Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Goal Directed Inquiry Via Exhibit Design: Engaging with History through the Lens of Baseball

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Goal Directed Inquiry Via Exhibit Design: Engaging with History through the Lens of Baseball

Article excerpt

The study of a culture's images, works of art, photographs, and stories can be a source of great instructional leverage, not only to convey principles associated with the artifacts themselves, but also as an anchor for exploring related facets of a society, including, for example, its political structures, social and economic dynamic, and popular culture. Such cultural artifacts can help establish a framework for historical and contemporary inquiry where students become active participants in seeking and applying new knowledge. This article introduces an explicit instructional framework, called Virtual Galleries that situates learning within an exhibit development context. A student in this learning environment assumes the role of a museum curator, engaging in exploration and synthesis through the process of defining an organizing theme for the exhibition and by providing commentary that elucidates the exhibit. The Abner project, a web-based application that allows end-users to create exhibitions using the co llections of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is presented and it is built according to the principles of the Virtual Gallery model.

The study of a culture's artifacts, from works of art to domestic accessories, can be a source of great instructional leverage. While such objects are often compelling simply on the basis of surface features, they can also provide an immediate and interesting anchor for exploring larger societal and cultural issues. The Abner Project (Abner) is a World Wide Web-based learning environment that draws upon artifacts from the collections of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to spur the examination of issues of civil rights, gender equity, political power, popular culture, and foreign affairs. Abner is an instance of a Virtual Gallery, a framework that calls for such historical and contemporary inquiry by situating learning within an exhibit development context and allowing the student to adopt the role of curator. The Abner environment (or any Virtual Gallery application) is an arena for students to explore and analyze selected artifacts, develop findings, and synthesize these findings into a coherent, shareabl e, and interactive presentation. This presentation of Abner serves to illustrate the principles of the Virtual Gallery model, and subsequent discussions highlight the prospective benefits of this approach as well as issues that remain to be resolved.


Primary motivation for this work comes from shortcomings in classroom instruction that arise when knowledge and concepts become separated from the contexts in which they naturally occur and present some utility. A secondary motivation is the conviction that technology (when appropriately designed and applied) can go a long way toward addressing these shortcomings. Objections to conventional notions of classroom instruction have been raised since the advent of contemporary classrooms, notably by Whitehead (1929), who, in his seminal work, The Aims of Education, identified what he considered to be the central problem of education--battling the transmission of "inert ideas," or "ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations" (p. 13). Despite his enthusiastic efforts to the contrary, research dated 60 years after Whitehead's initial expose shows that the inert knowledge problem has persisted in contemporary education. In 1989, Brown, Collins, an d Duguid observed, "it is common for students to acquire algorithms, routines, and decontextualized definitions that they cannot use and that, therefore, lie inert" (p. 33).

Empirical Evidence for the Inert Knowledge Problem

Brown, Collins, and Duguid based their observations in part on a study that compared how children are taught new vocabulary in the classroom with how they learn words in informal environments (Miller & Gildea, 1987, as cited in Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). …

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