With the proliferation of digital media, more resources than ever imagined are available for educators. Despite education not being their primary mission, archives, museums and cultural institutions have increasingly produced content specifically for teachers as their intended audience with the intention of delivering resources directly to the K-12 classroom. As Cohen and Rosenzweig write “online lesson plans have become so ubiquitous that no one has yet cataloged them.” Yet the quality and scope of these lesson plans can vary widely. For my print project, I am interested in researching and analyzing the educational resources and tools of three institutions, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian.
More specifically I want to investigate how “digitally literate” the educator resources from each institution strives to be. For example, is the emphasis on providing resources to teachers digitally, or is there an emphasis on utilizing the institution’s content to build digital literacy in students? The abundance of digital media in and of itself is a welcome development for educators at all levels. But simply giving students more to look at should not be enough. I want to discover if these institutions leverage digital resources to provoke and encourage higher level thinking in students. Increasingly, the goal of digitized content is to engage and challenge the student, not merely show it to them. As Cohen and Rosenzweig write, “what has been talked about endlessly but has been much harder to achieve is interactive learning exercises.” The challenge becomes using the resources of museums and archives to teach students to think as historians in a digital medium.
I also am interested in discovering how the educational resources of each of the three institutions view the teacher. Is the focus of the educational materials simply to provide as much online content and digitized resources as possible? Are teachers given agency to alter and adapt resources as they see fit? Often lesson plans are produced as if they were recipes, only needing to be followed to produce the intended results. I want to discover how much pedagogical freedom online resources allow the teacher.
The proliferation of digital media has the potential to change the paradigm of K-12 historical education. With my print project, I want to investigate how the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian engage educators to employ their resources in the classroom.