The impetus for this project was not just a simple analysis and update to the interface of the existing Smithsonian Education website, but an effort to better understand the vast changes in digital resource development and distribution that have occurred in education over the last five years. The methods that educators employ to find and access resources have become less a series of rote-memorization and simple bookmarking of resources and more integrated with intentional communities of practice and sharing around precise standards. In this new era, downloading a PDF of a highly polished lesson does have value. However, the ability to modify a resource specific to the needs of one’s own students, glean instructional practice strategies and ideas from others using the same materials, and redistribute materials into external, digital learning environments are all desired features that lure more teachers to more actively engage content and materials on a personal level. In short, we see a more discriminating consumer who wants quality content, wants to locate it easily, and wants to modify it to match classroom and student needs.

Successfully deploying a large scale project such as this does not depend solely on system development and technical expertise, but also requires:
  • an understanding of pre-established communities and content in which the project will be integrated
  • a sense of the existing culture and political environment of the organization that will manage the system and resources within it
  • recognition of the time and budget constraints that exist
  • clear expectations of end-users and external evaluators in both quantitative and qualitative structures with room to grow and modify as new needs surface
  • a plan for the continued life of the system after initial development concludes

In general, recognizing that this system lives within other systems and communities, and should work to promote the continued efficacy of those systems, highlights the importance of development decisions at project inception.

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