Virtual museum projects for culturally responsive teaching in American Indian education

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Christal, Mark Allen

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This study consists of four case studies of virtual museum projects conducted in partnerships between tribally controlled American Indian schools and museums with Native American collections. The purpose of the study was two-fold: to examine virtual museum projects as an educational innovation, and to determine what contributions such projects might make to the development of culturally responsive teaching practice. The model of virtual museum projects that the case studies examined grew out of prior experiences with similar projects in the Four Directions project. Native American students worked with teachers, Native community members, museum professionals, and in one case, anthropologists, as they selected cultural items for a virtual exhibit to be included in a Web-based virtual museum. The students imaged their objects on a turntable using digital cameras to create three-dimensional QuickTime Virtual Reality media. They researched the items they had selected with the help of the Native community members, teachers, and museum professionals to write essays about the objects for the finished virtual exhibits. Research data included participant interviews, videotapes of project activities, and other documents, including the digital virtual museum products. The interviews were transcribed and coded using Nud*ist software. By pulling out specific coded passages and correlating them with other research data, specific themes related to the conduct of and response to each case emerged. In a second level of analysis, the themes of all of the cases were compared and condensed into a comprehensive description of virtual museum projects that follow the model used in this study. Problems that were identified in each of the projects suggested specific solutions that were added to a prescriptive description of virtual museum projects. In a separate chapter, coded statements relating primarily to student and community responses across all of the projects were examined to determine how the projects worked as a culturally responsive practice. The culturally responsive elements identified included the affirmation of culture, Native people saying who they are to the world, collaboration, hands-on learning, the familiar and familial aspects of the objects, and student choice. The projects were responsive to the Native communities as well.