3.1 A rich environment

It is obvious that the availability of high quality, full colour images, sound clips, mini movies and commentaries should make the learning environment a richer, more diverse, and memorable place. For students of archaeology, SCRAN provides access to multimedia records relating to some of the most significant sites in northern Europe - such as the Shetland Isles, the Kilmartin Valley and Callanish (Figs 15-17). Users have considerable flexibility in searching for and grouping materials - for example, a search on a particular place (such as Caithness) will reveal records relating to many different time periods. A search on a time period (such as the Bronze Age) will yield records across many different locations. Or a search on a particular material (try bone) (Figs 18-20) will provide multiple examples of different objects made from that substance.

Select thumbnails to access the relevant SCRAN resource.

Bronze Age house at Jarlshof Ardifuar Dun (aerial) Callanish II stone circle
Figure 15: Bronze Age house at
Figure 16: Ardifuar Dun (aerial) Figure 17: Callanish II stone circle
Antler comb Bone die Inuit seal lance
Figure 18: Antler comb Figure 19: Bone die Figure 20: Inuit seal lance

"Web-based resources also open up a new space for learning"

Particular benefits of digitisation include, of course, opening up access to remote landscapes or to delicate or fragile objects otherwise out of reach of the learner. They also provide the opportunity for views - such as aerial views - that are not easily available to the individual (Fig. 21), or moving images of situations (such as underwater excavations) that it is rare to experience (Fig. 22). Convenience is another important factor - providing one can get online, web-based resources are available around the clock and support self-paced, self-directed learning. Web-based resources also open up a new space for learning. Formal education has perhaps suffered from the assumption that it has to take place in a designated room and the flexibility of time and space that is offered by virtual environments suits many learners.

Nether Largie stones Gaming pieces
Figure 21: Nether Largie stones (aerial) Figure 22: Gaming pieces (video clip)

However, digital resources are always surrogates, and it would be absurd to argue that any picture of the Kilmartin Valley, for example, could be a substitute for the real thing. But as well as providing a taste for someone who can't get there in the first place, digital resources have lots to offer alongside the actual physical experience - see Spicer and Stratford's (2001) findings that while students were unanimous in their view that a virtual field trip was no substitute for an actual field course, it could add significant value by enhancing preparations or acting as a revision tool afterwards.

A multidisciplinary resource such as SCRAN can offer additional benefits in providing a more expansive, interconnected learning environment. A learner using SCRAN to prepare for field work on Orkney, for example, would have the opportunity to investigate all kinds of historical and cultural aspects of the island - from old maps, to native literature, to animals through the ages (Figs 23-25). A student learning about the prehistoric Funzie Girt Dyke on Shetland would have the chance to listen to the folk tale about the farmer, the cow and the troll that has grown up around it (Fig. 26). Someone studying the cairns of the Outer Hebrides could tap into the local soundscape and listen to recordings of corncrakes, particular to that area, or tune into the wind, a basic feature of island life for centuries and a constant source of sound to anyone actually there (Fig. 27). And of course a multimedia resource provides better support across different learning styles than more traditional materials. Visual learners will appreciate lectures that are richly illustrated, or virtual learning environments that have ample pictorial as well as textual content.

c'Carta Marina', Orkney Museum, Kirkwall, Orkney George Mackay Brown, Orkney 'Orkney Breed' sheep
Figure 23: 'Carta Marina', Orkney Museum, Kirkwall, Orkney Figure 24: George Mackay Brown, Orkney Figure 25: 'Orkney Breed' sheep

Finnigirt voice-over - audio clip Wind in trees - audio clip  
Figure 26: Finnigirt voice-over (audio clip) Figure 27: Wind in trees (audio clip)  

As a resource for bringing learners into contact with their subject matter, and as a resource for educators looking to present the subject matter, digital libraries are a very welcome addition to the learning environment. But given that good learning is so much about meaningful learner activity, the fact of availability or exposure to this rich content is not quite enough. What is really interesting to look at are the different ways in which these resources can be used by learners.


Last updated: Wed Aug 28 2002

© Author(s). Content published prior to 2013 is not covered by CC-BY licence and requests for reproduction should usually go to the copyright holder (in most cases, the author(s)). For citation / fair-dealing purposes, please attribute the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI.

University of York legal statements