Over the past two years, education systems across the country have been challenged by oscillating shifts, from classroom learning to distance and online learning, and even hybrid approaches, due to the precautions and responsiveness related to COVID-19. Amid these ongoing changes, educators have reinvented the way they interact with their students, and many have turned to museums and other community organizations for assistance in better understanding how to benefit from our collections. , our educational resources and our expertise in creative ways for their students.
For the Smithsonian’s community of more than 300 museum educators, the sudden urgency to abandon our traditional modus operandi has sparked new levels of innovation. We reimagined how to share a vast library of artifacts, artworks, specimens, and content expertise with our audiences to better meet their teaching and learning needs.
As teachers and students return to schools and museums in search of a “new normal,” here are some practices from the past two years that I know we will carry on.
Communicate with students, wherever they are
At the start of the pandemic, our team rose to the challenge of helping students learn from home with the support of their teachers and caregivers. As classroom teachers moved on from “How can I engage students in the classroom?” to “How can I teach from home?” our team moved from “How do we engage people in the museum?” to “How do you meet people where they are?”
Achieving this has required deliberate changes in the way we fulfill our mission and serve our learners. We have played our part in a learning community ecosystem at heart and launched online programs to provide ongoing educational and technical support for effective use of the Learning Lab – a free portal providing digital access to vast collections of educational resources, and developed new templates and tools for teachers to support a range of learning approaches. We partnered with national and local organizations to provide educational resources that met their evolving needs.
As the return of classrooms and in-person museum visits fast approach, we will continue to meet the needs of schools and students across the country, no matter where learning takes place.
The way we present information as educators has also changed during the pandemic. Teachers raced to find high-quality digital content in a vast sea of resources. They turned to podcasts, videos, interactive games and other media. By experimenting with new types of content, educators have changed their own curation processes.