Prof. Robertson to present in panel on “Museums, Technology and the Digital Classroom,” at Museums and Higher Education in the 21st Century: Collaborative Methods and Models for Innovation Conference, sponsored by Baruch College and the Rubin Museum of Art April 24-25, 2013


Don’t just go to the museum: weave museum field trips into your art history survey with VoiceThread multimedia technology, and grow the “working space” in your classroom.

 Janice Robertson, Visiting Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

I used to think of the museum trip as a “peak” within the framework of an art history survey course. In the museum are the originals. Get students to the peak: lessons delivered over the course of the semester will kick in, and they can “see” for themselves. Students consumed knowledge in the form of textbook readings and classroom lectures, then used it a lens for “seeing” art in the originals. That was the work.

The grounds for this model shifted with the advent of electronic literacy. Digital technology has opened up new kinds of “working spaces.” Web 2.0 platforms, like VoiceThread, a multimedia cloud application, designed to promote group conversations and collaboration, aren’t just interactive—they’re participatory. This is a game-changer.

So, for example, we invite students to “discuss” visual material in class, but they don’t know what material is going to show up, and there isn’t much time to think about it. VoiceThreads are available 24/7. Students can view visual material, think about it, return to it, and take as long as they want to articulate comments. Many students spoke for the first time on VoiceThread.

Museum visits work similarly: students don’t know what they’re going to see until they get there. I used VoiceThreads to change that. Images of museum objects on the itinerary were uploaded to shared VoiceThreads, each one was assigned to a team of three, and students were initially responsible for starting conversations around those objects. It worked. Students came prepared and there were lively conversations, even debates, during the museum visit.

Students were also encouraged to bring cameras, document their observations with photographs, and contribute their own material to team VoiceThreads. This “working space” turned out to be incredibly productive.

After the museum visit, our class met in a computer lab and teams were charged with using VoiceThread to develop online conversations around the museum objects. We were joined by Art Reference Librarian, Cheryl Costello, who offered guidance in online and general research techniques to students actively working on their projects. Many students spoke one-on-one with a librarian for the first time.

Collaboration was encouraged, and students were required to contribute significant comments to VoiceThreads other than their own. Some of the work was so brilliant that I referred to it in class: validating student ideas by weaving them into my class presentations and discussion of later course topics. The “working space” in our classroom was growing, and the springboard for this work was students’ first-hand engagement with real life museum objects.

P.S. I took my own photos and uploaded them into VoiceThreads in order to initiate this class project, this required substantial effort. VoiceThread currently has a digital bridge to the New York Public Library, giving users direct access over 700,000 images and enabling them to import media directly into VoiceThreads. I asked, and VoiceThread is ready, willing and able to build digital bridges to art museums. Imagine that.