Incredible virtual resource will aid local educators this school year

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Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia
Shiva Nataraja from India. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Museum of Art

As teachers race for accessible pathways to online learning, the Birmingham Museum of Art released a key resource that provides innovative concepts for virtual education. Learn how Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia will be a game-changer for educators and their K-12 students.

Developing a bigger picture

The Birmingham Museum of Art has always had a focus to educate and open the public up to new ideas that garner deeper understandings. Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia is a two-year concept in the making. Its reveal is accelerated by the intense need for online education tools in the wake of COVID-19.

The free web-based tool kit fosters and enables a close understanding and appreciation of Asian culture. Through videos, interactive images, art activities, lesson plans and more educators are able to easily distribute valuable material to their K-12 students.

Angela May, the Assistant Curator of Education, along with the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Director of Digital Media, Sean Pathasema, lead the charge for the project.

“The technology that we have developed for Culture Bridge was designed to keep young minds active and engaged by providing a variety of digital materials that involve active participation, such as interactive images, puzzles, and quizzes.”

Angela May

While learning in general and through virtual tools isn’t a new concept, totally not attending school at all is. These types of lessons allow for a less synchronistic approach, which doesn’t always work for learners and educators, in the “new normal.”

“Educators, parents, students all have various schedules, household responsibilities, etc. making it hard to get an entire class to all be online at the same time.

Culture Bridge’s resources allow for an asynchronistic approach where teachers can assign students materials on our website that need to be watched or completed within a certain timeframe. This really takes the pressure off of siblings who need to use the computer at the same time, a parent who needs to also work from home, etc.”

Angela May

Made for educators, by educators

Angela began the project with who mattered most in mind—the teachers. She used teacher surveys and formed a teacher advisory committee to ensure the resource they wanted to create met current needs in today’s K-12 classrooms.

“The teachers had very specific requests. They wanted short lesson plans that could easily fit into a busy day and packed curriculum.

They wanted what is referred to as ‘Plug and Play’ resources; for instance, a video the students can watch, followed by a quiz or another activity. Teachers requested we build the website so that teachers AND students can both use the resources.”

Angela May

The committee encompassed multiple school districts with input from Jefferson County, Shelby County, and as far out as Scottsboro City School districts. They also had teachers from Montessori schools as well as a Ph.D. student in cross-cultural curriculum development on the committee. Needless to say—there was an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard.

Accessibility is key

Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia
 Haniwa and Dogu video page. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Museum of Art

Accessibility is one of the primary goals for Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia. In addition to being digital and free, the language, vocabulary and visuals used are at a level that engages students as opposed to intimidating them.

“I created the Bitmoji classrooms and studios to create a fun, comfortable space they can explore and where teachers can see how our variety of resources can be combined to create a unit.

I plan on adding a new Bitmoji classroom once a month. There are many teachers who are creating Bitmoji versions of their own classrooms, so I really saw this as a way to create consistency across the various LMS (Learning Management Systems) that educators are already using for their classes.”

Angela May

The website is reflexive—meaning it can be accessed by smartboard, desktop, tablet or even a phone. Also, the platform features a variety of resources from stand-alone activities or ones that can be combined to form entire teaching units.

“Our pedagogical approach is all about empowerment and scaffolding information to be sure we never overwhelm the student or the educator. Each resource serves as a building block to a greater understanding of the artwork and the culture that surrounds it.”

Angela May

Friendly environment

Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia was created with the help of Kinetic, a Birmingham web design company. Their goal was to build a website that was intuitive and could handle the interactive elements the Birmingham Museum of Art wanted to provide students, educators, and parents. 

“We also commissioned local illustrator Hannah Adamson to create a series of images that we are using in our coloring sheets, our quick guides, and upcoming videos.

These illustrations are really helpful because they not only immediately engage students with their vibrant colors and cartoon-like appearance, but they also function as great reference images, since many stone sculptures have broken over the years and these images depict deities and figures in their full forms.”

Angela May, Assistant Curator of Education at the Birmingham Museum of Art

Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia will continue to grow

The platform is already an incredibly useful tool for teachers, parents and students alike. However, it doesn’t stop here—each month a new resource will be released.

“Educators and students can look forward to STEAM lesson plans written by local educators, a museum studies unit addressing cultural heritage, and thematic resources surrounding themes such as the Silk Road, ancient tomb culture, dreams, celebrations, etc. We are even working on developing a digital kiln called the ‘Digital Potters Studio.'” 

Angela May

Explore Culture Bridge: eLearning Across Asia for yourself and follow the Birmingham Museum of Art Instagram and Facebook for future updates.