Today we are excited to announce a new project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will explore how teaching and learning with cultural heritage collections and materials is evolving in response to the pandemic. Instructors who seek to use cultural heritage objects from museums, archives, and special collections face unique challenges when adapting to remote teaching. What is needed is deeper understanding of, and better support for these instructors in this current moment. 

This includes attending to what the inequities are in teaching with cultural heritage collections and materials in online instruction, how instructors and their institutions are currently navigating them, and what needs to be improved or changed as a result. For example, during the rapid transition to online instruction engendered by the pandemic, only some institutions could afford to provide additional digital cultural heritage collections available for purchase through third-party vendors. Some institutions were also able to shift labor capacity to digitizing cultural heritage collections on demand for instructors or experiment with teaching models remote instruction is fielded live from a collection. 

A unique partnership model

Informed by research we began prior to the pandemic to explore instructors’ teaching support needs with primary sources, we will conduct a new series of interviews with instructors who teach with cultural heritage materials and collections about how their practices are evolving during the pandemic. The findings from this project will provide evidence about what is needed to support instructors serving a diverse student body as they teach digitally with cultural heritage materials and collections in order to foster equitable educational access to cultural heritage using remote technologies.

To reach these instructors, we will create a cohort of seven institutions to work with us. The cohort partners will include librarians with subject liaison responsibility, archivists with outreach roles, and academic museum staff–all of whom serve as campus leaders in exploring how to effectively teach with cultural heritage materials and collections. We will be prioritizing cohort participation among public institutions with diverse student populations and minority-serving institutions. 

These project partners will help identify interviewees from among instructors at their universities and participate in a series of convenings to foster a network of peer learning and actionable outcomes. Working together with our research cohort partners we will also consider how experiences during the current moment can inform longer-term strategies for fostering equitable educational access to cultural heritage materials and collections using remote technologies.

Looking Ahead

We are currently in the process of developing the cohort of institutions and later this fall we will convene our strategic partners from the project. The first convening will kick-off the project as we prepare for the interviews Ithaka S+R will conduct with instructors in early 2021. In the spring we will have two additional convenings with our strategic partners to discuss the findings and develop recommendations. The project’s public capstone report will be released in early fall 2021 and will be accompanied by a public webinar.

This project is part of Ithaka S+R’s ongoing efforts to track how the pandemic is re-shaping the landscape of higher education.  As part of that work we are currently in the process of developing new projects examining how to best support online instruction in other priority areas, such as computer and electrical engineering, and nursing. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Danielle Cooper (