The Pearson Foundation has provided a three-year gift to the Smithsonian to develop, host, and support innovative education programs for teens and teachers. The gift includes funds to bring young people together with educators — beginning at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and at the National Postal Museum — to test and share ways to use mobile devices and digital media in a museum setting.
Called The Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian, youth programs aim to bring greater engagement with world-class museum collections and expertise by blending them with digital media applications and practices with which young people are already familiar. Using mobile phones with data plans, a social network, and game structures like scavenger hunts and other quests, students frame their experiences of museum objects by making their own connections among them.
An important feature of the programming, and an objective that is made possible by digital media practices, is to enable young participants to make interdisciplinary connections between objects in one museum with objects in another. During five-day summer camps, teams of young people move seamlessly from the Hirshhorn to the Air and Space Museum, and then on to the Sackler Gallery, creating the clues for a text-message-based scavenger hunt that is later played by another team. At the National Postal Museum, campers produce video for a media gallery on a social network.
The Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian is an important example of how authentic, interest-driven learning can happen at an “informal” educational setting. Young people work with content and digital media specialists who facilitate, rather than dictate, their learning objectives. They are encouraged to work collaboratively on projects both in their working groups and virtually on a social network. Team members take on specialized roles, developing the individual expertise necessary to complete each phase of the group’s project.
Central to the programming at both the Hirshhorn and the National Postal Museum is the use of mobile phones. Mobile phones with data plans connect young people to each other and to the Internet. They also enable young participants to go out into the world to become digital journalists, curators, and documentarians. GPS gives them the ability to plot their discoveries — in the form of pictures, video, and notes — on a map, and share them with others. Of particular importance: taking these mobile phones out into the world encourages these young people to follow their interests and participate in the culture — key steps to deeper civic engagement.
In conjunction with this initiative, the Mobile Learning Institute and the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies is hosting a series of Washington-based leadership summits on digital media, where mobile learning experts and university researchers share their knowledge and findings about how to use social networking, game-based learning, augmented reality, and related learning approaches in classrooms and after-school programs.