Language Learning & Technology
Virtual Museums on the Web: El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Museums and Culture
Big "C" culture is en essential component of the foreign language classroom in so far as it helps students better understand what is important to native speakers from their cultural perspective. The national standards for foreign language encourage us to focus on this perspective, through its cultural triangle highlighting the relationships among Products, Practices, and Perpectives, while avoiding an approach that reduces culture to a kind of "Trivial Pursuits" where artifacts are learned in isolation rather than explored as part of a path to understanding the people. What are the qualities of an online museum that help students explore this cultural perspective instead of just memorizing names and dates associated with works of art? The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid gives us an example of the best of virtual visit Web sites for the foreign language classroom.
Navigating the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Site
This museum site is extremely well designed to provide a broad overview of painting from the 13th century to the 20th, with a comprehensive Web map to assist the viewer with initial navigation.
Additional pull-down menus on the home page make the site very user-friendly and inviting. The site is available in Spanish but most features are also online in an English version. Below, we will take a look at some of the interesting features and offerings of this site, which serves as an excellent example of virtual museums, and whose features may be found in a variety of museums from many different countries.
Areas of Interest
The visitor can navigate
the site by clicking on the rooms in the accompanying floor plan or
can move through the rooms in the virtual reality view by clicking on
the doorway into adjacent rooms. This combination allows quick access
to the art via a visual map of the building or lets the viewer remain
in the VR mode as if we were in the building itself. Thus the paintings
and accompanying information can be viewed in their architectural setting
as displayed by the museum staff allowing the student not only to develop
a visual image of the museum as it exists in the real world, but to
experience moving through the space that itself helps to organize the
art. Clearly, any computer-based representation of these works
of art can only be a distant approximation to the real thing, but by
creating an experience that approaches reality, the computer can help
us to make this approximation into a richer experience.
These various modes for obtaining information are under the control of the visitor, allowing the viewer to navigate through the information and extract what is of interest. The quality of the audio commentary is excellent, even when listened to over a slow connection such as a modem. This gives us not only a Spanish view of art history, but also an extensive sample of language that is interesting, natural, clearly articulated, and not too fast for non-natives. The biographical information and text commentary help place the work in context and help us see what information is important from the point of view of the curators. Indeed, the very idea of a collection of this sort, one put together by an individual, is to open a window on the world of art from a particular point of view. In the example shown of commentary about Picasso's "Arlequín con espejo," we find important information that helps us understand the mentality of people in the time period and how the work relates to their way of thinking.
The Recorridos (Thematic Visits) organize the paintings into four broad themes: the portrait and the human figure; the city, an urban and human space; the landscape; and the still-life. For each work of art displayed under these themes, the viewer may select icons that give access to an audio summary of the artist and the particular painting; a more detailed account of the artist, life and work; a close-up of the painting; and a brief description of the painting under consideration.
The Obras Maestras
(Masterpieces) section includes works of art from the old masters as
well as works from the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition, an emphasis
on works from Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Fauvism, the German
Expressionist movements, the European avant-gardes and European and
American post-war art is evident in the collection. Again, as with the
Thematic Visits, the viewer may select icons that give access to audio
and written summaries, descriptions, and commentaries.
The "Aventuras en el museo Thyssen" section involves an interactive mystery that explores different paintings in the museum and has a didactic bent. The "adventure" is led by Guido, an animated character who poses different questions about the paintings and guides learners to greater knowledge about the world of art. Because it is written for young native speakers of Spanish, the lexicon is accessible to non-native learners of Spanish who are older but at various stages of their language learning process. Other features of the education section are more detail about several works of art in the museum (Para saber más); a place for student drawn artwork (Galería de arte); and a "laboratory" (Laboratorio) with some .pdf files containing projects that learners can work on at home.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
is an excellent site for Spanish instructors who wish to incorporate
the big "C" culture component in their lessons. All of the various groupings
of the works as well as the different kinds of information about them,
especially the integration of audio commentary, may be used in creative
listening, writing, reading, and even speaking activities that enable
contextualized language learning and instruction. The English version
could easily be used in classrooms of English as a Second or Foreign
Language. (NB: The grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation are British
English.) When using the Internet for such activities, the classroom
teacher should also consider contextualizing the Web version with realia
collected in the real world such as art books, post cards, posters,
museum booklets, and so forth. We can find many excellent online museums
with virtual visits (perhaps we'll examine one from a different country
in an upcoming column), but this one includes many of the best features
available in such sites. Finally, this well-conceived and executed site
is a delight for art lovers of any language background and can inspire
teachers of all languages with ideas for integrating Culture in the
FL classroom. Visit and enjoy.