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Ray Triceratops, Arm-chairs & whatever

Hello Folks,
        First I want to thank individuals that felt the issues brought up were
worth discussing on the list. I very much appreciate the private postings sent
to encourage more discussion. I'll apologise in advance for what will be another
lengthy post, however, there are some things I wish to make clear and again
would hope that there is a more mutual understanding between all parties on some
of these issues.
        First, I am not on a crusade and reiterate my deep appreciation to many
people in the professional community that actively committ  themselves to doing
something from their corner of the world to promote their science and to play a
role in improving science instruction in public education.
        I do not question for an instant the need to preserve and protect from
damage ant type specimen, or extremely rare specimen. At least one person even
indicated that they have denied access to certain fossils to professionals and
occasionally permitted access  to collections by non-professionals. I know that
this happens. I have been fortunate enough to examine museum collections as part
of a behind the scenes tour and in order to work on my own projects relating to
lesson development for public schools. I wish to speak not even about access to
real fossils themselves but rather casts and digitized images of fossils. This
all gets down to collections management issues and ownership of the fossil or
fossil casts and images.
        Sally Shelton writes that she will take anyone through their collection
and it is true, she told me in an earlier post that she would show them the
museum policies unless there is a compelling reason nor to do so. I'd like to
know what would be a compelling reason not to show a citizen a copy of a
collections management policy governing access to specimens? What risk is a
museum possibly exposing itself to by permitting people to see or have a copy
of their policy? Steve Jackson asks in another post is there a standardized
formal or informal text to which curators can refer so they know what to think
about when approached by Edwin Geezer III? Who drafts policies regarding access
to and ownership of collections? Are they established only by the museum
curator and other associated professionals or are these policies established
by the concensus of a more broadly based governing board representative of
all interests the museum serves? Are policies ever up for review? I realize
that collections concerns can be in some ways the very opposite of the public
programming interests of the museum.
        About a year ago I picked up a note via the MUSEUM-L listserver on a
somewhat similar discussion in which an museum professional stated their
belief that collections people have long been toiling for accountability and
accessability. If the paradigm were shifted slightly to accountability FOR
accessability, they thought it would focus even folks in the deepest  recesses
of the museum's most removed off-site storage areas on the reason they collect
and preserve in the first place--to serve our audience of visitors and scholars.
        Wouldn't the public better understand what it takes to run a museum if
there was more communication and education of the management and functioning of
the museum?  Maybe the medium that will allow people to better explore the re-
search aspects of museums while enjoying the exhibition aspects will develop
from this technology we are using here. Why is it that collections responsi-
bilities and education/exhibit concerns have become so separated in the
museum? Is this dichotomy working in the long term interest of the museum?
        This split exists because the people in charge of the collections are
serving a scholarly audience while the education side of the museum focuses on
the public. Out of this circumstance, many problems can and do arise. Are there
ways to properly conserve the objects the collection people are so protective
of and still allow public access to the materials?
        I thought that with fossils the answer would be casts and possibly
digitized images. Often times molds exist for unusual, rare or unique fossils
in a collection. If a mold or even a number of casts from a mold did exist then
why shouldn't an opportunity exist for an amateur or a teacher to use these to
advance their own pursuits. I recognize the arguments about the importance of th
the mineral content and other aspects of the original but those are concerns
primarily for the pro. Dinosaur fossil casts in the hands of a child possess
a tremendous teaching opportunity. Better yet, why not a whole teaching set of
casts that would allow opportunities to compare and contrast, to identify and
collect some quatifiable data and apply that data to what is already known and
to then develop some new understanding. What about developing a master set of 
molds and permitting educators during workshops to make their own casts and
have exciting teaching materials to take home? I thought the ideas were pretty
good and I even found museum people that felt such an idea  might fly until the
issue of ownership came up. 
        It would seem that museums have copyright ownership over objects in the
their collections. Now there are arrangements made by some paleo departments
that permit private companies to hold a mold(s) for specimens in their col
collections and to produce casts for sale to the public. This is a fair enough
idea since it produces some income for a department and gives a fossil_nut  
type a chance to have something really nice in a collection. I've seen these
casts for sale in museum stores and in catalogs. These  reproductions are not
in the affordable range of most educators. If teachers are to provide the
non-boring activity based programs that are a prerequisite of good science
instruction, they need teaching sets not a cast or two for the whole class.
Every teacher doesn't need a set nor does every school. Sets could be shared
between schools. Maybe museums could maintain several sets to loan out in
the fashion of a library. Teacher inservice on utilizing these materials
would be another way of encouraging their use.
        There is a program involving the National Biological Survey and the
U.S. Customs that uses seized animal products for education. Schools can
obtain kits called Cargo for Conservation. Expensive seized items that were
being warehoused are assembled into teaching kits for distribution to schools.
There are requisite guidelines for keeping and using the kits. This is an out-
reach program having tremendous benefits. If these organizations feel they can
release these materials to schools with a level of trust then maybe museums
can permit schools to hold casts without fear of copyright violations.
        What about digital images of museum fossil specimens. I hear how most
museums paleo departments don't have the equipment to do this sort of thing.
Russ Jacobson and the people at Berkeley have done some neat things with this
idea. There is even a guy in Norway with an ftp site  for fossil images. I have
a Quicktake camera and have been doing pictures of my own specimens and others
in private collections. Approach a museum and the ownership and copyright issue
is the reason you can't  take a digital picture of a fossil in their collection.
        I wonder how the people in France felt when images from the recently
discovered cave art went worldwide. They seemed very proud to share with the
world the treasures of their past. I participated in an NSF program that
trained science teachers on accessing and utilizing remote sensing data that
is archived on CD Rom. This scientific data, much of it in the form of digital
images  obtained from satellites was gathered at taxpayer expense and is being
utilized beyond the people it was originally gathered for. NASA and other
agencies are bending over backwards to put their materials into the hands of
educators. There are no copyright concerns over these materials. Advancing
the plight of science education and the image of NASA seems to be their
primary concern. Obviously people at NASA recognize that there is a link
to demonstrating a perceived need for their expertise and resources to getting
the funding they need for future goals and objectives.
        Several people have been posting arguments back and forth on the idea
of paleo collections going on line. Russ Jacobson and Larry Smith are two that
come to mind. I'm grateful to these technovisionaries because they both seem to
see a future with this technology that others refuse to believe will happen.
Educators face an on line quandary of their own. I'm completely perplexed by the
uneasiness of bureaucrats to allocate the funds necessary to implement t
technology in all public schools. The argument that costs are to high is pure
folly. It was after all our political leadership that convinced the nation that
our industrial base was doomed by cheap labor in foreign countries. The only
way for our nation to maintain economic  and leadership status in the world is
with technology and science. Now is the time to put in place the infrastructure
that will support a national initiative of this magnitude and the political
leadership is being indecisive and using money issues to stall any movement.
        Maybe the problrm lies elsewhere. Given the current status of our public
schools, most will agree that they are failing to educate too large a percentage
of the student population, especially in math, science and technology where we
hope our future will be. People in education have been looking for that person
or persons with a new vision for public education that will carry us into the
next millenium. Some people are beginning to see a glimpse of that vision in
the technology we are using here. In a classroom where students can access the
internet teachers observe a kind of controlled chaos. The classroom becomes
theirs with the new technology permitting them to read, speak, explore, exchange
ideas with real people and not just read about people in books or watch them on
tape or film. This is of course what nags at the school officials. Education
administrators see teachers as setting the terms of their students' education.
Teachers present books, lessons, and activities aimed at a clear outcome. Access
to communication technology permits students to range freely through outside
information. Being free of the teacher defined curriculum permits students to
establish their own curriculum.
        In education, the power and control exercised over students is both
psychologically rewarding and deemed professionally necessary. If a student
can define their own curriculum and pursue their own interest, does a student
really need a teacher? Yes they will, but in a greatly diminished capacity. In-
stead of steering students on the information superhighway, teachers can sit
alongside their student drivers and direct them towards being independent
travellers with their own destination. The psychological need to control st
students and to control intellectual property is a relic of the industrial
model society we want so much to move away from. The  old model set out to
train people to take orders in factories and military institutions that were
the epitome of strength in a culture of control. This model has sought to
prolong control by prolonging education. Kids are expected to complete high
school, then college and then post graduate studies. Educators themselves
continue to operate in a never ending regimen of courses throughout their
entire career required for certification and allegiance to this model and
its culture. It was Oscar Wilde that said "consistency is the realm of the
unimaginative". I think that most Americans feel that our whole system of
education is in need of a new vision that  includes imaginative and creative
efforts from people in all of our institutions of learning including colleges,
universities and museums.
        Technology based institutions will be the real break the mold schools
that provide the much needed vision for education in America. They of course
will require a different kind of teacher who can use technology to  keep
students from wasting time and set some challenging objectives to get them
independent of their academic nurturing. Educators that expect their students
to demonstrate freedom, responsibility and initiative will have to practice
the same.
        Change is always frightening, but the schools and institutions built
for the indusrial age generations are in need of replacement. The teachers
trained to maintain the industrial-model schools and institutions are about
to retire. The buildings, libraries, support staff and the entire bureucratic
mess associated with maintaining this expensive business is reminiscent  of the
rust belt industries grinding to a halt only a few years ago. Why spend  b
billions in tax dollars attempting to reconstruct a whole system that is o
obsolete if all you need is a computer and a modem. Given the expense of
crime, drugs, gang violence, and anti-gun measures in our schools coupled with
the deteriorating conditions of most schools and the tremendous costs to build
new ones, the price to come on line with technology makes good economic  and
social sense.
        Phew! I hope I didn't get too far off base with philisophical ramblings.
I believe museums are operating much the same as schools in the context of what
our society was. Growing pains are difficult for all of us. I know I have to
change to have any kind of future in the education field. Colleges that still
graduate teachers without providing training in technology are performing a
disservice to those teachers especially if they are going to be science te
teachers. Everywhere you look no matter what scientific field, the technology
connection is a vital part of research. Science teachers should have  at their
disposal the tools and materials of science to do their job. We should not
have to continue to go begging or deal with encumbering rules and protocol that
discourage initiative and effort. If society wants our nations future to be in
science and technology then just do it.

        One last item and I will step down. Yesterday I received my Feb. MAPS
bulletin which had an open invitation to all people interested in fossils to
attend in June of 1996 the North American Paleontological Convention in Wash-
ington, D.C. at the Smithsonian which will be celebrating its 150th anniversary.
I was looking over the theme sessions that were being suggested. They were still
looking for additional suggestions. I saw nothing on the suggestion list about
Paleontology and public education or science literacy. How about the Dino So
Society and Paleo Outreach coming up with some public education themes and or
presentation proposals. I have a project that should be fine tuned by this date
and would be more than willing to share. I would really appreciate an o
opportunity to meet and hear about some of the outher outreach programs and
efforts around the country. Wouldn't this be an appropriate forum to profile
initiatives by the professional, amateur and education community? Again,
respectfully submitted,
Martin Tillett
Science Instructor
H.B. Owens Science Education Center
9601 Greenbelt Road
Lanham,  MD 20706
301-918-8750  fax 301-918-8753
email mtillett@umd5.umd.edu