A while back I wrote of a new initiative at Crystal Bridges: the creation of an online course for high schools students to take for credit. I am excited to announce that the course, titled Museum Mashup: American Identity through the Arts, has launched with its first cohort of students from all corners of the state. The project began in earnest last March, and over the past nine months this online course has evolved to become a rich and engaging virtual classroom where teens explore and grapple with themes in American history through the lens of the visual arts. Rather than present the artwork in a timeline from the past to the present, we decided to take a backwards approach and ask the big question: “How did we get here?” Therefore, Museum Mashup begins with contemporary art and works its way backwards through time.
As we embarked on this journey, we had to rethink how we would translate our in-gallery practice into an online forum. When we teach in the galleries, it is conversational instead of purely lecturing at the students, and students share their ideas with us. We knew that students of this course would be online at different times, so we found some great tools to create “conversations” in the cloud that would enable students to unpack a work of art and build upon each other’s ideas. One of those tools is called “VoiceThread.” It allows students to look at a work of art and respond to it using their web cam, audio, type, or even through the phone. It has resulted in some incredibly thoughtful interpretations of the artworks in the course.
Another important aspect of the course is learning about the role of a museum within the community and the types of jobs available in museums. Students learn about the curatorial process through video clips of Curator Chad Alligood. They also learn how to create a graphic identity for an exhibition through video of Manager of Creative Services, Anna Vernon.The class culminates in the creation of a virtual exhibition. This is done in a virtual gallery space that was created by David Charles Fredrick, a professor at the University of Arkansas and producer at Tesseract Interactive Humanities and Game Design. The virtual gallery is a true-to-life rendering of Crystal Bridges’ Twentieth- Century Art Gallery. Students are not only able to navigate the space as if they were walking through it, but they curate their own exhibition themed on American identity. When developing their exhibition, they will learn how to research artwork and create a story, including writing the artwork labels.
Crystal Bridges is excited to be a direct contributor in educating Arkansas students to have a deeper understanding of and connection to history and art. As we continue to develop this program, we plan to create another course for high school students and as well as online teacher training for educators around the world who want to teach these classes. Thanks to the generosity of the Windgate Foundation, the professional development and the online course will be available at no cost.