To gain insight into the current trends in digital learning, an Environmental Scan was conducted as part of the DLRP. A list of 32 websites for review was culled from recommendations of the SCEMS staff, Cross & Joftus, and Navigation North contractors to provide a broad spectrum of sites to which K-12 teachers are exposed and which are attracting particular attention. We organize these sites into three categories: 1) Museum Education Sites, 2) General Education Resource Sites, and 3) Digital Collection sites. The collections sites were chosen as a useful comparison to the large museum digital repositories operating in the same space as the Smithsonian Collections Search Center. The education and museum websites were chosen on the basis of survey data from DLRP Teacher Research Group members, as well as for their potential to offer models of best practices that could be replicated.

Reviewers found that while museum sites are continuing to make credible advancements in developing and deploying tools that allow educators the means to independently save and distribute educational content, few provide open learning resources and curriculum elements that can be shared easily within and across different websites. Museum sites still serve as a primary publishing point for curriculum collections and materials as generated by centralized, internal teams, and those materials are largely deemed effective and comprehensive across educator audiences.

The general education resource sites differ in their approach to audience. Where the reviewed museum sites tend to be focused on the teacher-user, the education sites were designed with a broader audience in mind, an audience that includes the student and sometimes parents. Museums are beginning to offer these features as well, but their perspective on the identity of the audience still focuses largely on the teacher as the main user and interpreter of content.

The digital collection sites offer the deepest and most expansive digital collections. These sites contain thousands of resources (primary, audio, visual, text, etc.) that have been curated from numerous individual collections. Many of the sources are other museums, databases, archive collections, national libraries, and users (i.e., archive.org).

Examples of best practices are described in the categories of: Authoring and Lesson Building Tools; Online Exhibitions; Creating Instructional Portals and Student Accessibility; Ease of Navigation and Search Features; and Numerous Contributors and Partners.

Finally, a look at where the SCEMS site sits within this environment found that SCEMS is in a unique position. This is because of its extensive access to large stores of exceptional native resources as part of the Smithsonian family and its freedom from having to define its proximity to these resources as third-party aggregator. Through the strategic development of certain tools and features, SCEMS could best use this proximity by making continued use of its content development and expertise and by combining these with educator-enabled assimilation and sharing utilities to bridge many of the gaps inherent in other resource-provider solutions.

Download the Report: