The Fourth MuseumEdit

Deimosa Webber-Bey

LIS 697 Museum Informatics

Prof. Jonathan Bowen

Pratt Institute School of Information & Library Science

July 23, 2012


Museums have overtime work to do in the 21st century. Collections of cultural heritage items are under increasing scrutiny and policies for repatriation are developed alongside those for collection. The National Museum of the American Indian [NMAI], the Smithsonian’s first culturally-specific institution, is an exercise in careful reflection and purposeful design, facing the challenges of producing innovative on-site exhibitions and engaging the online world.

The base collection for this endeavor is the legacy of the Museum of the American Indian [MAI]; founded in 1916 by George Gustav Heye, who collected Indian artifacts aggressively during the early 20th century. With over one million items the Heye collection “is the largest assemblage of Native American artifacts ever gathered by a single individual” (Small). It was acquired by the Smithsonian Institute in 1989, an outcome of the National Museum of the American Indian Act. This Congressional act, Public Law 101-185, requires a “living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions” on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and the repatriation to tribal communities of “Indian human remains and Indian funerary objects in the possession or control of the Smithsonian Institution” (101st Congress). The bulk of the Heye artifacts are now located in the museum’s Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland, and the first iteration of the NMAI, the George Gustav Heye Center, opened in lower Manhattan in 1994. The museum on the National Mall opened in 2004.

From the outset, NMAI visionaries have been engaged in an attempt to reeducate museum visitors of all ages, challenging the practice of exhibiting Native Americans artifacts out of context in open storage displays, on pedestals and walls, and in cases (National Museum of the American Indian 37, 15). The Heye collection was presented in such a manner, and the crowded display cases at the Museum of the American Indian left no room for interpretation (Figure 1). Viewing these cultural heritage items out of context leads to a “museum effect”, where isolated objects, such as artic clothing, assume different roles lined up in a display case hanging flat than they do in their original environment – on a person, outside, where it is cold and likely dark (Economou 139). Exhibits are frequently guilty of facilitating transduction, “in which something which has been configured or shaped in one or more modes is reconfigured, reshaped according to the affordances of a quite different mode” (Ho, Nelson and Müeller-Wittig 1091). Transduction is a known problem, but in 1994 NMAI leaders recognized that the display of artifacts primarily from the late 1800s and early 1900s (a period of resistance, relocation, and assimilation in American Indian history) was supporting a narrative that “disembodies the reality of a continuing Indian presence” (National Museum of the American Indian 37). The lessons learned from the MAI focused the Smithsonian on involving tribal communities and highlighting contemporary culture; to this end, the museum has been involved in a form of crowd-sourcing.

Engaging in self-assessment and adjusting their exhibits to integrate context, the Smithsonian NMAI began the process of design-based research. This approach is “an emerging paradigm for the study of learning in context through the systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools” (Design-Based Research Collective 5). In the education arena, design-based researchers carefully evaluate both process and product at the end of each academic cycle, and they incorporate lessons learned (becoming more effective and efficient) in subsequent cycles.

We propose that good design-based research exhibits the following five characteristics: First, the central goals of designing learning environments and developing theories or "prototheories" of learning are intertwined. Second, development and research take place through continuous cycles of design, enactment, analysis, and redesign (Cobb, 2001; Collins, 1992). Third, research on designs must lead to sharable theories that help communicate relevant implications to practitioners and other educational designers (cf. Brophy, 2002). Fourth, research must account for how designs function in authentic settings. It must not only document success or failure but also focus on interactions that refine our understanding of the learning issues involved. Fifth, the development of such accounts relies on methods that can document and connect processes of enactment to outcomes of interest. (Design-Based Research Collective 5)

The NMAI is exemplifying these characteristics in practice, with choices like holding major conferences concurrent to the opening of both major facilities. At the opening of Heye Center in 1994 in New York City, participants in the first conference, The Changing Presentation of the American Indian: Museums and Native Cultures, the NMAI coined a term for their online presence, establishing a “virtual fourth museum” as the integrated and collaborative networking of tribal communities and institutions with the museum (National Museum of the American Indian 43-44). During the museum’s inaugural year they also conducted a survey of 70,000 members, learning that the membership wanted recreated environments, live demonstrations, hands-on activities, interactives, and written materials; 74% of NMAI members asked for information reflecting current social concerns, such as health and economy on American Indian reservations (NMAI 111). When the Washington D.C. facility opened in 2004 the NMAI held a second conference, The Native Universe and Museums in the Twenty-first Century: the Significance of the National Museum of the American Indian, where they reexamined their mission, identified the actions that had been necessary to achieve it at the Heye Center, and dialogued about how to do better in the 21st century (NMAI 7). This metacognitive behavior exemplifies their use of the critical elements of design-based research: intertwining design and development, continuous cycles (design-enactment-analysis-redesign), sharable theories, and authentic settings (Design-Based Research Collective 5).


In A Forum for Indigenous Culture Building and Preservation, the authors state, “the basic functionality of an information system for Indigenous cultural management should respond to challenges set for its future and be more than just a catalogue; it should provide a ‘cultural environment’” (Lissonnet and Nevile). The concept of a virtual museum is a framework for understanding how an online cultural environment can work. Creating one means choosing a good content management system and taking advantage of relational databases and hyperlinked data. The NMAI has several online interfaces where users can interact with the collection from a variety of angles and starting points. A virtual exhibit is a more specific framework for understanding what it is to follow a vetted path through a digital collection. Researchers, educators, students, and tribal communities can follow narrated paths through these primary source materials for a multimodal experience, or straightforwardly locate a known item.

National Museum of the American Indian websiteEdit

The official homepage of this Smithsonian Institution website offers a calendar and links to exhibits, the catalog, educational materials, multimedia, visiting information, and social media. There is an online store, where online users can join and become a NMAI member; they can also add museum events to a personal calendar. There is a call to artists on the front page, along with a “Connect” link in the menu for internships, training, seminars, and an artist leadership program.

To explore the online collection and retrieve a digital object there is two-click access to the catalog, where a faceted search starts with the option of filtering by Peoples/Cultures, Artists/Individuals, Places, or Object Specifics. A guided step-by-step filtering process narrows the information retrieved down to the preferred results. Sophisticated users can opt to do an Advanced Search with specific metadata. Search results can be displayed as a grid or list, and they can be sorted by catalog number, culture, or place. Items are displayed using a thumbnail image, and links to related items in the collection are included as well as basic metadata. The data can be printed or emailed and the user can email NMAI about a specific item directly from the catalog record.

Native NetworksEdit

This multimedia network hub features film, video, and radio. The mission statement declares the NMAI Film and Video Center is “dedicated to presenting and disseminating information about the work of Native Americans in media”, with the goals of being a contemporary network for the media arts community (Weatherford). As producer, facilitator, and consumer of multimedia, the Smithsonian will minimize transduction in the future.

Native Words Native Warriors online exhibitEdit

This companion exhibit was put together to supplement a traveling NMAI exhibition about the Code Talkers, a group of American Indian soldiers who used their tribal languages to employ an unbreakable code during World War II. A digital exhibit that outlasts the physical manifestation, it presents a narrative about native languages, boarding schools, code talking, coming home, survival, and recognition (NMAI Education Office). The website also offers lessons for educators that engage the digital materials of the Smithsonian, and a vetted bibliography of resources on the subject, including books, film, and web sites.

Lakota Winter Counts online exhibitEdit

This online exhibit presents a searchable database, documentary, video interviews with knowledgeable Lakota tribal members, and educational materials. The affordances of this calendar system allow it to manifest online with minimal transduction, as the original intent of the winter-count-keeping tradition is to provide a reference system to work in tandem with oral tradition (National Anthropological Archives). In the overview of the data, the images are presented as flash spreadsheet with years on the X-axis and authors on the Y-axis. Each author’s artifact can be examined individually and manipulated, whether it involve turning pages or zooming in on sections of muslin cloth. Each author’s depiction for a given year is its own individual entry with metadata, and the images can be searched as well as stored in a “My Winter Counts” interface.

American Indian Responses to Environmental ChallengesEdit

This multimedia educational resource provides current information on the specific actions of four tribes in the environmental domain, the Akwesasne Mohawk, the Campo Kumeyaay Nation, the Leek Lake Ojibwe, and the Lummi Nation. There is a narrative sequence: Getting Started, Meet the People, About Our Homeland, Our Environmental Challenge, Our Strategies, and Our Future. The experience includes informational text, video, interactive maps, and focus questions, and users can track their progress. The website is designed so that teachers can facilitate the interactive online curriculum and submit student-created content to the “Shared Stories Project Gallery”.

Smithsonian webpageEdit

Part of the Smithsonian Institution, one of the NMAI’s major online access points is through the Smithsonian homepage. Under the tab for Museums & Zoo users can access all nineteen national museums and galleries, as well as the national zoo. The NMAI’s Washington DC facility and the Heye Center each have their own official entry, but the external links are to the same homepage. The Smithsonian museum front page template includes a picture of the museum and location, hours, and directions. The pages link to information on events and exhibitions, as well to the catalog page for the NMAI’s online collections search.

Smithsonian Institution Research & Information SystemEdit

SIRIS is a content management system that connects users to the following Smithsonian library, archive, and research catalogs: Museum Collections, Smithsonian Libraries, Archives, Manuscripts and Photographic Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum Research Databases, Specialized Research Bibliographies, History of Smithsonian, And Directory of Airplanes. This database offers access to millions of primary source materials at no cost.

Encyclopedia SmithsonianEdit

This aggregate of online resources can be filtered, and selecting the topic “American Indian History & Culture” returns a list of 101 items in these categories: Activities & Games, Fact Sheets, Online Exhibitions, Reading Lists, Research Programs, Research Resources, Teacher Resources, Videos, and Web Features. This catalog locates NMAI resources within the larger body of Smithsonian digital offerings for the public.

National Anthropological ArchivesEdit

Published by the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History this archival collection includes historical and contemporary data from both the National Anthropological Archives and the Human Studies Film Archives. “Their collections represent the four fields of anthropology – ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, and physical anthropology – and include field notes, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, maps, sound recordings, film and video created by Smithsonian anthropologists and other preeminent scholars” (Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History). The site offers collections guides, information about visiting, online exhibits, a search feature, and details on how to order photos, manuscripts, and recordings.


The NMAI website, front door to the “museum without walls”, blurs “the line between online and in-house offerings” (NMAI 15) (Marty 132). Compatible with all major browsers, it is a springboard for the experience that begins on its homepage, where users can visit the fourth museum. The Smithsonian Institution is able to take advantage of the latest methods being used for museum informatics.

Usability checks on three different platforms reveal that the 46.6% of the data consists of image files. However alt text alternatives are needed and the site earns an F for image compression. The limited amount of HTML, 10.7%, shows that the page is really a portal or access point, and not content heavy. However, the pages beyond the homepage have several paragraphs of information. Breadcrumbs, at the top of the main content section, show the user where they are on the site. There is one special effect on the homepage, an image switching every few seconds in the top, right corner. The control +/- feature is enabled, and there is a link to the NMAI’s privacy policy on the bottom of the page. On Lynx the website is usable without too much difficulty, the images disappear and the navigation links are early; however there is no search box. The accessibility information relevant to the website should be given earlier; the information given is relevant to accessibility at the museum’s physical locations, not on its website.


In The Changing Presentation of the American Indian the NMAI identifies four types of cultural exhibitions (36-37):

· geographical/ethnographical – land or ethnic group is the organizing principle

· developmental (object/change) – shows how a particular object evolves over time

· life-group (contextualizes object) – shows the object in the context of how it is/was used

· display/ open storage – objects with similar affordances are grouped together for efficiency in display

In the 1990s, the open storage method for the Heye materials had already begot the museum effect and, while geography and time represent a comfortable organizing principle for exhibit audiences, original context was considered essential to reduce further transduction. Conference participants declared that “dynamic, interpretive programs on Native American materials must be founded on and utilize updated specimen documentation research beyond what customarily done” (National Museum of the American Indian 44). Engaged in design-based research, the Smithsonian adjusted their practice in favor of cultural life-group exhibits. The Infinity of Nations permanent exhibit in New York features highlights of the Heye collection in display cases, organized by time and location; however, the permanent exhibits created 10 years later in Washington DC follow a narrative thread (traditional knowledge, history, and contemporary life), and are subdivided in to life-group displays about specific tribes (who are active participants in the design process). Both facilities include the use of video and information visualizations on touchscreens and computer terminals located throughout the physical galleries. Visitors can choose to use touchscreens and mobile apps to engage in a more in-depth interaction with the objects in the exhibit.

Multimedia tools have enabled NMAI to create exhibits in the fourth museum that engage several senses at once, “contextualizing the selected objects and giving those objects a "real" place in visitors understanding" (National Museum of the American Indian 42).The 2007 Native Words, Native Warriors online exhibit is an example of digital objects displayed in context. The first chapter of the exhibit, “Native Languages”, uses image and sound to put the Navajo and Comanche languages in context, by integrating the specific life experiences of two codetalkers, one from each language group, into the narrative thread. In each chapter the story is told from the dual perspectives of the two languages, the narratives organized in a parallel sequence that narrows the context of the digital objects displayed from general history to community history to individual history. Each chapter ends with reflection and discussion questions, followed by a workbook activity where users can interact with content to create a custom digital object (which can be printed, but not saved).

The 2011 online educational resource, American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges, moves beyond historical image and sound, to also include contemporary video and use information visualizations. Quiz questions prompt interaction with each page of material, and results are tracked during the online visit, but cannot be stored once the user leaves the site. The “Story Project Planner” allows a student to have a more in depth interaction, creating their own digitally born narrative object. This can be produced during a single visit or worksheets can be downloaded in a PowerPoint file and saved on the individual’s hard drive. Teachers are encouraged to upload exemplary work to the NMAI site; this engages users in the Web 2.0 behavior of content creation. Both of these exhibits demonstrate the integration of the "Indian Voice", collaboration with tribal specialists, and innovative approaches to information delivery (text or not)” (National Museum of the American Indian 44).


In 2004 the NMAI described the fourth museum as its “largest and most salient component” and outlined its five major elements: outreach programs, websites, books, recordings, and the work of Community Services Department (NMAI 15). The first element, outreach, means taking advantage of the tools of the 21st century, having in-house information technologists, and having a presence in the online commercial information outlets. Further, a recent survey shows that “This form of media appears to have had a significant impact on the 'findability' and accessibility of museum curators. Curators are clearly reaching and interacting with an audience via social media; this in turn is boosting their individual profiles within the broader community and also raising the profile of their museums” (Dicker). The social media evident today on the National Museum of the American Indian’s website includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and the NMAI blog.

On Facebook NMAI posts frequently from a mobile device and on Twitter the NMAI tweets 3-5 times a day and retweets posts where people mention them. They use social media to disseminate information about events going on in the city that might be relevant to patrons on Facebook and Twitter. In each of the NY and DC facilities there is one person who monitors these channels as part of their regular work duties. The YouTube channel features a video about the construction of a totem pole for the NMAI DC facility, with 1,203 views in the 2 months since it was uploaded; there are playlists for Staff Favorites, Lectures & Symposia, and Native Storytelling, among others. On Flickr the NMAI offers 11 sets of photographs; these images can be tagged, favorited, shared, and saved. The set with the most views has 13,543 – it consists of 35 images of a beaded Volkswagen Beetle.

The NMAI blog is hosted on the Smithsonian Institution site, and is updated several times a month with information about current events relevant to Native American communities, specific documents composed by museum staff that share highlights within the collection, and stories about events at the museum. An example of taking advantage of the affordances of the chronological nature of the blogging, in the ongoing topic “This day in the Maya Calendar” Jose Barriero explains each day of 2012 using digital images of Mayan symbols.

The NMAI is quite effectively using social media compared to its Smithsonian peers. The National Museum of African American History and Culture posts about twice a month to their blog. The National Air & Space Museum also takes advantage of Flckr, Facebook, and YouTube icons on their home page; they tweet 5-10 times a day; the featured video on the YouTube channel is a time lapse of Artic Sea Ice. The National Museum of Natural History has 8 social media icons on its homepage; they tweet 3-5 times a day; their YouTube channel has several videos with no views, and also several videos with hundreds of views; there are videos which seem to overlap in audience with NMAI; the blog posts are long and full of detail and pictures. The National Museum of American History posts to their blog every couple of days; there are no social media links on the home page; someone thanks people for tweets, and there is a tweet with the hash tag "this day in history" each day.


Committed to the virtual reality of the fourth museum, the NMAI has been able to use information technology for innovative dialogue and youth engagement. In The Native Universe and Museums in the Twenty-first Century, Bernice Murphy describes exhibitions in particular as an opportunity for “dialogic engagement with diverse communities and constituencies… [and] direct involvement of native artists and communities in self-representation” (62-63). Online exhibitions in particular, present a unique opportunity for access to fragile historic collections, and two projects that stand out have been done in collaboration with school children. Shortly after the opening of the Heye Center, working with 4Directions, the museum brought students from tribal schools to New York where they selected objects, used QuickTime Virtual Reality technology to create 3D maneuverable item surrogates, and wrote essays which were used as item descriptions online (Allen, Christal and Perrot). This media was put together to create a virtual tour of Heye Center exhibitions, and provided participating educators with the opportunity to refine their process for the next cycle. “After implementing a number of school-museum partnerships, a Four Directions model for virtual museum projects began to emerge, a model that may well be useful with students of any culture. The key elements are culturally responsive teaching, cultural revitalization, and cultural collaboration” (Allen, Resta and Christal 53). The Smithsonian is at the stage where they can refine a model for technology collaboration as a path to youth engagement in cultural heritage preservation.

Exemplary of their use of design-based research, the “micro-analysis of student interactions with activities… enabled redesign and refinement of activities” in the subsequent collaborative projects (Design-Based Research Collective 6). With the opening of the NMAI facility on the National Mall, the museum brought students from Florida to Washington DC where they selected objects from the collection that were relevant to their tribal community. The students created QuickTime videos and wrote essays as was done in the 4Directions project a decade earlier. They then went on to create a virtual tour for the museum. This online exhibit was created by a life-group and uses the cultural heritage items from the collection in an intentional context, drilling down from artifacts of ancient cultures to artifacts of Florida cultures to the specific artifacts of the Weedon people.


The NMAI has one mobile application, the Infinity of Nations app. This is available for an iPhone iPod, or iPad. The museum provides an iPod for physical visitors in exchange for their driving license. The app is competition for the docents and museum educators, although it cannot answer questions and does not offer information for all of the objects in the exhibit. A floor map of the exhibit helps users to navigate through the 60 objects included, “instead of a text based system, visitors are able to move through the exhibition via maps and object drawings and select highlighted works” (Smithsonian Institution). The app enhances the exhibit experience by including audio and more in-depth information, such as a step-by-step description of how artisans made the object. Narrated in English by Wes Studi, a well-known figure in Indian country, certain objects include music from the region played in the background. The app is available in Spanish as well.

The NMAI also has a presence in the app Smithsonian Mobile, which is available for both Android and iPhone platforms. The menu, at the bottom of the screen, allows users to navigate the information via institution, using a geospatial map, through an event calendar, or by featured exhibits, and items can be added to a favorites category. There is a discussion thread with frequent responses posted by Nancy Proctor, the Head of Mobile Strategy and Initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution. The NMAI has two pages, the “American Indian Museum” and the “American Indian Museum Heye Center”, each with an image, description, highlights, admissions and contact information, location details, hours of operation, and links to Facebook and Twitter. The user can log in to the app to comment, and Nancy Proctor is active in this forum as well. She responded to a June 21 suggestion on the American Indian Museum thread by June 23, with “…we will definitely do that – it’s a great idea and would be very helpful!!”


In 2004 NMAI identified a need for moving from “object-focused to thematic exhibits” (NMAI 89). About to morph the Heye Center’s West Gallery (Appendix A) in to a comprehensive education center focused on the Haudenosaunee, a unique opportunity exists to refine the work done with the 4Directions and Weedon Island student centered projects, and to build on the personalization features of American Indian Response to Environmental Challenges. A Web 3.0 interactive museum exhibit could function such that a visit to the museum unlocks a multimedia experience that continues at home. Beginning with a survey of the tribes that would be represented in the new educational exhibits, and of the educators that bring their students to the Heye Center on trips, the museum could develop distinct displays with the schools from contemporary Haudenosaunee communities. These displays could involve historical materials and contemporary multimedia objects. Research shows that when developing their own multimedia museum interactives, student interests lean towards popular culture and entertainment:

Of the 32 groups, 25% chose Popular Youth Interests/Hobbies themes such as computer gaming, music, movies and media related entertainment. 16% focused on the topical Youth Olympic Games 2010. Early adolescent interests – cartoons, toys, animals and dinosaurs – comprised 13%. 9% were local-based themes on Singapore humor, tourist attractions and religions with a further 9% for Health & Sports. Themes of school life, dance, the supernatural and geographical interests and natural disasters stood at 6.25%. 3% were related to gender issues. Thematic choices generally indicated strong associations with youth sense of self and culture with a few extending beyond their personal spheres to global interests on a wider level (Ho, Nelson and Müeller-Wittig 1089).

The display stations would be developed considering students to be the primary audience, focused on sense of self and culture, and visiting classes could rotate through the displays in timed groups, interacting at each station with the use of an iPad or mobile device. The exhibit could be designed such that any visitor with a wireless device would also be able to access the content and have an engaging experience in the gallery that continues at home.

The West Gallery contains three spaces, two of which (271 and 283) are often partitioned. Ideally students on class trips will be oriented by museum educators using a Smartboard and an iPad for each student. This orientation could take place in room 271, so that museum educators can minimalize the distance that technological devices are carried around to the three rooms in the West Gallery (and, to extend the interaction, the Infinity of Nations permanent exhibit in the South Gallery). Activities to orient students for the interactive exhibit experience could include museum and iPad etiquette, creating an account or user ID in the system, a language activity, and the creation of a timed agenda for rotating through various stations (in order to distribute large groups throughout the space). The interactions that the students have during their visit could be stored online in their NMAI user accounts, and become immediately accessible online so that students can reflect on their experience when they return to the classroom, and teachers can assess and extend the curriculum for students as needed.

Room 270, a small room in-between two large, high-ceilinged areas, is 5-6 feet wide and ~12 feet deep; this space offers the most potential for an inexpensive interactive virtual or augmented reality exhibit. This is an essential element for youth engagement and 21st century exhibit design; “[virtual environment] technologies are rapidly gaining traction in the fields of Art and Cultural Heritage as well, not only for reasons relating to the conservation and security of artifacts or for communication and educational purposes, but also for the creation of new forms of art and new paradigms of artwork creation by means of interaction” (Bergamasco, Frisoli and Tecchia). With the relationships developed already, and a commitment to technology, the NMAI is poised and can take the lead. The Smithsonian should develop an interactive Lacrosse exhibit that engages either virtual or augmented reality in this space. It would meet the educational standards for the New York City K-8 social studies curriculum, which requires that students learn the contributions of Native American Indians who lived in the area (NYC Department of Education 13-16, 25-27). Lacrosse is a game that existed for centuries in the Iroquois community before entering popular culture in the Northeastern United States and Canada, and the Iroquois Nationals, a team that has put tribal politics ahead of personal gain, recently made a run for the international championship, making the context for this thematic exhibit both contemporary and culturally relevant.

Many museums now have “computer applications which act as primary exhibits themselves, usually expanding beyond the two-dimensional monitor to the space in the gallery” (Economou 141). This interactive Lacrosse experience would be developed with a virtual game of lacrosse as the interactive object and the team as the life-group providing context. One example is the CAVE system (of projection on the floor and three walls), which enables “a three-dimensional virtual reality experience that can be shared by several (usually up to ten) people who need to wear special goggles” (Economou 143). In the Lacrosse exhibit user choices on the iPad could determine the narrative sequence of the interaction, like a choose-your-own-adventure story, or a more complex lacrosse game could be developed in partnership with game designers. This exhibit space could fit 1-4 individuals surrounded by projection screens and Xbox Kinect technology, or seat 1-8 individuals with virtual reality headsets and connections for mobile devices.

Community participation is an essential element of the virtual fourth museum NMAI desires, and the technology now used for interactive dance and sports games, as well as for online interactive gaming, could be employed to “involve visitors physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially”, and also to make new media accessible for the self-archiving of community knowledge (Economou 137). At the 1995 NMAI conference participant James D Nason encouraged the exploration of multimedia, suggesting that NMAI locate objects in “temporal environmental settings”, employing graphics, textured and ecologically formatted spaces, and lighting and sound effects, as well as voice and image representations (National Museum of the American Indian 42). In fact, an attempt to introduce game design with Maori participants led to a new platform for traditional storytelling, “the participants were so excited by the process of re-imagining and re-building the landscapes that the notion of the game format became less important. What is happening now is that they are using these elaborate 3D environments as film sets, as a way to tell narrative stories” (Mann and Russell). The end result of attempting to create a game with the input of the Iroquois Nationals will undoubtedly lead to an exciting opportunity to archive the current expression of the game for future understanding.

Social interaction, which is part of community exhibit design, is essential to successful viewing as well. A component of contemporary learning environments in both design and execution, “in order to create a 3D place where people can have a meaningful experience, a fundamental role is played by "virtual presence," the ability to meet and interact with other people in that world and engage in common activities” (Economou 44). Once the museum is able to “create applications that incorporate or even take advantage of social interaction in public spaces and leisure-time activities”, then students on trips to the museum would be able to maintain contact with the exhibit environment and their social group’s experience (Economou 154). A successful gaming platform at the museum would involve multiplayer interaction “that treats traditional and new media aspects of a museum as equally important elements of the museum experience” (Galani 170). A virtual or augmented reality sports experience would also address issues of accessibility for students with all levels of information needs:

Third, this approach can be an effective tool for providing accommodation resources to students with disabilities. Finally, AR presents opportunities for further educational engagement and process/competency reiteration for at-risk learners as well as the general noncategorical student populace. AR appeals to the constructivist approach of learning by allowing teachers to use hands-on approaches through interaction and manipulation of models. For example, students can interact with famous structures such as the Eiffel Tower by accessing Google Earth through AR Sights. Applications and advantages considering the cost associated with the software is relatively inexpensive (Thornton, Ernst and Clark 19).

Regarding development, there are software packages available that exhibit developers and Smithsonian IT departments can easily download. Using 3-D modeling software such as Google SketchUp images can be created for use (Thornton, Ernst and Clark 19). These affordances allow young adults to learn the technological tools needed for 21st century exhibit design. Students from tribal schools, as well as the Iroquois Nationals, could work together, “considerate of prior knowledge and experiences” to develop the virtual reality exhibit, offering an opportunity for future design-based research contributions (Wunder 159). The continuation of student involvement for a third NMAI cycle would create another successful, student-based interactive digital product, and also enrich a body of data with considerable research potential for museum informatics.

There remains a dearth of investigations into documented research in educational contexts which involves predominantly student-generated design and content for virtual museums constructed primarily by, for and with young learners themselves as a multimodal construct of their youth culture with the attendant beliefs, values and interests (Ho, Nelson and Müeller-Wittig 1084).


By naming their online presence, “the fourth museum”, the NMAI has taken advantage of the affordances that digital objects and relational databases present. Tapping in to the vast resources of the Smithsonian and the innovations in multimedia, the homepage is the front door to a virtual museum where exhibits have sound, moving images, and interactive components, and the narrative is vetted by both tribal officials and academics.

The NMAI has consistently used metacognitive self-reflection to enhance their offerings for the general public both online and in person. By holding conferences to reflect to mark the opening of a new facility, and developing online exhibits with student contributors, they have started cycles that can be continued with the opening and expansion of the educational facility in New York City and the museum as a whole in years to come. Harnessing gaming and 3D software, the Smithsonian should use its resources to build an education center exhibit that engages Haudenosaunee youth, meets state educational standards for social studies, and also harnesses new media to archive the cultural heritage items of the present for the future.


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