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Museum Re-Imaginings

Teaching through the Development of a Virtual College Museum

Macalester College will host a workshop in summer 2017 addressing the creation of a digital museum using a model with student learning at its core. Participating faculty and staff from ACM member schools will learn about utilizing coursework and standalone research projects wherein students collaborate in a hands-on, digitally-driven museum design, which fosters applied learning and a shared sense of community history. The model framework can be expanded upon in future classes and/or independent projects. Participants will be guided through the development of courses or other projects that engage students in building a picture of history and community possible only through the lens of the museum.

We anticipate this “alternative museum” could be a sought-after model for other colleges and universities, particularly in an era of increasing interest in museums and collections and decreasing availability of funds to create physical museums. Participation in the creation of a digital museum builds stronger connections between students and alumni, and a college’s past, present, and future.

Note: Content below is adapted from the project proposal.

Each of our colleges is focused on ensuring that our students are prepared for the world beyond our campuses. Digital research and scholarship are increasingly important aspects of the undergraduate experience. From a very practical standpoint, the ability to work collaboratively on a digital project will be key to students’ future success in any discipline. It is a pedagogically sound way to engage junior scholars, foster innovation, and prepare them for the future (as opposed to introspective/solitary models of scholarship).

Specifically, this teaching/research collaboration model requires students to use interdisciplinary approaches to the material, as these works could be assessed with art historical, archaeological, scientific, and textual analyses. We anticipate that this deep engagement will allow students to take ownership of their own history, increasing their connection to the college. In addition, colleges often struggle with the display and cataloging of collections accepted as donations or acquired through other means. Our digitally-focused model of organization and cataloging through a combination of pedagogical and research methods addresses this challenge and will be applicable to a broad range of institutions.

Finally, connecting the present to the past through a digital museum offers yet another path for engaging alumni and the surrounding community with our colleges.


The workshop will focus on the idea of a digital museum as a means of connecting current and future members of a community to the “collections” that make us who we are. Museums are places where memories, objects, documents, and history come together; however, not all small liberal arts campuses have (or foresee having) physical museums. Colleges often struggle with the display and cataloging of collections, whether archival or art, as a result of the absence of a dedicated registrar and/or backlogs of “hidden” collections.

We will share a digitally-focused model, developed as part of a course at Macalester, that addresses this challenge by creating a “space” where students can explore any number of topics through virtual exhibits and also add to the metadata for items in college collections. The workshop builds on this model for integrated teaching, research, and community outreach through the medium of digital liberal arts. As small liberal arts colleges, we are constantly trying to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education while also remaining relevant to the people who have been connected to the campus in so many ways over the years.

At a three-day workshop in the summer of 2017 we will discuss this pedagogical/archival/museological model in a hands-on practicum setting. The workshop will increase the visibility and usage of digital projects, generally, and frame museological, pedagogical and student experiences, specifically.


The primary activity of this project will be a three-day workshop for faculty and staff from ACM schools who are interested in the pedagogical and research methods necessary for creating a digital museum. As part of the workshop, we expect to consider how the model can be adapted to individual institutions, as we recognize that each institution will have a unique sense of community history.

We will offer participants training in Omeka as a sample digital management tool (recognizing that other tools such as CONTENTdm might also be used). We will also work together to develop syllabi and review best practices regarding collections and metadata management as well as exhibit development. We anticipate inviting applications from faculty and staff who contribute to the curriculum, both at ACM schools that have existing physical museums and those that do not, as well as opening the workshop to interested faculty within Macalester. We will invite teams of participants from individual schools, and they will be encouraged to represent different divisions at their institutions in order to reinforce the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Activities following the workshop on individual campuses

We anticipate that workshop participants will share the model by developing their own courses. This model for creating digital collections or exhibits may be applied in a variety of ways. Participants may apply the model broadly to create a college museum, drawing from any type of object on campus. Or they might focus on specific collections, such as artwork, historical archival materials, or scientific specimens.

Courses developed based on this model, ideally taught by faculty across divisions, will underscore the interdisciplinary nature of museums and the variety of objects and subjects that might be included. We anticipate that participants will leave with the starting structure of their own classes or research opportunities and we will all have the opportunity to learn from each other. By the end of the workshop, participants will have experience creating digital collections and exhibits, including an overview of metadata standards and best practices as well as suggestions for troubleshooting in the classroom.

We will lay out what worked well and what we wish we’d done differently in creating the Macalester museum. We anticipate participants will adapt our model using digital liberal arts tools to provide a rich pedagogical experience for students, who will come away with an appreciation of best practices for object metadata, experience in object research, and exhibit development in a digital environment.

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