Royal British Columbia Museum plans for online learning service

The Royal British Columbia Museum is in the process preparing a new province-wide online learning service for teachers and students.

The “learning portal” is to be rolled out in August. The museum has published a request for proposals, closing Nov. 19, for a multi-media company to develop the Internet portal.

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Students of all ages around the province will get access to much of the museum’s extensive collections and B.C. Archives material.

The portal will be easy to use and access and include text, images, audio and visual material.

No costs of the project were revealed.

“We envision the portal as a vibrant destination and the best resource on B.C. history in the province,” the request for proposals said. “It will be “one of the first museum learning portals of this scope in North America.”

Learning components will feature activities, list of materials, questions, resources and possibly lesson plans, it said.

The successful contractor is to be hired by the end of the year, the proposal said. Details will not be released until after the proposal closes, museum spokeswoman Sue Stackhouse said Thursday.

The Royal British Columbia Museum, next to the B.C. legislature, has a collection of 7.2 million artifacts, specimens and archival records, valued at $150 million.

A master plan for the redevelopment of the museum is also underway. An update on the master plan is expected in early February, Stackhouse said.

With the advent of the Internet, visitors not only walk through the doors, but visit and learn about collections online. The Dallas Museum of Art announced this month a $9-million gift to ensure free admission and to publish its entire collection online.

Lisa Leblanc, director of creative development and learning at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., said a public engagement process showed that a key desire is for an online presence accessible throughout the country for that institution.

The museum is evaluating how to make online information available to a broader spectrum of Canadians, she said.

Within institutions in Canada and internationally, “the big trends are really finding opportunities for, whether it is classrooms or individuals, to actually access your collections and the scholarship around them.”

Leblanc said institutions are now discussing topics such as open (freely available) data, whether people are allowed to tag data and how to build up data bases to make them more accessible in language that people understand and can easily find during a web search.

“How do you provide greater access to the knowledge and content that already exists and how do you facilitate the search for that when somebody is looking for it? This is something that is happening everywhere and not many institutions have found solutions, but the conversations are definitely happening.”

The Museum of Civilization is redeveloping its school program and will first offer new on-site services, followed a year later with parallel online resources, she said.

Teachers have told the museum that they are not really looking for lesson plans, but rather examples they can build into their plans, Leblanc said.

Jane Clark Chermayeff, of Jane Clark Chermayeff and Associates in New York, said museum visits these days often begin at home via the Internet, prior to coming into the institution. Many museums are developing multiple levels of research for their audiences who want to delve further into a subject following a visit.

Some museums let online visitors create their own digital journal or scrapbook of what they are interested in, she said.

At the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Internet is used for outreach activities, said Peter Zimonjic, acting manager of new media. This includes an online magazine with photo galleries, articles and videos, a YouTube video channel, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. It has thousands of images online and is constantly updating.

The Royal British Columbia Museum’s existing online learning category is at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/learning

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