As Spencer and Ben have discussed, we spent the first part of this semester reviewing the educational sites constructed at CHNM, from the most dated to the most current, in a way that clearly demonstrated the effort that the Center has put into creating useful sites for educators. What this exploration of the Center’s past has also revealed, however, is the purpose of many of the tools we’ve begun to explore in the second half of the semester. The development of the education department has been an evolutionary process, one that not only streamlined the user interfaces and content presentation on these sites, but also led to the creation of tools that make the construction and use of educational sites more accessible to institutions and even individuals who need to design interactive and intelligent experiences for their members and students without access to the resources and resourceful individuals of CHNM.
The difficulties faced by the developers of the original education sites – attempting to use inconveniently designed databases to sort content, hand-coding individual pages, trying to combine content and design in functional ways – led to the creation of sites that were nearly impossible to maintain or migrate. These older resources remain good sources of content, but are not incredibly useful for drawing in new students or educators. Faced with these problems, the Center developed Omeka, a content management system that can be used to store and exhibit historical content, which is free and not prohibitively difficult to use. By streamlining design and functionality – and creating a system with migration and future development in mind – CHNM took the lessons learned through the years of painstakingly creating Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and its ilk, and designed a valuable tool for others who need to create educational exhibition sites.
The learning process we observed during our chronological exploration of the educational and collection sites clearly demonstrated the reason for the Center’s additional focus on the development of tools used for research, learning, and presentation. It will be interesting to see how the Center will respond to future challenges – perhaps with the development of a functional tool for historical data mining?