5 Ideas and 5 Museums for Virtual Tours (Ep. 221)

Whether you are teaching in person or working with students via distance learning, virtual museum tours are a great way to engage your students and incorporate art history. In today’s episode, Tim shares 5 tips to help your students make the most of their virtual museum experience, as well as 5 suggestions for museums to visit.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University. I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

I spent a lot of time this weekend, probably too much time doing some virtual museum tours. I love the idea of getting into museums, ones that I’ve never had a chance to visit in real life, and exploring the artwork and exploring the architecture and just kind of checking out the museum and just being able to get lost in something that you love. It’s a wonderful feeling. After I spent time exploring and taking these virtual tours, I honestly felt so much better. It was an awesome way to spend some time. So, today we are going to talk about virtual museum tours. I have five ideas to share with you for tours, and five of my favorite online locations that I think are worth visiting.

Now, before we dive into all of those ideas, I want to give a shout out and a little bit of credit to Lena Rodriguez. You know Lena, she has been on the podcast a lot of times. She’s done PRO Pack, she’s done a lot of conference videos. Just an amazing high school teacher from Texas. And if you were on the webinars back in March and April that we were doing, you probably saw her. For her presentation there, she and I had collaborated on a bunch of ideas on how you can teach art history via distance learning. I’ll link to that download in the show notes today, but it also kind of inspired me when I was putting together some of the ideas for this episode and some of the things that I wanted to talk about. I’m going to chat about a couple of her ideas, and so I just wanted to give her credit where credit is due.

Also, I’m trying to convince Lena to present at the Art Ed Now Conference, once again. The conference is going to be happening in the summer on July 30th. It’s going to be amazing as it always is. We are going to just come together for a great day of learning and professional development. I love the community aspect of Art Ed Now. So many wonderful things are happening amongst our teachers when we get together, when we talk, when we share, when we learn from each other. And as we’re planning this, we have a few tricks up our sleeve this time around. If you’ve been there before, you know what a cool event it is, but we’re going to try and make it even better this year. So it may look a little different than it has in the past, but I think you’re really going to enjoy it. If you’re interested and you want to register, you can learn everything you need to know and do everything you need to do at

With all of that being said, we need to chat about the five ideas and the five museums that were promised. So, here we go. Five ideas for doing some virtual museum tours with your students.

All right. Idea number one, figure out how you’re going to make that virtual visit worthwhile. You don’t want to just send your student a list of museums or say, “Hey, go tour this.” Hey, you need to figure out how to make it meaningful, how to make it worthwhile, and there are a million ways to do that. You can have them draw some of the works they see. They can record themselves talking about what they’re seeing or what they’re touring. They can write a narrative of the tour, talk about just some of the favorite works that they encounter there. They can look up the museum on Google Maps. They can draw the street view. They can see all of the architecture that surrounds it. Just give them some context and let them explore, but give them a focus when they are exploring.

You need to prep your students. They need an anticipatory set. They need some kind of focus. They might need you to curate some things for them. Otherwise, just going to museum, it’s so overwhelming. They are drinking from a fire hose. Because we are adults, we have a vast knowledge of art history. But if you’re anything like me, with that experience and that knowledge, you still can get sucked down random rabbit holes. You can be overwhelmed with everything that a museum tour has to offer online, and you can just get lost with all of the things that you’re trying to explore. So I think you need to have some recommendations for your kids, have some specific things that they need to do.

You can give them some objectives, and they don’t need to be like really highfalutin learning objectives, but it can be find X number of things that you like, et cetera, et cetera. Just give them a specific thing to do so they’re not just wandering aimlessly. You can give them specific paintings to look at, maybe some ideas on how to explore the things. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. Or just give them some questions to answer. But no matter what you do, just make sure that you can make it worthwhile.

If you just send out a list of links to various museums, that’s not going to interest kids. But if you can come up with an anticipatory set, if you can get them excited and inspired and you can give them some specific things to do or to find so they feel like they’re succeeding, they feel like they want to keep going, then that’s going to make it really, really worthwhile for them. So I would just encourage you to put some thought into what you want them to get out of the experience. And more importantly, put some thought into how you’re going to make that virtual visit worthwhile.

All right. Idea number two, have your students bring along a sketchbook. Whenever I took my students to the museum for field trips or whatever we were doing, I would always encourage them to bring a sketchbook with them in real life. And honestly, a virtual visit does not need to be any different than that. We all know that kids learn better when they draw. We’ve seen all of that research. We know how the brain works when we’re drawing. And so it’s so easy for them to do that on their virtual visit as well. Drawing enhances their learning and this is the perfect opportunity for them to practice that. Whether they are taking notes, whether they’re drawing what they see, whether they’re writing reactions or whatever else you want them to do. Hey, all of those things can be worthwhile for them to put in their sketchbook.

Maybe they are doing some sketch notes that tell the story of their visit. Or maybe you have other ideas on what you want them to draw or what you want them to explore, what you want them to do in their sketchbook, but just having a place to focus their ideas, to focus their sketches and put everything together in one place, that’s going to make that learning so much better for them. Especially if you try and get a little more learning out of that, just having all of their thoughts, ideas, reactions, all in one place is going to help them if you try and extend that learning at all in the future. So make sure that they bring a sketchbook along on that virtual tour.

Idea number three, I love to have kids use some higher-order thinking skills, so having them write about the artwork they see is a spectacular idea. Just a few ways that I’ve been thinking about to help kids with writing, give them some prompts on how to get started with this. They can compare and contrast a couple of different paintings. What do you see that’s the same? What do you see that’s different? What do you like better? Why? And that could be two specific paintings. That could be a couple of artists where you have them compare a body of work or a collection of their work.

You can give students a single artist to research or to look at, and have them find their three best or their five favorite works from that artist that are in the museum, and just kind of have them talk through why do they like these things? Why did they choose those things? Have them think about why they’re evaluating things and why they made the choices they did. You can give kids a specific painting that’s in the museum, like find this work from Renoir, and also find four paintings that you think are similar. It’s not quite a scavenger hunt, but it’s more of a find things that you can compare, find things that are similar, and just send them out to explore and make those connections in their head.

I also love to have students compare two paintings that take on the same subject in different ways, like look at a still life from 1960 and compare it to a still life from 1760. It’s fun to look at different artistic approaches, look at different choices that artists make, and having them compare a couple of paintings that are taking on the same subject is great because it teaches them about style, it teaches them about movement in art history.

As I said, it shows them different approaches, it shows them different perspectives. Shows how they can deal with subject matter in different ways. I’ve always found that that can be really inspiring, especially if you can talk to your students about why do you think the artists made those choices? And more importantly, what choices would you make as an artist? That really gets kids thinking about their own artwork and why they do what they do and why they appreciate what they do. And just being able to kind of focus those thoughts and those ideas and infuse them into their own work, it can be really inspiring. So I really like that idea. It’s a great way for them to learn.

Idea number four is listing some favorites. This kind of goes back to some of the writing ideas, but it’s awesome to do a top 10 list. If you have kids go to a specific museum, like let’s do a virtual tour of the Van Gogh Museum, what are your 10 favorite paintings that you run into? A list of 10 can be hard, but it makes kids think, and it makes them go through with an eye toward, “Ooh, do I like this? Why?” That evaluation, that ranking, just sort of putting together all of that learning can be kind of fun for them.

Now, if you think a top 10 list or a ranking like that is a little too much, have them look for three things that they liked or three things that they didn’t like. Again, that can be a single artist, that can be an entire museum. What are your three favorite paintings? What are your least three favorite paintings? Or three least favorite I should say, I guess. You can do the same with sculpture or prints or drawings or whatever you can find in the museum, but just have them pick out their favorites or their least favorites and ask them to write about them. Ask them to use the vocabulary and the language that would be happening in your classroom. This is a great chance for kids to write, to think about their opinions and to share their opinions. So putting those types of lists together can be really worthwhile, and it’s a really approachable way to get them into writing and sharing.

Then idea number five to help your kids on their virtual museum visits would be a scavenger hunt. Now, this can be a little more in depth. This might be something if you have a little more time, you want to put together. This isn’t something that you can rush and do really well. But it’s fun to go on your own tour of the virtual museum and pick out things that you want kids to see, you want them to notice, you want them to think about, and then direct them to those items, direct them to those things, with the questions that you were asking or with the items that are on the scavenger hunt for them. And then that can really lead into better discussions and better learning with kids, and you can get them to focus on things that you’ve covered in class or things that you want to cover that you want to think about.

If you don’t want to be so specific, you can just have them find artworks and make connections themselves. Ask them to go on a scavenger hunt for artworks that have great use of color, or artworks that show depth and perspective, or artworks that show pattern, or artworks that show rhythm. Again, just go back to that use of vocabulary and that language that would be happening in your classroom, and see if you can transfer that to those virtual visits. A scavenger hunt is a great way for students to do that.

Anyway, any of those five ideas can really sort of serve as a bridge for kids into the virtual museum, into the idea of a tour. If you give them that specificity that I talked about in idea number one, making that visit worthwhile, just having that sort of context, that framework, that structure for them can be really helpful so they aren’t overwhelmed, so they know exactly what they’re looking for. It’s a great way to start.

Now, as promised, I also want to give you my five favorite museums, and this is sort of that framework or that structure for you so you aren’t flailing around looking at a million different museums and trying to decide what’s going to work the best for you. These are just a few of my favorites, a good place for you to get started. Of course, these recommendations come with a caveat that you need to preview all of these things before you send them to your students, make sure you’re checking out what you’re going to have your kids see and checking out what is appropriate for your students and your situation before you just send those things.

All right, five museums. Number one, the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. They have wonderful virtual tours. A lot about the architecture, a lot about the art. You can really dive into specific paintings that are there. A lot of really, really cool things happening. They have, I believe, the Irises by Van Gogh are there if I’m remembering correctly, Promenade by Renoir, if I’m remembering right. Just a lot of really, really specific paintings that are really cool. A great collection of work.

On their website, there’s also this great short film with a free runner. Somebody who just runs all over architecture does amazing flips and scales the outside of buildings, all sorts of cool things. And also a filmmaker. And they can kind of combine them into this three or four minute film. I was fascinated by it. The whole time I was watching it, I was like, “This is something students would love.” Just a different look at the museum, how to tour it, and some of the cool things that are there. That’s definitely worth your time.

Museum number two, the Vatican Museums in Rome. So the Sistine Chapel, obviously, but it’s not just the Sistine Chapel. There were I think, five other tours besides the whole Sistine Hall. If you’re into that, you can spend hours there. Now, let’s be honest, your kids are not going to spend hours there, but there’s just so much information. Virtual tours, videos of all different sections of the Sistine Chapel, all different parts of so many of the museums. If you’ve talked about Michelangelo, if you’ve talked about the Sistine Chapel, or if your kids are just interested in that, you can really dive deep into everything that’s there and see everything that’s there. Again, that’s one that can be a little bit overwhelming, so I think you need to get specific on what you want your students to do, but it’s a great place to start if that subject matter is interesting to them.

All right. Number three, the Frida Kahlo Museum. It’s a great one. This is probably where I spent the most time, because it’s just amazing to see her home and see her studio, and it’s part museum, part house. So you can just see how she lived, which is a wonderful experience. It’s so bright, it’s so colorful. It’s so just Frida. It’s captivating to see, it just fills you with so much energy. If you’re like me, you love Frida Kahlo, it is amazing to see everything that’s in her home. I love just peeking into the kitchen, seeing what’s in her living room. She’s got a cabinet with all sorts of little sculptures and statues and knickknacks, and just seeing everything that she keeps around her house, being able to zoom in and be like, “What is that?” Just so much fascinating stuff. I really loved checking all of that out. So if you’re fascinated by Frida, definitely check that out.

Number four, The Guggenheim Museum in New York. Now, I already said Guggenheim Bilbao, but the one in New York is just another amazing museum, another amazing museum going experience, and another example of great architecture. Obviously Frank Gehry and Bilbao and Frank Lloyd Wright in New York, but both are just architectural masterpieces.

I visited the Guggenheim in New York last year when I was interviewing CJ Hendry in Brooklyn, and it was just an incredible experience. You take the elevator to the top, you walk the circular ramp down the five or six floors that are there and just view artwork the entire time that you’re there. Obviously a virtual tour can’t replicate that experience, but it can do pretty well. And there’s a lot of really interesting stuff for you to look at.

I said way back at the beginning to have your kids check out Google Street View and see the surrounding architecture and what’s around there. It’s really cool to do that with The Guggenheim in New York, because obviously great architecture all around there and it’s across the street from Central Park, like literally across the street, and it’s really fun for kids to be able to check all of that out. So just getting the surrounding experience as part of that is really cool.

Then finally, number five, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It is the largest collection of Van Gogh works anywhere. You can tour each floor of the museum separately, and just some amazing stuff there. A lot of students react really well to Van Gogh. He’s easy to like, the work is accessible, it’s easy to understand. And so that’s a great place to have your kids visit so many cool things that are there. Again, that’s one that can be overwhelming. There’s like 150 works there. So you may need to specify or give kids some specifics on what they may want to check out. But if it’s just you going through, then to take a look and take it all in.

When I was going through it over the weekend, there’s this whole slideshow and a whole bunch of learning about Van Gogh’s love life, and, man, you thought he failed at painting during his lifetime, he really failed at romance. It was fascinating and kind of read about all of that. I learned a lot about him that I didn’t know before. I’m not saying that needs to be a part of what you have your students do, but it’s definitely worthwhile for you to check out, I think.

All right. That wraps up our list of five there. I’ll just say I think it’s really worth your time to explore some of these museums for yourself. It’s enjoyable. You can put your headphones on, you can block things out and just get lost in something you love. It’s a little bit of an escape, which is really nice.

And beyond that, I think as teachers, we are always looking at things with an eye toward how they can be used in our classroom. That’s part of the fun of what we do, just sharing our love of art with our students. And so when we’re touring these museums and checking out the art we love, we’re always thinking of ways to share that love with our students, and these tours are a great way to do it. So if you can give it some context and figure out what you want your kids to do, it can be an awesome experience for them. No matter what school looks like, whether you are distance learning or in-person, there’s so much to explore and so much to do in the world of virtual museums.

I hope these suggestions give you a good jumping off point and a good place to get started. I will make sure I link to all the museums. I also put Lena’s download with a few more ideas for virtual art history that go beyond what we talked about here. So check the show notes if you want to explore any of that stuff. And then if you have more ideas that you want to share, or if you just want to tell me which museums you love to visit virtually, I would love to hear from you. Shoot me an email, hit me up on Twitter and let me know. All right. Thank you for listening and happy virtual museum visiting.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. As always, we appreciate you giving us a listen, and we will talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.