Cranbrook visit_sm

Using Digital Tools to Preserve and Share Historic Spaces and Traditions

Yesterday, three members of the Hekademia and Virtual High School teams had the privilege of visiting Cranbrook, a private K-12 school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. This school is set in a 320-acre National Historic Landmark campus and has been described as “the most enchanted and enchanting setting in America.” The grand campus is full of architectural gems, incredible museums (with stunning resources and collections), and lower, middle and upper schools that provide students with a unique educational experience. We were in awe.

We left feeling inspired by the creativity and innovation at Cranbrook, and the visit prompted an interesting discussion about “place” and learning spaces. We are passionate about the potential of digital spaces for learning at VHS and Hekademia, and were especially intrigued by this question:

Is it possible to capture and preserve a presence like Cranbrook’s—with over a century of history, stories, and traditions, where collaborative creativity and curious exploration are built into the architecture–in a digital environment?

The answer isn’t simple, but the possibilities are tremendously exciting. As we learned yesterday, even the process of making the campus WiFi-friendly is a daunting task; 100-year old buildings weren’t designed with electricity in mind, let alone WiFi. The buildings are, however, being used as incredible maker-spaces: every museum, archive, and institute is designed to be a classroom. Students have the resources, tools, and spaces to create masterpieces in their disciplines. It was truly inspiring to see such creativity in virtually every area.

The three of us had the opportunity to meet with Cranbrook’s passionate leaders and educators to discuss the future of education. We all agreed about the importance of teaching 21st century skills and felt that students expect technology to be integrated into education. But over the course of the day, we couldn’t help asking: how can one preserve, and promote an experience like Cranbrook’s while using digital tools? TweetThe leaders at Cranbrook have some extremely exciting ideas.

From our “outsiders’” perspectives, we were personally interested in how digital environments could be used to share that experience with more students from around the world. Cranbrook’s collections and resources are mind-boggling. Students in Michigan currently visit Cranbrook on class trips, and Cranbrook’s museum Curators tour State schools with travelling exhibits. Wouldn’t it be amazing to extend their reach with digitized artifacts and online exhibits? And here’s an even more exciting possibility: how can we use technology to build artistic digital spaces? Tweet For example, students could create digital exhibits using the artifacts in Cranbrook’s collection. Students could build a digital model of the Cranbrook campus and provide virtual tours that discuss the architecture, history, and geography of the community. The possibilities of extending their maker space into the virtual world are exciting. A physical space as impressive as Cranbrook’s should be shared and extended.

Thank you for the inspiration, Cranbrook; we’re excited about the possibility of visiting again!

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