Survey of Web–based educational resources in selected U.S. art museums
First Monday

Survey of Web–based educational resources in selected U.S. art museums by Robert A. Varisco and Ward Mitchell Cates

Abstract
Art museums in the United States share a common mission to educate many people — from families to teachers to researchers. But how do these museums use the World Wide Web to extend their educational mission? More specifically, what kinds of educational materials do U.S. art museums offer to online visitors, and how broadly available are such resources across the Web? This study set out to answer these questions and to tie the findings to the contextual model of museum learning. Conclusions are drawn about how museums from the sample fit within a technology adoption curve.

Contents

Literature review
Study 1
Study 2
Method
Findings
Discussion
Conclusions

 


 

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Literature review

Museums in the United States share a common mission to educate the public. This mission serves a broad visitor base that includes the public at large, teachers, and researchers. Museum educators interpret and connect museum objects "layered with information, and encourage examination, analysis and questioning" to promote exploration on the part of visitors as they view objects and exhibits [1]. Objects are mediated by curatorial and educational expertise through lectures, classes, demonstrations, tours, exhibitions and lesson plans, all of which contribute to a "museum experience."

The museum experience can be traced to the advance of "public" museums (those freely accessible without an invitation) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Bennett, 1995). The public museum at this time was a concern of government with the ultimate purpose of improving the public’s "manners, morals and social behavior" [2]. Through the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the foundations of modern museum education were laid, as museums committed more resources in the interest of the public (Koester, 1993). The educational focus of museums grew throughout the twentieth century, along with the progressive development of the museum "experience."

A rich literature exists surrounding the museum experience. Some see the experience as a kind of satisfaction that is able to "elevate the spirit" [3], while others see it as "a placeless, timeless thing" [4] view the museum experience as a convergence of three interconnected contexts: personal context — visitors’ personal experience, knowledge and motivation; social context — the social environment in which a museum visit happens; and, physical context — everything from museum architecture to temperature to exhibited objects. The authors call this model the contextual model of learning. Visitors encounter each context while moving from room to room in a continuous trajectory. Taken together, all three contexts form a narrative that helps visitors construct an "experience." For members of the public at large, the museum experience may occur more as free–choice exploration. For teachers and students, it may be more directed to fit curriculum objectives to the visit. For researchers, it is likely to be highly directed to meet explicit scholarly goals.

Late in the twentieth century, the museum experience underwent a shift away from the "logico–scientific" model, where knowledge filters through a single curator and is dispensed to all visitors as a one–size–fits–all educational experience. The new model was more "narrative" with objective "truth" fractured into multiple meanings determined by individual visitors (Roberts, 1997; Teather and Wilhelm, 1999).Today, as museums retool traditional educational resources for the Web — while also imagining new possibilities — this narrative model of "fractured truth" is likely to splinter further into millions of new, visitor–driven interpretations and uses. As Morrissey and Worts (1998) put it, the twenty–first century challenge is to use new technologies like the Web to propel the museum experience to a broader, more open "understanding and enhancing of the human experience" [5]. Passing away are epic narratives and pre–structured experiences for museum visitors. Today’s visitors generate individual museum experiences online with the help of new technologies and materials. Museum educators create these materials to balance what is technologically possible with visitor needs and preferences (Soren, 2004).

A search of the literature on museum education identified the resources that form the backbone of the traditional museum experience, a core of educational resources traditionally found in–gallery (Lee, 1975; Low, 1948; Taylor, 1975). Table 1 associates a group of five core resources gleaned from the literature with museum experience contexts and how each resource functions.

 

Table 1: Core educational resources traditionally found in–gallery.
Traditional educational resources
Museum experience context
(Personal, Social, Physical)
Resource function
Collections
Personal, Physical
Interpret and contextualize objects — long–term exhibit
Exhibits
Personal, Physical
Interpret and contextualize objects — short–term exhibit
Lectures/demonstrations
Social, Physical
Produce/present/distribute research and educational materials
Learning activities
Personal, Social, Physical
Design activities that offer critical insight
Lesson plans
Social
Deliver educational outreach materials for K–12 and beyond

 

Collections are major object classes of a museum’s holdings, the origins of which date to ancient Greece when scholars gathered in "houses of the muses" to exchange ideas and information (Hudson, 1975). Modern access to collections began about 1683 with the opening of the Ashmolean Museum and by the late nineteenth century was linked with regular exhibits (Kotler and Kotler, 1998). By the twentieth century, both resources formed the heart of aesthetic and educational philosophy in American art museums (Low, 1948). Lectures were offered early in the twentieth century to generate public interest in collections (Hamilton, 1975), but were coupled with demonstrations by the 1930s to highlight "some particular quality — such as balance, curves or proportion" [6]. As the century progressed, "temporary exhibitions" became a bedrock resource of art museums, their numbers and variations greatly expanding after WWII (Taylor, 1975). At the same time, learning activities within galleries increased. Throughout the century, lesson plans and in–gallery games and activities supported both curricular programming for schools — labeled as "extension work" — and individual child–visitor in–gallery needs (Ramsey, 1938).

These core educational resources complement each other and, subsequently, often travel together. Collections and exhibits are linked. Collections offer broad views of a museum’s holdings, while exhibits communicate specific messages about smaller groupings of objects taken from collections. Lectures and demonstrations interpret both collections and exhibits to extend understanding of objects, themes, movements, and periods. Learning activities tailored for the public and lesson plans created to benefit K–12 (and non–school) learners illuminate collections and exhibits by accentuating their "stories." Learning activities and lesson plans are two sides of the same coin, reflecting both public education in–gallery and more formal education in school settings.

Unfortunately, several things may diminish the museum experience or negate it altogether. It takes time to travel to museums, and as schools focus increasingly more time and energy on addressing state and federally mandated standards, there may be less time for school trips to museums. Time may not be the only problem, however. Once there, visitors must jockey for space with others to see works and objects. In addition, in these days of "No Child Left Behind," it is increasingly difficult to find funds to support the arts, for example, for field trips to museums. Researchers and scholars also may find it costly to travel if their interests require them to visit separate collections located in different places. Thus, the personal/social contexts of the museum experience may be affected adversely.

Museums also experience limitations on the physical context. Space or staff shortages may limit how many groups may be served at once. Objects from collections may be too fragile, too numerous or too disparate to exhibit in the gallery space available. Some objects may not be the best examples of their kind to present or not particularly well contextualized. As was the case for the personal and social contexts, there are cost issues for the physical context. Funding woes may force museums to prioritize resources according to immediate need and survival, instead of how well they serve the educational mission.

The Web may help ease restrictions on the traditional museum experience by providing an alternative experience. There is no spatial competition for the museum experience on the Web and no issues regarding time and travel. With no competition for space, chances of a negative social experience are reduced. The Web accommodates far more visitors at once than any single gallery and serves all simultaneously. The Web also can connect communities of learners across geographical expanse, thereby recreating and strengthening the social context of the museum experience (DiMaggio, et al., 2001). For educators, there are no prohibitive costs or administrative restrictions in getting students to the resources or resources to students. Currently, 99 percent of public schools are Web–connected (Tabs, 2003). Similarly, researchers who access museums online save travel costs.

The Web does not put fragile objects at risk, unlike physical galleries where the effects of time, airborne pollutants, harsh lighting, mold, temperature, and pests are real dangers. Nor is the Web limited by the number of staff needed to tend to onsite problems, as well as accommodate the needs of visitors. The Web can enhance context between objects located at separate museums by using online linkages. In addition, the Web may augment the educational experience by delivering video, virtual reality, sound and explanatory audio.

Donovan (1997) argued the traditional object–centered view of the museum mission (and thus, the museum experience linked to this view) would work better on the Web if museums shifted focus from object value, to information value. This makes sense: What the Web has is space, which most galleries lack. To reshape the museum experience for online environments, museums might consider accompanying digital images of objects with related cultural stories, contexts, people and places (Schweibenz, 1998). In lieu of an experience of objects then, visitors would take away a rich information experience, one possibly far better able to accommodate a larger human context than traditional, space–limited gallery narratives.

As art museums look to the Web as one way to overcome problems with the traditional museum experience, they also increasingly look to the Web to extend their educational mission. In 1996, a nationwide survey of museums titled True needs — True partners (U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), 1998) reported no respondents who listed online K–12 educational materials. In the same year, Moritz (1996) isolated three reasons for the movement of museums to the Web: marketing (to increase awareness and to promote the museum), support for the educational mission, and support for the research mission. However, James’ 1997 study of 33 museum Web sites showed only four museums that cited "education" as a rationale for going online. Awareness of educational use continued to evolve. By 1999, Oono’s survey of 206 online museums worldwide reported "education" as second only to "collections" in cited order of importance. A trend appeared to be emerging by 2002 as IMLS’ follow–up survey (also titled, True needs — True partners) showed U.S. museums offering programs "designed to support school curriculum standards and learning objectives" [7]. In that study, over 72 percent of respondents claimed to offer online educational materials. Finally, Wetterlund and Sayre’s 2003 survey of 85 educational programs showed more than half of art museums in the study reporting offering three of the five core educational resources identified earlier in this article: collections, lesson plans and learning activities. But which educational resources are available online? While our review of museum education literature identified a core of resources available in–gallery, we had no evidence these resources were available on the Web.

 

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Study 1

Moving our focus to the Web, our first step was to identify a base of educational materials offered by U.S. art museums online. In spring 2003 we conducted a pilot study of 50 randomly selected facilities taken from the "Art Museums & Galleries" section of the Official Museum Directory 2003 (OMD). We modeled our pilot on two previous studies, Cennamo and Eriksson’s (2001) analysis of science museums on the Web, which examined 100 sites to identify emerging educational uses and "determine the functions provided" [8], and Martindale, Cates, and Qian’s (2005) study of 100 "exemplary" educational Web sites, which classified the content and purpose of those sites. Of particular use was the Martindale, et al. definition of "instructional" Web sites. Instructional Web sites were those with 1) an intended learning goal or goals, either explicit or implied; and, 2) activities that are designed to elicit a performance. This definition seemed to fit what we expected to find for instructional materials on museum Web sites, and it became the first on our list of educational resources as online instruction. Both the Cennamo and Eriksson and the Martindale, et al. studies guided our decisions in deriving the sample, organizing the analysis, and classifying educational resources. Ultimately, we systematically analyzed the 50 Web sites and extracted illustrative examples of each resource type found. We identified nine specific educational resources offered on these sites (see Table 2).

 

Table 2: Study 1 findings: Nine educational resources on U.S. art museum Web sites.
Educational resource
Description of resource
Online instruction

Online instruction is learning material to be completed online. Such material must include key elements identified by Martindale, et al. (2005) to be defined "instructional": (1) intended learning goal or goals, either explicit or implied, and activities that are designed to 2) elicit a performance.

  • Explicit goals generally lay out the goal or goals in a straightforward manner; for example, "The goal of this lesson is to identify elements of Action Painting when comparing two paintings: Autumn Rhythm: number 30 by Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis’ Blue Veil."
  • Implicit goals present similar materials, but the expected goal may not be as obvious. Implied goals may, for example, take the form of discussion prompts, directive questions, and so on (for example: "What patterns of movement, motion or action do you see in the painting Autumn Rhythm: number 30 by Jackson Pollock? Compare these patterns of ‘action’ to the same elements in Morris Louis’ Blue Veil. How is the ‘action’ similar in each painting? How is it different in each case?").
Learning activities

Learning activities include activities and games and are generally designed to accompany a theme or topic specific to an exhibit or part of the museum’s collection. For example, the Warhol Museum offers an activity where visitors can learn how Warhol made his paintings by making their own virtual silkscreen painting. This is an example of a more complex Flash–based activity.

However, learning activities may be text–based descriptions of activities that visitors can print and complete offline. Learning activities may have educational value but lack the requisite goal and/or elicited performance necessary to qualify as online instruction.

Lesson plans

Lesson plans are teacher resources (materials and/or activities) often found as Word or PDF documents. Lesson plans differ from online instruction or learning activities in that they are generally materials to be used offline in the classroom, whereas online instruction or learning activities resources are available for use online. In this classification system, there are two major divisions for lesson plans available on art museum Web sites:

  1. Intended grade level. Lesson plans have four intended grade levels: Primary education (grades 1–3), intermediate education (grades 4–6), secondary education (grades 7–12), and post–secondary (college, graduate, or adult). On occasion, lesson plans may overlap intended learner levels or a site may offer plans for more than one level.
  2. Match to visit. There are three possibilities for a lesson plan to be matched to an on–site museum visit: Comprehensive (offering pre–visit, visit–support, and post–visit materials), non–comprehensive (offering materials for one or two of the visit types but not all three), or non–visit (offering materials for use in the classroom but not necessitating a museum visit). Pre–visit lesson plans are generally designed for use within classroom settings, while visit lesson plans are designed to be completed on–site during a museum visit. Post–visit lesson plans are generally designed for off–site (classroom) use, but may be completed either on–site at the museum or off–site.
Online exhibits

Like real–world exhibits, online exhibits exist on art museum Web sites composed of materials similar to those one might see in an actual physical exhibit: images, explanatory texts, possibly video or audio clips, maybe animation, and so on. Online exhibits may approximate real–world exhibits under headings such as, "Current exhibits," "Exhibits on view" or other similar descriptions. However, some online exhibits do not approximate real–world, in–gallery exhibits. In other words, they exist as exhibition materials designed to be presented via the Web with no physical cohort in the museum’s galleries. There are two types, basic educational and enriched educational.

  • Basic educational exhibits present works or artifacts with minimal exhibit information. For instance, basic educational exhibitions include non–enlargeable images, principal provenance data for images, and generalized brief information about the exhibit (usually intended to impart details or facts about exhibits going on in–gallery). At times, basic educational exhibits may include some visual or contextual enrichment, but fail to meet the criteria for enriched educational exhibits because only one category of enrichment is met (see description for enriched educational exhibits below).
  • Enriched educational exhibits present information that goes beyond the essential. Online exhibits that include two or more of the following four enrichment criteria qualify as enriched educational exhibits:
    1. Enlargeable images (when clicked) for clearer viewing of works or objects, usually offering extended image–specific information about the work or artist or both.
    2. Essay extensions in the form of links, for instance, explanations of history, biography, themes, background, processes/practices/techniques, related works, and the like.
    3. Exhibition activities such as virtual reality representations of objects (visitor may spin the object using the mouse to see all sides), exhibit–related games, exhibit–related videos or audio files (for example, guided tours), and so on.
    4. Complementary links to resources that accompany or complement the exhibit, such as lectures, films, performing arts, festivals, catalogues, tours, public programs, classes, and so on.

Online exhibits differ from guided tours (see below) in that the former are (normally) more freely navigable while the latter follow a more restricted, predefined navigation and flow. Online exhibits differ from learning activities (see above) in that they are often broader in scope and more freely exploratory, while learning activities tend toward cohesive activity around a narrow theme or topic.

Guided tours

Guided tours are online tours of a museum’s holdings and/or material information intended to give a systematic, directed taste of the museum’s strong points with regard to its holdings.

Two characteristics separate guided tours from online exhibits:

  1. They employ a pre–defined or sequential navigation system to move the visitor from Point A to Point B to Point C; and,
  2. They use explanatory audio and/or video. Online exhibits, like guided tours, also may show a museum’s holdings and information but differ in that they (normally) have a more freely navigable arrangement (non–linear navigation).
Collections

At a minimum, collections present major collection classes of a museum’s holdings (for example, American, European, Modern & Contemporary, Ancient, and so on); at times, these major classes may be accompanied by descriptions of types within each collection class (for example, furniture, European paintings, Latin American sculpture, Recent Acquisitions, and so on).

Descriptions accompany each major class of the collection along with a minimum of five images (usually clickable to enlarge). For example, a collection of American art may be broken into chronological segments, but five images should be used to give broad visual accounting of the class. The number of images representing online collections varies and, as with museums committed to digitizing large portions of their collections for Web, may reach as many as several dozen. Collections generally offer broad data of varying depth such as provenance of a work, information about its creator, the period in which it was created, the style or movement into which each work falls, its connection to other works of art and artists, and so on. At times, these descriptions may go beyond these basics to offer analyses of works, connections between works in the collection or outside collections, and so on.

Compared to guided tours, whose aim is to present a systematic path through collection highlights, collections offer a broader, more general look at what is important to the institution. Because collections are easier to explore, they are distinguishable from guided tours. Similarly, online exhibits differ from collections in that they are concentrated resources — a slice of life — whereas collections are a wide–ranging assortment of the foremost categories of interest within a museum’s collection.

Lectures/demonstrations

Some art museum Web sites offer dense topic–based materials that are not quite learning activities (in that the information offered is more compact), nor guided tours (in that the information offered is not an eclectic sampling of material high points), nor online exhibits (in that the information offered is not tied with exhibit material). These resources are called lectures/demonstrations.

Lectures/demonstrations are developed more around dense thematic or topical ideas, and seem like informative lectures, and often are non–navigable and passive, as might be the case with streaming videos or text and audio accompaniment. Learners are expected to experience these media presentations but not to control them or interact dynamically.

Research databases

Research databases house a variety of information, everything from artifact records, to books, periodicals, exhibition catalogues, auction catalogues, pamphlet files, artists’ publications, and special collections materials. That is, basically all material in the museum’s library.

Research databases advance understanding of the visual arts by providing open, public access to original documents and objects. In addition, research databases also collect and disseminate transcript and proceedings of "live" events that many researchers may never have the opportunity to experience, such as exhibitions, conferences, workshops, and lectures.

Learning links

Museum Web sites often present learning links that may be labeled "Links" or "Resources." Some links connect to resources outside the museum’s Web site, for example, to area, regional, or even national and international resources, depending on the scope of the museum. Other links connect to resources belonging to the museum and available online, such as publications, archives, libraries, Web projects, and other resources.

 

 

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Study 2

In spring 2004, we conducted a second study to address two questions: 1) what other educational resources are available but not found during the pilot study; and, 2) how broadly available is each type of resource across U.S. art museums on the Web? We hoped answers to these questions would create a more unified picture of how art museums are extending their educational mandate from gallery to Web.

 

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Method

Research design

We employed a content analysis "for making replicable and valid inferences from data to their context" [9]. As Bar–Ilan and Groisman (2003) found, in Web research "(m)ost studies using content analysis are unable to use existing classifications and have to develop their own coding tool for analyzing the data at hand" [10]. Thus, we created our own classification system for describing educational resources found on art museum sites. To classify resources, we followed Miles and Huberman’s (1994) "Qualitative Description" sequence: we observed sites; documented evidence; reflected on our observations; identified patterns among the data; arrived at interpretations; and verified interpretations by reaching consensus.

Population and sample

The "Art Museums & Galleries" section of the OMD offered a population of U.S. art museums, but posed a difficulty for drawing the sample. The section seemed heavily weighted with non–art museum facilities like foundations, historic houses, art organizations, and the like. Sampling for our pilot study suggested only one in five facilities listed was an "Art Museum" or "Museum of Art."

In light of this, we drew 500 random numbers using the www.random.org service, and then selected the sample over five separate iterations of 100 (see Table 3). During the fifth iteration of 100, only 91 random numbers were used (for a total of 491) to finally reach the 100 art museum sample target. The OMD does not list URLs for museums, however, so we used the Google search engine to locate art museum Web sites. We entered the museum name as the search prompt. Where Google did not find a Web site for a museum, we telephoned the museum directly to confirm that no Web site was available. We replaced museums without Web sites with others from the population.

 

Table 3: Distribution of facility types across five sampling iterations.
Population
Iteration 1
(100)
Iteration 2
(100)
Iteration 3
(100)
Iteration 4
(100)
Iteration 5
(91)
Duplicate Sites from Pilot
4
2
0
2
2
Non–Art Museums
3
4
2
3
4
Repeat Random Numbers
3
2
1
5
3
No Web Site
3
6
8
4
8
Non–Museum
67
59
63
70
63
Cumulative Total
20
47
73
89
100

 

In each iteration of 100, we included facilities that used "Art Museum" or "Museum of Art" in their name. For museums that did not use these words, we investigated their Web sites’ "About" links and Mission Statements, and included only those museums whose primary mandate appeared to be "art." Facilities not explicitly designated as "museums," were not included in the sample. Nor did we include duplications of museums previously viewed for the pilot study. We recognize there could be disagreement about individual facilities thus excluded. We worked systematically and analytically, however, doing our best in every sampling decision to retain as many facilities in the sample as possible.

Procedure

We created a database to record each educational resource on Web sites, along with its discrete URL. We telephoned all museums where we found no educational resources on Web sites to confirm that no resources existed. When we identified a new educational resource through analysis of subsequent sites, we reanalyzed all previously analyzed sites to make sure new resources had not been overlooked.

 

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Findings

Eliminating museums without the specified words in their titles or in their "About" links, duplicates from the pilot study, and museums without Web sites left us with a large pool of "non–art museum" facilities (see Table 3). These facilities made up 66 percent of the 491 facilities analyzed for inclusion in the sample. Thus, only one of every three facilities listed in the OMD’s "Art Museums & Galleries" section appears to be an art museum. As Table 3 shows, of the 33 percent of facilities that were museums, only 20 percent qualified for our sample.

Of the 100 art museums analyzed, we culled educational resources from only 87. (For a complete listing, go to http://www.variscora.com/research/TotalEducationalResources.pdf). Thirteen art museums offered no online educational resources. During the analysis, we identified two new resource categories, which we called conversation tools and miscellaneous other resources. This answered our first research question. The addition of these two new resources brought the total educational resources in the search matrix to eleven (see Table 4 for additional educational resources).

 

Table 4: Study 2 findings: Additional educational resources identified on U.S. art museum Web sites.
Educational resource
Description of resource
Conversation tools

To a lesser extent, art museum Web sites offer what are called conversation tools, or a variety of synchronous and asynchronous online telecommunications such as chats, blogs, message boards, e–mail, listservs, bulletin boards, and videoconferencing. These tools support interpersonal communication between the museum and its online visitors, as well as, visitors themselves separated from each other (and the museum) by time and space.

Conversation tools may be used in group project contexts or by individuals desiring to "talk back" about a museum’s online messages, materials or practices. In videoconferencing contexts, these tools may be used to facilitate immediate two–way communication during lectures or lessons provided by museum educators to individuals or groups (as in a classroom setting).

Miscellaneous other resources

Miscellaneous other resources may include any of several types of materials that do not fit neatly in the other categories, but which are educational nonetheless. These materials include printable guidebooks, white papers, manuals, glossaries of art–related terms (either printable or online), procedural descriptions (such as, How to Read a Label), and the like.

These resources are sometimes found under the heading, "Documentation," but are just as likely to be found scattered throughout a site. They are generally made available for downloading or printing in close proximity to the exhibit, artist, or other material they are designed to illuminate.

 

Figure 1 shows findings for our second research question, how broadly available were resources across the sample. The eleven resources are shown with longest bars representing prevalent and shorter bars representing least prevalent. We found collections and online exhibits to be the most widespread resources, evident in more than half of the sample Web sites. Less prevalent were lesson plans and learning activities, each found in slightly more than one quarter of sites. Other resources like guided tours and conversation tools showed up in less than 10 percent of the sample, while we did not find a single instance of online instruction.

Figure 1: Percent of sites yielding each resource
Figure 1: Percent of sites yielding each resource.
Key
C — CollectionsM — Miscellaneous other resources
OE — Online exhibitsR — Research databases
LL — Learning linksGT — Guided tours
LP — Lesson plansCT — Conversation tools
LA — Learning activitiesOI — Online instruction
L/D — Learning/demonstrations 

Figure 2 shows how many discrete types of resources appeared on individual art museum Web sites. On 33 sites, we identified only a single type of educational resource. Nineteen sites provided two types of educational resources and 16 offered three. We identified four or more types of educational resources from fewer than 20 sites. No site provided more than nine of the eleven types.

Figure 2: Number of museums across sample with discrete resource types found on sites
Figure 2: Number of museums across sample with discrete resource types found on sites.

 

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Discussion

We found that 94 percent of the 491 OMD entries we investigated for inclusion in the sample had sites on the Web (see Table 3). This percentage is half again higher than the 62 percent of survey respondents who in 2002 reported on the IMLS (2003) study that they had Web sites. Why this discrepancy exists is unclear, but it may be a function of our specific focus on U.S. art museums while IMLS focused on U.S. museums generally. IMLS used a different sample population, one provided by the National Conference for State Museum Associations.

Our study found 87 percent of U.S. art museums that had Web sites offered educational resources on those sites. This is a bit higher than the 2002 IMLS study, True needs – True partners, where 72 percent reported offering online educational materials. This difference may be a result of how respondents defined "educational materials" in comparison to our classification system. The difference here and above, however, may simply be a result of changes over time. That is, IMLS conducted its survey in 2002 while we analyzed our sample two years later in 2004. In terms of the Web, two years is a very long time.

To help explain why so many non-museum facilities were assigned to the OMD’s "Art Museums & Galleries" section, we contacted Eileen Fanning, of National Register Publishing. According to Fanning, museums review and revise their own data within the OMD each year, choosing categories they feel best describe themselves (personal communication, 31 January 2005). Kotler and Kotler (1998) suggested many U.S. art museums may be experiencing economic hardships. Perhaps museums are placing themselves in multiple categories, whether appropriate or not, in order to enhance exposure. Brand exposure across many categories means more eyes see the brand. More eyes may translate to more visitors and more visitors should result in greater revenues.

Across the sample, certain core resources traditionally found together in–gallery appeared to share a similar relationship online. For example, Table 5 shows half of the Web sites offering collections also offered online exhibits. As an online educational strategy, there is an advantage to offering both resources since they are created using the same materials — text and images.

 

Table 5: Resource relationship matchups and overlap per pair.
Core resource 1
Number of sites in sample
Overlap
Number of sites in sample
Core resource 2
Collections
48
50% (24)
47
Online exhibits
Collections
48
25% (12)
15
Lectures/demos
Collections
48
29% (14)
25
Lesson plans
Collections
48
33% (16)
23
Learning activities
Online exhibits
47
21% (10)
15
Lectures/demos
Online exhibits
47
32% (15)
25
Lesson plans
Online exhibits
47
32% (15)
25
Lesson plans
Online exhibits
47
34% (15)
23
Learning activities
Lesson plans
25
64% (16)
23
Learning activities

 

In traditional settings, collections are illuminated and clarified through learning activities and lesson plans. In this study, we located both resources accompanying collections roughly one–third of the time. Like collections, exhibits also are supported traditionally by learning activities and lesson plans, which help to "bring exhibits to life." And like collections, learning activities and lesson plans appeared with online exhibits about one–third of the time. This finding may be suspect, however, since lesson plans and learning activities may be present on Web sites to complement collections and online exhibits, either together or separately.

There is also an advantage to presenting learning activities and lesson plans together because of their similarities. Both in–gallery and online, learning activities support onsite education of the public, while lesson plans support more formal, offsite K–12 related curricula. Online these resources exist as textual descriptions, often downloadable, sometimes with images or procedural instructions. Visitors looking for either formal lesson materials or informal activities benefit from their dual online availability. By making both resources Web available, art museums appear to be extending their traditional in–gallery educational mandate to a wider, "virtual" constituency. Finally, Table 5 shows lesson plans and learning activities represent the strongest relationship shared by resources in this study (64 percent overlap); nearly two–thirds of the time lesson plans accompany learning activities.

Some educational resources appear to be more readily repurposed for Web because they may have existed previously as digital media for purposes in–gallery (see green bars, Figure 3). In–gallery, curators and educators generate digital information, like word–processed text and digital images, to be used in multiple ways. Word–processed text and digital images make up guidebooks and gallery sheets to help visitors interpret what they see during the museum experience. They also fill administrative needs like insurance and records and are shared between institutions for research purposes. The advantage of having pre–existing digital texts and images is that they are easily transferred to the Web as the primary materials for online collections and exhibits. Other resources like lesson plans, learning activities, lectures/demonstrations, and miscellaneous other resources also may be created as text and still images. They begin in–gallery as Acrobat Printer Definition Files (PDFs) or word processed files and, technically speaking, are easy to transfer to the Web as well. All five core resources traditionally offered in–gallery — from collections to lectures/demonstrations — are among the most abundantly available across the sample. In addition, learning links (which are online referrals to the same kinds of digital text and images, word and PDF files) are also simple to create and manage.

Figure 3: Percent of sites yielding each resource
Figure 3: Percent sites yielding each resource.

Repurposed for WebNot repurposed
C — CollectionsR Db — Research databases
OE — Online exhibitsGT — Guided tours
LL — Learning linksCT — Conversation tools
LP — Lesson plansOI — Online instruction
LA — Learning activities 
L/D — Lectures/demonstrations 
MOR — Miscellaneous other resources 

Other resources from the eleven, however, are unlikely to be repurposed for the Web because they likely do not exist now and need to be created (see blue bars, Figure 3). Research databases, guided tours, conversation tools and online instruction are all part of what until now has usually been a human–mediated museum experience. These resources existed as "events" in the conventional social and physical contexts of the museum experience. Traditionally, research materials were accessed through librarians and educators. Guided tours were offered by docents. Conversation occurred between visitors and/or staff and instruction took place on the floors of galleries or in classrooms.

On the Web, however, research materials are accessed online via electronic databases instead of through librarians or curators. Guided tours are facsimiles of events, existing as video or audio files. Conversation tools approximate communication between visitors and/or staff, while online instruction attempts to recreate in–gallery structured learning experiences. Normally mediated by staff, all of these resources require a re–envisioning of how technology might replace human mediation. To produce such resources requires multiple types of expertise. Museums may need specialized software and programming, along with video/audio equipment, production crews, streaming servers and, perhaps, additional support services like instructional designers and Webmasters.

As Figure 3 shows, pre–existing resources that are technically easy to convert for the Web outnumber those not pre–existing and more technically difficult to produce. For example, while online instruction has existed for several years in corporate Web–based training environments, and is now quite common for training purposes worldwide, in this study we did not observe a single instance. Reasons for this gap may be several: lack of expertise with instructional design; limited experience developing for the Web; no predominant models from other art museum Web sites; or limitations in staff and funding. A single discrepancy in Figure 3 requires explanation, the prevalence of research databases. While research databases are technically difficult to produce for Web, they outnumber some pre–existing resources. Though difficult to say for certain, it is likely they are more abundant because they were used to track and organize in–gallery materials and assets long before museums considered the Web viable. In addition, outside funding opportunities exist to support development of such online databases (see U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2005a; 2005b).

Museums across the sample seemed to utilize a variety of online educational strategies as evidenced by the combinations of resources they offered. Sorting the data by total number of educational resources offered by each site helped paint a picture of how online art museums were approaching the Web. In Table 6, the ten museums with the highest resource tallies are shown in descending order. Among the ten, museums like the Schneider and Tacoma clearly find themselves included almost solely because of the great numbers of learning links they offer. Without this resource, they would not be represented here. This leaves eight museums that distinguish themselves in three main ways: by their use of five core educational resources (pink cells), their use of databases for access to online materials, and their use of more technically difficult resources like conversation tools and guided tours.

 

Table 6: Ten museums with highest educational resource tallies.

Random number
Museum name
Number of learning Links
Number of online exhibits
Number of lectures/demos
Number of lesson plans
Number of collections
Number of learning activities
Number of research databases
Number of miscellaneous other resources
Number of guided tours
Number of conversation tools
Total education resources
929
Metropolitan Museum of Art
495
209
563
3
22
7
7
 
5
 
1311
314
Cleveland Museum of Art
18
89
 
100
9
30
5
7
15
1
274
1080
National Museum of African Art
155
28
 
4
 
3
4
 
1
 
195
1359
Schneider Museum of Art
182
 
1
             
183
1465
Tacoma Art Museum
101
33
               
134
1208
Philadelphia Museum of Art  
68
9
2
10
3
3
   
1
96
1573
Utah Museum of Fine Arts      
64
21
5
2
     
92
1367
Seattle Art Museum
5
49
 
16
 
5
7
     
82
302
Chrysler Museum of Art
7
8
50
4
7
1
   
1
 
78
302
Erie Art Museum
1
65
               
66

Color code    = Five traditional core educational resources

 

From the sorted tallies, patterns emerged that fit closely with groupings predicted by the technology adoption curve in Figure 4 (Rogers, 1962). The curve divides the population according to their adoption of new technologies. Customarily, innovators adopt first, and tend to be internally driven, to thrive on the new, and to be risk–takers. Just behind them in technology adoption are early adopters who take fewer risks, but who try technologies early. The early majority generally wait until a technology proves its worth, while the late majority waits until most others adopt it. Laggards/non–adopters resist adoption as long as possible (Cates, 2002).

Figure 4: Percent distribution of technology adopters
Figure 4: Percent distribution of technology adopters.

 

Table 7: Distribution of sample sites into technology adoption curve categories by number of educational resources offered.

Technology adoption class
Traditional five core resources
Number of overall resources
Technically difficult resources
Database driven
N
% sample
Expected from curve
Innovators
4 out of 5
7+ out of 11
HL
HL
3
3
3–5%
Early Adopters
3–4 out of 5
4–7 out of 11
L
L
16
16
10–15%
Early Majority
1–3 out of 5
3 out of 11
U
U
17
17
34%
Late Majority
1–2 out of 5
1–2 out of 11
U
U
44
44
34%
Laggards
0
1–2 out of 11
HU
HU
7
7
3–12%
Non–Adopters
0
0
HU
HU
13
13

Key:HL = Highly LikelyL = LikelyU = UnlikelyHU = Highly Unlikely

 

Table 7 classifies museums in the sample into the five categories of the technology adoption curve. Innovator art museums in the sample separate themselves from others by committing to core resources, offering variety to appeal to multiple learner types, allowing specific searches via databases, and trying innovative technologies like conversation tools or guided tours. Only three museums fit these criteria, the Metropolitan, Cleveland and Philadelphia museums. Early adopters, on the other hand, offer some core resources and some variety, but not all offer online research databases and only a few employ innovative online technology. Sixteen museums in the sample fit these criteria, including the National Museum of African Art and the Utah, Seattle and Chrysler museums. In general, early majority and late majority museums commit to the easiest of online education technologies, and show irregular use of databases and innovative technology. Museums like the Schneider, Tacoma and Erie museums fit these criteria. Early and late majorities combined made up 61 percent of the sample, slightly less than the 68 percent one would expect based on the technology adoption curve. Finally, laggards commit to the easiest technologies online — such as learning links — while non–adopters do not commit online at all. These groups made up 7 percent and 13 percent of the sample, respectively. The final two columns in Table 7 show that adoption percentages match closely with the curve’s expected distribution. Technology adoption breakdown for all museums in the sample is available online (http://www.variscora.com/research/SortedByTotals.pdf).

 

++++++++++

Conclusions

No matter the resource types or how broadly they are available, online art museums in the United States still fall short of the traditional museum experience in both the social and physical contexts of the contextual model. Currently, there are very few tools to encourage a social environment when online "visits" occur. Tools of this kind — conversation tools — showed up on only three Web sites. Of these, two were passive, offering visitors a chance to e–mail feedback regarding an online museum event, while the third allowed for real–time communication during video–conference style online courses.

The museum experience for visitors is strongly tied up with action and events — "...what they saw, what they did, and how they felt about those experiences" — the physical context of the contextual model [11]. Thus far, the Web experience falls short of this physical context, offering little of the ambience of a museum, its sounds and smells, or architecture. The one educational resource that may aid in establishing a physical context for visitors online is guided tours, which are video– and/or audio–based. Guided tours go further than text and images to engender a "physical" experience via expert voices and sights/sounds of the gallery space. Only seven museum Web sites from this sample, however, offered this resource type, while other Web sites substituted gallery photographs, wall diagrams, floor maps, or imitations of gallery colors and patterns. Visitors to U.S. art museum Web sites will probably encounter a truncated and disconnected museum experience as compared to that traditionally experienced in-gallery, at least until the Web offers a richer experience.

While this study helped us see broadly the kinds of educational content currently available on U.S. art museum Web sites, the findings are mixed. On the one hand, museums are presenting numerous online images, explanatory text and printable materials to spread understanding of collections and exhibits. On the other hand, tools for social collaboration, video– and audio–based resources, and online instruction are scarce or non–existent. This scarcity may be due to staffing issues, funding issues, or where we are in the development of the Web.

The Web is a rapidly changing space. In the two years of our research to date, participation of museums on the Web has changed dramatically. Our future research will explore a series of questions. Why do art museums offer certain kinds of online educational resources over others? What do art museums intend to do with online educational resources in the future? What educational resources do K–12 teachers need from art museums? Answers to these questions should position museum educators to use the Web more effectively to meet their educational mission and to better serve the public, teachers, and researchers. End of article

 

About the authors

Robert A. Varisco is Adjunct Curator of Education for the Lehigh University Art Galleries where he has designed Web–based exhibits and on–site children’s workshops. He is working on his doctorate in Educational Technology at Lehigh and the research reported here is foundational work for his dissertation. Robert has a masters’ degree in Instructional Design and Development from Lehigh and worked for five years designing training packages for corporations. In his other professional incarnations, Robert has been an archaeologist and a teacher of writing and literature. He likes to paint, photograph and create collages when not dragging his daughter around to museums (which he does frequently).

Ward Mitchell Cates is Professor of Software Development at Lehigh University where he teaches courses in the design and use of technology for education and training. Ward holds a doctorate from Duke University. He was the senior instructional designer on the National Science Foundation project, Building a Multi–user Virtual Environment (MUVE) for Museum Exhibits. Son of an artist, Ward was raised with the smell of oil paints and turpentine and spent much of his childhood going in the back doors of museums and galleries. He has never lost his love of art and applies his artistic skills nowadays to interface design. He and his students explore ways to use technology to enhance the museum experience.

 

Notes

1. Sheppard, 2001, p. 7; see also Bloom and Powell, 1984; Hooper–Greenhill, 1994; Paris, 2002; Screven, 1986.

2. Bazin, 1967, p. 16; see also Pierroux, 1998.

3. Kotler and Kotler, 1998, p. 5.

4. Altabe, at http://www.gadflyonline.com/05-13-02/artcomm-kiosks.html; Falk and Dierking, 1992; 2000.

5. Morrissey and Worts, 1998, p. 170.

6. Ramsey, 1938, p. 125.

7. U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), 2002, p. 1.

8. Cennamo and Eriksson, 2001, p. 51.

9. Krippendorff, 1980, p. 21.

10. Bar–Ilan and Groisman, 2003, p. 79.

11. Falk and Dierking, 2000, p. 53; see also, Falk and Dierking, 1992.

 

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Editorial history

Paper received 8 May 2005; accepted 10 June 2005.
HTML markup: Susan Bochenski and Edward J. Valauskas; Editor: Edward J. Valauskas.


Copyright ©2005, Robert A. Varisco and Ward Mitchell Cates.

Survey of Web–based educational resources in selected U.S. art museums by Robert A. Varisco and Ward Mitchell Cates
First Monday, Volume 10, Number 7 - 4 July 2005
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1261/1181





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