Inside Higher Ed - Universities and Museums: Partners in Online


Arizona State is the latest institution to team up with a museum to bolster its online portfolio. Representatives on both sides of such partnerships discuss the benefits and pitfalls.

In the realm of online education, universities turn to museums to provide content and context that exceeds their capacity, and to bolster existing online programs with specialized material that can attract more students. Museums can use online programs to disseminate their collections far beyond their physical buildings, and in some cases generate a little more revenue to help the organizations fulfill their missions. Partnerships can encompass a single course or an entire academic program.

These arrangements can be valuable for institutions that want to leverage interests that overlap with museums' priorities, like prompting critical inquiry and offering materials that enrich and engage. They also present challenges that must be overcome to achieve success: how much control each organization has over courses, how to divide up revenue and responsibilities, how to ensure that goals and missions align...

These partnerships can take a variety of forms. Michael Goudzwaard, an instructional designer at Dartmouth College, decided to partner with the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program on a course about bipedalism after his institution joined the edX consortium for online courses in 2014. The course had already secured funding and a faculty member to staff it when Goudzwaard brought the National Museum of Natural History on board to contribute an experiential component from its Hall of Human Origins, including videos shot at the institution’s site in Washington, D.C.

The partnership offered Goudzwaard insight into the marketing process museums must maintain to get noticed. Smithsonian representatives wanted first review of how their collections were featured and how their involvement was represented. The museum also had to be flexible on its strict policies around sharing its proprietary videos outside its walls.

“This isn’t space that even our lawyers are typically involved in,” Goudzwaard said. “You sort of have to explain, what is a MOOC, it’s free, people have to sign up. There’s some translation on either side.”

Goudzwaard sees more collaboration of this type happening in MOOCs, which lend themselves to the narrowly focused course content that can overlap well with a museum’s purview.

Read the article from Mark Lieberman at Inside Higher Ed.