Website review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2020

Smithsonian Open Access

Stellar museum-based resources available for exploration and use

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Grades
3–12
Subjects & Skills
Arts, Science, Social Studies, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Free, quality primary sources on tons of subjects; cross-referenced collections lead to critical thinking; integrated into other Smithsonian educational tools.

Cons: Search and browsing is good but not great. Learning support is inconsistent since the site collects from many other sites.

Bottom Line: This high-quality collection of museum resources -- ranging from artifacts to full-blown exhibits -- provides unlimited exploration for students, reliable primary sources for teachers.

Teachers can make use of the wonderful resources in Smithsonian Open Access for in-class lessons, as resources for students' research or projects, or for exploration of museum holdings and exhibits. Since the primary sources include images, text, video, audio, 3D models, and more across subject areas such as history, science, art, and culture, there's enough here for just about any classroom or curious student. Additional material on the site that's not designated as public domain may also still be usable for education under fair use.

Start by exploring the featured remixes done by other organizations and individuals. Then give your students an assignment to create something wholly brand-new with some of the materials on the site in relation to a recent class lesson. If you're still stuck for ideas, visit the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which uses resources from Smithsonian Open Access that have been organized into collections; you can also create your own collections, class rosters, and assignments.

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Smithsonian Open Access is a free website collecting almost three million digitized items -- as well as archived exhibits and interactives -- from the Smithsonian's collections. Smithsonian Open Access has released these artifacts under a Creative Commons license, so users can download, share, use, and remix the artifacts without requiring the Smithsonian's permission. The site includes text, images, interactive 3D models, research data sets, sound recordings, and more from across the holdings of the 19 Smithsonian museums, plus research centers, libraries, archives, and even the National Zoo. Visitors to the site can browse through the Open Access Highlights, or search for something specific, filtering by type of item or subject matter. When you look at any item in the collection, you can also view related themed collections, if available. Some collections are organized around past museum exhibits.

The artifacts are impressively varied, from a 3D model of the Wright Brothers' flyer to a photo of the typewriter used by Octavia Butler, from a marble bust of Mrs. Calvin Coolidge to a detailed collection of information for the Clausilia fargesinanella. For the more tech-minded, resources can be made use of via the API and GitHub developer tools, Figshare (for using research data sets), and the Smithsonian Learning Lab, a useful hub for teachers.

Given the expansion collection on offer -- and the expertly curated exhibitions and collections -- Smithsonian Open Access is one of the most expansive resources for open-ended and engaging exploration of social studies, science, and art. Having this extensive resource at their fingertips allows students to learn formally or informally, being guided by their creativity, research skills, and curiosity. Because students don't need to worry about whether they have permission to use these sources, that frees them up to think about what they can do with them. This trustworthy resource includes all the background that students will need for each digitized item and makes it easy to find related materials in the Smithsonian collections.

The materials on the site can be used for research papers, presentations, art projects, publications -- even for putting on products to sell. The Open Access Remix projects can provide students inspiration for how to use some of the resources on the site. The materials can be used as primary sources and citations, and the images and other file types themselves can be downloaded and included in student work, either as-is or however the student chooses to modify them.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Students who have a goal in mind can perform a detailed search to find resources, while others can browse the featured resources and see where it takes them, lured by interesting visuals. Curious minds will be delighted by the possibilities.

Pedagogy

This open-ended collection of resources provides building blocks for research projects, creative assignments, and lessons, allowing students to use, transform, and remix sources from across the Smithsonian's collections.

Support

The site includes inspirational remixes done by organizations and people, which can give teachers ideas of how to use the resources in their own classrooms.


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