Museums as Social Agents: Storytelling Aids Emotional Healing

By Heidi McKinnon
Director of Exhibits and Community Programming, Sandy Spring Museum

How does a museum respond to contemporary issues within its community? While there are many answers to this question, one unexpected response might be bookbinding. With the current crisis of unaccompanied Central American minors coming into the U.S., Sandy Spring Museum’s Education Department decided to take a closer look at what is happening locally in Montgomery County, Maryland—specifically at Sherwood High School. Two-thirds or more of the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students at Sherwood are Central American, and many have poignant stories about the circumstances that led to their migration, often involving gang extortion, divided or broken families, and violence.

With the support of staff from the county’s Health and Human Services Department of Youth Violence Prevention, and funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we recruited local artist Beatriz del Olmo Fiddleman to collaborate on a bookbinding workshop for new migrant youth in the ESOL program at Sherwood High School. Throughout the fall and winter, students have learned traditional bookbinding techniques, which provide a way to tell aspects of their personal stories through words, photography, and art.

Woman teaches teens how to create a book.

Beatriz del Olmo Fiddleman works with ESOL 1 students on Japanese binding techniques at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland.

The stories are compelling, heartbreaking, as well as joyous—and the students are excited to learn and collaborate with the museum. Many students are so happy to be safe and with their parents after a decade or more of separation. Some are struggling with what they have left behind. Others are working through serious struggles that no child should have to endure.

“When I was born, everything was beautiful. My siblings were born and that is a big part of my life. With…my family, everything was good until I made the decision to come to this country. The journey here was so difficult. There were many problems until finally, I arrived. I like it now because in the United States, I feel much safer. I miss my family, my customs, and my food.”

A student from El Salvador

The success of this program has spurred us to reach out to other organizations in the county to discuss how the cultural arts community can respond to this social crisis. We are currently developing a series of programs where the therapeutic powers of art can be used to the benefit of the immigrant youths. The program will include arts, dance, theater, bookbinding, and photography projects, providing the Central American youths ways to heal their trauma and help them integrate into life in the U.S.

In March, the public will be invited to an exhibit of the books made by the Sherwood High School ESOL students. We will also host a program that explores the “push factors” for youth migration in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services and staff from Sherwood High School.

Whatever the circumstances that brought residents to Sandy Spring, we all have a story of migration. This project is enabling the museum to document some of the more recent stories of emigration, and provide a modicum of emotional healing, as well.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Cultural Heritage/Sustainability, Global Awareness, Museums for America | 1 Comment

Adult New Computer Users: A Glimpse into the Learner Path

By Gloria Jacobs, Jill Castek, Andrew Pizzolato, Elizabeth Withers, and Kimberly Pendell
Literacy, Language & Technology Research Group
Portland State University

Over the past three years, with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Literacy, Language, and Technology Research group at Portland State has been investigating the experiences of new-to-computer adult users acquiring digital literacy within self-paced, tutor-facilitated learning environments.  The learners were participating in programs funded by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Project located in multiple sites across the United States. This project was specifically focused on better understanding the adults’ learning processes.

Learn more about the Tutor-Facilitated Digital Literacy in Hard-to-Serve Populations project in a free webinar on March 5 from 10 – 11 a.m. PST. Click here to register.

A library tutor teaches an adult how to use the computer.

After analyzing the transcripts from learners and tutors, we found that the successful learner moves along a predictable learning path. Within this path, there are three distinct phases. The Entry phase is driven by the learners’ life goals, how they were recruited, and what motivates them. Throughout the Program Interaction phase, the learners’ motivation and practice (in tandem with tutor support, the Learner Web, and the lab environment) all work towards completion of learning goals. These elements interact to propel successful learners forward in their learning. Often, learners work independently and at their own pace. During this time, they experience a growing sense of confidence and self-efficacy. When learners are working within the program, they move through periods of Discovery and Goal Setting, uncovering new content and skills that prompt them to reassess their understanding of what is possible in the digital world. As learners’ understanding, skills, and goals broaden, they trace a growing orbit through digital spaces.

At times, learners may experience Roadblocks in their learning. For successful learners, roadblocks can be overcome with support from tutors, other learners, family and friends, along with their growing sense of confidence and self-efficacy. When learners approach roadblocks and are experiencing frustration, the tutors step in to provide support as needed. For example, Marjory, an 80-year-old participant, described how she gained confidence to solve problems on her computer. She explained:

“You can’t go to the telephone and just ask anybody, because they have to see what kind [of computer] you’ve got. Even the lab coordinator would have to sit down, or her helper that she had, they’d have to sit down and try a few things first and then they’d come up with it. And the teenage mentor I had, he did that too. He said, “I don’t have one like that, I’ll have to see what I can find.” And he’d usually find it, but it wouldn’t be like he’d have it right at the tip of his tongue. So I decided if they have to look for stuff, why can’t I look for stuff? So I do.”

After learners leave the program, they continue moving through the Discovery and Goal Setting process with support from family, friends, and community resources (such as the library or community based organizations). Learners also experience Impact and Skills Integration, where they rely on the self-confidence gained through the learning process. They learn to find help on their own through resources such as Google, tutorials, help menus, or by experimentation/trial and error.

We are continuing to analyze and explore our data to better understand how programs are designed and implemented in libraries, adult education, community based organizations, and other settings. We’re also interested in examining how tutors work to support adult learners as they acquire digital literacy skills. What has become clear, though, is that learners who stick with the program experience a transformation in their lives. Senior citizens have told us how getting on computers and the Internet has decreased their isolation and has allowed them to stay economically viable through self-employment. An incarcerated individual who took part in digital literacy learning activities, as part of a re-entry program, shared with us how being a mentor in the program allowed him to discover that he enjoyed, and was good at, helping others. Displaced workers have expressed that they now feel more prepared to re-enter the job market, and parents talked about how learning computers and the Internet now allows them to better understand the world of their children.

We look forward to sharing additional findings from this project with you on our project dissemination website. We’ll also be presenting a paper at the Knowledge, Technology, and Society Conference in Berkeley, CA on Monday, Feb. 23, and sharing research findings at the COABE conference in Denver from Monday, April 20 to Friday, April 24.

Posted in Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, National Leadership Grants | 1 Comment

The STEM Challenge Is on the Road!

By Barrie Adleberg
Manager, STEAM Learning Programs
E-Line Media

In the culmination of Computer Science Education Week, the Free Library of Philadelphia Maker Jawn program hosted this year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge kick-off game design workshop as the Hour of Code flagship event. In the afternoon of December 13, 16 youth in grades 5-11 from across the city gathered at the Lillian Marrero Branch of the Free Library with a shared curiosity, looking to explore what goes into making a video game. The workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and other STEM Challenge partners and sponsors.

Storyboard of creating a video game

The workshop introduced students to systems thinking by engaging them in the iterative process of storyboarding original games. Together, we deconstructed popular games and mapped elements of design to our examples with the understanding that games are systems. Participants were enthralled in the design process. While making their own physical, playable games, and play-testing the games made by their peers, deeper questions arose including, “What makes someone good at this game?” and “How does someone win this game?” Participants then took these questions into the digital space as they explored the self-paced play, modification, and design platform, Gamestar Mechanic.

Kids playing with game pieces

Our guest professional game designer of honor and Co-Founder of Artizens Inc. , Charles Amis, shared his personal story about how he became a game designer. The idea that careers in gaming are accessible was incredibly powerful. One participant told us, “This workshop has shown me how easy it is to jump into the video game design field/industry.”

Professional game designer  Charles Amis speaking to kids at the workshop

The STEM Challenge workshop series is on the road in full force! Interested in attending a game design workshop? To find out if we will be in a location near you, please check out the events calendar on This website also offers resources for teachers and parents to support game design learning.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Education Support, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Leave a comment

StoryCorps Interview: Las Vegas-Clark County Library District

Each year, select museums and libraries with outstanding records of community service receive the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries. IMLS signed a cooperative agreement with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. Beginning with the 2009 awardees, StoryCorps began collecting personal stories demonstrating the ongoing impact of these award-winning institutions.

2014 National Medal Winner Las Vegas-Clark County Library District

Ivy and Van Whaley

Ivy and Van Whaley

“I’ll tell you my favorite memory of going to the library with you. And this was even before you were in Kindergarten…”

Van Whaley and his ten-year-old daughter Ivy talk about their favorite things to do at the Las Vegas-Clark County libraries.

Listen to their story here:

Download Transcript

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Early Learning, Education Support, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, National Medal for Museum and Library Service, StoryCorps | Leave a comment