Pioneer Sunday at UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

By Brandon Anioł
Educational Specialist, UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Spring break is an exciting way to greet the prospect of warmer weather. In San Antonio, Texas, the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) is encouraging visitors to discover the roots of home gardening and nutrition. Over spring break, the ITC presented Pioneer Sunday and Texas Frontier Week, public programs linking modern home gardening with interpretations of historic agriculture. The museum served nearly 2000 visitors throughout the course of the week, many of whom participated in family activities that stimulated exploration in home gardening, organic farming, and nutrition.

ITC docents present interpretations of historic agriculture in Texas.

ITC docents present interpretations of historic agriculture in Texas.

A Let’s Move! museum, the ITC is committed to bridging the gaps between the past, the present, and the future. Everyone loves to eat, but most people are unaware of where their food comes from, both physically and historically. Presented on Sunday, March 9, Pioneer Sunday featured living history interpreters working alongside botanists and master gardeners. This juxtaposition motivated visitors to think about food holistically and how our relationship with agriculture has changed over time. The centerpiece of the event was an antique tractor show, presented by the Utopia, Texas Independent School District Future Farmers of America program. The FFA build-teams restored each tractor as part of a year-long course offered through Utopia, TX ISD. Each tractor build-team consisted entirely of high school students, including one all-girl team.

Students from Utopia, TX ISD Future Farmers of America Program stand behind their tractors.

Students from Utopia, TX ISD Future Farmers of America Program stand behind their tractors. The all-girl build team restored the 1949 Farmall Cub they are standing behind. They competed and won blue ribbon in three different stock shows across Texas this year.

Texas Frontier Week, presented March 10-14, extended the experience of past and present and the possibilities of the future to visitors enjoying the spring break. Both Pioneer Sunday and Texas Frontier Week achieved support from organizations across South Texas, including the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Bexar County Master Gardeners, San Antonio Food Bank, the Future Farmers of America and the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.

Bexar County Master Gardeners offer visitors tips for home gardening.

Bexar County Master Gardeners offer visitors tips for home gardening.

The Institute of Texan Cultures is a component of the University of Texas at San Antonio. It pursues its mandate as the state’s center for multicultural education by investigating the ethnic and cultural history of the state and presenting stories through exhibits, programs, workshops, and special events. The Institute is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The ITC proudly presents the 43rd Texas Folklife Festival in June, an extension of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. For more information, visit

Posted in Cultural Heritage/Sustainability, Health, Let's Move! Museums & Gardens | Leave a comment

Letting the Sun Shine In: How Open Data Furthers Open Government

By Maria Raviele
Evaluation Officer, IMLS

This week marks Sunshine Week, celebrating the importance of both open government and open information.  At IMLS, we believe that open government and transparency are essential to ensuring the success of the agency’s mission.

One of the most important ways that we can promote transparency and accountability is by publicly releasing our administrative grant data. This data helps show exactly how tax dollars are being spent to improve libraries and museums, and ultimately, contribute to the public good. As such, IMLS recently released administrative data of awarded discretionary grants for the years 1996 to 2013. This data release continues the agency’s participation in President Obama’s open government initiative. It also adheres to IMLS’ own policies related to open government and open data.

Transparency and accountability are key components of open government and open information policies. Releasing administrative data provides greater transparency to the IMLS grant-making process; it’s a record of who and what IMLS has funded. By administrative data, we mean data that is drawn from administrative or business records. It is primarily collected for internal use, but when used to analyze trends, it becomes a powerful tool to look at change over time. In the case of IMLS, our administrative data revolves mainly around the grant process.

There is an increasing interest in providing access to administrative data for statistical purposes.  Data provided in machine-readable formats help researchers and other interested parties access the information more easily. Administrative data can be used to identify where IMLS funds are awarded, the types of projects that are funded, and the institutions and researchers receiving funding. IMLS is joining the ranks of other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities, in releasing comprehensive administrative data sets for research.

This data release also contributes to the need for greater data related to arts, culture, and informal learning initiatives across the United States. Data related to these sectors are woefully lacking when compared to available data on STEM and formal education initiatives, as discussed in a recent Cultural Data Project report. The IMLS administrative data release provides another layer of information to help fill this gap. More data on arts and culture programs helps with planning, policy research, and building a more robust conversation about the social impact of these programs.

Posted in Research | Leave a comment

Digital Badging: An opportunity for libraries and museums

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

From that scouting badge to a high school diploma to a certificate for continuing education credits, most of us have been collecting physical artifacts that recognize our achievements throughout our lives. As more and more learning is offered online or with an online component, there is a growing movement to recognize skills-based achievements with digital badges.

Many voices are chiming in to explore how digital badging may become part of our lives and help to document our achievements in both formal and informal settings. From federal agencies like the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and IMLS to foundations like the MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Mozilla, there are new ideas, research, and innovative practices being developed that could help transform how we document what we know.

Here at IMLS we have just announced a grant to create a digital badging system specifically for libraries. The project will be launched this summer in Brooklyn Public Library and in several partner libraries. The project aims to test a digital badging system within a library environment, evaluate the technology, and present a model that can be adopted by other libraries.

At our WebWise conference in February we got an update on another IMLS-funded badging project – this one at a museum. The State Historical Museum of Colorado is working on a project to help children in the fourth, seventh, and eleventh grades achieve learning standards.  The badges will benefit teachers who are being asked to teach new content with new standards through a variety of teacher resources and professional development opportunities across Colorado. This project will address the statewide initiative to expand the teaching of Colorado history across grade levels.

Academic libraries are part of the mix too. Purdue University is using IMLS funds to develop CrowdAsk, to allow librarians, students, and faculty to ask and answer questions about library resources and tools. CrowdAsk will support ranking of questions and answers and use scores and badges for user motivation. The project addresses issues of fragmented library and academic help channels, content reuse and preservation, and lack of user (particularly expert) participation. CrowdAsk will be open source and shared with the public. The project will give users power to support others in getting research help.

Are you interested in learning about digital badging? Here are some resources to explore:

Expanding Educational and Workforce Opportunities through Digital Badges, a publication of Mozilla and the Alliance for Excellence in Education

STEM Badges: Current Terrain and the Road Ahead, a report on an NSF-supported research project by Michelle M. Riconscente, Amy Kamarainen, and Margaret Honey

Digital Media and Learning project at the Mac Arthur Foundation

Mozilla’s open badges project

Let us know your ideas about how libraries and museums can use digital badges to inspire a nation of learners!

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Education Support, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy) | 2 Comments

NTIA Brings Broadband Opportunities to Alaska

Ed note: This is a cross post of the NTIA Blog. Click here to see the original post.

By Anne Neville
Director, State Broadband Initiative
Last week, I traveled to Anchorage for the annual economic summit hosted by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a non-profit regional economic development organization. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is working to improve the quality of life and drive responsible development across the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Pribilof Islands.

Last week’s summit had a packed agenda, covering everything from energy conservation to sustainable fishing practices. One big topic of conversation was broadband and the power of high-speed Internet to open up economic, educational and social opportunities in some of the poorest, most isolated communities in our nation.

It’s no wonder that the Alaska state nickname is “The Last Frontier.” The state is more than double the size of Texas, with more than 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of shoreline, and 29,000 square miles of ice fields. But with fewer than 750,000 residents, Alaska includes some of the most remote, sparsely populated pockets of the U.S. Many Alaska Natives reside in tiny villages with just a few hundred people and lead subsistence lifestyles.

Broadband offers these communities a way to connect with the wider world and access everything from online classes to healthcare services to job opportunities. It also offers Alaska Natives a way to preserve their indigenous culture for future generations and share it with a global audience.

At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, we see first-hand evidence of this through our investments in several Alaska broadband projects:

  • With funding from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska State Library established public computer centers at 97 public libraries across the state. The federal investment helped pay for computers and terrestrial and satellite Internet connections, as well as an innovative videoconferencing network. It also helped pay for digital literacy training to help local residents take advantage of everything from electronic commerce and e-government services to online job interviews and distance education offerings.
  • The Online with Libraries – or Alaska OWL – project is using the new videoconferencing capability in all sorts of creative ways. The Juneau Library organized a virtual field trip for local children to see dinosaurs on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. The Unalaska City Library hosted a session for students in a local high school carpentry class to learn about a union apprenticeship program from the training coordinator for the Anchorage-based Local 367 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Union. And libraries in Craig, Haines and Kenai have used the system to facilitate an interactive Shakespeare “Reader’s Theater,” with patrons at each of the libraries taking turns reading play passages.
A new satellite dish installed with BTOP funds in Lake Minchumina, Alaska

A new satellite dish installed with BTOP funds in Lake Minchumina, Alaska


  • Among the archived videoconferences available through the OWL system: a video from the Inupiat Heritage Center that recounts the Inupiaq legend of hunting mammoths near Anaktuvuk Pass, and an introduction to the Tlingit Language that starts with easy words and commonly used phrases.
Videoconferencing in the Craig, Alaska, library with libraries in Anchorage, Juneau and Kenai

Videoconferencing in the Craig, Alaska, library with libraries in Anchorage, Juneau and Kenai

  • The University of Alaska Fairbanks used a separate BTOP award to expand the work of the Alaska Distance Education Consortium, a university-led coalition of partners from across the education, healthcare, social services and non-profit sectors working to expand distance learning opportunities. The federal investment supported a range of projects to help close the digital divide and promote online learning. And it focused much of its work on Alaska Native villages, where the gap is the widest.
  • One project funded through the Distance Education Consortium was a “telehealth coordinator” certificate program run by the non-profit Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program teaches students how to operate videoconferencing systems and telemedicine carts to gather patient data to be transmitted to distant hospitals. The Consortium also supported a program at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center – part of the State Labor Department’s Institute of Technology – that trains rural Internet technicians known as “Village Internet agents.” Another project funded through the Consortium was an online homework help service run by the Alaska Library Network.
  • With funding from NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative Program, Connect Alaska has partnered with the Association of Alaska School Boards to host a series of local technology workshops in a handful of bush villages. At a recent workshop in Chevak, instructors helped build local e-commerce Websites to let residents show off and sell their native artwork, including dolls, baskets and jewelry. At another workshop in Metlakatla, instructors created community Websites and taught residents how to record and upload traditional stories and cultural folklore.
Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

  • Connect Alaska also uses NTIA funding to map broadband availability across the state for the National Broadband Map, and to finance the work of the Statewide Broadband Task Force, which aims to close remaining broadband gaps.
Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

Chevak village elder Maggie Atcherian and her grandson Matt Atcherian display her native artwork for sale online.

These projects show the potential of technology to connect people living in even the most remote corners of the U.S. to tomorrow’s opportunities, and tie them to the rich cultural heritages of their past. We are proud of NTIA’s role in making these projects possible. And we look forward to hearing more stories about how broadband is improving life in The Last Frontier.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Broadband, Economic/Community Development, Health, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational | Comments Off