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Published: March 15, 2001.


Art Tales: A Story of Collaboration and Integration

Tom Albertsen, The Community Discovered, and Ponteir Sackrey, National Museum of Wildlife Art, USA


The Community Discovered Project,, in its fifth and final year, links technology and the arts with other subjects to transform the education of K-12 students. Using technology and the Internet, the Project's focus is to develop curriculum models of engaged student learning.

Conducted by Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, eight Nebraska school districts and five art museums participate in this curriculum development. Via the Internet, educators both nationally and internationally are able to access these resources and interact with other teachers and students.

These resources have included virtual exhibitions with on-line curricula and interpretive materials, e-school sessions, teacher chat rooms, interactive activities using on-line images, a list-serve, and more.

Administrators and teachers from participating school districts receive on-going training so that they may best utilize the Project's resources. Museum partners visit the school districts and are assisted by teachers in developing in-house and on-line curricula that are easily adapted into both the classroom and museum galleries.

Museum partners include the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC; the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Lincoln, Nebraska; the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, Nebraska; and the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; all of whom provide a rich resource for educators to incorporate into their curricula.

Key words: Community Discovered, National Museum of Wildlife Art, Fine Art, Omaha Public Schools, Westside Community Education Center, Education, Museum Education, Art Education , Collaborative Learning, Technological Integration, Jackson Hole, Wyoming,Jackson, Wyoming, Tom Albertsen, Ponteir Sackrey

The Community Discovered is a five-year United States Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant. Although the grant officially ended September 30, 2000, Community Discovered received permission to use carry-over funds for this, its sixth and final year.

The Community Discovered first began as a pilot project called the "Art and Technology Integration Project," or ATI, which was conducted by the Westside Community Schools and Grand Island Public Schools in Nebraska. The ATI project received a two-year grant from the Excellence in Education Council, which was funded by Nebraska State lottery proceeds. The success of ATI encouraged the participants to expand the project as a Federal Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant called The Community Discovered.

The Community Discovered, or CD, focuses on the development of curriculum models of engaged student learning using technology and the Internet. Since the mission of the Challenge Grants is to use new technology and the information superhighway to improve education, this made CD the ideal candidate for a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant

The focus of CD is further expanded through its five main goals. The first goal is to create a national network of educators who will develop and implement appropriate learning strategies integrating technology and the arts with core subject areas such as math, science, reading and social studies. This goal began with the enlistment of committed teachers and administrators in the school districts that participated in CD.

Initially, four Nebraska school districts were selected to participate. In addition to Westside Community Schools in Omaha, which is the fiscal and administrative agent for the grant, Grand Island Public Schools, Winnebago Public Schools and Lexington Public Schools were actively involved during the first year. The Omaha Public Schools joined during the second year of the grant. In the third year, Nebraska City Public Schools began participating. The last two school districts to join were Smallfoot Public School and McCartney Public School, both of which are one-room rural schoolhouses.

In addition to CD participants, educators across the U.S. also access project resources and receive assistance in using them. CD networks with a large and growing base of individuals through its website and listserv, and participating teachers share their experiences in conferences and conventions.

The second goal of CD is to provide students and educators in rural and disadvantaged urban areas with equal access to information and museum resources at the state and national levels. Five art museums are partners with CD. Three are located in Nebraska: The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, and the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Lincoln.

At the national level, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, provide unique resources not easily accessible to Nebraska students. In addition, the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Nebraska Arts Council, and Opera Omaha have all assisted with the project.

The staff of these art institutions have become valuable members of CD, not only by providing access to and information about their collections and programs through digitizing images and providing hypertext information, but by also being a part of a national network of educators who develop learning strategies for the classroom.

The third goal of the project is to enable educators to effectively use appropriate technologies for constructivist teaching and learning across curriculum areas. In a constructivist setting, instruction is student-centered with an emphasis on "big concepts" and hands-on learning. This method allows students to be more actively involved in their own education. Museum personnel, along with local and national experts in technology, art and constructivist theory, all contribute to the development of strategies for use in the classroom. In numerous workshops and professional development sessions, participants can collaborate with their colleagues about using technology to integrate art and constructivist teaching into their curriculum.

Opportunities to develop expertise with various software and hardware configurations are an important component of staff development. The exhibition The Great American Pop Art Store: Multiples of the Sixties held at the Joslyn Art Museum provided such an opportunity during an all day teachers' workshop. Teachers used new technologies during hands-on sessions to generate ideas for integrating art and constructivist teaching into the classroom.

Participants also attended an intensive summer institute in the arts. Beginning with Prairie Visions, a Regional Institute Grant in Nebraska that is funded by the Getty Grant Program, teachers embarked on an in-depth study of Discipline-Based Art Education practices. Prairie Visions was followed with continued immersion into the arts on location at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Kennedy Center.

The fourth goal of CD is to enable educators to implement effective curricula incorporating the arts and technology into core subject areas such as math, science, reading and social studies. Collaboration amongst CD staff and museum partners is again integral in achieving this goal. By maintaining an active Internet listserv where participants exchange ideas and request help, the virtual community, reflected in the project's name, assists educators in incorporating art and technology into these core subject areas.

In one instance, a teacher requested ideas for integrating art into a social studies unit about communities. Museum and CD staff monitoring the listserv responded with ideas and titles of digitized images available for viewing on museum websites. Further, an on-line chat was scheduled between students and museum staff using ACTV's "eSchool Online." This Java-based software suite uses ACTV's HyperTV technology to offer synchronized, real-time delivery of Internet content, chat functionality, and streaming audio and video. Digitized images from the museums were "pushed" over the Web to the students for viewing. The students, in turn, pushed their own images and written projects back to the museum. While these images were moving back and forth, real-time discussions about the artwork took place, allowing for immediate feedback to students.

Another "eSchool" event, called "ConferNet 99," was held between several classrooms of students across Nebraska and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in conjunction with their Posters American Style exhibition. This virtual conference became an electronic forum for learners to explore how works of art reflect and celebrate human experience. Students created on-line exhibits of posters, listened to a keynote address with streaming audio, and participated in "Ask a Docent" on-line sessions, among other activities. With "eSchool," real time interaction between participants is no longer limited by location.

Allowing students access to museum collections is an essential part of CD. By digitizing and posting images on their Web sites, museum partners allow students daily access to their collections.

Regarding the role of the museum and related logistical issues, the following is a narrative by Ponteir Sackrey, Director of Marketing and Visitor Services and Web Project Manager for the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The National Museum of Wildlife Art is a small museum whose collection of fine art focuses on the subject of wildlife. In late 1997, we became the fifth and final museum partner in CD. Until joining the project, the museum had a fledgling Internet presence, hosting only a static page describing our collections and programs. Our museum management recognized that the Internet was key to widening our audience, which is quite limited due to our remote location.

Joining CD, therefore, with its vast support system, was critical in developing an Internet presence that was innovative and interactive. Thanks to CD, today the NMWA Web site is both.

As you know, in 1997 it was difficult for a non-profit to obtain financial backing for Internet presence, a medium that was largely untested as a tool for museum outreach. If a museum was able to dedicate resources to the Internet, the overall goal was often marketing related. Most sites offered little more than general information, a few images of the collection, a listing of events, a museum shop and an email contact. Interactive programs and on-line curricula that could be of interest and use to educators were seldom offered or even perceived as valuable.

So, by joining CD, the NMWA was challenged to offer comprehensive programming that could provide resources for teachers and students. By being the last partner to join the project, the NMWA benefited from lessons learned by other CD museums. Examples of such lessons include avoiding the use of fancy graphics to prevent consequent downloading problems, developing on-line curricula that is user-friendly for teachers, and establishing avenues to maintain effective communication with both the teachers and the project administrators. Another key issue was the development of a search engine with the appropriate parameters to facilitate access to the on-line collection.

Other development issues we addressed during the early stages included: What kind of art images are most helpful to teachers of such varied disciplines? What can we offer Spanish-speaking students, a growing population in the Nebraska school system? Do we need to host an actual physical visit from the teachers since none of them have ever visited our museum? What other resources are needed to support the teachers when using our on-line resources? During this process, we found that both CD teachers and project administrators were extremely helpful in providing feedback about our overall site design and its content.

Most of our Web site challenges have been logistical. When we joined CD, like most museums, the NMWA did not have a Web "department." Rather, we formed a Web "team," led by me, the director of marketing. Also on the team were three members of the education department, another member of the marketing department (who served as Web editor), and a part-time computer consultant in Denver who was responsible for html programming and other such back-end support.

Since then our site has grown to such proportions we have added to our team a Web curriculum consultant - who works part-time - our Curator of Art, our in-house MIS technician, and the manager and assistant manager of our museum shop. We have also switched our computer consultant to someone who is a local resident so that he can attend our Web team meetings.

Having an expanded Web team allows us to offer additional programs such as: Wildlife in Winter, our latest on-line exhibition, complete with lesson plans; "Curator's Pick," a monthly feature which highlights a significant artwork from our collection (this is in addition to our monthly featured images); an expanded on-line museum shop; an interactive kiosk for our museum lobby, whose content mirrors that of our Web site; games, and virtual tours, which will be on-line this summer.

Also, this summer we will be hosting a teacher/administrator training at the NMWA during which CD and non-CD educators will be given the necessary tools and resources so that they may adopt the CD methodology into their own school systems and classrooms. There is no question that perpetuating the CD infrastructure is critical to the project's success. Later, Tom will talk about CD resources now available for interested educators and web developers.

Another new program the NMWA is particularly proud of is called "Art Tales," an interactive story-telling program. "Art Tales" was created by our Web Team and the Internet company, Educational Web Adventures. Through this interactive activity, the participant chooses to be an explorer and pen a journal in Frontier Explorer; or, be a writer and develop a wildlife field guide in Wildlife Field Guide Writer; or, be a curator and organize a museum exhibit in Museum Curator, all using the NMWA on-line artwork.

After creating stories, the visitor can send his/her work to the NMWA's educational staff, which reviews each submission. Each month, several are published on-line for other visitors to enjoy.

As an example, let's take a look at "Frontier Tales," the most popular of the three choices. Using NMWA artwork to illustrate the tale, one is asked to imagine being a western explorer during the nineteenth-century. Next one is asked to choose a total of eight images that depict the landscape and wildlife typically encountered during this era and in this region. Once these images have been chosen, one is asked to narrate their journey in a journal.

One visitor to "Art Tales," who used this painting by William Jacob Hays to describe a section of the journey taken by Lewis and Clark, states:

"The weather is mild and sunny as we begin our journey into the great unknown land of the Louisiana Purchase. We follow the Missouri River north from St. Louis. We have seen all sorts of animals on our journey across these great plains of endless grass. The Prairie Dogs have been particularly amusing, scolding us as we pass and disturb their everyday business."

Another visitor uses this lithograph by John James Audubon depicting a whooping crane to describe a hunting experience:

"We came into some open plains after crossing a difficult mountain range. We spied the most unusual birds, a lot like egrets, but much fuller and more awkward. They seemed very peaceful and hardly were bothered by our hunting party. But their demeanor soon changed when the first round of shots were fired. We were able to bring down five of those big birds and had a tasty treat!"

"Art Tales" was originally intended as an interactive experience for our visitors outside an educational setting. Still, many teachers are using "Art Tales" in their classrooms.

A fifth-grade teacher in the Westside Community School district, Jamie Beran, states "We were delighted with 'Art Tales'. It proved to be an exciting and motivating tool for helping students learn skills in both reading and writing. 'Art Tales' was integrated into a Reading-Writing unit with the big idea of 'Adventure.' Because of this theme, we used the 'Art Tales' activity Frontier Explorer. While in fourth grade, these students studied Nebraska history and were very familiar with traveling west in the 1800's. In fifth grade, students are required to understand and apply the reading skill of a sequence of events. Students also must be able to use transitional words and produce writing with multiple paragraphs. 'Art Tales' was an excellent tool for learning these skills and then applying them."

Beran adds, "Students were thrilled to write these stories. They loved choosing the artwork and they told me the pictures are what helped them come up with ideas. The fact that the tales were published within days was wonderful."

In terms of ideas of how we can further develop our web presence and keep it fresh to retain interest, the NMWA has no shortage. However, we have found that it can take more time than anticipated to get seemingly easy problems resolved. The main reason for this is that each member of our Web team has other responsibilities besides the maintaining and developing the Web site. And most issues require the entire team's input, so getting the necessary feedback can be slow.

All of these challenges are common to any institution that is grappling with the Internet. And despite the logistical issues facing the NMWA, we continue to improve our site, albeit slowly, so that it remains a useful and viable tool for CD teachers and other educators. We focus our efforts using this measurement - Will it be useful in education?

Maintaining the goal of educational outreach has committed us to a high standard of Web development. Of course, in an effort to fairly represent our world-class collection, we also strive to present graphically pleasing pages that are indexed well. Since we are committed to education, however, we primarily concentrate on content and measure ourselves not by hit statistics, but by user sessions. This standard indicates if students and teachers are actually using the site. Today we are indebted to CD for not only altering the NWMA approach to on-line outreach, but for being a change-agent in the field of education.

Now Tom Albertsen will conclude with an overall evaluation of the project.

So, here's the question. Is connecting all these schools and art institutions effective in educating students? That leads us to the fifth and most important goal of CD: To enable students to achieve high academic standards by integrating the arts and technology into core subject areas. Throughout the run of the project, a continual evaluation has been conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Through observations, surveys, interviews, and evaluations of units developed by teachers, the evidence is overwhelming that CD has achieved its goals. As one example out of many, a fifth grade teacher who integrated art and technology into a reading unit observed a significant increase in the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) reading scores from a pretest average of 21.7 to a post-test average of 62.5. This was then compared to a control group (from a similar class that was not involved in CD) that increased to a post-test score of only 43.6.

Often CD teachers examine a wide range of student achievement, through structured work in formal graduate study classes. One study completed in 1999 showed that a group of fourth-grade students integrating art within history performed better on general retention and comprehension tasks than a control group. Another study also completed in 1999 demonstrated that a group of eighth grade students participating in a CD project and simultaneously working on a poetry assignment did better than a control group on an analysis of the structure and depth of the poetry.

A perspective on the evaluation process comes from Mike Timms, a senior research associate at WestEd (, a non-profit education research organization based in San Francisco. Mr. Timms has worked with the University of Nebraska at Omaha evaluation team assigned to CD. What follows is A View From the Outside, his contribution to CD's monograph, which will be available later this summer.

Timms states,

"The goals of The Community Discovered were ambitious. Any project that seeks to change the way that teachers organize their classes and interact with their students is bound to prove difficult."

"So, as an outside evaluator on the evaluation team, I was keen to see what impact the project had made at its conclusion. On a personal level, I believed that the infusion of art and technology into the core curriculum would broaden and enliven each subject in a way that would engage students. I am a proponent of constructivist teaching, but as an evaluator, was careful not to let my personal beliefs cloud the judgments that I needed to make in determining if the project had met its goals."

"In the first four years of the project, the evaluation activities focused on how the involvement in CD had changed teachers' skills and lesson-planning styles. So, by the final year of the project, it seemed timely to find out exactly how well teachers were able to pull together all the strands of knowledge and skills they had gained. Because the place where it all comes together is in the classroom, I decided that the best way to get an objective view of what was happening was to develop a classroom observation instrument -- a rubric by which to measure the skills promoted by CD."

"Developing an observation instrument was not as easy as it might seem. Right from the onset of CD, it had been hard to get people to clearly define what teaching might look like once it had successfully incorporated art and technology in a constructivist manner. I spent time reviewing some videotapes of teachers taken earlier on in the project in order to determine how to measure the impact of CD. I found some examples of observational systems from similar projects. Earlier in the project, I had interviewed some teachers identified as ones who exemplified the project's focus and that gave me a good sense of what to look for. A group of evaluation team members tried out a prototype of the observation sheet on a few teachers and then refined it."

"For the evaluation, we focused on a sample of nine teachers, each at various stages of involvement in CD. Among the teachers studied, we saw a range of lessons. One mixed grade class was learning medieval history through looking at tapestries on-line. Another high school class was exploring local Native American traditions by studying handmade rugs and quilts and by using the Internet to view the work of Native American artists. In another lesson, students were involved in an on-line conference with docents at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Docents asked students about drawings and paintings that they had made of natural scenes they had seen during field visits to Platte River Park. These are all good examples of the infusion of the arts and technology into other subject areas. The positive impact of CD on students is exemplified by one teacher who spoke of the effects on students in a remedial reading class:"

'The kids... were remedial reading kids. ...What I saw with those reading kids was the doors it opened for them and the way it made them feel about themselves. In one unit, they got to learn about William H. Johnson docents at the Joslyn for their classmates. So, they took on leadership roles - they never experienced being leaders in their class before -- and it really made them grow and feel better about themselves. I think also just the different ways kids learn; that some are more tactile, some are more visual...this addresses all those kinds of things.'

Timms continues,

"These observations, together with evidence from interviews, indicated that participating teachers had incorporated art, technology and constructivism in their teaching. The observations were deliberately scheduled to occur when the teachers were teaching a unit that had been developed as a result of CD. Nevertheless, teachers were able to achieve moderate to high levels of sophistication using art and constructivism, and - to a lesser degree - technology. The effects of CD were clearly detectable in the teaching of the project participants. Evidence from the interviews showed that CD was working as a community, as it was intended. Teachers used the museums and their resources physically and through the Internet. Comments about the museums were all positive. One teacher said:

'The connections with the museums are huge and so beneficial for kids. It just opens doors for them to see the museum on-line and then go to it afterward.'

Continues Timms,

"The way the project coupled intensive summer workshops with continuing support and interaction via listservs led to increased professional growth amongst the participating teachers. It worked particularly well with the integration of art and the use of constructivist teaching methods. There also was a change in the teachers' use of technology in the classroom, but the technology was not as fully integrated into the curriculum as art. This may have to do with the fact that there is a longer history of art integration through the work of the Prairie Visions Institute that provided a model for art integration. Likewise, there is a long history of constructivist teaching methods for the project to draw upon. Models intended to test and measure successful technology integration are not as refined as they are for art and constructivist teaching. However, Technology Challenge Grants like CD have paved the way to developing methods and models for making technological integration easy and, most important, effective for student learning."

As I noted earlier, Timms' statement, and other contributions to the Community Discovered Monograph, are scheduled for publication by summer's end. Contact Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska, for information about obtaining a copy.

The five main goals of CD follow the spirit and intent of the Challenge Grant's mission of being a catalyst for change. By supporting the collaboration of educators and parents, museum partners, community leaders and in the development of effective applications of new learning technologies in communities throughout the country, meaningful educational reform has occurred.

Although the grant is nearing its end, CD plans to continue its support of classroom teachers through its Web site and further development of on-line curricula. Also, a staff development model has been compiled -- we have brochures describing the program here today.

This model includes three major components: first, a three-day workshop involving the foundations of Disciplined Based Art Education and constructivist theory, Internet resource explorations, peer mentoring, assessment and building rubrics, and creating units; second, providing on-going mentor support using a listserv to promote team-building essential to the process of curriculum development; and lastly, a three-day follow-up workshop to review the concepts of the first workshop, revisit, reflect, and revise the teacher constructed units, and reaffirm the commitment to the workshop goal of empowering teachers to create long-lasting changes in curriculum which will integrate the arts and the tools of technology in a constructivist setting.

The information superhighway has created new possibilities for extending the time, place and resources for learning. By nurturing strong partnerships, providing professional development for teachers, and engaging students in activities that foster high academic standards, CD has become a model for art and technology integration on a national level. We are optimistic that our legacy will continue to thrive and grow.


Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon, and Brooks, Martin G. (1993). "In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms". The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The Community Discovered (1998). "1998 Annual Report". Annual report for U.S. Department of Education. Grant # R303A50443

The Community Discovered (1999). "1999 Annual Report". Annual report for U.S. Department of Education. Grant # R303A50443

Grandgenett, Neal f., PHD., and Abdouch, Ronald. (1998). "The Community Discovered: The Search for Meaning Through the Integration of Art and Technology in K-12 Education". Unpublished Manuscript. Evaluation Progress Report No. 4 for U.S. Department of Education. Grant # R303A50443

Timms, Mike. (2001). "A View from the Outside". Unpublished Manuscript. A monograph written for The Community Discovered.