A National Need for Learning Resources
Schools across the nation are now responding to education policy changes that have far-reaching implications. First is the adoption of new state and federal policies that call for curricula to include digital materials and resources, including open education resources. Second is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, which have changed what students must learn and do to demonstrate their learning. Schools require new instructional resources and will need to use existing resources in different ways. The Smithsonian has an opportunity to engage K–12 educators and students more deeply than ever before if we can make our digital resources easily accessible and useful to them.

Through the Internet, the Smithsonian makes information, thousands of images, and instructional materials available to anyone with a connection. However, through a variety of research and evaluation, the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies recognized that educators were not using Smithsonian instructional materials as published but were deconstructing and rebuilding them to fit their curricular and student needs. Further, studies on digital learning in the classroom and use of digital museum resources indicate that educators need flexibility to create curricular sequences that meet the learning needs of their particular students. To better understand educational uses of Smithsonian digital resources and provide a roadmap for future digital development, it launched the Digital Learning Resources Project (DLRP), beginning in 2011.

The Project and Its Results
A diverse group of K-12 educators contributed to the evaluation and an iterative prototyping process. The educators represented a variety of grade levels, regions, and socioeconomic levels. The project research included a comprehensive literature review and analysis of best practices of digital asset holders, including those of government-supported cultural and educational organizations at both the federal and state levels.

Analysis of the data from the DLRP showed that educators need:
  • Flexible assets for use in multiple ways with students to engage their interest
  • Tools that maximize the use of high-quality images
  • Tools and suggestions to help adapt resources to diverse learners
  • A dedicated space for collecting and saving resources

The assets (whether created by the user or the Smithsonian) should have the following qualities:
  • Engage students
  • Allow for student interaction and adaptation
  • Afford accessibility for various learning styles and levels
  • Offer coherence with the lesson and multi-disciplinary opportunities
  • Support problem-based learning goals
  • Offer personalization
  • Are aligned to Common Core State Standards

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DLRP Prototype Toolset
The Prototype Toolset

To meet these requirements, the project produced a working (limited) prototype of a toolset that can be explored here http://scems.navnorth.com/.

In essence, the toolset replicates the process educators use in preparing a lesson, i.e., locating resources, reviewing and selecting them, sequencing and editing them, layering them with instructional activities, and sharing them with their students and colleagues. Its features include:
  • Search
    • Prototype toolset results show a wide range of Smithsonian digitized collections, videos, and learning resources that includes metadata
    • Fully functional toolset would also offer users materials created by other educators, sorted and presented based on elements of the user profile (subject specialties, grade-level, etc.)
  • Saving
    • Users can save, sort, edit, and recall individual items from the search
    • Users can add non-Smithsonian resources from any web link
  • Strategy layering
    • Prototype toolset allows discussions, quizzes, maps, or concept clouds, i.e., the "tools" of the toolset to be layered onto sequenced resources
    • Fully functional toolset would continue to offer new tools based on user feedback and research/evaluation of evolving user needs
  • Sharing
    • Fully functional toolset would offer multiple methods for sharing user-created collections with students/learners via projection, print, social media, or export/embedding to existing learning platforms
    • Fully functional toolset would enable sharing of user-created collections back to the user community

As an example, see the "Getting a Rover on Mars" Featured Collection accessible from the home page of the toolset prototype (http://scems.navnorth.com/#/collection/activity/275). This collection was created by an educator for use in a lesson on innovation in conjunction with the landing of the Curiosity Mars Rover in August of 2012. It combines Smithsonian, as well as non-Smithsonian digital resources (a key feature of the toolset), in a progressive series of analyses, discussions, and activities for her students. It was created using the toolset prototype with the intention of classroom display or embedding within the educator’s own website.

Research Data and Reports
The research (from methodology and data collection instruments, through to literature review, environmental scan, and final report) that resulted in the toolset can be found on this public wiki.

Of special interest may be the Preface and Executive Summary found in the Final Report here http://smithsonian-digital-learning.wikispaces.com/DLRP+Final+Report, and the Literature Review found here http://smithsonian-digital-learning.wikispaces.com/DLRP+Literature+Review.

Next Steps
The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (formerly the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies) is currently in development of this project. The project is being documented on the Learning Lab News site.