Online visitors, students, and educators get creative with a dynamic new ArtsConnectEd.org
As back-to-school rituals go, logging on to new Web sites is today’s equivalent to that analog practice of signing out a heavy load of textbooks. This fall, K–12 students and their teachers across Minnesota will usher in the new year by exploring a fully overhauled, freshly supercharged artsconnected.org—the product of a long-standing educational partnership between the Walker and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).
When it originally launched in 1998, ArtsConnectEd’s function was to provide digital access to the collections at both institutions, mainly for people who couldn’t make the trip to the Twin Cities. Now, browsing more than 90,000 works of art, plus reading, watching, and listening to more than 1,000 art-related articles and video/audio records is just the beginning. The big change in the new version of ArtsConnectEd is the ease with which teachers and students at all grade levels can use this content to create presentations, quizzes, handouts, lesson plans, research, and curricula—and share these materials with each other. A host of examples is already available for use in the classroom, such as an “Animals in Art” presentation that includes an ancient Chinese bronze horse from the MIA and Franz Marc’s The Large Blue Horses, a highlight of the Walker collection; and “Building a Story,” which helps students create a fictional tale based on works of art. One lesson investigates different kinds of brushstrokes; another offers an “adventure” for younger students based around the color red. One teacher had his students use the site to create MySpace-style pages focused on photographers that interested them.
“It is much more self-directed in its design than many other online resources,” says Kevan Nitzberg, an Anoka High School teacher who is part of a “power user” group that has been using ArtsConnectEd since its earliest days. “That helps to give students open-ended access to researching and using the data they discover.” He and his fellow power-user teachers are developing and field-testing activities with the new site in classrooms around Minnesota this fall. “We really re-envisioned this site as an easy, flexible, and fun-to-use tool,” says Susan Rotilie, the Walker’s manager for school programs, who is a codirector of ArtsConnectEd along with the MIA’s Treden Wagoner. “We’re looking forward to seeing the creative ways that people put it to work in all academic disciplines.”
The relaunch, which has been funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, represents a milestone in a partnership between the Walker and the MIA that goes back more than 10 years. “As the needs of our audiences have changed and our technological capabilities have changed, our commitment to ArtsConnectEd and our partnership with the Walker have grown,” says Wagoner, the MIA’s technology and training specialist. He and Rotilie, plus other education and new media staff at both institutions, have been working for more than two years on the overhaul with Sandbox Studios, Inc., a company that works with museums on education and technology projects. In addition, the ongoing consultation, feedback, and testing from those ArtsConnectEd “power users” have been instrumental. “Our opinions always were important, which often isn’t the case in a public school system,” says Litchfield High School teacher Gerard Kulzer. Rotilie says the ArtsConnectEd redesign wouldn’t have been possible without Kulzer and his colleagues. “They challenged us to make the new ArtsConnectEd useful in the classroom and pushed us to create a state-of-the-art online educational resource.”
Aside from boasting an array of new functions, the redesigned ArtsConnectEd reflects other, broader changes on the Internet, such as the shift to engage people as creators of and contributors to Web sites. ArtsConnectEd still showcases the Walker and MIA collections, but it does so through the content that users create. Another change reflects new “learning/teaching paradigms that have literally turned the entire educational process on its head,” as Nitzberg puts it—such as considering teachers and students as both consumers and producers of information. “When students provide their own direction to their learning experience, ultimately that experience is much more meaningful,” he says.
Finally, the relaunch of ArtsConnectEd is just one way in which the Walker is responding to broader cultural shifts in learning enhanced by the power of online technologies. “Introducing new tools for accessing and sharing information is just the beginning,” says Walker director Olga Viso. “Along with other new programs and initiatives, including a major reinstallation of our collections in November, ArtsConnectEd presents opportunities for people to be creative themselves, to have two-way conversations about art, and to contribute to an expanding network of communities both here and outside the state of Minnesota. Ultimately, it’s one of our key tools for connecting art and the visions of artists to the larger world.”
ArtsConnectEd is a joint project of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center. The project to improve ArtsConnectEd was funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant.