Conference Papers

Museums and the Web: An International Conference
Los Angeles, CA, March 16 - 19, 1997

Candace M. Borland, Program Officer
Naree Wongse-Sanit, Program Associate
The Getty Education Institute for the Arts

ArtsEdNet: Assessing an Arts Education Web Site

I. What is ArtsEdNet?

ArtsEdNet is an online service produced by the Getty Education Institute for the Arts. It is designed for educators involved in K-12 arts education including art specialists, general classroom teachers using the arts, museum educators and university faculty involved in preservice arts education and curriculum materials development. ArtsEdNet currently consists of two major components: the ArtsEdNet Web site and an e-mail based discussion group called ArtsEdNet Talk.

By using the information distribution and interactive capabilities of the Internet, the Getty Education Institute hopes to accomplish several primary goals:

ArtsEdNet was launched in September 1995. Eighteen months after its inception, the ArtsEdNet Web site contains over 1,200 text pages and 800 graphics files. Much of the site embodies a wide array of curriculum resources built around images of artworks provided by several museums, artists, and cultural organizations around the world. In addition, ArtsEdNet provides teachers with excerpts of articles and books on the theory and practice of art education, advocacy materials to help teachers win support for art education in the schools, links to other art and education related Web sites on the Internet, and other arts education related materials. ArtsEdNet Talk has become a large and very active e-mail discussion group which focuses on topics of interest to K-12 arts educators.

In order to begin learning how to provide professional development over the Internet, the Getty Education Institute has also created a number of special programs for ArtsEdNet on topics of interest to our target audience. These generally include a special ArtsEdNet Web site exhibition on a topic and related discussions via e-mail among arts education experts, artists, and practitioners.

II. Assessment Approaches and Issues

Like all Web site developers, the Institute needs to know how well its Web site is accomplishing its goals. Since the early prototyping of ArtsEdNet, we have tried a number of approaches to assessing the effectiveness of the site in reaching and helping teachers. Below are some of the techniques we have employed and comments on the limitations of each. In the final section of this paper we review what we've learned to date from our assessment efforts.

Web site usage statistics

Computer logs of Web site usage provide extensive information on what Web pages visitors have accessed. Unfortunately there are a number of technical limitations on the information that can be gathered automatically which make it hard to get a clear picture of how specific individuals are using a Web site over time. Early Web sites tried to overcome these limitations by asking visitors to register every time they visited but users balked and today few sites try to register their visitors.

Although other technological solutions to this problem are under development, it is still not possible to get a completely accurate picture from standard Web site logs of how many different people visit a Web site each day, who these people are, how many and how often people revisit your site, viewing patterns of specific individuals or specific groups of individuals, how long specific people spend reading particular sections or pages. These and other types of detailed viewing statistics are vital to making realistic assessments of the effectiveness of a Web site.

For the ArtsEdNet Web site, we have chosen to use relatively inexpensive software to analyze the site usage logs. The most valuable information we have extracted from ArtsEdNet logs tells us about trends over time in the number of visitor sessions to ArtsEdNet and any subsection of ArtsEdNet. From these statistics we can infer roughly the size of our total audience, the effectiveness of our marketing efforts in influencing visits to ArtsEdNet, and the popularity of our special programs and other new content areas.

A short comment on the use of visitor sessions rather than hits is appropriate here. Some people, particularly the popular press, report the number of hits a Web site receives as an indicator of its popularity. However, hits are a very misleading indicator of Web site usage. A single page on a Web site may generate many hits depending on how it is designed and how many graphic files are involved. Thus, the number of hits for a Web page does not necessarily correlate with how many times people downloaded that page, since the page design can produce multiple hits. A Web site with different types of pages may have different total hits for each page. Consequently, the total number of hits for the site does not indicate how many individuals visited the site.

We have found that an estimate of visitor sessions, a statistic provided by most Web site log analysis packages, is a much more useful tool. An ArtsEdNet visitor session begins when a visitor accesses a page on the site. As the visitor continues to move through ArtsEdNet pages, our Web site log analysis package, WebTrends, monitors the pages that the visitor accesses. WebTrends determines that the session is over once this visitor has not asked for any pages for a half hour. If the visitor returns later, a new visitor session is counted.

We encountered the dramatic difference between counting hits and visitor sessions soon after we redesigned ArtsEdNet in September 1996. One of our aims had been to reduce the number of non-essential graphical design elements used on each page. After the redesign, we saw that ArtsEdNet experienced a significant decline in hits while simultaneously registering a steady increase in visitor sessions.

For various technical reasons having to do with how the Internet works, the number visitor sessions is not a precise count of all the unique individuals who access a Web site. It does seems to be, however, the best indicator of Web site usage available that is relatively easy to capture from Web site logs.

Web site user survey form

While Web site usage logs can give us estimates of how many people are looking at what on a Web site, they tell us nothing about who these people are. Are they part of one's target audience or are they virtual tourists just out to look at the pretty pictures? We decided to put a short user survey on ArtsEdNet which people could fill out voluntarily. It asks people to tell us their profession so that we can determine how many of our visitors are in our target audience.

Unfortunately a very low proportion of our total visitors fill out this short survey. We did find that significant number of people who identify themselves as parents interested in art education fill out the survey form, a finding we had not expected. As expected a large number of survey respondents are teachers. However, we just do not get enough responses to our online survey to give us a reliable estimate of the proportion of our online audience from various professional groups. We are now trying to invent other ways to get this kind of information, but no easy solution presents itself.

Web site Comments forms

We also include on every page of ArtsEdNet a Comments Button and an ArtsEdNet e-mail address which visitors can use to send us comments. We average about 30 comments a month plus over 100 e-mail messages in the same time period. The subjects of these messages vary widely; some have very little, if anything, to do with ArtsEdNet. In general unsolicited Comments have not been particularly useful as an assessment tool, but they do provide an easy way for our audience to send us messages when they want to. Many send us very nice comments and a few have found typographical errors that we missed. Many of the art education questions we receive we suggest that the sender resubmit to the ArtsEdNet Talk discussion group where a group of active and experienced teachers may be able to help them.

Feedback Groups

Since the inception of ArtsEdNet we have put together a special Feedback Groups of 20 people from various professions that comprise our target audience. These are essentially online focus groups. Each group serves for six months and provides us with responses to detailed questions we send them about various aspects of ArtsEdNet functioning. So far we have sought out people who are already interested in arts education and ArtsEdNet and can provide us with feedback from the standpoint of a frequent ArtsEdNet user who is well acquainted with all of its components. These Feedback Groups have proven invaluable in helping us assess the overall design and use of the ArtsEdNet Web site and responses to specific ArtsEdNet programs and content areas.

Feedback from ArtsEdNet Talk participants

ArtsEdNet Talk now has close to 700 subscribers. The volume of messages exchanged each month currently exceeds 650. Participants sign up for the e-mail discussion group automatically and so we do not have any survey data about who these people are and what they do for a living. However, we have learned a great deal by analyzing the e-mail conversation that takes place. Many people sign their e-mail messages with their full name, address, and professional title. Also we can infer much about who the audience is and what they are interested in from the content of their online conversation. It is clear that most of the people who contribute to the conversation are K-12 art teachers plus university faculty who train K-12 teachers in the arts, plus some general classroom teachers interested in teaching art, and some museum educators. Conversation flows around a wide variety of issues involved in teaching the arts, primarily but not exclusively the visual arts, in K-12 classrooms.

We have been very conservative about sending online surveys to our ArtsEdNet Talk participants in order to minimize intrusion into the discussion process. However, we have sent a few short surveys which have resulted in the usual small percentage of responses. We are now trying to think of ways we can motivate more of our participants to complete an online survey.

Questionnaires from potential visitors

In order to assess how well ArtsEdNet is known in our current and potential target audiences and how these audiences are connected to the Internet we have done a few surveys at professional conferences. These surveys were completed by conference participants who visited the Getty Education Institute booth and so are not necessarily representative of the population of conference participants as a whole. However, for the questions we asked we felt that the booth visitors'responses should be suggestive of those of the target population as a whole.

III. What have we learned about how teachers use ArtsEdNet?

Who uses the ArtsEdNet Web site?

It is clear that most of the participants in ArtsEdNet Talk are from our target audience of K-12 art educators, museum educators, and university faculty who train art educators. Our user survey form on the ArtsEdNet Web site reveals that a large percentage of visitors who respond to the survey are from our target audience. However, the proportion of respondents to this survey is so small that we have no faith in the accuracy of this percentage. We can infer the professional interest of our visitors by observing what information they seek when they do get on ArtsEdNet.

What information do visitors seek when teachers get on ArtsEdNet?

A breakdown of ArtsEdNet usage by section and subsection shows that the Classroom Resources Section is, far and away, the most popular section on ArtsEdNet. It is followed in use by the Browsing Room which contains extracts of articles and books on the theory and practice of art education. From this we can infer that the Web site is primarily used by our target audience.

We also conclude from multiple data sources that teachers want detailed lesson units and curriculum ideas that they can use in their classrooms without a great deal of additional work on their part. Most teachers just do not have time to do a great deal of curriculum development. Images of art works and catalog data about them are not of much use to K-12 teachers unless these are placed in the context of a complete lesson unit. In fact, to facilitate the use of art resources on the Internet, these ideally would be presented in the context of lesson units tied to local, state and national curriculum frameworks and standards. The more lesson units easily fit into existing curricula the more likely teachers are to use them.

We also have heard teachers express an interest in curricula that integrate the arts with other subjects. ArtsEdNet does not yet provide any truly interdisciplinary units and we are very aware of the difficulty of creating such units that treat all of the disciplines involved in a meaningful way. We are particularly concerned that art is used as more than just decoration in interdisciplinary curricula.

From what location do teachers access ArtsEdNet?

Our surveys, some of them close to a year old, show that a majority of teachers are accessing the Internet from home. 92% of survey respondents at the National Art Education Association Conference (NAEA) and at the International Reading Association (IRA) conference said that they had access to a computer. Roughly 40% of teachers said they used e-mail regularly and 30% said they used the Web regularly. However, of these respondents only 14% reported having Internet access in their classrooms. About 18% had access from the school library and eighteen percent had access from a school media lab. There was remarkable consistency between these percentages for the NAEA and the IRA groups.

What these figures tell us is that most teachers are forced to use the Internet as a research tool for curriculum development because they do not have the equipment and connectivity to use the Internet directly in the classroom. These teachers need to be able to print out lesson plans and background materials and they need to be able to acquire prints or slides of the art works involved so that they can use the lesson plans they find on the Internet in their classrooms. Some teachers do print images from ArtsEdNet on their inexpensive color printers but the results are very poor when compared with the typical museum print.

In the coming five years we can expect the number of Internet connected classrooms to grow steadily as local and national initiatives to connect America's classrooms begin to bear fruit. Once teachers are connected, the way they use the Internet changes significantly over time. Based on our anec dotal data from ArtsEdNet Talk and personal contacts, some teachers with Internet access in their classrooms use ArtsEdNet as a large, easily accessible slide library which they can use in the context of the lesson plans we provide. Many of these teachers also want the lesson plans provided to include extensive links to related resources on the Internet so they can take advantage of the breadth of art resources found there. Some teachers want to have their students conduct research on the Internet directly as part of an inquiry process. These teachers are interested in lesson plans that include online activities designed for students to carry out under the guidance of the teacher. As the number of Internet connected classrooms grows and teachers gain experience with the breadth of information available there, we can expect that teachers will find many new and innovative ways to use the Internet for arts education.

Who uses the ArtsEdNet Talk e-mail discussion group?

As stated above we do not have a comprehensive profile of the demographics of who uses ArtsEdNet Talk. However, based on the topics of conversation and the signature files of those who contribute messages, it is clear that participants are K-12 art teachers, some classroom teachers and museum educators, and university faculty responsible for preservice arts education.

What do ArtsEdNet Talk participants talk about?

Virtually all of the messages to ArtsEdNet Talk address topics involved in K-12 arts education classroom practices. These cover a wide span of issues including: materials and procedures for various art making exercises, techniques for garnering more support for art programs in schools, block scheduling and its impact on art programs, questions about specific facts, resources, and techniques for teaching art history, criticism and aesthetics, how to mentor teacher trainees, and how to get good art education into elementary schools which often have no art specialist to help the general classroom teacher.

Overall ArtsEdNet Talk appears to have created a quite lively online community among those involved in K-12 arts education. Teachers often send us messages about how much they appreciate the opportunity to communicate online with their colleagues about art education issues.

Has ArtsEdNet Talk been successful at training teachers in how to deliver arts education?

We do not know the answer to this question and it is really too soon tell. The evidence we have to date involves the amount of participation on ArtsEdNet special programs. The Getty Education Institute has created a series of special programs for ArtsEdNet that focus on issues in teaching the arts such as: teaching students to interpret and criticize art through the work of a contemporary artist; teaching students to understand art from various perspectives through a comparison of the work a contemporary Mexican-American artist and Navajo weaving; how to teach using inquiry-based and thematic learning techniques; and how to develop authentic multicultural understanding through an exploration of the art of different cultures. ArtsEdNet Web exhibitions for these programs generally include images of relevant art works plus lesson plans or curriculum resources of some kind. These programs all contain an interactive component in which some combination of university faculty with expertise in art education or one of the art disciplines, artists, curriculum development specialists, and practicing teachers discuss issues raised by the program. ArtsEdNet Talk participants are encouraged to submit their comments and questions also. Overall the programs are designed to engage the ArtsEdNet audience in an online mini seminar of sorts.

How are teachers participating in these programs? Our Web site usage logs show that these exhibitions are quite popular and are visited increasingly, even after the most interactive portion of the program is over. Participation in the online discussions by ArtsEdNet Talk participants has grown over time. Initial programs received a small number of excellent comments and questions. We observed that it might take a month or so for participants to begin discussing a program topic and so we needed to allow for a longer time span for the interactive component of online programs to unfold. In recent programs we have experimented with having panels of experts and teacher practitioners engage in an active online discussion of issues instead of just waiting for questions. This has worked very well so far, although we again observed that most of the discussion by people not on the panel started after the one month panel was over.

At the moment we plan to continue to experiment with program formats and topics to determine what process and content is most effective in engaging teachers in substantive discussions of issues. Once we have a better idea of what works in terms of engaging our audience we will begin on the difficult task of trying to assess how these programs affect classroom performance.

IV. Implications for Museum Web Sites

Based on our assessments of ArtsEdNet, we can make the following suggestions for Museum Web sites that wish to serve K-12 teachers:

Provide curriculum materials to go with the images of your holdings.

Most museum sites provide images of parts of their collection along with some small amount of historical data about each. If a good search facility is provided such databases might be of some use to advanced students doing research. But for the majority of K-12 teachers and students this is not enough to be useful. You must provide materials that show teachers how to use your Web site in the classroom-the more detailed the better. Experienced teachers can much more easily transform your lesson unit into something that works for them than start building lesson units from scratch around your materials. Museum education departments generally have very extensive experience with school groups and teachers and may well be able to transform existing materials they have already developed for use on their museums' Web sites.

As you develop curriculum materials try to incorporate multiple teaching approaches.

From multiple sources we have heard that teachers using the Internet appear to move away from delivering straight lectures and toward increasing student interactivity. Teachers move to more inquiry-based teaching using both teacher led discussions and student research projects that incorporate searching traditional and Internet resources. However, teachers vary widely in their approach. Ideally Web sites will present curriculum materials developed to fit various teaching approaches.

About the authors:

Candace M. Borland (cborland@getty.edu) has been a program officer for the Getty Education Institute for the Arts since 1995. She is responsible for managing ArtsEdNet. Dr. Borland has over 15 years of information technology experience, including 5 years at the Getty Trust managing various service groups within the Information and Technology Services department. Before joining the Getty, she worked in various technical, marketing, and management positions focused on making technology more useful to end-users. Dr. Borland earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, an M.A. in educational evaluation also from the University of Texas, and a B.A. in behaviorial sciences from Rice University.

Naree Wongse-Sanit (nsanit@getty.edu), program associate for ArtsEdNet since 1995, is responsible for editing, developing, and coordinating the production of ArtsEdNet's content. She also promotes ArtsEdNet through a variety of outreach efforts. Prior to becoming program associate, Ms. Wongse-Sanit served as the Education Institute's 1994 graduate intern. She has a B.A. from Williams College and an M.A. from the University of Washington, both in Art History, focusing on the Italian Renaissance. Shehas also taught English in Tokyo and worked for a children's art center in Seattle. Her article, "Inquiry-Based Teaching Using the World Wide Web," will appear in the March 1997 issue of Art Education.

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