The Four Directions project is a national education project for Native American schools that began in 1996. It currently serves 19 schools in 10 states, covering the "four directions" of the continental United States. The NMAI has been a partner with the project since the beginning.
The goal of the Four Directions project is to help Native American schools develop technology-supported, thematic curriculum that is culturally responsive to the communities served by the schools. From the beginning, one of the technologies that the project has been exploring is QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR), an interactive immersive imaging media. QTVR "panos" simulate being there in virtual panoramic spaces. QTVR "objects" are virtual objects that one can manipulate on the computer screen. While exploring the uses of this and other multimedia technologies, the notion of creating virtual museums of the school's tribal cultures developed.
In the fall of 1998, staff from the Four Directions project, the NMAI, and the BIA convened to plan a virtual museums project that would consist of two components: one, a virtual tour as seen through the children's eyes, of the permanent exhibitions in the George Gustav Heye facility, and two, virtual museums of the student's cultures developed with the help of the school communities and regional museums. Four Directions staff sent out a request for proposals to the project schools, and two schools were selected to participate in the project.