VTS: An Entry Point for ELL

As museums continue to engage with immigration, language barriers and other cultural shifts, museums can look for inspiration from the Whitney Museum. The Whitney recently piloted a Youth Insights Introductions program in summer 2014. This program involved 15 New York City high school students, who are self-identified English Language Learners. According to the Whitney, this free resource ‘welcomes teens…to explore, discover and discuss American art, and to create original works of art and writing.’ Others museums have used other resources to create programs for these audiences.

This pilot program builds on the Whitney’s Youth Insights programs.

This blog post introduces the idea of incorporating Visual Thinking Strategies in art museums to engage new audiences, particularly those who are recent immigrants or current English Language Learners. A great resource for museums looking to broaden their programming is CALTA21, Cultures and Literacies Through Art for the 21st Century.


CALTA21 is a model initiative funded through a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The intent of this initiative, led by Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), is to build the capacity of museum-community college partnerships, to empower adult immigrant English language learners (ELL) while strengthening their literacy and critical thinking skills through visual literacy and simultaneously assisting them in enriching their social and cultural capital.

In fact, CALTA21 offered a free webinar in June 2014 to discuss these very ideas: Museums and Institutions of Higher Education Unite to Empower Adult English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

While this webinar focuses primarily on advanced adult language learners, all museums and cultural sites can work to make their programs more accessible and welcoming to all English Language Learners. This can work to foster inclusion as well as lifelong engagement with museums and community.

VTS can serve as an effective method for ELL students and families by:

  • Encouraging a fluency of language
  • Validation of experience and past knowledge
  • Adopting an appreciation of multiple viewpoints
  • Being a cathartic experience for visitors
  • Combining visual literacy and literacy based activities

CALTA21’s website has a wealth of information, including a multi-week guided curriculum and a list of museums nationwide that provide free admission. They encourage any museum or cultural institution to look into their program. Check it out!

Powerpoint: http://www.vtshome.org/system/resources/W1siZiIsIjIwMTMvMDQvMDkvMTRfMDdfMDdfODA2X1ZUU19Gb3J1bV9Sb3VuZHRhYmxlX0VMTF8wNDA0MjAxMy5wZGYiXV0/VTS%20Forum%20Roundtable-ELL-04042013.pdf.

Find more information about CALTA21 here: http://www.calta21.org/


Non-Interactive Media

Method: Non-Interactive Media

Non-interactive media – or static media – engages audiences with the museum’s mission or collections through podcasts, video series, or other one-way media.  This method of distance learning is as opposed to interactive media like webinars or video field trips.  For non-interactive media today, we are going to focus on audio and video content, like a podcast or video.  Museums utilize these non-interactive media for two main reasons: to encourage in-person visits or to advance their institutional mission.


Who is the Audience?

This type of media can be tailored for any audience type and age group.  You can find lecture series for adults, family-friendly stories, how-to videos for all ages, and plenty of content for school groups.


Case Study 1: Story Time at the Met Podcast Series

The Metropolitan Museum of Art used to publish a family story time podcast series to encourage museum visits.  The series, Story Time at the Met, features a fairytale, fable, or legend told in an engaging, child-friendly way.  After the 5-minute story, the podcast ends by encouraging the listener to learn more by visiting a related exhibition at the Met.  For example, a story about Johnny Appleseed can be followed up with a visit to the Met to view “Cider Making” by William Sidney Mount.

"Cider Making" by William Sidney Mount at the Met

  “Cider Making” by William Sidney Mount at the Met  


Case Study 2: Voices on Antisemitism USHMM Podcast Series

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum publishes a monthly podcast series called Voices on Antisemitism, featuring scholars, authors, politicians, artists, and religious leaders, who reflect on the ways that antisemitism and hatred influence the world today.  Guests have included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rabbi Lord Jonahan Sacks, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and they have spoken on such diverse topics as Jewish identity, anti-Zionism, interfaith relations, and the Holocaust on film.  The majority of the USHMM podcasts are designed to advance the museum’s mission “to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”  Aside from naming the museum as the authors of the series, the podcast does not push listeners to visit the museum.  It is only on rare occasion that an episode relates to an exhibit, like their November 2013 podcast on The Power of Propaganda exhibit that is currently traveling.  I saw it last year at the Field Museum in Chicago and it was excellent.  You can see it at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, Ohio until March 15 and then at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis from April to September.


Podcasts can serve as valuable marketing and educational tools for museums, connecting the museum to audiences around the world, advancing their missions, and giving them name recognition for potential tourists.


Check out other Non-Interactive Museum Media

Face-to-Face podcast series, National Portrait Gallery

The Brain Scoop Youtube channel, The Field Museum

Handi-Hour Crafting Youtube series, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Virtual Interactive Programs

This includes but is not limited too, virtual tours, Exhibit-based facilitations, Webinars, and online collections.

Methods of Virtual Interactive Programs

A Virtual Tour is one in which a participant can “tour” a museum through digital access without being present in the museum.

An Exhibit-based Facilitation is one that occurs entirely over digital media. Participants engage in exhibit interaction through over the internet and pre-planned, accessible activities are provided for the participant’s selective engagement.

A Webinar is a tool used, in this case, by educators, curators, or individuals otherwise responsible for spreading information, to help audiences utilize the museums. This is not necessarily distance learning for the purpose of learning about something in a museum, but rather learning about how to teach or learn what is in a museum.

An Online Collection is a museum’s way of making its collection accessible to audiences who cannot travel to the museum. Once again, online collections are accessed digitally.

In my opinion, I have rated these from least interactive to most interactive in the following order: Online collections, Virtual Tours, Exhibit-Based Facilitations, and Webinars. The latter two are similarly interactive, but their appropriateness dependent on the audience. My case study will be reviewing the Webinar.

A closer look at a Method: Webinar

Webinars are designed with specific audiences in mind. To clarify from the definition above, Webinars are virtual conferences or meetings that employ the use of audio, video, real-time polls, group text conversations, collaborative “blackboard”, slideshow availability, note-taking, and availability to record for later use. It is an educational tool that I researched in the context of museums, but not in museums. In preparation for this post, I signed up for a Webinar provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Who is the Audience?

The audience for this Webinar was Jewish Educators of all denominations, of all ages and experience levels, and from all over the United States. We had 14 individuals present, including the facilitator, from Boston, MA; San Diego, CA; New York City, NY; Silver Spring, MD; Seattle, WA; and Los Angeles, CA.

Case Study and Review

“Teaching Oral History”, Webinar given by Etta King, Educational Programs Director of the Jewish Women’s Archive. This was a 1-hour long session, with two time slot options. The mission of the Jewish Women’s Archive is to “The Jewish Women’s Archive documents Jewish women’s stories, elevates their voices, and inspires them to be agents of change.” Additionally, the goal of the Education Department of the JWA is to “enhance [educators’] work through high-quality curricular resources and professional development.”

The topic of the session, “Teaching Oral History”, was one that is relevant to collecting information in a way that is relevant and interesting to young learner’s (and learners of all ages!), and was a forum during which the facilitator switched between informative presentation and interactive creation and compilation of group ideas. This Webinar hit on both of the organization’s overarching goals while engaging with its participants and providing tools for them to use in their own educational environments. Additionally, this forum was a living conversation about how to sustain the type of information we have in museums. Below is screen shot from the Webinar, including some of the sources given.

screenshot for blog

I think the use of Webinars is an engaging virtual interactive. Its limitations are that it applies to specific audiences, you need to sign up to gain access, and I could only find examples of Webinar use that were once removed from museums. (I.E..- The JWA used this Webinar to reach out to educators, below there is an example of a Webinar from AAM, but it is not meant to reach out to museum visitors, but rather to individuals looking to expand digital access to museums, etc.)

On the other hand, there are so many strengths to this type of program! It has multimedia interaction (audio, video, group chat, group “blackboard” where everyone can draw on a graph at the same time, instantaneous polling, slideshow viewing.. the list goes on!) It is highly interactive and (even though I included this in my limitations of the program) it can be specified to your audience! For example: our thoughts and creation of ideas were added to the slideshow, the entire experience was recorded and sent out to the participants, there was a tech assistant on hand to handle any glitches as they arose, and each portion of the facilitation was built upon our experiences and input.

While I do believe there is nothing like visiting a museum and experiencing it with as many of your senses as possible, there is something to be said for Virtual Interactive Programs. In the pursuit expanding accessibility, it is notable that all of these programs have the ability to bring museums to the learner regardless of their ability (or inability) to get to a museum.

Links to Examples*

Virtual Tours
National Postal Museum: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour.html

Museum of Natural History: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vtp/2-mobile/

Jewish Women’s Archive:
-Website: JWA.org
-Upcoming Webinar(s): http://jwa.org/teach/profdev/webinars

American Alliance of Museums
-Website: www.aam-us.org
-Upcoming Webinar(s): https://aam-us.org/ProductCatalog/Product?ID=4008
*Note: AAM is using this Webinar as a teaching tool for educating about Digital Learning in Museums. Meta!

Exhibit-based Facilitation
National Museum of Natural History, Dinosaur Tour: http://paleobiology.si.edu/dinosaurs/interactives/tour/main.html

British Science Museum: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/online_science.aspx

Online Collections
Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online

Brooklyn Museum: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/collections/

The Guggenheim: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online

The British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

*None of these lists is anywhere near a complete list! Just a fun group to peruse if you wish 🙂

Pursuit of Appiness: Natural History

The Smithsonian is a bear when it comes to Apps… Smithsonian Institution has its own confusing suite of apps, while also having one all encompassing app. Instead, I took a different route. I looked at an app for the NMNH developed by the Smithsonian Institution that generates unique content.

“MEAnderthal” has sadly been removed from the app store, so for those of you dying to see it, your only chance will be to look at the below screenshots. (Also, I still have it downloaded, just like I have the original Flappy Bird, so if anyone wants to play some deleted games, let me know). Before the app was removed, I went to NMNH and looked at the MEAnderthal app, which is designed to be used in the Human Origins exhibit. With this app, you can take or upload a photo of yourself and “neanderthal-ize” yourself: think protruding brow, too much facial hair, wide set eyes… all that attractive stuff.

It is advertised on the Human Origins page of the SI website, as well as on the general website for the Smithsonian and the NMNH. Unfortunately, since the app is no longer available (literally as of 2 weeks ago), there is no advertisement within the Human Origins hall. I cannot remember if there was an advertisement when I first looked a couple weeks ago, but when I revisited earlier this week, I looked, to no avail.

I think I know why it is not being advertised in the exhibit and has since been removed from the App store… and that is because it simply doesn’t work. I have an iPhone 5s with Verizon, and even when connected to SI wifi and my own wifi connection at home, the following screenshots detail how far I was able to connect with this app:

IMG_8007 IMG_8008IMG_8009

this last screenshot is my favorite:


Nice brown screen!

So whether or not it is truly ethical to use this app in my evaluation since it didn’t work, I did anyway based on my belief that an SI developed app should at least be able to do one of its duties, regardless of how well it accomplishes that duty. But this app couldn’t even take a photo. I like it when really well designed, beautiful apps crash, because at least I can blame it on the intense graphics or coding–but this app isn’t even that aesthetically pleasing.

I like the concept behind it, which is why I rated it highly on its content value inside and outside of the museum. It doesn’t rely on the exhibit, but at the same time, it enhances the exhibit. It may seem like just a silly game, but I think that a child might be able to more easily connect their identity to his or her neanderthal ancestors if they can “neanderthal-ize” themselves. Also it is decently advertised, save having big signs in the hall. It apparently works on Android, as well, but since I don’t have one, I cannot speak to that. You can download it for iPad, but I always think it’s so silly when people take selfies with their big ol’ iPads 🙂

Despite those half-hearted compliments, I unfortunately have to give it a 2.

App Eval 2

In-Person Programs

Method: In-Person Programs

In-Person Programs include any program in which an individual from a museum brings museum education outside of the traditional museum setting. These types of programs most commonly happen in schools, libraries, or other cultural institutions. The goal of in-person programming is to bring the museum’s collections and resources out into the community, stimulating experiences that involve personal discovery and critical thinking. In-person programs physically bring the museum to you.

Who is the Audience?

The intended audiences of in-person programs include teachers, facilitators, and students of formal and informal educational environments of any age. In-person programs are typically marketed to schools, but they can often be adapted for almost any age group or setting.

Case Study: At Your School, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The At Your School program at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is an in-person program opportunity that can reach schools in three different ways, through assemblies, classes, or labs, with program content covering a choice of six subjects: earth science, health science, human culture, life science, physical science and space science.

Assemblies allow large groups of students, grades K – 8, to engage in the same topic at the same time by interacting with presenters in fun-filled educational activities. Classes are designed for grades PreK – 8, and include a 45-minute classes led by professional museum educators that engage students with a specific science topic using hands-on, inquiry-based approaches. Labs are a more in-depth experience for grades 3- 8, which includes an inquiry-based program that allows hands-on experiences for small groups of students.

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science does an excellent job providing schools with several options and opportunities to bring the museum into the school. While I would personally like to see in-person programs for high school students as well, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is on the right track by offering distance learning programs that include the human element, instead of just a technological connection. For more information, click on the link below:


Museums that offer In-Person Programs:

The Pursuit of APPiness- The National Mall

This is my new go-to app for DC tourists. Whether you are from out of town and just visiting the area, or a local who wants to take an afternoon for some cultural enrichment, this app provides practical and interesting information. Don’t get me wrong, this app is not flashy, not particularly interactive, and relatively text heavy. However, I think the centralized information about the history and significance of each memorial on the National Mall, along with the various options for self-guided tours, make this app extremely worth it. Plus, it’s free! So might as well give it a shot.


I think some of the best aspects of this app are the wayfinding instructions and maps. The app provides five unique tours to follow, as well as the option to select your own sites and the app generates your best route. There is also a full list of all the sites, just in case you stumble upon an unexpected site and want to look up some information about it. In general, the app seems geared towards tourists, but options like the “Off the Beaten Path Tour” are great for people familiar with the area as well. The only issue might be learning about the app in the first place. There is a whole page advertising the app on the National Park Service website about the National Mall, but I think it could benefit from some additional advertising around the sites themselves.

image (1)photo (2)

The most unexpected feature of the app is the “Park Lens” camera. To use it, you simply hold up your phone to your surroundings and the app superimposes labels of the nearby sites and museums, as well as their relative locations and distances to your location. The lens took awhile to load, but I can see how this could be pretty helpful to a tourist who is trying to get their bearings.

image (2)

Overall, the in-depth history about the different memorials and monuments add value to a self-guided tour, while the Parking, Transportation, and Hours information provide practical and necessary preparation for your trip. So, while the National Mall and Memorial Parks app is not necessarily on the cutting edge of interactivity and generating unique content, it is undoubtedly useful for tourists who are trying to find their way and learn some of the basics about “DC’s front yard”.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 7.13.56 PM

The Pursuit of Appiness- USHMM


This app reflects the museum in many ways: well thought out, eye catching design, and a space for reflection and discussion. This app works well as a stand alone (if you cannot make it to the museum), as a pre-visit planner, or as a post-visit reflection and connection device.

No matter what type of device you have, there is a version out there for you.

From the Home Page you have three options- Plan Your Visit, Witness, and Reflect. Each section offers something different, but complimentary.


Plan Your Visit:

Under this section you can choose the date that you are planning to visit. Every exhibit that will be open is listed and includes how long it takes to walk through and a brief description; If you tap on the exhibit you are interested in, a photo is included. From this point, you can also link right into the exhibit and look at a few objects or labels.

One really nice feature it that you can add the exhibit you are interested in to the “My Visit” section and build a plan for your whole trip based on how long you want to spend there.

There is also a map you can zoom into, as needed.



This section allows you to interact with ID Cards. A brief explanation tells the user that the ID cards allow you to be a “witness to one person’s experience of the Holocaust.” You can choose a card that reflects you (like age, gender), by name, or have one randomly chosen for you. You can choose as many as you like and share them. While the museum does offer a paper version of this while going through the exhibit, this app version is a bit more individualized and at your finger tips.



Want a way to think about your visit? This is the section will provides photos and descriptions of the actual exhibits. Each photo has a caption and a way to share it with others. You can revisit each exhibit and look at a few objects from each. The whole collection, however, is not available on this app.

IMG_3717     IMG_3718

While the user cannot generate any new material or see all parts of the museum collection, this is a very user friendly and helpful app to have.  The fact that you can share with friends and family through various forms of social media is a great options. It allows the app user to share and discuss different themes and objects from the museum.

Overall, I would give this app a 4 and would highly recommend it!