3. Mediation vs Reproduction: the modules and why they are the way they are

PATOIS has developed four sets of online teaching materials that present different aspects of the datasets held or brokered by the ADS. These four complementary teaching packs include a variety of content, but they are largely based on a series of web-pages which include carefully scripted descriptions of historic environment information resources, with various opportunities to interact with underlying datasets. A variety of tasks are included that give feedback on how well the content has been understood, and each of the packs should take between two to four hours to complete. The packs present monument inventories, digital archives, electronic publications and inter-disciplinary datasets. Readers are encouraged to spend time with these different packs to judge whether or not we have been successful in our work, and are invited to submit comments on them. Even so, a brief description of the four modules is appropriate before we look at the challenges and opportunities associated with them.

The first set of resources, 'Monument Inventories; a resource for teaching and learning', introduces the concepts underpinning national and local monument inventories (Fernie and Gilman 2000). Though largely derived from planning and development control work, monument inventories are increasingly seen as tools to support various forms of interaction with the historic environment. The PATOIS tutorial starts by introducing monument inventories, then presents students with a series of information retrieval tasks using ArchSearch, the ADS online index to sites and monument information in the UK. The tutorial then looks in more detail at some of the issues facing monument inventories, including data standards and aspects of development control work.

The staff who maintain monument inventories report two different types of student: those with questions too vague to be supported; and those who seem unaware that the sites and monuments record even exists. Anecdotal evidence from academic staff suggests that they are unwilling to recommend sites and monuments records (SMRs) to their students because the data held are of variable quality. By introducing sites and monuments records in this tutorial we hope to achieve three broad goals: to tell students that sites and monuments records exist and that they can make a significant contribution to research; to show students how best to formulate research questions so that busy planning SMR officers can process their queries efficiently; and also to manage expectations so that students are aware of the variability and quality assurance problems which monument inventories present. If these issues have been communicated effectively, students will also therefore be better placed to create and supply information to monument inventories from their own research projects.

The second pack, 'Excavation Archives: a resource for teaching and learning', looks at the growing and critical problem of digital preservation. Archaeologists routinely produce large quantities of data, and much of the archaeological record is now 'born digital' (Condron et al. 1999). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that digital archives will be an increasingly important part of archaeological research in the next few decades. The PATOIS tutorial starts by looking at how fieldwork generates digital data and then goes on to investigate different types of data in turn, including GIS and database formats. These types of data are brought together in an investigation of the archive from the excavations at the site of Cottam in East Yorkshire (Richards 1999; 2001).

Digital archives are a new phenomenon in archaeology, so there is little doubt that they are a novelty to students and staff alike. Even so, the argument for digital preservation of archaeological data has been made forcibly and, it would seem, successfully (Richards 1997; Wise 1999; Wise and Richards 1999; Kilbride 2000a; 2002a; Richards and Robinson 2000; Ross 2000; Perrin 2002, 17). If archaeology is to produce many more digital archives over the next few years, then two skills will be needed: skill in using such archives within research, and skill to generate such archives in the first place. By introducing excavation archives in this tutorial, we hope to foster both of these skills. In fact, complex technologies are introduced in this tutorial, including GIS and database analyses. But, by using simple HTML and Javascript, these complex technologies are hidden. This means that even students without advanced IT literacy can be introduced to complex software and its uses in a relatively conducive environment. By the end of this tutorial, students should be appraised of the sorts of research that can be carried out using digital archives, and the challenges and problems associated with them. Moreover, by investigating the contents of one particular archive, "deep learners" will also be able to imagine generating archives from their own fieldwork or research. Academic research depends on the probing of datasets and interpretations by successive generations of scholars: the digital age puts digital archives at the heart of academic endeavour.

The third pack 'Electronic Journals: a resource for teaching and learning' looks at the way archaeologists have used network technology to publish their work. Archaeologists have been quick to establish electronic journals in order to publish their findings, and have used new forms of writing and presentation to make their research both more accessible and at times more compelling. Based on the premise that these new academic literacies require novel critical skills among students, this module provides a critical reader to the pages of Internet Archaeology. It looks at three particular aspects of electronic publishing: the ability to present large quantities of information graphically, the ability to create interactive distributions, and the ability to present large quantities of interactive data. These three elements are brought together in a final 'capstone' exercise that looks at the range of electronic publishing, and identifies the values that underpin formal publication.

Digital publications are perhaps more established in archaeology than digital archives, but they remain something of a novelty. The sorts of opportunities digital publication offers has been well rehearsed since the early days of Online Archaeology, as have the challenges they present (e.g. Rahtz 1994; 1995; Holledge 1995; Kilbride 1995; Clarke 2001; Winters forthcoming). Commentators have discussed a number of specific challenges to archaeological writing, including the ability to present compelling but potentially spurious representations of sites, monuments or landscapes (Terras 1999; Eiteljorg 1999; Huggett and Guo-Yuan 2000; Bateman 2000); the ability to present multiple themes simultaneously through hypertext (Hodder 1999; Holtorf 1999); and the relative - almost inadvertent - shift to data that electronic publication has fostered (Gaffney and Exon 1999; Wickham-Jones 1999). The real challenge to conventional publication, however, probably derives not from these considerations so much as a shift in reader behaviour (e.g. Kilbride and Winters 2001). Unpublished focus-group research by the ADS shows repeatedly that students turn to the Internet as their information source of choice, preferring electronic resources to conventional books or journals. Given the unconventional nature of much Internet-based publishing, the overwhelming impulse among students to depend on the Internet to support their own reading, and the specific skills that are needed to read the new sorts of presentation that the Internet allows, it seems sensible to make students aware of the dangers and opportunities that electronic publishing presents.

The fourth and final element of PATOIS, 'Christ Church, Spitalfields: an inter-disciplinary resource for learning and research', looks at multi-disciplinary aspects of archaeological research. Understanding communities and individuals from the past requires many different skills. In addition to the computing skills that we take for granted, archaeologists routinely call upon an extraordinary range of methods including forensic medicine, topographic and architectural survey, historical investigation, and chemical analysis. Even where such specialist methods are undertaken for us, archaeologists are often required to synthesise them, deriving a coherent and consistent narrative. The final module presents a case study in the challenges faced by real-life archaeological research in the crypt of Christ Church Spitalfields (Reeves and Adams 1993; Molleson and Cox 1993). As well as the complicated archaeology of the site, students are introduced to the detailed historical sources associated with the site, in addition to the skeletal evidence that the specialists used in order to study the population buried in the crypt. Because it crosses and introduces such a range of disciplines, this tutorial is also appropriate for historians or forensic scientists dealing with archaeological methods for the first time. The tutorial also discusses the health and safety issues associated with managing such a complex site, stressing the need for effective project planning and preparation.

By introducing this cross-section of resources in the fourth tutorial, we want to make it clear to students that archaeologists need to be able to turn their hands to many different skills. A problem-based approach to research is encouraged, and the need for flexibility in research methods is emphasised. Issues like planning, staff management, dealing with bureaucracy and teamwork are inherent in the Spitalfields tutorial. As well as being better equipped to deal with the sorts of data that are produced on excavation, the more astute students should also end the tutorial with a clear sense that academic excellence alone does not make for successful archaeological research. Changes in attitudes towards employers and their liabilities mean that issues like risk-management are of increasing importance to archaeology and to all research projects. Thus, students are not only presented with the site narrative as understood by the excavators, and the materials and skills necessary to evaluate that narrative, they are also presented with insights into the conditions in which that narrative was created. Understanding the constraints to data collection is often as important as understanding the data itself. Students completing the Spitalfields tutorial pack should have a very good idea of these constraints. In addition, new lines of enquiry since the excavations are also apparent, such as the relationship between the multi-cultural historical record, the modern multi-cultural society and the apparent homogeneity of the excavations.

"...some data providers choose to mediate content to make it accessible to other communities....rather than changing data, we wish to change the students themselves: rather than opening access to information, we wish to open up the research community. "

Taken together, the four tutorials present students with new interfaces to existing data. Those data are the same data that an expert or researcher would use, and though there is explanatory supporting text, exercises and feedback, the essence of the PATOIS tutorials is to introduce undergraduate students to the same research materials that their post-graduate colleagues may expect to use routinely. In doing this we hope that students will be better able to start their research careers, with skills that will stand them in good stead in these changing times. In some projects, data providers have chosen to mediate content to make it accessible to other communities: data are changed to make them more palatable. PATOIS is different. Rather than changing data, we wish to change the students themselves: rather than opening access to information, we wish to open up the research community.

Accepting that 'most learners are not yet ready to be researchers' (Laurillard 1995, 186), implies that specific forms of teaching may be more appropriate than others. Whereas ADS or other open-ended online resources may be wonderful in the hands of an expert scholar, the experience for a new learner can be radically different. Unsure of the technology they may be unable to evaluate results, unable to specify appropriate questions, or be distracted by irrelevances which more experienced users may ignore. As many of the articles in this issue make clear, educationalists have long recognised that open-ended discovery learning is ambitious, even at advanced post-graduate levels: it can only be made to work with significant investment or supervision from expert staff. Indeed, we should not presume that learners are necessarily ready to be ICT users, so alternative engagements must also be accommodated. As Laurillard notes, the interactive characteristics of computer-based products makes it possible to engage in 'guided discovery learning' which may otherwise be too expensive or time consuming to support (Laurillard 1993; 1995). This means that we should neither settle for a simple narrative account, nor should we be content with an open-ended interaction. It means that both narrative and interactive methods should be employed together. So, PATOIS presents not just a series of datasets, nor even a narrative account of those datasets: it is a structured engagement with datasets which includes a narrative, but which provides the skills necessary for a more ambitious, student-centred interaction.


Last updated: Mon Sep 23 2002

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