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 You are in: Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs > Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs > All Remarks and Releases > Remarks > 2003

New Realities and Changing Societal Needs: Learning Throughout One's Lifetime

Dr. Robert S. Martin, Director, Institute of Museum and Library Services
RSIS Education Session
Geneva, Switzerland
December 9, 2003

Good morning. I am delighted to be part of the official U.S. Delegation to the World Summit on the Information Society, and to have the opportunity to participate in this important conference on the Role of Science in the Information Society.

I'm particularly pleased to be part of the session on "Contributions to Education," since I believe deeply that museums and libraries are core educational agencies, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the federal agency which I head, sees one of our primary leadership activities as promoting the educational work of libraries and museums.

Before I speak about the emerging and growing role of libraries and museums in distance education, let me tell you a bit about IMLS. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent Federal agency that is the primary source of federal grants for museums and libraries in the United States of America. IMLS helps to shape policy and practice among our 122,000 libraries and 15,000 museums, specifically in the areas of capacity-building, lifelong learning, the development and dissemination of new digital technologies, cultural preservation, and civic engagement. Our grants and program support core museum and library services, encourage excellence, and leverage substantial local, state, and private resources.

We recognize that, as agencies dedicated to education, museums and libraries can play a central role in the building of the information society. We believe, further, that we must be more than an information society; we must be a learning society. That is why IMLS is dedicated to creating and sustaining a nation of learners.

New realities and changing societal needs: learning throughout one's lifetime

And we are pursuing this goal in recognition of new realities and changing needs--including but not limited to technological developments--that are affecting all aspects of our lives, including education. As a recent U.S. report, "Learning for the 21st Century," states: "Our community vibrancy, personal quality of life, economic vitality and business competitiveness depend on a well-prepared citizenry and workforce." Education, civic engagement, and economic prosperity are linked as never before, and there has never been a greater need for learning throughout the lifetime. Consequently, the triad where people learn - the school, the workplace, and the community - is becoming increasingly equalized.

Libraries, museums & ICT's

Libraries and museums, especially in the United States, have historically seen themselves as educational institutions. Through exhibitions, lectures, field trips, tours, reading programs, and other services, they have served adults and children in and out of school for centuries. That is even more true today. Indeed, a 2002 IMLS-conducted survey, True Needs, True Partners: Museums Serving Schools, found that, cumulatively, museums in the United States spent more than a billion dollars on K-12 educational programs in 2000-01, and provided millions of instructional hours.

With the increased use of digital information technology, the landscape-the scope, depth, and reach--of library and museum educational programs continues to evolve. The activities, terminology, practice, and values of libraries and museums in collecting, documenting, preserving, exhibiting, and educating have seen a remarkable-and I believe inexorable-convergence. The resources of these institutions - in every medium and across every discipline - can now be tapped by learners of all ages in new and unforeseen ways.

And the role of these institutions in providing more than information - more than digital "stuff" - is also expanding. New technologies - in the hands of experienced museum and library professionals - can make it possible for the magnificent scientific, historical, and cultural resources in our libraries and museums to be presented within a matrix of interpretive and didactic material that enriches meaning and understanding. In fact, distance learning initiatives allow learners to access more than our collections - they bring learners "face to face" electronically with the people in those institutions - curators, scientists, historians, and artists.

IMLS supported Field Trip Earth, an online resource developed by the North Carolina Zoological Park in conjunction with two North Carolina school districts and the World Wildlife Fund. The site focuses on ongoing, field-based, wildlife conservation research projects around the world, enabling students, teachers, and the public to follow and interact with the daily work of wildlife researchers and other conservation experts through direct questions to the researchers, recorded satellite telephone calls, field diary entries, videos, photos, and related articles and documents. The site includes lesson plans and other tools for teachers. It currently supports 1,500 classrooms daily and has been visited by people from about 100 countries. [www.fieldtripearth.org]

Collaboration as Strategy for Effective Education

This convergence of resources and assets through the potential of digital technology is also spawning new organizational strategies. A key strategy is collaboration, not only among museums and libraries, but with the formal educational structure, public broadcasting stations, the private sector, and civil society. Institutions cannot afford to be islands: to achieve their educational missions, they need to work together.

At IMLS we promote collaboration throughout our funding programs, including a formal "museum/library collaboration" grant category. Many funded projects-with our blessing--go further, and engage, from the earliest stages, representatives from elementary and secondary schools, universities, and community or civic organizations.

Two recent awards illustrate my point. We recently made a grant of almost $500,000 to the University of Maine, for a project that will create a digital archive of exemplary multimedia history and science materials (audio, video, image & text) from the resources of Maine's museums, libraries, historical societies, and public broadcasting.
The project will use broadband technology to develop interactive learning modules, training materials, and other resources for teachers and students in order to facilitate the classroom use of the digital material.

A similar project aimed at helping to transform the learning environment treats an important historical theme - The Civil Rights Movement in America from 1950 to the Present. The project is a collaboration of the WGBH Educational Foundation (Boston), the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (a museum in Alabama), and St. Louis's Washington University Media and Film Archive. The project will build on WGBH's Teachers' Domain online platform (www.teachersdomain.org) to develop broadband solutions that re-purpose rich media archives and other primary source documentary materials in the holdings of each instititution in order to serve educational needs. There will also be supporting teachers' guides and companion Web sites.

Responding to Learners' Needs

Another necessity is understanding the needs of learners. Through neurological research we know more than ever about how people learn, the importance of early childhood learning, and the fact that learning remains a central part of the human experience throughout life, from cradle to grave. Our new ICT-based learning initiatives, tapping the power of technology, can accommodate different learning needs and learning styles. It goes without saying that distance learning requires much more than putting text on line. It requires sensitivity to interface design, to navigation, to an appropriate and effective mix of human presence and ongoing interaction and feedback. Increasingly, distance learning programs recognize and address individual learning needs through the presentation of information, programmed inquiry, and involving the target audience - from elementary school teachers through senior citizens -- in the design, development, and testing of the programs.

IMLS is one of several public/private partners (with the National Science Foundation) in the International Children's Digital Library [http://www.icdlbooks.org], an international effort to create a digital collection of children's literature - 10,000 books in 100 languages --from around the globe. In this case, project developers have partnered with children to create the design, navigation, subject headings, and presentation of the digital library and related resources. Thus, a user can search for "rainbow books that make me feel happy"-making for some interesting metadata challenges!

The role of assessment
Assessment is also crucial to the success of distance learning initiatives. It is important to build assessment tools into programs from the outset, developing clear goals, modifying and revising programs based on experience. Because we believe that programs and projects developed with outcomes firmly in mind have the greatest likelihood in meeting their goals, IMLS has made a commitment to an outcomes-based model of grants management, including providing training and developing planning and assessment resources.

We need to go beyond specific program assessment, however, to provide opportunities for convening across the borders of medium, discipline, and expertise to learn from each other about "what works" in this rapidly evolving realm.

Shared Standards and Frameworks
Successful distance learning and online educational programs also require shared standards and frameworks. To that end, IMLS has championed identifying best practices for the creation, management, and preservation of digital resources. For example, we supported the development of a Framework of Guidance in Building Good Digital Collections, which was issued in 2002. Without shared standards for digitizing the tremendous resources in our museums and libraries, we will not be able to create the learning infrastructure that can support the needs of a multiplicity of learners.

Finally, let me address the issue of central repositories for web sites of interest to educators. The U. S. Department of Education has created GEM, the Gateway to Educational Materials, a consortium of hundreds of organizations, individuals, and user groups that provide educators with quick and easy access to the substantial, but uncatalogued collections of educational materials found on various federal, state, university, non-profit-including libraries and museums--and commercial Internet sites. GEM includes subject fields, specific materials and lesson plans for different grade and education levels, with a goal of providing America's teachers with "one-stop, any-stop" access to Internet-based educational resources. [http://www.thegateway.org]

The Marco Polo Partnership is a public/private alliance of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council of Economic Education, Council of the Great City Schools, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; MCI WorldCom Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. Its goal is to provide free, high-quality internet content to K-12 educators. Marco Polo also provides free professional development training and resources to qualifying school districts and state departments of education. [www.marcopolo-education.org]

In the sciences exclusively, a partnership between the IBM Corporation, the New York Hall of Science, the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), and science centers worldwide has created Try Science (www.tryscience.org). This site functions as a gateway to experience the excitement of contemporary science and technology through on and offline interactivity with more than 400 science and technology centers worldwide. It offers thematic interactive experiences, experiments, field trips, and live cams.

Finally, IMLS participates each year in Excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics Education [ESTME] Week, a focused, government-wide effort that addresses teacher and students of science, technology, and mathematics. Sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House, and with the participation of many government agencies and private organizations, ESTME creates online activities and events to help parents, teachers, and professionals excite K-12 students about the "hands on" realm of scientific experimentation and investigation.

This is just a sampling of themes, programs, and collective endeavors that are bringing together schools, universities, museums, libraries, broadcasting and other organizations in new learning alliances involving the tools of new technologies. Thank you for this opportunity to speak at this meeting, and I look forward to continued opportunities to learn from each other.

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