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Building Online Exhibits

This lesson plan incorporates a series of sessions or modules designed to introduce students to critical thinking and primary sources by creating digital exhibits using Omeka and WordPress.

Published onOct 05, 2022
Building Online Exhibits


This lesson plan incorporates a series of sessions or modules designed to introduce students to critical thinking and primary sources by creating digital exhibits using Omeka and WordPress. The lesson works best as part of a semester-long class, with the final project being a digital exhibit. Assignments and lessons are scaffolded to lead up to the project.

Literacies & Competencies

This series of sessions teach students visual and primary source literacy and the information literacies, “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” and “Research as Inquiry,” as described in ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. In addition, students will develop more sophisticated digital competencies described by the Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework as frame 1.1. “Networks and file management” and frame 3.4 “Metadata.” More specifically, using Omeka and WordPress as content management systems teaches students “how to create, move, download, upload, and organize files and folders on a computer and network drives” (Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework, 3). Working in Omeka, in particular, gives a basic understanding of the Dublin Core metadata schema and its relation to bibliographic data. This work, in connection with metadata-related instruction, teaches students how to “critically analyze information about data” while “learning how to use metadata and tagging to organize, store and locate data” (Bryn Mawr, 6).


Undergraduate students, graduate students, library workshop attendees

Curricular Context

Suzan Alteri, Special Collections Librarian, and Dr. Kristen Gregory, professor of English, originally developed this series of synchronous sessions (or modules) as part of a semester-long undergraduate research course co-taught by a graduate student and a special collections librarian. This course was a pilot between the Department of English and Special Collections with two main aims: to give a graduate teaching assistant experience with original and collaborative course development and, second, to create a course for undergraduates focused on archival pedagogy and digital humanities. The goal of the course was to introduce students to special collections and primary sources and to provide them with the opportunity to use primary sources as the main component of their research.  

The digital exhibit lesson plan consisted of four sessions, lasting 50 minutes each. The first three seasons were taught in a standard classroom that can project PowerPoint and website examples. The last session, a hands-on tutorial for Omeka and WordPress, was conducted in a computer lab. The modules are structured so that each session builds on the previous one. 

Students worked in small groups of three to four to curate a digital exhibit based on the theme of the course, childhood and death. All exhibit items were drawn from primary source texts located in the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. 

Instructional Partners

  • Suzan Alteri, Special Collections Librarian

  • Dr. Kristen Gregory, professor of English


Students and instructors will need access to:

  • Laptop computer (preferable) or a desktop computer

  • Internet that is capable of handling 100mbs or higher

  • Flatbed, KIC scanner or tablet/cell phone capable of taking pictures

  • Flash drive or a cloud storage system such as Google Drive or Dropbox

  • Image manipulation software to resize images (e.g., Photoshop)

  • Omeka or WordPress (the free version of both will meet the lessons’ needs)

Students will need to be instructed on how to use the scanner and given a suggested dpi. For web projects, the suggested dpi is 200 or 300 dpi. A brief demo on how to use the scanner could be done either by the Librarian or a Public Services Assistant in the library. Most cell phones today take pictures with a high resolution, but students may need to manipulate (e.g., crop, etc.) those images. 


This lesson plan could easily be adapted into courses emphasizing primary sources, archival research, and object study. Fields that could benefit from this lesson plan include history, literature, anthropology, museum studies, and library and archival science. It is also possible to adapt this lesson plan for a graduate-level course by incorporating deeper analyses of different primary sources.

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze textual and visual media to discover how and why the media was created and what evidence it carries;

  • Select, organize, and interpret primary sources from special collections;

  • Understand how authority is determined in both primary and secondary sources;

  • Understand the major metadata components and create original metadata for their digital projects;

  • Construct a narrative around a series of text and images;

  • Design a public-facing exhibit according to museum and library science studies’ best practices; 

  • Communicate clearly and concisely in a digital environment;

  • Understand and distinguish between public domain and copyright;


It is recommended that both the librarian and the instructor collaborate in preparing for the course. To better manage student exhibit projects, assignments in the course are built on each other. Students begin by learning about the components of an exhibit and then develop an exhibit proposal before creating their final project in Omeka or WordPress. The exhibit proposal is an important first step in conceptualizing. It allows students to prepare an abstract and list items that might be relevant to their project. 

Before class begins, create an Omeka site and/or WordPress site, depending on your choice or whether you want to allow students to use either. The site should have some basics, such as a brief statement about what the site is for/about, which can include pertinent course information and a fair use statement. You will need to create user accounts for each student or create one user account with credentials that you can share with all students.


Since Omeka functions first as a content management system, it is necessary to create an overall site before the course starts. Students will then be able to access the site where they build their exhibits. If you are using the web-based version,, you must sign up for a free trial account. With the trial, you are allowed one Omeka site with 500 MB of storage, two themes, and eight plugins. (The free option has enough flexibility for this coursework, provided no large video or audio files are uploaded.) Alternatively, you can download Omeka Classic for free and host it on your server (see System Requirements). 

Omeka offers these helpful site planning tips.  


WordPress is a popular website platform. offers a basic, free option and a paid option that has more space and features. offers a version of WordPress that can be hosted on your server, which provides greater flexibility but might be more technically burdensome than you want. You may create an overall website for the course with individual exhibits serving as different web pages on the site, or you could have each student/group create their site for the exhibit. The benefit of an overall site is that one person is in charge of the site, and site sustainability is easier. There is no guarantee, after all, that students will keep their WordPress sites after the course. 

WordPress also offers tips on how to build a website.


Exhibit Proposal Form Template created by Lourdes Santamaria Wheeler, Exhibits Director, George A. Smathers Libraries


Student Learning 

There are a variety of ways to assess student learning. It is recommended to get feedback from students about their experience with project-based learning and the platforms used, the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms, and the simplicity of implementation.  

 Assessment for each module can be completed through a workshop post-survey that addresses the learning outcomes for each session. Surveys should be administered after the session and created using programs such as Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, or other survey applications. (See assessment questions in Additional Materials). Polling software is also a way to gauge student learning while conducting a workshop and can help the instructor find areas of concern or misunderstanding. 

 At the end of the course, a survey should be completed by the students and instructor regarding the platforms used, overall project design, and project-based learning. This survey should contain a mix of open-ended questions along with more quantitative feedback. Feedback gathered will be able to help inform future iterations of the course.

Final Exhibits were graded on a rubric organized around eight elements at 10 points each. The exhibits were individually evaluated by both the Library instructor and the Graduate Student Teaching Assistant. The final grade was given by the Graduate Student Teaching Assistant who was the instructor of record. The final exhibition site was worth 80 points, with an additional 20 points of the final project grade reserved for the student presentation of their exhibit. The rubric covered:

  • Thesis statement

  • Curatorial statement/narrative summary

  • Cohesion of exhibit pages (i.e., Does each page tie to the overall theme?)

  • Presentation of images

  • Whether text supports the images used and vice versa

  • Presence of all exhibit components (i.e., exhibit pages, resources used, student biography page)

  • Correct citation information

  • Correct grammar

  • Correct use of metadata fields

Implementation Fidelity  

At the time of the course, information related to implementation fidelity was not gathered. The Librarian (Alteri) has given workshops on using Omeka and WordPress to undergraduate courses every year, so the presentation is revised to adjust to student needs. We did map presentations and activities directly to student learning outcomes and objectives. Outcomes can be modified based on particular course needs. It would be helpful to create an adherence list of program features, such as features of the program, the number of times students were exposed to program objectives, and student responsiveness. We also did not gather formal assessment data after each module. Instead, we gathered minimal data based on student comments during the next class period. More formal data would have helped assess student comprehension of the planned module. Since the course was a pilot taught by a Graduate Teaching Assistant, there were two independent auditors from the English department. However, they were more concerned with the overall structure of the course and assessment of the graduate student’s teaching.


There were great successes and challenges in having students create digital exhibits. From the student feedback received, they all agreed that creating a digital exhibit was engaging and creative. They enjoyed the ability to work on a public-facing project that was more than just a traditional final paper. Students also benefited from working in special collections and learning about primary sources. In particular, they enjoyed the two lab sessions during the course where they could come to special collections and work with materials and either their Omeka or WordPress site. Finally, they appreciated that the assignments in the course built on each other, which made the final project less daunting.

 Students' experience with Omeka was more mixed. They found certain aspects of the platform to be clunky (such as adding items before creating an exhibit) and occasionally struggled to understand some of the metadata terms. A few students familiar with web design struggled with Omeka’s limited layout options and found it frustrating that they were not allowed to center images. Students were more familiar with WordPress due to its ubiquity as a website platform. Still, they found that their exhibits looked more like infinite scroll web pages and thought the navigation was more difficult for end users. 

 Initially, we decided to have each individual student create a log-in, but this proved difficult. Each student needed to be given an invitation to the site, which many of them lost in their inbox or never received due to email filters. In the end, we determined that having a generic login using the course number as a username and the first part of the course title as a password would be easier to manage if students lost their login credentials. 

Lesson Outline

During the original use of this lesson plan, modules were scheduled throughout the semester according to assignment due dates to have maximum impact. Modules 1 and 2 appeared in the second month of the course (weeks 6 and 7). Module 3 occurred later in the semester after groups were formed and students had selected titles for their exhibit (week 11). Module 4 occurred the following week. 

 Parameters of the assignment included:

  • 8 - 10 exhibit items

  • 1-2 paragraphs for each item along with descriptive metadata*

  • A 500-1,000 word introductory statement, an “About Us” page that has a short biography of exhibit creators and photographs, and a “Research Bibliography” page

*This lesson plan was originally for a writing course, and, therefore, word counts were higher than may be desired for other types of courses and projects.

Module 1: What is an exhibit and how to evaluate them? 

  • Start the session by asking students to think about their experiences looking at exhibits in a museum or library. Do they read statements and text labels? Do they read ID labels? Do they follow a specific path?

  • Explain the purpose of both physical and digital exhibits and discuss the similarities and differences between them.

  • Discuss different exhibit venues and how they can differ (e.g., museums versus libraries)

  • Discuss important aspects of a good digital exhibit

  • Activity: Students, working in small groups, evaluate a digital exhibit by analyzing the:

    • purpose of the exhibit

    • the navigation

    • the items featured in the exhibit 

    • what they learned from the exhibit

Module 2: Curating an exhibit

  • For this session, consider using a guest speaker from a library or local museum that has regular exhibitions.

  • Discuss how exhibits come together and the main phases of exhibit development, including how to decide upon a theme, how to select and review items for inclusion, researching and writing labels, and designing the exhibit.

    • Detail specific steps in each phase using the Exhibit Proposal Form Template and be sure to include best practices from museum or library studies.

    • Explain how long it takes to complete a physical exhibit from conception to installation and how long it takes to complete a digital one. Note that the students will be doing a condensed version. If possible, share a working timeline for each.

    • Explain the similarities and differences between physical and digital exhibits.

    • Review how to complete the exhibit proposal for the course.

Module 3: Critical approaches to metadata 

  • Define metadata and how it is used in different settings; show examples of 

    • Library catalog records

    • Social media tagging

    • Museum catalogs or digital collections

  • Explain Dublin Core standards using Omeka and have students read Metadata in the Omeka handout

  • Activity: Students pick a book or item near them and complete the Dublin Core fields handout using the book/item as the object being described. Once students have completed their metadata, ask them to share it with a neighbor and discuss their decision-making and any areas of confusion.

Module 3 alterations for WordPress:

Since WordPress is not a content management system per se but rather a website/blog platform, you will need to determine which metadata fields (Title, Author, Date, etc.) are important for users of the digital exhibit to know. If needed, create a Google Form for the metadata and ask students to provide links in their digital exhibit.

Module 4: Working with Omeka and WordPress (hands-on session) 

 For Omeka:

  • Have students go to and log-in 

  • Orient students to the admin dashboard, showing them both the options on the top menu and then the left-hand navigation bar

  • Demonstrate how to add an item to Omeka

  • Tip: Explain to students that they need to enter the metadata in the provided fields and then click on “Files” to upload the image

  • Remind students that they must add their items to Omeka before creating their exhibits

  • Have students practice adding an item from an image they find on the Web and troubleshoot questions

  • Demonstrate to students how to make an item “public” when ready

  • To create an exhibit, click on “exhibits” in the left-hand navigation bar

  • Click the “Add an Exhibit” button

  • Tip: Tell students that each group will need to add their own exhibit

  • Have students practice filling in some of the fields necessary to create an exhibit (creator, title, and descriptive tags)

  • Demonstrate how to add pages to the exhibit

  • Have students find another item on the Web and practice creating a page

  • Demonstrate how to view their exhibit in the public view

 For WordPress:

  • Have students go to and log-in

  • Orient students to the admin dashboard, showing them the most common features they will be using (Posts, Media, Pages, Appearance, and Users) on the left-hand navigation bar

  • Demonstrate how to upload media to WordPress

  • Have students practice uploading an image to the site 

  • Demonstrate to students how to create a page

  • Tip: Try to determine if you want each group’s exhibit to be one page or multiple pages nested under one another

    • Have students create a page 

    • Demonstrate how to add text and images to a page

    • Show students how to view their page in the public view

Additional Materials

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