Full of Sound and Fury

Signifying . . .

Copyright 1995 by Jamie McKenzie

The World Wide Web makes possible a powerful new kind of student-centered, constructivist learning by collecting at a single site a phenomenal array of learning resources which can be explored with simple point-and-click skills. Some call these home pages "Virtual Libraries." Because of their highly visual character, I prefer the term "Virtual Museum."


1. The Virtual Museum Defined

A virtual museum is a collection of electronic artifacts and information resources - virtually anything which can be digitized. The collection may include paintings, drawings, photographs, diagrams, graphs, recordings, video segments, newspaper articles, transcripts of interviews, numerical databases and a host of other items which may be saved on the virtual museum's file server. It may also offer pointers to great resources around the world relevant to the museum's main focus.

Most virtual museums. on the Internet today are professionally constructed. One can visit the Smithsonian, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Louvre. According to EDUPAGE (1/26/95) by September of 1995 four science museums will offer virtual museums thanks to a project funded by Unisys and the National Science - The Science Learning Network. The program will incorporate "intelligent agents" that can learn a teacher's interest areas and organize and suggest avenues of study. (Investor's Business Daily 1/25/95 A8)


2. Students as Curators of Virtual Museums

Within the next year, we will begin to see students in many schools creating their own virtual museums. instead of the fairly standard home pages which are now typical of most school WWW sites. In Bellingham, two schools are already working on virtual museums.. One is called Ellis Island: a virtual museum devoted to heritage and origin. Visitors to the museum will be able to explore their ancestry, regardless of which part of the globe they might have started from. Click on the world map where your own ancestors came from and you will enter a wing of the museum devoted to your heritage. The other museum will focus upon Pacific Rim cultures.

Much of the material housed in a virtual museum may be generated and produced by students who conduct research on the topic within their own community and the global community, engaging in an electronic treasure hunt to find great information and electronic artifacts. Because students are actually building meaning as they add to the museum collection, this is, in many respects, a wonderful workshop for constructivist learning.

If you have access to the World Wide Web and would like to check out some good sites related to this topic, try the following:


Examples of Adult Virtual Museums


In addition to contributions by students, families and staff members of the school, visitors to the museum may also submit entries. Children from lands of origin may send current day descriptions and digitized pictures of these former homelands. Children from Pacific Rim nations may send first person accounts of life in their communities. Students in the school housing the virtual museum then serve as curators, reviewing outside submissions and judging their suitability for inclusion.

3. Virtual Museums are Global

Besides the locally collected information resources, the virtual museum will also point the visitor to the best related resources that can be found on the Internet. A visitor to the Pacific Rim museum, for example, may be able to click on Korea on a large map of Asia. This action will open a page listing dozens of sites providing weather, tourist guides, economic data, listservs and political news. Click on one of these and the visitor is on a magic carpet ride to a different file server housed, perhaps, in Korea or New York or Boise.

The beauty of a virtual museum is its capacity to connect the visitor with valuable information across the entire globe.

Students and staff, once equipped with HTML programming skills (not much harder than HyperCard), can simply cut and paste the addresses of great sites from the WWW pages created by others. These will then appear as hypertext links on museum pages.


4. Virtual Museums are Dynamic, Multidisciplinary, and Multisensory

Unlike most school research projects, virtual museums provide persistent, ongoing "change, activity, and progress" (American Heritage Dictionary definition of "dynamic"). The collection process is never-ending. Students may continue their work over several years, and even after they leave their elementary school to begin work at the virtual museum housed at the middle school, they can return for "electronic" visits and note the expanding collection. Multi-age classes may focus upon the same challenge for several years running without fear of repetition. Students can actually see the >"fruits" of their inquiry. They become "knowledge builders" rather than mere consumers.

Museums are also fine vehicles for multidisciplinary studies, as the collection may include everything from music and art to science and politics and mathematics. The driving research question for the Asian Rim museum (Which culture would you pick if your family were to live abroad for a year and why?) naturally steers students to look at a broad range of factors which bridge the disciplines.

Virtual museums offer multi-sensory opportunities appealing to a variety of learning styles and multiple intelligences. One can see a Picasso. One can see and hear Tori Amos perform "Cornflake Girl." While it is difficult to touch or taste, the same would be true of a conventional museum. Virtual museums have great advantages over textbooks - bringing vitality, color and motion to student exploration.

Conclusion - Artificial Museums are Full of Sound and Fury

We stand at a continental divide as one century and its learning technologies give way to the next. We can just begin to make out the silhouette of a different kind of school - one where students gather information, organize it, create meaning, reach insight, display their findings and then invite an global audience to share the experience.

In the past, schooling has been too divorced from real life. The study of life through textbooks and teacher lectures was all too often a case of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Few students mistook the lessons as approaching the "real thing."

Virtual museums offer a different kind of learning - one which is fresh and vibrant. Schools can become . . .

"full of sound and fury, signifying . . . "


Which means enlighten, open the mind, fill with information, EDUCATE!

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