To complete our survey of museums serving distance audiences, we will now look at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, a landmark historic house museum in northern Virginia not far from Washington, DC.
Mount Vernon is one of the oldest historic house museums in the nation, but it is quite modern and up-to-date in its offerings for distance audiences:
Videoconferencing & Broadcasts
As discussed here, videoconferencing is an effective way for museums to reach out to long-distance audiences, vividly bringing the experience of the museum and live interactions with museum experts to audiences in the comfort of their own classrooms, nursing homes, etc. Mount Vernon offers the "Face to Face" videoconferencing program in which students talk with first-person interpreters playing various figures from Washington’s life—such as Martha Washington, George’s physician Dr. Craik, or his housekeeper—filmed against a backdrop of the estate. There is also a storytelling program for grades 1-2 in which a costumed interpreter tells stories about Mount Vernon in the style of Aesop’s Fables. Each 30-minute program costs $100, can be customized to the grade level of participants, uses either IP or IDSN connections, and comes with teaching resources sent in advance to help incorporate videoconference programs into the curriculum.
Mount Vernon has also partnered with the Fairfax Network to offer schools free satellite-delivered Distance Learning Broadcasts about GW-related topics ranging from “Shaping the Presidency” to “Slavery at Mount Vernon.” Teachers can get free DVDs of previously broadcast programs as well.
Teacher and Student Resources
Aside from the above program collaborations, Mount Vernon also has a number of educational resources that can be accessed at any time on their website. For teachers, there are lesson plans and a Teacher Support Facebook Group. For students researching George Washington, there are resources such as a Meet George Washington section of the website with timelines and biographical information, a library with online Digital Collections that include many primary sources, and even an Ask Mount Vernon contact box to which anyone can submit questions about George and his times.
Virtual Tours, Exhibits, and Other Online Interactives
Mount Vernon’s extensive website allows one to see much of the estate and collections with just a few clicks of the mouse. There’s a Virtual Mansion Tour, an interactive Estate Map, and two online “museums”: a smaller, more interactive Online Museum with four “exhibits” about George Washington incorporating objects from the collection, and a more extensive eMuseum in which one can view all of the various objects of the MV collections, from furniture to weapons, each with a photograph, basic information, and a paragraph or so of context.
For elementary school-age “digital native” distance audiences, Mount Vernon has even created some interactive educational games about George Washington’s life and times at a sub-site called George Washington's World for Kids:
Mount Vernon also has its own blog, YouTube Channel, Twitter, and Facebook Page, connecting with distance audiences via social media.