April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Sessions: Abstract

Learning from the People: Traditional Knowledge and Educational Standards   go to paper

Daniel Elias, Peabody Essex Museum, USA
James Forrest, Peabody Essex Museum, USA

ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations) is a federally-supported collaborative of six cultural institutions that spans the US (Alaska, Hawai’i, Mississippi and Massachusetts). ECHO’s founding legislation requires it to create cultural programming and use “modern technology, including the internet, to educate students, their parents and teachers” about historic and contemporary links between Native and non-Native peoples. ECHO creates exhibitions, public programming, web sites and other educational tools and materials drawing on cross-cultural understanding and place- and culture-based learning experiences.

ECHO’s most recent web project is Learning from the People, a sub-site on WGBH’s site Teachers’ Domain. It draws on both Native and ‘standard' (Euro-American) sources to examine two themes: traditional storytelling in the Native world, and Arctic climate change. The raw materials were the diverse sources of information and experience of our six member institutions: a bewildering array widely varying in quality, quantity and medium, with limited cataloging or indexing. Drawing on these, we created video and interactive resources, background essays and discussion questions that supported lesson plans correlated to state and national educational standards.

Presently the collaborative is expanding its own site,, to incorporate the contents of Learning from the People, as well as interactive space for members of our communities, more extensive data resources for life-long learners, professional development for teachers, interactive experiences for young children based in our various cultures and collections, and a ‘back-room’ suite of tools to create and manage our various projects.

As we head into creation of the new site, several questions/insights seem important:

1) Teachers’ classroom use of pre-configured lesson plans is limited, but they may use them as search tags to find ideas and illustrative resources. Is it important to create lesson plans as such? Can good meta-tagging replace them?

2) As cultural institutions we serve vastly differing audiences. Digital technology may allow reconfiguration of single database through creation of portals configured for distinct audiences. Can we find ways to let visitors create their own portals, which can be shared with others?

3) Knowledge transfer in both Native and museum communities are rooted in ‘place’ and its corollary ‘presence’. Web and standards-based systems have been characterized as ‘placeless’, therefore antithetical to museum and Native values. Standards can, though, offer ‘interoperability’, through which culture-based knowledge can be linked to national norms through systems created to integrate the two, allowing place-based education on a national scale.

4) Templates/guidelines for lesson plans and resources allow ECHO to incorporate widely diverse data sources into a recognizable format. It permits creation of new resources by diverse partners to be added to the database into the future, with minimal oversight.

This interactive session, led by Daniel Elias, ECHO project director, and Jim Forrest, Web Designer, of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, will explore our process and the applicability of our process to other cultural organizations.

Session: Beyond Single Repositories [Institutional]

Keywords: Native, cultural education, curriculum standards, Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations, place-based, lesson plan