals can donate to the organization, ways to get involved in the organization, and press releases. On Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society’s website, in addition to information about the historic house museum/historical society and on how to become a member, it has information about school, youth, adult, and public programs as well as information about their exhibits especially their new tablet tour I learned about while I was a museum educator there. The website also has a Discovery & Learn section which includes the history of Noah Webster and West Hartford, brief descriptions of the historical society’s collections; a kid’s corner that includes interactive activities kids can download and click on tabs to learn about the history of West Hartford and Noah Webster, and teachers can download keys to a couple of the activities; and a Q&A section with the Executive Director that is coming up soon. On the Long Island Museum’s website, it has various information including on exhibits past and current, programs for students, adults, public and families, and a collections database that allows visitors to look up various pictures, books, and objects found in the museum’s collection. The previously mentioned museums’ websites have different ways to grab people’s attention and help bring them to these museums.

Museums use and should use the internet to their advantage to expand their reach to their audiences. As technology and the internet continue to evolve, museums also need to evolve to gain as well as maintain visitors to their exhibits. One of the books I read about museums and the internet is called Unbound By Place or Time: Museums and Online Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Din published by the American Association of Museums Press (now called the American Alliance of Museums) in 2009. This book discusses various forms of online learning, the advantages and challenges of online learning, and how museums can utilize online learning.

Crow and Din also provided case studies that gave examples of how museums can create successful programs for visitors. The authors also stated that it is important to recognize that in the end our online programs are tools, no matter what we learn and experience our relationship with it will change as it evolves, and that what is consistent is our dedication and commitment for providing resources our museums offer. This is true even today especially with new technology being used in school and adult programs; at Long Island Museum for instance has a program for Alzheimer’s patients that use a tablet to play music related to objects and sections in exhibits. It is also true especially as skype is used to communicate with people and it has the potential to be used in more museum education programs. What do you think of the relationship between museums and online learning? Does your organization have online programs? If so, what are the advantages and challenges you find as an educator using these programs? If your organization does not use online learning programs, would you like to introduce this to your museum/organization and create your own?

As you ponder these questions, I recommend visiting these sites:
www.stanleywhitman.org
www.ctlandmarks.org
www.noahwebsterhouse.org
www.longislandmuseum.org