Review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2017

Google Arts & Culture

Excellent curation and an unmatched art collection invite exploration

Subjects & skills
  • Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Communication & Collaboration
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Pros: Easy to search for and find art related to historical events, sites, movements, and media.

Cons: Teachers may be confused about the different types of resources at first; no lesson plans provided.

Bottom Line: A one-stop shop for a vast amount of compellingly curated and contextualized art, but it's lacking educator supports.

In an Art History course, students can explore the site to fuel their own study, or teachers can incorporate works that represent specific artists, media, or movements in teacher-directed lessons. In a Studio Art course, teachers may want to use the site to model different styles that students will learn about and apply to their own works of art. For United States or World History courses, students can take virtual tours of historical sites or museum exhibits related to an event. Environmental Science teachers may want to have their students watch videos or examine artifacts to explore national parks. Regardless of the subject area, teachers can direct students to the site for research that would add to a more complex view of a time period or area of study. 

Teachers will be specifically interested in the Favorites feature of Google Arts & Culture, which allows both teachers and students to create custom collections. Teachers should also check out the Themes section, which features expertly curated resources, including readings. These resources may inspire lessons or units, or students could be invited to explore and choose one theme to use as a springboard for a research project. Also, make sure to check out the Nearby filter: It displays the collections closest to your region. This can be an excellent way to familiarize students with all the great art within their reach.

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Google Arts & Culture is both a website and an iOS or Android app that provides free access to art collections from around the world. The site is well-organized and easy to navigate. The search tool allows users to explore by museums' collections or themes and to filter by movement, artist, historical event, historical figure, medium, and more. In addition to basic searches, you can find the latest news related to museums, collections, and events as well as locate nearby places to visit in person (with media of their collections). There are layers and layers of resources, from visual media of artifacts to virtual tours (familiar to users of the now defunct Google Art Project) to "stories," which provide written context to a series of artifacts. When students dig into a historical event, for instance, they'll find curated stories, images, artifacts, and timelines from a wide range of collections. The site also includes links to interactive experiments that demonstrate the interplay between technology, art, and science. Beyond just exploring, users can "favorite" what they find and create their own collection, which could align with a specific classroom activity or assignment. 

The "Is Your Portrait in a Museum?" feature, which is exclusive to the app, went viral in early 2018. This feature allows users to take a selfie and get matched with paintings from the app's library. Students are likely to love this feature, but beyond discovering some artists the learning potential is slim. This feature has also been criticized for offering few decent matches for people of color.

There's no doubt that incorporating more art and culture into the classroom -- no matter the subject -- is good for learning. Google Arts & Culture makes this easier, providing teachers and students with an incredible collection of resources that will enhance any lesson, activity, or assignment. The challenge for teachers is that it's completely up to them as to how to best use the site to support student learning. While the site's collections are easily browsable and well-curated with tons of compelling material, there are no lesson plans or even an introductory tutorial to introduce what's on offer. That being said, the curated collections will readily offer connections to your existing curriculum, and could also inspire new lessons or units. The thematic collections themselves (blending all types of media and commentary) can give students a model for how to do their own curatorial work in an Art History or History class.

In terms of learning, there are a few standout offerings. The virtual tours of museums and sites, videos, experiments, and artifacts are particularly engaging for students. The Favorites feature can allow teachers to share curated media with students, or enable students to create collections to demonstrate knowledge. Pairing this curation with writing assignments could be fruitful. For schools that don't regularly take field trips or aren't close to many museums, the museum-based browsing can offer a fair approximation.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

The compelling collections will appeal to art and history lovers. Students will enjoy exploring museums around the world, and the well-curated collections will add new dimensions to learning. 

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Although there is no curriculum that accompanies the site, teachers can easily incorporate the site's media into lessons to add depth and context. 

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

There's no support for using the site educationally, and the site could use scaffolding to explain the resources on offer. However, it's easy enough to browse and search through with clear descriptions of each resource.

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Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

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