eMuseums connects students to art, history

Ashley Green

In a world that is becoming increasingly digitally focused, ISU Museums has created an online database known as eMuseum.

The database, created last fall, is an online addition to a pre-existing software, The Museum System. It is compatible with smartphones and tablets.

“eMuseum will give a broader audience the opportunity to plan educational opportunities, conduct research and virtually tour the collections of the various museums on campus,” according to its Techstarter website. “Exploring the visual and cultural arts at Iowa State University.”

Nancy Gebhart, educator of visual literacy and learning at University Museums, puts things more simply. 

“Our primary goal is to reach students on campus and to reach the Iowa State community,” Gebhart said.

The database covers each of the five University Museums entities, including the Christian Petersen Art Museum, the Farm House Museum, the Brunnier Art Museum, the Anderson Sculpture Garden and the Art on Campus collection.

Gebhart uses the database when she teaches students visual literacy.

The practice of visual literacy is about increasing and improving critical thinking, communications skills and evidential reasoning. This includes the ability to read and interpret objects available to them at the museums and later apply the knowledge.

“Those are all skills that anybody needs, no matter what their major is or no matter what they’re studying on campus,” Gebhart said.

Gebhart works with students of varying majors in every college of the university. Recently, she had all of the students in Industrial Engineering 348 visit the University Museums.

“In addition to talking about the things that were in the exhibits, I pulled out some special objects for them to talk about mold making and casting processes that we’ve done on campus with the Art on Campus collection,” Gebhart said.

The experience lined up with the class’s current focus: mold making. The experience showed students how the same types of factory processes are used in the fine arts.

Gebhart also speaks to Human Development and Family Studies 240, a children’s literature class, every semester. In the class, Gebhart discusses the necessity of visual literacy when teaching children how to read picture books.

“When we stop teaching [visual literacy] is when we stop reading picture books,” Gebhart said.

Students in the class take their visual literacy skills and apply them to a picture book and to their coursework.

Through the database, Gebhart is also able to pull aside specific objects for classes, which are chosen by the professor.

Gebhart does work like the previous examples in about 40 classes each semester.

In total, the project cost came to about $19,000. A Techstarter grant from the Information Technology Services Department helped fund the database.

“It was funded by a Techstarter proposal because of its obvious benefit for coursework and academic use on campus,” said Jim Twetten, director of ITS I in the Information Technology Services Department.