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Google Cultural Institute: Now new and improved

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I’ll admit it. I’ve been on a Google kick lately, especially with the recent release of some new Google gadgets. Led some on-site Chromebook trainings. Hooked a few people on the power of Cardboard. And there have been several recent presentations focused on under-appreciated Google tools for social studies teachers.

It was during my trip to and a preso at ISTE that I ran across significant changes to one of my favorite under-appreciated tools, the Google Cultural Institute. It was a little awkward. Have you ever gone to a Google tool and it’s different than when you last visited?

Yeah. That was me. Together the session participants and I all headed to the Cultural Institute and . . . it was not the same. My collections were in a different place. The ability to annotate items in my collections were gone. Finding historical places and their 3D versions was a different process. Even the name was different. Now it’s called Google Arts & Culture.


But as I’ve played with it since then, the new and improved GAC (Cause using Google Arts & Culture is just too much.) has grown on me. If you’ve never been to the site, this is truly one of those tools that needs to be in your instructional tool belt. We’re always looking for primary sources. For artifacts. For places that provide evidence for our students to use. The AC gives you access to millions of items to use as part of instruction and learning.

Basically the GAC is a database of artwork, objects, artifacts, and documents from hundreds of collections around the world. These partners – public museums, galleries and cultural institutions  – also provide such things as 3D tour views and street-view maps that allow you to “walk” through the partner sites. It’s “an effort to make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations.”

So what kinds of things can you find at the improved GAC?

At the basic level, you can find artwork, history, and geographic places.

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But within that structure, there is so much more. Seriously. It is incredibly easy to stop in for a quick search and surface an hour later, having gotten sucked into whatever cool thing lead to the next cool thing that lead to 3D tour of some cool place.

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For social studies teachers, the best place to start is probably Historical Events. You’ll find hundreds of specific topics such as World War Two or the 1960 presidential election. You can sort the events in a variety of ways but I like the Timeline option. Simply drag the timeline to the period you’re curious about and the result reset themselves.

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But you should also check out Historical Figures. You can sort the results in the same way – alphabetically or by the timeline option.

Places provides a way for you to search the database for items specific to a geographic place. This is also where you can drill down to Streetview options for different places. Clicking any of the Partner links opens up a page with a Streetview icon. You can also simply scroll down the main Places page and see items with a Streetview icon.

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A map search option here in Places would be nice. Maybe it’s coming later. Because there is already a map option available in a different section. Click the menu in the top left and select Partners. Choose Map and you get the chance to drill down to specific museums to view their collections. (If there is a 3D option for that partner, you’ll see a similar Streetview icon like the one above.)

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But wait. There’s more. Select Projects from the top left menu and you’ll get access to a wide variety of collected topics such as Black History / Culture and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. You’ll get exhibits, items, videos, and Streetviews related to that topic.

Perhaps the most useful tool is Collections. You and students can favorite items from all of these different places and then organize those favorited items into personalized groupings. These personalized collections can be private or shared publicly. This does require you to login to CI with your Google account. Use this feature to create and share evidence with students or have students create their own collections.

At least one disappointment here. The old version of GAC allowed you and students to annotate individual items in their personal collections. That function seems to have been deleted from the upgrade. The annotation feature was a handy way to connect research, content, and historical thinking skills right there in the tool. As in . . . ask kids to find five images depicting John Brown at various times in his life, place them in a specific order, and require them to attach their sourcing and contextual thinking to individual items.

And I’m not sure of a good work around. Perhaps kids could still create collections within CI. Then in a Google Doc they would link to their collection and include their sourcing info within the Doc. CI doesn’t seem to allow copy and paste functions so linking back to an item or a collection may be the only way to connect CI with the Doc. (Though I suppose kids could grab a screenshot of an item to include in the Doc.)

Some added bonus features?

  • I love the idea of using artwork as part of social studies instruction. You’ll find millions of pieces of artwork and artifacts by selecting Artists, Mediums, or Art Movements from the top left menu. (This is also a perfect place for you World History folks looking for primary sources.) You’ll be able to sort items by name, time, place, popularity, and even by color.
  • Over 1300 digital reproductions of selected paintings in gigapixel resolution. Images contain around 7 billion pixels, enabling the viewer to study details of the brushwork and patina beyond what is possible with the naked eye.
  • Get apps from individual partners.
  • Take advantage of CI’s YouTube Channel.

So head over. Get sucked in. Because when you and your kids take full advantage of GAC, they’ll leave your classroom this fall smarter than when they walked in.


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