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About the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

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Introduction

The increased access provided by digital media technologies has made museum resources, such as cultural artifacts, historical documents, and scientific specimens, widely available. Educational researchers and practitioners are now developing effective ways to use digital resources—particularly those from authoritative sources, such as the Smithsonian Institution. Digital representations of the Smithsonian’s millions of resources have the power and potential to enable students to develop deeper learning competencies that will help them compete globally and the transferable skills that will help them succeed throughout their lives.


The Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world. By 2022, the Smithsonian’s vision is to build on its unique strengths to engage and inspire more people, where they are, with greater impact, while catalyzing critical conversation on issues affecting our nation and the world.

The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access strategic plan aligns with the Smithsonian Institution’s strategic plan by supporting the following goals:


The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

History

The Smithsonian established the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access in 1976 to serve public education by bringing Smithsonian collections and expertise into the nation’s classrooms. For more than 40 years, it has published educational materials and provided one access point to Smithsonian educational resources. The Center is now housed within the Office of the Associate Provost for Education and Access.

To understand the needs of teachers, students, and museum educators, the Center spent more than a decade in active experimentation and research, culminating in the launch of this new online platform—the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Since its launch in 2016, museum and classroom educators have used the Lab’s tools to create thousands of new examples—ranging from experiments to models—for using Smithsonian resources for learning.

The Center now studies how teachers and students use digital museum resources and broadly disseminates this knowledge through professional development to advance museum and digital learning.

Impact

The Center serves the Smithsonian community as well as the nation’s classroom educators, to increase collaboration, skills, and agility in the use of digital resources for educational purposes, through guidance, assistance, and training. It collects and analyzes data on the Institution’s educational programs and outreach and promotes the adoption of best practices. The Center also implements programming in support of Smithsonian initiatives that recognize excellence and innovation in education and promote dialogue on issues crucial to its primary audience encompassing children and young people.

Mission

The challenge now facing the Center is to connect digital museum resources with deeper learning, to offer the best outcomes for students and to ensure that the Smithsonian is recognized as a trusted and preferred source for digital education content and curriculum development. The Center recognizes the importance of its role as a catalyst for deeper learning and its responsibility to provide accessible digital museum resources for curriculum development.

In pursuit of those ends, the mission of the Center is to deepen, enrich, and personalize learning by encouraging and supporting the creative use of museum resources through research and collaboration with the education community.

Vision

The Center’s vision is that educators everywhere cultivate curious, skillful, and engaged digital citizens. This vision is an expression of both its responsibility to educators and its highest hopes for the future for learners. It is a statement that calls the Center forward on a path of innovation that is rooted in delivery of pragmatic results.

Priorities

In selecting its priorities, the Center’s team considered where it should focus its resources to have the greatest impact upon fulfilling its mission and serving the Smithsonian’s strategic plan. These considerations include how the Center can: deepen, enrich, and personalize learning through the creative use of museum resources; help learners discover new knowledge, and share resources with educators around the world; help the Smithsonian reach one billion people a year through its digital first strategy; and help catalyze new conversations and address complex challenges.

The Center determined that these three program priorities would best address its mission:

  1. Foster deeper learning through the effective use of Smithsonian digital resources.
  2. Sustain and evolve dependable digital platforms to access, create, deliver, and improve educational experiences.
  3. Contribute knowledge to improve practices in museum education and digital technology.
Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access Strategic Plan Cover Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access Strategic Plan 2018–22
Download the full Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access Strategic Plan for 2018–22 for additional information on the Center's priorities, its goals for the future, and the approaches it will take to achieve them.


Summary

For 40 years, the Center has created learning experiences for teachers and students. However, recent innovations in digital technology have transformed the landscape—from the extraordinary level of access to museum resources, to the ability of learners and educators to personalize the learning experience, to the demand upon educators and the Center to ensure the learning experience is deep and meaningful.

The Center is committed to offering deep and rich digital learning experiences and to supporting educators (within the Smithsonian and beyond) in their quest to provide the highest quality digital education experiences. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the Center will foster deeper learning through the effective use of Smithsonian digital resources; sustain and evolve dependable digital platforms to access, create, deliver, and improve educational experiences; and contribute knowledge to improve practices in museum education and digital technology.

Through research and collaboration with the education community, and by encouraging and supporting the creative use of museum resources, the Center strives to deepen and enrich learning, so that educators everywhere cultivate curious, skillful, and engaged digital citizens.

The Center is honored and grateful for the generous financial support the Smithsonian Learning Lab has received from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Grable Foundation, Visual Resources Association Foundation, Lenovo, Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood, and Annenberg Learner. Funding from the Smithsonian includes grants from the Smithsonian Women's Committee, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center, as well as Youth Access Grants administered by the Smithsonian Office for Education and Access.