Colorado history is now more accessible with the recently launched Museums for Digital Learning, a digital platform where access to museums, such as the Ute Indian Museum, is compiled in one place.

The free digital museum is geared as an educational resource for students and teachers, packaged as “resource kits” on each museum’s page. The comprehensive project was conceived by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2018 and was funded as a pilot project through a national leadership grant to the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

History Colorado and the Field Museum in Chicago joined the project as partners, working closely to connect museums of various multidisciplinary subjects and disciplines throughout the country to offer a singular digital platform for learning.

Content comes from nearly 15 states across the country, including Hawaii, Alaska, California, New York and Colorado.

“They really have this vision to support the museum sector,” said April Legg, chief education officer for History Colorado. “They have noticed that there have been a lot of projects to digitize museum collections and there needs to be some more support on how to actually get those collections in the classroom, so that’s really where this idea started.”

Legg has worked on the project since 2018 in various capacities but was recently recruited by History Colorado to assist with the project as the organization helms the expansion and consultation efforts over the next three years.

Launched in June, the digital resource center is composed of consultants that include museum educators and education technology specialists as project partners continue to add content from various sources, such as the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose or the Field Museum in Chicago.

Twenty-three museums have committed to participating, and 29 resource kits have been added to date, with several more expected to join soon.

Legg described the platform as an interactive resource, with resource kits made up of several activity types, including narratives, hotspots, slideshows, annotations, timelines, games and ebooks. The amount of digitized objects in a kit depends on what a museum chooses to share.

The resource kits are curriculum-aligned, according to the project’s website. Topics are searchable by grade and subject, free to use in classrooms or by anyone interested in the subject.

Overall, the platform allows educators to use one website, instead of several, in order to gather resources.

“I think that’s one of the beautiful parts — is that these museums from all across the country are coming together to support students wherever they are,” Legg said.

The Ute Indian Museum has contributed content to Colorado’s digital museum collections, with a resource kit dedicated to “Ute Tribal Paths” that takes the visitor through 10 different kits.

The first kit, “We are still here,” details the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado, whose reservation includes 575,000 contiguous areas throughout Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. The tribe is governed by a seven-member tribal council and chairman.

Legg hopes to see the project help grow the museum sector through its support in additional school education. While the project began before COVID-19 hit, Legg noted that the initiative’s need only became more celebrated and emphasized as the pandemic continued.

“That shift we saw during the pandemic, as classrooms moved to more remote learning, intensified this need for authentic high quality, digital learning resources and an easy way to get them to classrooms. Museums have these resources and the tools to be [made] available, so it really solidified what we were already on a path to do,” said Legg.

Legg anticipates seeing smaller organizations join in the future, such as historical societies or smaller museums that may not have the ability to create and maintain their own website. This platform would allow them to share their history and make a broader impact.

Students or schools that would not typically be able to access an in-person museum can take advantage of a digitized experience, saving the cost of a field trip if funds are limited.

Accessibility feels extremely important right now in our current learning environment, Legg added.

For more information about joining as a participating museum, visit museumsfordigitallearning.org or contact info@museumsfordigitallearning.org.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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