November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Smithsonian Learning Lab, Open for Business and Seeking Feedback

Smithsonian home page 600

A new, highly visual platform for exploring the riches of the Smithsonian is set for public launch in June 2016. But users are being encouraged to explore the Smithsonian Learning Lab now, and librarians, given their curatorial skills, are especially welcome, says Darren Milligan, digital project manager at the Smithsonian.

More than 1.4 million resources are currently available in the Learning Lab, a first-ever assembly of multimedia content representing the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, and the National Zoo. Beyond the resources themselves—which are free and open to all for personal and educational use—the Learning Lab enables educators and learners alike to participate, through creating and sharing learning experiences using the content and even enhancing the collections with their own content and annotations.

Smithsonian logo 300Getting started

Image driven, the Learning Lab is a platform optimized for discovery. And there’s a lot to peruse, with 13 million objects digitized, thus far. (There are a lot of beetles, notes Milligan.)

To get oriented on what’s possible, users might try out sample collections created by among more than 300 Smithsonian educators. Teachers may take an educator-created Virginia history collection, for instance, and swap in some examples from Pennsylvania.

This sampling of collections demonstrates the range of resources and what users can do with them:

Educators can upload their own content and adjust annotations to fit the needs of students, as well as incorporate other lessons. Tools for sharing and classroom management are included, too.

It’s important to note that not everything in the collection is in the public domain; users should mind the metadata. This presents “an opportunity to engage in digital citizenship,” says Milligan, particularly with students.

Launched in public beta in October 2015, the Learning Lab will see its full release in June at the ISTE 2016 conference. In the meantime, the Smithsonian is incorporating greater functionality, including a citation tool.

When asked for a tip on a particular favorite trove in the Smithsonian, Milligan demurred. “It’s not important what we think is important or useful,” he says.

That will be up to users.

Users can create "hot spots" within the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Users can create “hot spots” within the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Greetings! Thank you for creating this site! It is a fabulous way to share the Smithsonian’s amazing and comprehensive resources for teaching and information. For those who are not lucky enough to visit, this website may be the only way to view the Smithsonian’s collection – to learn and actually see items, people, art etc. from our nations history and popular culture.
    Please consider the suggestions below to make searching more comfortable. Ease of use is paramount for websites or consumers become frustrated and leave.
    *Ability to pull more search items per page (50 as opposed to 25)
    *Divide resources by type within search topic
    * images
    *articles etc.
    *Grade level search
    *Citations
    I appreciate everyone’s work with the enormous but important task of constructing this website!
    Leslie G. Buschmann

    • And now I will forward this to Smithsonian.

    • Leslie – first, thank you for taking the time to review the site and providing your feedback. This is exactly how we understand its limitations and prioritize future development. In terms of your specific feedback:

      1. This is a great idea. I will add it into our future feature requests.
      2. If you open up the “Refine Search” panel on the search results page, you can filter your results by type, etc.
      3. Citations: we are working on an “easy-citation” tool!

      Thanks again!

  2. Neil Milligan says:

    What a great learning tool, as a life long educator, what a great asset for any class regardless of subject. I find my self using it now, even though retired , what a world of discovery this opens up !!! I am highly impressed, keep up the good work, Smithsonian !!!!