The National Geographic Society has brought armchair explorers to the furthest reaches of the globe since its formation in 1888. Whether you read the magazine, enjoy the TV specials or frequent the museum here in D.C., there is no doubt you have learned something from National Geographic. As we all continue to hunker down in our homes, National Geographic is expanding its online museum and educational programming so that everyone may continue exploring everything the world has to offer.
Though it may not be the same as visiting the iconic museum grounds in person, exhibits have been moved online for your viewing pleasure. “Becoming Jane: The Evolution of Dr. Jane Goodall” virtual tour provides an in-depth look at Goodall’s life, from her childhood love of Dr. Dolittle to her expedition to the Gombe forest studying chimpanzees. Each part of the exhibit has been filmed and posted online, so viewers can feel as if they’re physically on location.
Kathryn Keane, Vice President of Public Programming and Director of the National Geographic Museum, explains that because many of the exhibits are media-heavy, it was a “Natural step to simply upload that media online.” The museum is currently working on providing a virtual reality format for the online exhibits, and has plans for Goodall to record herself reading Dr. Dolittle.
“Having an online exhibition is not the same as coming and experiencing it in person at the museum,” Keane admits. “But it is still a powerful and important teaching tool.”
Each year, the museum displays two to three new exhibitions which are all National Geographic stories from the magazine.
“We want people to feel like they’re stepping into the pages of the magazine in our exhibits,” Keane says.
Though the Jane Goodall exhibit is the only one currently available to tour virtually, more stories are on the way. The museum is planning on publishing its “Women: A Century of Change” exhibition on August 18, 2020 to celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
While the production of the exhibit looking at Everest expeditions in 2019 was put on hold in response to Covid-19, Keane and her team hope to have the exhibit up and running by the end of the 2020. Revisiting stories from explorers by watching past live talks is also a great way to enjoy what the museum has to offer, and though new stories won’t arrive until after this has passed, there is still a lot to be learned from the archives of National Geographic.
“We like to keep going back to these stories because the audience is ever changing and renewing with each generation,” Keane states.
In the future, the National Geographic Museum will once again open its doors to all explorer enthusiasts. Keane knows that museums are a cultural cornerstone in society, and cannot wait to be able to share these stories in person again. For now, she and the National Geographic team will continue translating its stories and exhibits onto new platforms, bringing the museum to people all over the world.
“This year has changed our world in so many ways, but museums will survive,” Keane concludes. “They’re a repository of our shared history, people will always go to learn about their past and get insight into their future.”
In addition to the museum and magazine, National Geographic offers educational resources to teachers and students all over the world. National Geographic Education offers digital and in-the-field resources for all levels of education, and has been doing so since before distance learning was enforced.
The Real-Time Curriculum Project was recently developed by one of the 2020 National Geographic Education Fellows, specifically providing a curriculum focused on current events and Covid-19. Vicki Phillips, executive vice president and chief education officer for National Geographic, says its educational programming has been adapted to best help teachers and students as they navigate at-home learning.
“As schools started to close, we began to hear from educators that our resources were being utilized but were somewhat hard to navigate,” Phillips states. “We took immediate action and began curating education collections that we knew could be done at home with found materials.”
There has already been positive feedback to the educational resources provided by National Geographic. One young girl from Hawaii has diligently tuned into the National Geographic live talks with explorers, and afterwards draws cartoon strips outlining everything she has learned. “That is the type of excitement for education we love to see,” Phillips says.
As everyone continues to learn from home, Phillips and her team are dedicated to providing the best resources and speakers they can to students and teachers. Every day at 2p.m. EST, one of 120 explorers from all seven continents volunteer to participate in the interactive Explorer Classroom and share their knowledge with the audience. On Friday, May 15, National Geographic Explorer and founder of the Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, joined the Explorer Classroom to share a photo of the 10,000th species featured in the National Geographic Photo Ark.
Spanish and sign language explorer classrooms are now being offered too, so all explorers are included.
“With our reach, kids and adults from all over the world have access to things they would never have been able to experience otherwise,” Phillips says.
One day, students and teachers will be able to return to their traditional classroom setting, but even then, National Geographic will continue to expand its offerings and advance through immersive technology. Its data, maps, videos and expansive video library will continue to be available for any who wish to utilize the carefully curated learning materials.
“Hopefully, as teachers and students go back to the classroom, they find these tools as helpful as they did at home” Phillips says of the future.
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