The Download: Smithsonian will soon bring exhibits to a computer near you

The Smithsonian is coming to a computer near you.

The composite of 19 museums and nine research centers has signed a 10-year licensing agreement with Great Courses, a division of Teaching Co. in Chantilly, to produce digital courses for purchase in disciplines such as history, science, culture and arts.

Some of the initial courses slated for release later this year focus on the inventors who propelled the Industrial Revolution, the universe as captured on film, and the history of iconic American artifacts, such as Abraham Lincoln’s hat.

“We are excited to help develop accessible and high-quality courses, based on the Smithsonian museums and collections, for a broad array of lifelong learners over the next decade,” said Carol LeBlanc , senior vice president for consumer and education products at Smithsonian Enterprises .

The Washington area has emerged as a hotbed for promising education technology start-ups, part of a regional legacy that exists thanks to pioneering companies that started here and proximity to education policymakers and regulators.

But the companies are not just limited to those that deliver education to students via the Internet. The region is also home to media companies and historic institutions that provide instructional content viewed in classrooms.

Silver Spring-based Discovery announced a deal last week that allows college students and faculty to access its digital media content through the learning management system of District-based Blackboard . Later this year, the companies will begin a similar arrangement for K-12 students and teachers.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

“Educators need education technology and content providers to be partners with them in creating effective lessons that not only drive high-quality digital resources into courses, but also appeal to students,” said Katie Blot , senior vice president of Blackboard’s Education Services.

Discovery’s digital content will include videos, images, audio guides, problem sets and writing prompts in areas such as math, science and history, according to a news release.

Among the newer class of education technology firms is Landover-based 2U . The company, which helps established universities to launch online versions of degree programs, made its debut as a publicly traded firm in March.

Last week, 2U premiered its first ever undergraduate degree program, a bachelor of science in nursing at Simmons College in Boston. The week before, 2U announced its first ever doctoral program in education at the University of Southern California.

To date, the company offers master’s degrees in partnership with a dozen different universities.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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