Published: March 15, 2001.
Creating Online Galleries of Information for K-12 Audiences
Ranya Sihweil, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, USA
This paper will examine recent initiatives to create original "mini-sites" of information and resources for use in K-12 classrooms. These "galleries of information" include cross-institutional collaborations with various arts and humanities organizations across the world. In particular, the paper will focus on an interactive site based on the life and music of Duke Ellington as well as on a mini-site celebrating the arts of Ireland through a "virtual museum" based on art works from private and public collections in the United States and Ireland. These online exhibits and sites were created specifically for educational use and embody certain aspects and attributes worth sharing with the broader arts community. Highlights will include: designing for a diverse audience with various technological capabilities; gathering and re-presenting original materials; and creating arts-integrated lesson plans and activities for young online audiences.
On the cusp of marking and celebrating ten years of life on the Internet, ARTSEDGE has evolved from being a repository of information to being a creator of arts and education materials. As technology and access to technology continues to grow at a faster rate than our Web site, our original mission needed to be revisited and ultimately be revised in order to accommodate and incorporate the growing trends of education online. Maintaining our position as pioneers in online education was being threatened by the incessant influx of new search engines and professional cataloguers of information. This shifting environment led us to the creation of mini-sites that would allow us to continue to create and disseminate high-quality materials to our users without alienating them by using cutting-edge technology.
As the nation's center for the performing arts, The John F. Kennedy Center has come to symbolize America's regard for the arts. It serves as a dynamic resource that contributes to the cultural enrichment of audiences from around the world. Recognizing that the arts can provide multiple learning modalities, challenge students to think in new ways, and foster creativity, the Center is also a national leader in the development of arts education policy and programs. The Center's programs are designed specifically to foster an appreciation and understanding of all the arts.
The Center has a unique Congressional mandate to increase opportunities for all people to participate in and understand the arts. Arts education is the key to realizing this mandate. The Center's involvement in providing Internet content for educators began ten years ago, when the National Endowment for the Arts asked the Center to review existing arts education mechanisms and to propose strategies for disseminating new and exemplary programs nationwide. The result was a proposal for a project, initially known as the Arts Education Dissemination Network, that would serve as a clearinghouse and communications tool for arts education specialists. After extensive pilot testing, a brief stint as a Gopher site, the site became known as ARTSEDGE: The National Arts and Education Information Network. The goals were, and remain, simple:
The main purpose of ARTSEDGE is to support the place of arts education at the center of the curriculum through creative and appropriate uses of technology. The mission of ARTSEDGE through the millennium has grown out of the aforementioned goals: connecting people to people, connecting people to information and resources, and building a new base of knowledge in the arts and education. These vital goals continue to be expanded to reflect the influences of both recent education reform and technological innovation, enabling a stronger emphasis on interaction.
The mission of ARTSEDGE continues to center around using technology to contribute to the field of arts education, rather than around technology itself. ARTSEDGE is about content, not merely technology. It will generate and share original and updated material about arts education. This material is part of the easily accessible, flexible information contained in the ARTSEDGE network databases.
The vision for ARTSEDGE includes expanded attention to initiatives that include collaboration, research, and the documentation and publication of our process. These initiatives encourage participant interactivity and create a group of contributing stakeholders. ARTSEDGE is at the hub of a community whose members actively participate in the construction of the Web site by contributing both product and process information. For example, teachers across the globe can contribute original lesson plans and share valuable resources on the site. Working with recent developments in knowledge representation and instructional strategy moves arts education toward the center of the curriculum. ARTSEDGE showcases interdisciplinary initiatives and projects that integrate the arts across the curriculum.
THE BIRTH OF THE MINI-SITE
By implied definition, a mini-site is a little site. By ARTSEDGE's criteria, our mini-sites are resource-rich, self-contained explorations of a particular theme or subject. These sites contain activities and resources for both classroom and at-home use that will facilitate project-based learning.
As dead dot coms litter the information highway, the staff of ARTSEDGE have continued to struggle with ways of maintaining a site that strives to be cutting-edge without alienating our main demographic: teachers who more often than not have to endure slow connections on old computers with an over-taxed, understaffed tech support system. We concluded that in order to maximize our contribution to arts education, we have to provide cutting-edge content through cutting-edge design rather than through the advanced, yet unattainable technology that continually seduces anyone who works on a Web site. So this became our maxim for the site -- that access for all would take precedent over flashy technological features.
The main idea behind creating mini-sites was so that we could offer teachers thematic-based "units" that would combine the best of technology with the best of content. Yet, despite having made this decision, we continued to remain torn: other sites were more dynamic; they had clever interactive features and a snazzier presentation. This growing online "competition" led us to the exploration of creating mini-sites. We would maintain our "design for all" perspective for the main ARTSEDGE site, especially for the areas that teachers visited most often -- such as lesson plans -- and create a series of offspring: sites that would bring the content to the classroom using creative and advanced technology. This satisfied our desire to explore the various aspects of technology that enticed us as users. The use of mini-sites proved to be a successful solution that suited everyone involved. The teachers could continue to retrieve "print and teach" lessons, and the wired classrooms could access the quality content they are used to with new and innovative technological features. Finally, ARTSEDGE could deliver content to everyone and not compromise our status as pioneers in the field of educational online technology.
Criteria for Creating Mini-Sites
The current vision for ARTSEDGE includes expanded attention to initiatives that include collaboration, research, and process documentation and publication. These initiatives encourage participant interactivity and create a group of contributing stakeholders. ARTSEDGE is at the hub of a community whose members actively participate in the construction of the Web site, by contributing both product and process information. Working with recent developments in knowledge representation and instructional strategy moves arts education toward the center of the curriculum. ARTSEDGE represents interdisciplinary initiatives and projects that integrate the arts across the curriculum.
ARTSEDGE has continued to develop and expand rapidly. Now both individuals and organizations can bring forth resources, links, or proposals and attempt to gain support from or collaborate with us on a more regular basis. The development of some criteria to judge these offerings, as well as material developed especially for publication on the site, has become necessary. ARTSEDGE has generated guiding principles for internal purposes. Every project, activity, resource or event that ARTSEDGE develops alone or in collaboration with others should adhere to one or more of the following overarching principles.
The following represent only a small sampling of some of the principals we follow when developing new collaborative projects such as mini-sites:
Choosing a Theme
Teachers have been creating thematic units in their classrooms for decades. In other words, the concept is not a new one. For ARTSEDGE, the most difficult aspect of developing a mini-site is choosing a theme/subject. Being aware of the pitfalls of creating content that reflects the personal interests of staff members (often times the authors of content on the site) is always difficult. How we chose a theme may sometimes be random and may end up being based on an individual staff member's interest, but in the end, we always seek to answer the same question: will it be used in classrooms nationwide? As the popularity for our initial ventures into this arena grows, so has our method.
We have begun to develop a matrix that collects surveys from teachers we meet in workshops or those who are active on our ListServs. We now look for voids in content online and if a need for certain types of information and resources exist, we try to address it. Conversely, if we get excited about creating a site on a particular subject and our Internet resources show that another education site has comparable resources, we abandon that idea. Re-creating the wheel is unfortunately the easiest trap to fall into when creating materials online -- it sometimes does not seem feasible to generate a completely original idea. In addition, it is impossible for a small staff to become experts on a theme, and with limited budget resources, hiring experts is often not an option. So we collaborate and locate an "expert organization" that is willing to work with us to find a way that their resources can be easily accessible by teachers from around the country. Potential partners have included schools, universities, museums, performing arts organizations, and non-profit education organizations.
A FEW OF THE ARTSEDGE MINI-SITES
African Odyssey Interactive (http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/aoi)
African Odyssey Interactive (AOI) was our first mini-site created around five years ago as part of the Kennedy Center's African Odyssey Festival. The purpose of AOI is to promote an ongoing exchange of ideas, information, and resources between artists, teachers, and students on African arts and culture.
ARTSEDGE has a special relationship with AOI, a long-term Kennedy Center initiative: we collaborate to produce teaching resources and new content regarding African culture and the African Diaspora. We do this by capitalizing on our position within the Kennedy Center to make their African Odyssey performing arts resources available to educators across the country. ARTSEDGE earnestly attempts to achieve its goal of creating a new base of knowledge, and the AOI site is a particularly successful example. ARTSEDGE has not only gathered African arts and cultural resources for teachers, but has consistently generated new information by providing interactive opportunities for them. During each season of the annual Kennedy Center's African Odyssey Festival, ARTSEDGE hosts a weekly online chat with an African performer or diplomat. Frequently, the performers are brought to the studios of another collaborator, the Prince William School TV Network, where they give televised workshops on their art form. The workshops are followed by interactive teleconferences so that students anywhere can see the performance, participate in the workshop, and then interact with the performer. Archives of all of our interactive events are available online as new warehouses of information about African culture and student learning.
Partly because the site has continued over the past five years to be an initiative of the Kennedy Center's African Odyssey Festival program, it has taken an independent stance online. It is one of the ten most accessed features of the ARTSEDGE site and continues to provide information to teachers on a regular basis.
The Duke Ellington Centennial Site (http://dellington.org)
This site was created to celebrate the centennial of Duke Ellington's birth. A collaboration between ARTSEDGE, MENC: The National Association for Music Education, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, the Duke Ellington Centennial Site was designed to bring the world of Duke Ellington alive for students and others interested in his life and music.
MENC, the world's largest arts education organization, is the only association that addresses all aspects of music education. More than 80,000 members represent all levels of teaching from pre-school to graduate school. Since 1907, MENC has worked to ensure that every student has access to a well-balanced, comprehensive, and high-quality program of music instruction that is taught by qualified teachers. MENC's activities and resources have been largely responsible for the establishment of music education as a profession, for the promotion and guidance of music study as an integral part of the school curriculum, and for the development of the National Standards for Arts Education.
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History (NMAH) is home to many of our nation's treasures, including the Duke Ellington Collection. As part of its commitment to preserving America's jazz heritage, NMAH supports the Duke Ellington Youth Project, the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and other projects devoted to encouraging creativity and exploration in this uniquely American form of music.
This unique partnership proved to be successful in identifying and disseminating new and original content. As access to resources on the Internet became vastly available (and abundant) it was obvious that unless we came up with a fruitful partnership, we would end up repackaging the same material that already existed online. At the time, many renowned organizations were building sites about Ellington, so "competing" with experts from the perspective of content development would have been an exercise in futility. Both MENC and the NMAH were also interested in creating educational materials, but no one organization could do it on such a broad level alone. This trio made perfect sense: the music educators would provide the lesson plans, the museum would provide the visual and biographical documentation, and ARTSEDGE would be the vehicle for the dissemination of this information--a medium teachers are already accustomed to using.
Although the site resides on the ARTSEDGE server, in the spirit of collaboration it was decided that the URL would serve two purposes: be both a direct reflection of Ellington while showing no bias towards a single partner.
The site features:
This site has become one of the most visited parts of ARTSEDGE and is one of the greatest examples of what can happen online between different organizations. Teachers across the county have expressed both their fascination and delight with the many original and user-friendly features.
Island Online: A Celebration of Irish Arts (http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/irish)
In May 2000, the Kennedy Center launched a two-week festival celebrating the Irish Arts. The Center showcased music, dance, theater, film, literature and visual arts from Ireland and Northern Ireland. Recognizing the educational component of many of these events, ARTSEDGE created Island Online, a virtual celebration of the Irish arts. The site provides opportunities for teachers and students to discover a wealth of Irish resources for use in the K-12 classroom.
While the partnerships created for the Ellington site were fostered for the development of online resources, numerous organizations with which we partnered for Island Online were already in place by Kennedy Center programming and other programs in the Education Department. Finding the "expert" was a little easier this time around because our colleagues had already developed much of the work. The Kennedy Center created a major educational initiative with the US Department of Education and the Departments of Education in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The goal was to link Irish and American schools through the study of each other's art and culture. ARTSEDGE divided the many aspects of the festival into four major categories: look, listen, learn and share.
Look: Virtual Exhibits from International Collections of Irish Art
The Kennedy Center exhibited the private collection of Brian P. Burns during the Festival. The Burns Collection includes paintings and sculptures by Jack B. Yeats, Roderic O'Conor, Paul Henry, Walter Osborne, Sir William Orpen and others that span from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. Brian Burns generously allowed ARTSEDGE to videotape and photograph his collection for online dissemination. The virtual exhibit takes the viewer on a "walk" through the collection. In addition to the text that was provided to ARTSEDGE by the Burns Foundation on each piece, Mr. Burns walked with us through the gallery and provided anecdotes about these paintings. Video and sound clips from this extraordinary event are interwoven throughout the site.
The Ulster Museum in Belfast also partnered with ARTSEDGE and sent us digital images of highlights from their collection. Their own Web site has not yet published these images on it, so this opportunity was unique for both organizations. The exhibit "A Land of Heart's Desire: 300 Years of Irish Art" from the museum is a stunning collection of 18th, 19th and 20th century Irish paintings including works by John Lavery, William Orpen, Roderic O'Conor and many more.
Listen: An Online Student Music Exchange
In partnership with the Departments of Education in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States, the Kennedy Center coordinated a music exchange between schools in these countries. Through the Center's Artists in Residency program, five musicians from around Ireland visited schools in the Washington, DC Metro area. The site includes photographs of their interactions with the students and video clips of the music they made together. Additionally, four members of ARTSEDGE's Teachers Advisory Council visited schools in Ireland to meet the teachers and coordinate the online music project. This project is still in process and has not yet been debuted online! Students from schools in Ireland created music that was digitized and sent to schools in the United States. The participating US schools are currently expanding this piece, and the final result of this collaboration and the lesson plans used to create it will soon be published on the site.
Learn: Lesson Plans and Resources About the Irish Arts
This part of the Irish site includes lessons and resources on Irish arts and culture and includes a comprehensive unit on the paintings of Jack B. Yeats, the poetry of his brother William, and the artistic contributions of the rest of his dynamic family.
Share: An Online Interactive Space for Storytellers and Artists
ARTSEDGE created a virtual environment for storytellers, artists, students and teachers to share their experiences online with people around the world. The section "Storytelling Online: Mythology Across Time and Borders" is a collaborative program created by ARTSEDGE with some of the world's most beloved storytellers, for students and teachers to enjoy the art of storytelling. The theme for the storytelling project is mythology and the participating authors are mythmakers in their own right--they will share their stories and thoughts on the process of myth making on the site.
Renowned authors Nick Bantock and Katherine Neville graciously offered to lend their time and expertise to teachers and students in writing workshops, teacher training and online discussions. Similarities and differences among cultures will be uncovered, mythical archetypes discovered, and exploratory/migratory patterns examined during this exchange. Katherine Neville also worked with us to videotape a discussion of her writing experiences.
The online workshop includes lesson plans and process-based instructional activities for teachers to implement in their classrooms, and the students will post their stories online for commentary by their peers in the partner schools and by the professional writers participating. Discussion boards and chat room facilities will be made available for both real-time and e-mail based collaborative exchanges between both the students and the teachers.
Although the festival is long over, this project has not yet been completed. Unfortunately, the festival took place towards the end of the school year and coordinating with schools at this time became very difficult. The project is still in progress and will reach completion and publication online this Spring.
Connections will also be made to existing ARTSEDGE Storytelling resources, including African Odyssey Interactive's "Story Spinning" site.
The founding director of ARTSEDGE stated our vision clearly: "Most importantly, this initiative is about content and the efficient exchange of information and ideas. Our vision represents the significant opportunity we have in this time of education reform to bring together and organize the best of idea, information, and resources from the arts and from education-- to create one knowledge base for the education and enjoyment of future generations." Ten years later, after passing through the various stages of cyber-infancy, ARTSEDGE has reached its current adolescent state, providing the best possible educational resources to a cherished user base of over a quarter million teachers per month. Of these quarter million, an estimated 40% are recurring visitors. Maintaining our position as pioneers in online education and consistently developing new materials that utilize the wealth of resources that are available on the Internet is vital.
"Arts learning, involving as its does the construction, interweaving, and interpretation of personal socio-cultural meaning, calls upon a constellation of capacities and dispositions which are layers and unified in the construction of forms we call paintings, poems, musical compositions, and dances. Many of these same competencies and dispositions extend to other subject domains where they coalesce in equally distinctive forms -- mathematical, scientific, linguistic -- as pupils organize different kinds of meaning, insight, and understanding." (Champions of Change, page 45)
Collaborating with other educational and arts organizations to create mini-sites to successfully integrate the arts throughout the curriculum will continue to be at the top of our agenda. Creating these sites involves "construction, interweaving, and interpretation of personal socio-cultural meaning, [and] calls upon a constellation of capacities and dispositions which are layers and unified in the construction of..." ARTSEDGE.
Fiske, Edward B. (ed) (2000) Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning. A Report by The Arts Education Partnership and The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.