The Internet, Images and Archaeology: ideas for interactive tutorials

Pamela Wace1 and Frances Condron2

1 Donald Baden-Powell Quaternary Research Centre, University of Oxford, 60 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6PN.
2 IT consultant, Formerly Learning Technologies Group at Oxford.
Pamela Wace pamela.wace@prm.ox.ac.uk Frances Condron francescondron@hotmail.com

Cite this as: P. Wace and F. Condron 2002 'The Internet, Images and Archaeology: ideas for interactive tutorials', Internet Archaeology 12. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.12.7

Summary

This article reports on a small-scale study into how the Internet might be used for tutorial teaching in archaeology, which was undertaken by the authors as part of their project work for a Teaching Diploma at Oxford University. A workshop was developed to explore how the Internet and image-rich resources online could be exploited within the curriculum, and in turn what changes might need to be made to that curriculum in order to embed a critical, reflective approach to student learning. The practicalities of using the computer in the classroom were also investigated, in terms of available facilities, staff and student training, and the impact of computers on staff-student dynamics. Condron was also involved in a more extensive study of the use of C&IT (communication and information technologies) in small-group teaching across a range of subjects (the ASTER project), to which the Oxford case studies have contributed.

There is concern that students are not making the best use of all available evidence, including fieldwork reports in libraries, excavations, and visits to local museums and heritage centres. New undergraduates may have little experience of archaeological practice and its interdisciplinary nature, and often find the sheer volume of data overwhelming.

Yet archaeology is a highly visual subject, and images are essential to the reconstructions arising from the complex interpretation of what is a partial record of past activities. The range of this imagery is vast, for example, 'objective' site photography, schematic plans and diagrams, and interpretative illustrations. Digital media provide new opportunities for 3D and interactive imagery. These offer many interpretative possibilities for debate, and discussions over the authenticity of reconstructions can often be fierce. In addition, it may be difficult to find the original data on which these reconstructions were based. This, together with the many assumptions and methods that underlie these reconstructions, create a complex maze through which students need to be guided, in order to evaluate and critique archaeological literature.

Students also need the essential skills of object recognition and the ability to visualise landscapes, settlements and more. But students may not be encouraged to develop these skills in their everyday reading, and may have problems linking what they learn in practicals (including fieldwork) to the rest of their course.

The Internet offers access to a vast range of multimedia material that can be incorporated into teaching, supplementing local resources in the library and museum. Online resources duplicate those available in print: fieldwork reports; monument and landscape surveys; artefact and ecofact collections; museum guides and more. They can also be interactive: searchable catalogues; dynamic maps; images that allow the user to zoom in and pan around; models of buildings one can fly through, over, under; objects that can be virtually picked up and moved around. This flexibility enables users to engage with and explore material in ways not available in printed works.

The diversity of online resources and their visual wealth offer great opportunities for education:

  1. Students can be exposed to points of view and evidence from around the world that may not be accessible in any other way. These can be useful in initiating debates on evidence and reconstruction.
  2. Tutors and students can quickly find and compile datasets for use in their work.
  3. As the Web is not a refereed collection, users need to develop their critical faculties to make the best use of this material.
  4. Online resources can be used to develop problem-based and student-centred approaches to learning, by offering students the flexibility to choose the topics and formats of assessed coursework.

However, there are potential hazards in shifting to virtual as opposed to real worlds:

  1. Students may assume that the virtual is an adequate substitute to practical experiences in the lab, field and museum.
  2. Including IT into teaching invariably adds to staff workload, and any changes need to be embedded into the curriculum if they are to have a lasting impact on students' approaches to archaeology.

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Last updated: Wed Aug 21 2002

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