Northern Journeys: Design Infrastructure
Roger M. Topp and Terry P. Dickey, University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA
This paper explores the successes of the UA Museum Northern Journeys Project, an on-line curriculum resource, at the end of Phase II (infrastructure) and the initiatives underway for Phase III (library database integration of museum object tours). Northern Journeys incorporates the interpretation of museum objects into classroom activities to support Alaskan and national content standards. Northern Journeys’ intention is to teach about Alaska through the disciplines of art, culture, history, and science. Museum objects offer multiple perspectives for these disciplines and so encourage users to learn more about differing local values and traditions as they develop a sense of who they are within the community. For subjects such as Alaskan History, the Museum objects and their interpretations represent important examples of historical events, creating a visual textbook. Developed in partnership with elementary school teachers and produced with the aid of rural educators and cultural institutions, Northern Journeys embodies the practice of community curation.
The project has been funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Technology Opportunities Program.
Keywords: museum, school, resource, art, teacher, classroom, infrastructure, library
Museums across the country are using emerging technologies to expand accessibility to their collections. Many are collaborating with public schools to make their collections accessible directly to students through the Internet. Some are working with educational entities to develop on-line curricula. Other museums are sharing museum resources across diverse electronic means to expand their range of regional influence (Larson and Meadow, 2003). Collaborations like these have numerous benefits for all partners, from making a wealth of information available to students of all ages to cultivating lifetime patrons.
Along these lines, the University of Alaska Museum (UAM) has coupled technology-based activities and resources with collaborative relationships to meet growing educational outreach needs. Drawing on a wide range of expertise, including museum curators, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) faculty, public school teachers, and Alaskan Native organizations throughout Alaska, UAM’s education department has developed activities and resources for use in classrooms, home schools on-line, and the museum gallery to provide students and adults with virtual access to UAM’s collections. Of greatest interest to current operations and future goals is the means by which UAM has experimented with and implemented various electronic content formats across alternative technologies – and the impact these technologies have on rural Alaska.
The scope, audience, content, and technological format of these activities and resources must vary greatly from program to program. This diversity of formats has aided in significantly expanding UAM’s role as a learning laboratory, evaluating new technology approaches to museum education for future larger scale implementation. After a major renovation and construction project, UAM will open its new Art Gallery, Education Center, and Auditorium in May of 2005 (See Figure 1) For UAM planners, this opening represents a turning point in how this museum can integrate program development with community outreach and curation. With multiple internal and external access paths to UAM’s collections, leading to a museum without walls, our programs both benefit and are bolstered by this access.
Northern Journeys begins with the museum object, introducing the work or artifact, layering information about the Maker, Location and Geography, curriculum theme, and closing with an Activity that has both on-line and physical components. While the objects are accessed on-line, each sequence of information layers, or tour, is linear. The versatility of each Journey is detailed in a Teacher Resource Guide and enhanced by multimedia support materials, including activities, animation, interactive maps, and student and museum produced videos.
The technological approach to Northern Journeys is
To attain these goals, this project has employed large screen plasma displays, handheld devices, and tablet computers at the UA Museum, digital projection in a Fairbanks Elementary School, laptops at the Fairbanks Borough Library, and traveling video kits for distribution throughout rural Alaska. The array of learning venues and technological tools provides the appropriate flexibility to address the diverse needs of student and teacher audiences.
Technology and Geography
In the year 2000, UAM visitor and school tour programs saw limited employment for emerging technologies such as laptop computers, DVD players, and digital projectors. UAM had launched its first audio-guide tour and relied upon the ubiquitous slide projector for all visual presentations, whether guest lectures, school tour programs, or ticketed shows. Fairbanks school-district classrooms were in the initial stages of computer lab installations, and Denali Elementary School was without student access to computers in the classroom. The Fairbanks North Star Borough Library was just concluding a major renovation and expansion; however, only two computers were designated as Internet capable. Neither the UAM nor rural Alaska museums had considered the possibility of on-line digital video resources as a means to merge the interpretation of museum objects with audio/video references to local fauna, landscapes, and people, especially not what could be filmed and edited in-village by museum staff, teachers, and students.
For the last four years, Northern Journeys has promoted these technologies, and each year has seen an ever-expanding bubble of acceptance as the Project and partners have approached new technologies from two parallel vantages:
The ability of the project to run both the sensible and the chancy but achievable initiatives under the same needs-based umbrella has not only guaranteed baseline success, but also enabled great leaps in technology development without risking the Project whole. What may almost have been routine for a larger museum and in principle doable was a great leap for a small museum in Fairbanks, Alaska, not only in terms of technology infrastructure, but also in terms of the serious geographical and cultural differences we were attempting to bridge.
The University of Alaska Museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the cultural and natural history heritage of Alaska, the Circumpolar North, and the Northern Pacific Rim. It is the only accredited museum serving as a repository for scientific collections in the State of Alaska, and while it is located centrally in Fairbanks, its mission is to serve a geographically and culturally diverse area twice the size of Texas and possessing more coastline that the remainder of the United States. While the greater portion of the state’s half million population lives in Fairbanks and Anchorage, those teachers, students, and life-long learners in greatest need of informal educational support live in the most rural of rural America with no roads and no broadband. Travel is by plane and boat, and perhaps snow machine in winter.
Geography is Alaska’s greatest obstacle to community learning (figure 2). It is often cost prohibitive to wire phones, much less fiber optics for today’s standard of Internet use. Equally important is people’s impetus for living in rural Alaska. These people have a very strong sense of their locale and very strong feelings against becoming just another urban American. However, this does not mean that they want to be isolated. People in Nome and Kotzebue listen to Fairbanks’ public radio for their news. They are avid readers of newspapers. It is often the traffic of ideas out of the rural villages and the schools that is stalled or inhibited by both technology and partnership infrastructures. Any project that seeks to benefit education in rural Alaska must enable both live and asynchronous linking and bring these people’s perspectives to bear on the art that we attribute to them. To UAM’s advantage, its staff has had extensive experience in collaborating with small museums statewide in the areas of interpretation, exhibit design, and museum-school partnerships. This enables the project to improve on existing educational approaches in two fundamental ways:
Historic Evolution. Part 1: The Pilot
The Northern Journeys pilot, Dogs in Alaska, is an on-line resource incorporating the interpretation of museum objects into classroom activities that support Alaska Content Standards <http://www.uaf.edu/museum/journeys>. With funding from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, Schools for a New Millennium program, the pilot developed elementary-level supplementary curriculum materials that teachers and students access through the Internet. The material is structured as object-rooted narratives that discuss the Artwork, the Artist, Location and Geography, Art in Life, and conclude with a hands-on or computer interactive activity (See Figure 3). It is important to stress that the pilot covers a limited breadth of content, as its goal was to derive an on-line format and a working relationship with teachers and students, to the create exhaustive resources. The format and resources on the implemented site were designed to meet Alaska’s performance standards in math and language arts and suit specific curriculum goals for the teachers involved.
The Project’s genesis stemmed from Fairbanks teachers’ expressed concern for a lack of Alaskan examples when teaching the humanities. Most examples in school textbooks are from the lower 48 states. When Alaskan, the topics appear so generalized that local students have difficulty connecting to them. By using museum objects to connect students to their community elders, to the landscapes, to the plants and animals, and to the contemporary social, political, and economic environments, the project strives to help students develop a sense of local responsibility and ownership as involved members in their community. Because Fairbanks and Alaska rural students come from culturally diverse backgrounds and are often separated from family between villages or off in the lower-48 states, the project emphasizes an appreciation for individual experiences and backgrounds while highlighting the similarities, not the differences, between cultures.
These issues were tackled through the community-curated process of creating a modest pilot Web site with a limited number of museum objects. The understanding of all was that these interpretations could contribute to student learning in the humanities and the sciences as well as the arts - and as integral elements to the school curriculum. For example, the object narrative for the painting, Mt. McKinley, by Sydney Laurence, would include pertinent information about the artist, why art historians revere his paintings, and how his romanticized painting style helped to shape our wonder at this mountain. Additional interpretive levels for Mt. McKinley could include the following themes:
Woven through the straightforward art and art process interpretation would be viewpoints on alternative subjects present in the art. In the case of the pilot, the topic of Dogs in Alaska was chosen to unify the selected art objects due to its attraction for grades 2-4 students.
Historic Evolution. Part 2: Infrastructure Project
Northern Journeys II, with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration Technology Opportunities Program, significantly expanded Northern Journeys by providing the technological infrastructure and equipment needed to support better Statewide access and community curation of museum object interpretation and education. Specific access and contribution sites were targeted at Denali Elementary School in Fairbanks, at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library, and in UAM’s Galleries. Mobile contribution sites were created as traveling video camera and editing kits for rural Alaska schools and museums. Through this phase of Northern Journeys, UAM hoped to meet its educational mission to promote life-long learning for Alaska by enlarging its programming in three areas:
With these three goals in mind, Northern Journeys targeted several key objectives:
Project Venues: The UA Museum (Mobile and Kiosk)
The Project provided UAM with a server, wireless hub, three laptop computers, three tablets, and five handheld pocket computers (figure 4). Additionally, prior projects enabled the project to take advantage of a test-bed kiosk containing two computer workstations enabling interactivity, a large format multimedia-driven plasma screen, and a DVD driven television screen (figure 5). The kiosk was erected to test education programs and multimedia projects in progress during museum renovations. The platform has extended use and availability for Northern Journeys and now for subsequent projects.
The original project plan called for the use of laptops alone as mobile platforms for museum programming during school tours. Because purchasing was phased over three years to provide for formative evaluation and stepped project implementation, we were able to reassess the technology throughout the Project. We determined that different handheld devices were appropriate for different programs. While the lightest, most portable handhelds were deemed best for general museum visitors, tablet computers were more appropriate for school tour usage due to greater computing and software power, ease of viewing by multiple students, and their touring ability in the hands of a docent. Laptops were most valuable in our education center classroom (until the completion of our museum expansion, the museum’s conference room serves as the Education Center). Where desktop devices are cumbersome in the museum classroom environment, laptops provide mobility to match the changes in seating arrangement required by diverse program topics and limited floor space. Whereas consumer handheld devices, appropriate for use under the supervised rigors of evaluation, are not appropriate for general museum visitors, (due to device complexity, security issues, power charging and damage protection as determined by our research and that of Proctor and Tellis, 2003), our test-bed kiosk has enabled continuous program testing and evaluation over the long term and for the eventual implementation of gallery handhelds. By placing materials potentially designed and constructed for the Museum’s Web site or for handheld implementation on the kiosk, we have been able to conduct a continuous evaluation of programs.
Project Venues: Local Elementary School
The project provided Denali Elementary School with ten classroom sites. Each site included an iMac computer, printer, scanner, and digital projector. Additionally, a digital camera and two digital camcorders were obtained for rotation through the ten classrooms. The Fairbanks North Star School District purchased both an onsite server and a microwave link to upgrade the broadband connectivity from the School District hub to the elementary school. The digital camera and digital camcorders supplemented similar units purchased by the school the previous year. While the schools current cameras were distributed by the school library to all teachers at the school, the Northern Journeys cameras remained with one or more class sites in the early phases of the project and then entered the library distribution system as more and more teachers became involved. Immediate additions to the site equipment included USB floppy drives and Firewire hard-drives for the iMac computers. The floppy drives were designed to help with backward compatibility with the schools older digital camera and were only required for the three sites defined as the first phase of the project. The hard-drives were attached to the class sites of the teachers who involved themselves to a greater extent in video editing projects.
The digital projectors proved to be the innovative core of the infrastructure project in the classrooms, setting the Northern Journeys sites apart from the computer bank or computer lab concept where the emphasis is more on individual learning behind individual screens, or the standard smart classroom approach where the computer workstation is built into a lectern for the teacher/professor. With the computer and projector on a mobile cart, the station served the dual purpose of classroom workstation and classroom focal point, enabling both ‘in-your-seat’ and ‘at-the-board’ operation for teacher, student, and whole-class collaborative learning (figures 6,7). For the viewing of museum object images as stand-alone or pre- and post-visit lessons, we find this flavor of group collaboration best replicates the experiences we value for students in the museum gallery. “With regard to the acceptance of human-computer interfaces, immersion represents one of the most important methods for attracting young visitors into museum exhibitions” (Sauer et al. 2003).
Project Venues: Local Library
The Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) Library is two blocks from Denali Elementary, across the street from Ryan Middle School and Lathrop High-school where Denali students go for their secondary education. Teachers and school district administrators indicated that this proximity made the Library - Denali site locations optimal for student use in class and after class. The Library, as a public site, was also deemed central to home school student use local to Fairbanks. The project provided the FNSB Library with a server, wireless hub, 6 laptop computers, and a projector learning cart, to mirror the learning environments available at the school, the museum (in the absence of the gallery objects), and users in the home.
The Northern Journeys library server was conceived as a caching engine for the museum Web site content to facilitate download speed and uphold Borough defined limits on Internet access in the children’s area of the FNSB Library. Rather than getting immersed in controversy over filtering, Northern Journeys enabled the FNSB Library to cache and internally re-serve UAM’s educational content without the use of filters. The server also distributes specific museum CD-ROM originated content that cannot currently be placed on the Web partially because of distribution restrictions and partially because of the magnitude of the audio and video content and the funding required to convert this content into a Web-ready format. The FNSB Library-served content is delivered through wireless hubs to the Project laptops, which are available at the library distribution desk for checkout by any card-carrying library patron.
Project Venues: Rural Alaska
In addition to these site-based technologies, the project provided for the development and assemblage of three traveling camcorder kits. Each kit included a laptop computer, digital video camera, and accessories including tripod, batteries, cables, and on and off-camera lighting (figure 8). These kits were lent to the Pratt Museum in Homer, the Sheldon Jackson Museum and the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center in Sitka, and the St. Paul High School and Tanadgusix Native Corporation’s museum initiative in St. Paul. Along with the kits, the Project provided on-site training for their use.
As these rural Alaska Museums are even smaller than UAM, their fulltime staff numbering 2-5 employees, it was critically important that the project not only included on-site training and distance support for the kits in use, but also timed this training with otherwise on-going projects directed by these partners. The kits had to solve immediate partner needs. In no other way could partner time have been found for training or implementation of Northern Journeys. All kit activities for Northern Journeys adhered to certain guidelines:
It was clear from the outset that Northern Journeys’ rural partnership efforts required a flexibility that could meet the diverse needs of urban and rural organizations and communities while at the same time serving the Project as a whole. The traveling camcorder kits were originally conceived as units to be placed in the hands of artists in order to film themselves in the studio, both creating and talking about their art. The Project Team very quickly shied from this approach as being self-limiting in terms of the numbers of artists we could reach during the period of the grant, the longevity of such a collaboration, and the lack of a local management plan for distribution and equipment security. We turned quickly to the more obvious approach of working directly with rural organizations that already had cultivated relationships with local artists, Elders, and school groups. This approach was not considered initially due to failing to identify on previous projects the appropriate incentives for rural partners to invest limited staff time. Fortuitously, five partnering organizations came to our attention during the Project. Three of the partners had immediate needs for the kits and training for projects underway, and two were thinking of building content for the future. As expected, these last two saw less concrete results from the collaboration.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum (SJM) in Sitka, Alaska, was in the process of re-applying for a grant to film and edit their ongoing summer artist residency program in 2003. The application of one of our rural kits enabled them not only to attempt the project they had planned, but also to evaluate the equipment lent to them prior to making their own purchases. Subsequently, they received funds to continue this project in 2004. Northern Journeys provided the equipment and the training for 2 members of the SJM staff and filmed 3 artists in studio while the trainer was in Sitka. After training, the SJM staff filmed 7 more artists both working and speaking to their work (figure 9). In addition to providing the raw digital footage to UAM and University archives, the Sheldon Jackson edited the footage for the Alaska State Museum Web site and SJM school kits. UAM edited its own version of the footage for the Northern Journeys Web site (figure 10). The Northern Journeys trainer, while in Sitka, also made contact with the South East Alaska Indian Cultural Center where several artists maintain studio residence. On-site filming and training was completed during the visit; however, distribution of equipment to this sub-partner was not feasible due to the priority requirements of SJM’s summer residencies, and did not result in furthering content creation for the project beyond the initial filming.
As Northern Journeys was conceived under an infrastructure grant and a proposed content creation grant was not funded through other sources, large-scale content creation could not be completed within the duration of the project. Content for use in development, evaluation, and implementation was obtained through three means:
Principles for On-line Journeys Content
Approaches to Evaluation Research
The evaluation of Northern Journeys was designed to:
The evaluation included both process and outcome components. The process evaluation focused on key implementation issues and Project activities, assessing whether each step outlined in the original grant proposal had been completed, modified, or not completed. The outcome evaluation focused on how well the project met its objectives and other unanticipated outcomes. Evaluation tools included:
Reasons for a Successful Partnership
The project evaluation identified several reasons for the highly successful collaboration with Denali Elementary School:
A student in Robin Davis’ 2nd grade class came to UAM in the early stages of the Project and exclaimed, “That’s my painting!” Robin’s class was involved in initial student interpretations of artworks for the Dogs in Alaska unit of Northern Journeys. The students were integral in the creation of the Unit’s structure, content, and culminating activities. The students involved in the creation of the Northern Journeys’ pilot felt ownership of the objects on ‘their’ Web site and in the gallery. This obvious benefit for students as builders as well as users pushed us where possible towards greater Fairbanks and rural student content creation in the Infrastructure Project. The traveling kits were conceived as creation tools as well as access tools. The on-line activities for the Sea Migrations unit were written with the aid of student classes in Fairbanks. The Multimedia Resource page was built in collaboration with our rural partners, including students at St. Paul High School in the Pribilof Islands (figures 12, 13). Museum and school camcorders were used by school classes as part of museum visits to create student movies, including one in which fourth grade students filmed themselves interpreting objects in the Museum galleries; the technology allowed for multiple student groups to operate simultaneously to capture footage over the course of a two-hour visit (figure 14). The class’s Northern Journeys classroom site allowed them to review and edit the footage into a movie to share with other classes at the school and over the district’s Web site.
Students involved in the Northern Journeys project at Denali Elementary School were exposed to new resources not seen before in classrooms, resources heretofore accessible only through time limited visits to UAM’s galleries. Through technology granted by the DOC NTIA Technology Opportunities Program, supplementary curriculum units created through a partnership between teachers and museum staff, and resources contributed by partnering organizations in other parts of Alaska, students became more familiar with not only museum resources, but also the Alaska culture, history, and science the objects represent. While the students learned about the role of dog mushing in Alaska, the migration patterns of salmon, and the history of Alaska Native people during World War II, both museum and school gained better methods of not only incorporating museum object interpretation into the school curriculum, but also meshing on-line and other electronic tools with the all-important museum visit.
Beyond the value museum objects imparted to student education, the technology resources provided by the project have led to academic gains in the areas of language arts, research skills, and technology skills. Teachers were quick to report on the improvements technology has made in their ability to teach and administer their classes (Larson and Meadow, 2003). Apart from the obvious benefits of having a classroom computer to store and recall documents easily, and keep in e-mail contact with parents, the technology kept a whole class engaged in a single group activity. Too often, classroom technology has kept fingers busy at the keyboard while at the same time isolating students behind individual screens. The Computer-driven digital projector is the new overhead projector, with on-line access to rich cultural and scientific collections and interpretation. The implementation of these devices has been a clear breakthrough in both Museum and School District thinking in Fairbanks.
Teacher acceptance of technology and the technology training were greatly benefited by a phased-in approach to the equipment installation, with the minor drawback/advantage that each phase of equipment purchases resulted in more and more powerful hardware and software for each new round of teachers. The phased-in installation enabled the teachers most enthusiastic for the project to involve themselves first, followed by teachers with fluency with the technology, and then teachers who were inspired by the project as it developed; they in many instances had already borrowed equipment to use on a week-to-week basis. Teachers immersed in other projects had the opportunity of expressing interest but postponed their involvement. The chief difficulty with this approach appeared to be an over-reliance on teacher-to-teacher communications and teacher technology credit hours for basic training needs, rather than budgeting for a formal training schedule. Most teachers involved with this project proved to be pro-active in their approach to getting technology training. Several took courses or used personal time to become more familiar with the technology. Several also reported learning the technology along with their students in order to make the process a learning opportunity for everyone.
The relationships developed between UAM and museums in Homer, Sitka, and St. Paul have succeeded in the overall goal of increasing UAM’s two-way content flow through partnerships. These organizations and UAM act as a principal conduit of information between Fairbanks schools and the community, and those in rural Alaska. The lessons learned through these partnerships increase in value as UAM seeks to collaborate with other communities.
Northern Journeys has been an important starting point for UAM as it incorporates technology into its interpretive and educational programming. We note especially that the ever-increasing adoption of technology is viewed as far more viable in UAM’s near future due to the project’s role in allowing museum planners to witness first hand how such technology can fulfill on-line, school tour, and gallery visitor needs.
Our Next Step
Building on these successes, UAM began implementing the Arts Resource Community Residencies (ARCR) Project in August, 2003, the A Sense of Alaska (ASOA) project in September, 2003, and the Museum Objects Library Interface Network (MOLINET) in October, 2003 <http://www.molinet.org>. These three projects will significantly expand the work that began with Northern Journeys. ARCR provides funds for the enhancement and recording of artists in residence at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; ASOA enables the continuation of community curation and information sharing partnerships with rural Alaskan organizations; and MoliNet redefines how schools and life-long learners can access museum objects on-line through inclusion in core library catalogues. Together the projects are designed to:
Alaska Native Knowledge Network: Alaska Foundation of Natives, University of Alaska, National Science Foundation and Annenberg Rural Challenge (1999). Native Pathways to Education. http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/npegraph.html May 1, 1999.
Assembly of Native Educator Associations (1998). Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools: Cultural Standards for Curriculum. Anchorage, AK.
Kolb, D.A., R.E. Boyatzis, and C. Mainemelis (1999). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions. In R. J. Sternberg and L. F. Zhang (Eds.) Perspectives on Cognitive, Learning, and Thinking Styles. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.
Larson, Angela M., and Alison Meadow (2003). University of Alaska Museum: Northern Journeys II 2001-2003 Final Program Evaluation. U.S. Department of Commerce. National Telecommunications and Information Administration Technology Opportunities Program Grant Report. 61pp.
Proctor, Nancy, and Chris Tellis (2003). The State of the Art in Museum Handhelds in 2003. Museums and the Web 2003. Ed Bearman, D. and J. Trant. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics, 227-237.http://www.archimuse.com/mw2003/papers/proctor/proctor.html
Sauer, Sebastian, ion2s buero fuer interaction, and Stefan Göbel (2003). Focus Your Young Visitors: -Kids Innovation- Fundamental Changes in Digital Edutainment. Museums and the Web 2003. Ed. Bearman, D. and J. Trant. Toronto: Archives and Museum Informatics, 131- 141. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2003/papers/sauer/sauer.html
Shabajee, Paul (2002). Adding Value to Large Multimedia Collections Through Annotation Technologies and Tools: Serving Communities of Interest. Pittsburgh: Museums and the Web 2002. Ed. Bearman, D. and J. Trant. Archives and Museum Informatics, 101-111. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2002/papers/shabajee/shabajee.html
Stuer, Peter, Robert Meersman, and Steven De Bruyne (2001). The HyperMuseum Theme Generator System: Ontology-based Internet Support for the Active Use of Digital Museum Data for Teaching and Presentation. Museums and the Web 2001. Ed. Bearman, D. and J. Trant. Pittsburgh: Archives and Museum Informatics. 127-137. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2001/papers/stuer/stuer.html