Forget About Heavy Textbooks – Here Comes Smarthistory

Pictures of an exhibition. (c) www.smarthistory.org
Pictures of an exhibition. (c) www.smarthistory.org

Smarthistory.org is an incredible resource for all people interested in art history: museum visitors, travelers, informal learners, teachers and students. The website is more than a replacement of expensive and heavy textbooks. It uses multimedia to deliver a personal voice through unscripted conversations between art historians while looking at works of art. This is much more than a textbook or a usual audioguide can provide. Smarthistory makes information about art accessible, entertaining and engaging.

Beth Harris and Steven Zucker started Smarthistory as a blog in 2005, featuring podcasts that could be used as free audio guides. They later organized the podcasts stylistically and chronologically and began adding text and images.

In 2008, they received a grant to redesign the site from the Kress Foundation. Now the site itself is a masterpiece of usability. Last year Smarthistory won the renowned Webby Award, “the Internet’s highest (official) honor for excellence” as The New York Times put it, for the best education website.

Visitors can enter and explore smarthistory using several navigation paths, depending on their needs and interests: by timeline, style, artist, and theme, or by using a prominent visual navigation in the center of the homepage or at the bottom of post pages. It’s a a lively, entertaining and even playful approach to art history.

Start (re-)discovering art history with www.smarthistory.org


Goodbye, Rainbow! – UK’s New Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings

dcsf-old-logoWhat may be a new beginning after UK’s election is rather a paradoxical situation: UK’s new education secretary Michael Gove has quickly renamed his department the Department for Education. The former department for children, schools and families (DCSF) came under fire for spending millions on designer furniture and logos. The Conservatives, when in opposition, nicknamed the department the Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings.

The DCSF’s branding – a rainbow emblem and cartoon characters nicknamed “munchkins” – were taken down on May, 13th. The re-branding also includes a redesign of the website. The situation is paradoxical because the new name and look can be seen as a protest against the department’s re-branding and new logos under Mr Goves predecessor Ed Balls.

What will the new education secretary do with the furniture? And what does all this mean for education, children, schools and families? Vistit www.education.gov.uk for further information.



Storytelling for Digital Natives

Smorytellers - www.smories.com
Smorytellers - www.smories.com

Smories are free original stories for kids, read by kids. 50 smories are added every month. Two London-based illustrator/writers Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar got the idea for smories.com during a long journey in a dirty Land Rover from the Kalahari desert in Botswana to Cape Town in South Africa.

Their daughter (8) had the idea to film herself with an ipod reading short stories, and then play them back to her younger sister (6). This kept the kids entertained for hours and inspired their parents to create smories. Thank you for this great idea!

Smories is a free online resource for kids and a nice and simple alternative to sites like youtube where young viewers can easily click away to unknown destinations. But smories is also a new platform for children’s story writers, where they are freed from the usual constraints of having to illustrate their story to have a shot at publication. At Smories.com writers can get their work published online, retaining all rights.

Storytelling when coffee-house and Starbucks weren't synonyms
Storytelling when the coffee-house wasn't Starbucks yet.

(Thank you swissmiss and smories)


604,546 words, 515,991 pronunciations, 241 languages

All the words in the World. Pronounced by native speakers. Forvo was born as an idea in 2007, and is online since January 2008. By now Forvo has become the largest pronunciation guide in the world.

Are you able to pronounce the reason for Europe’s flight disruptions ?

You can browse and search Forvo for free. If you want to add new words or pronunciations you have to sign up – but it is also for free. In my opinion, Forvo is a great and interactive idea, combining the best of the two worlds: the world wide web’s networking feature with all the languages (still) spoken in real life. The language-of-the-day section features languages you might have never heard of before, e.g., Lakota spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes.

Mission Forvo: recording all the words that exist in the world.
Mission Forvo: recording all the words that exist in the world.

Did you ever wonder how to pronounce the name of your favorite foreign artist in his or her mother tongue? I was quite impressed, when I discovered how to pronounce the Icelandic singer in Islandic, the French band in French or the Polish composer in Polish. For non-English speakers it might be insightful to readjust some pronunciation assumptions for the worlds biggest internet companys: , and .

Try out Forvo! It’s fun! www.forvo.com


Teachers Shock Students in 1938

Teacher shocks student
Teacher shocks student (1938)

I found this picture at the Library of Congress. It is entitled: “Teachers shock students at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., Aug. 2”. The photograph reminded me that the use of technology in education sometimes gets really weird. The so called shocking machine, invented by Dr. Willard Hayes Yeager, Head of the department, was intended to take the “ahs” “ers” and “ums” out of the diction of public speaking students. Yeager is shown putting on the shocker to Jane Hampton, 17. When the student made a mistake the professor at the other end of the room notified her by a gentle electric shock. Maybe this took out some “ums”, but it put in some other “ahs” for sure. Will people look back in 70 years from now and wonder, what we were doing when introducing new technology in education? They probably will.