Distance Learning | News

Smithsonian Partners with Polycom To Offer Online Tours, Classes

The Smithsonian Institution (SI) has partnered with Polycom to provide interactive online classes, briefings, and tours of the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA).

"One of our academic goals is to incorporate the arts into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) initiative," said Deborah Stokes, curator for education at NMAfA, in a prepared statement. "We did that with the African Cosmos exhibition. We're showing how both scientists and artists have for centuries looked into the night sky to understand our place in the universe."

Developed through collaboration with scientists from the Smithsonian-Harvard Astrophysical Observatory and the Air and Space Museum, the African Cosmos: Stellar Arts tour is designed to meet requirements in art, science, history, and geography. In addition to the online tour, SI has provided lesson plans arranged by grade, activities, a blog, a family guide, and more.

Using a Polycom HDX Series room system and a RealPresence Collaboration Server, stokes can lead visits and collaboration sessions with classrooms anywhere in the world. In classes and tours, Stokes uses "People+Content to appear integrated with images and artwork," according to a company news release.

The virtual classes and tours have allowed Stokes to reach many more students than in previous years--doubling to an expected 1,600 from 800 in 2011.

"I could be doing this every day of the year, there's such a demand for it," said Stokes, in a prepared statement. "Teachers have requested that I develop other modules for them, so I'm working on an introduction to African art, a class on African masks, textiles, and country-specific studies of the art of Nigeria, Ghana and Mali."

To register for classes, schools can visit the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration at cilc.org or Polycom's CAPSpace portal at projects.twice.cc.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].