3. Case studies on using the Internet for tutorial teaching

3.1 Tutorial case studies

Web resources present certain difficulties for tutorial teaching, particularly for first year undergraduates. The expansion of the Internet has been a gift for archaeology. It is now possible to make huge quantities of data available to a worldwide audience, quickly and relatively cheaply. This is especially true of graphics, providing excavators with untold opportunities for the presentation of theories and simulations concerning spatial and temporal development in and around their sites.

However, undergraduates are ill-equipped to make the best use of this resource without supervision. At present, basic data are too often unavailable, especially where theories are put forward as pictorial reconstructions. It would appear that the opportunity to use the power of the image to sway the uncritical mind is proving to be irresistible. This is not sound educational practice and it inhibits, for example, the development of interactive tutorials that might help students understand the basics of their subject.

We have found that too many first year undergraduates have yet to grasp the fundamentals of the subject. In addition, they could not maintain an overview, select key points, evaluate critically the many conflicting theories and understand the nature of archaeological evidence.

To help this group learn more effectively, we posed a Web-based problem as stimulation. Students were provided with a Web page containing a set of prompt questions relating to their next essay, together with a list of Internet links. The intention was to introduce and acquaint them with Web resources in a supportive environment, make them aware of the importance of visual multimedia in archaeological reconstruction, help them select appropriate data, and enable them to evaluate critically material of widely different character and quality. Regions were selected for this exercise if data from many excavations were available as good literature and Web sites for comparative purposes.

Their task was, acting co-operatively, to write a critique of these resources and apply their findings to the next essay. In most cases, the outcome was of a higher standard than normal. This supports using an exercise of this type to introduce new students to the material and standards expected of them and useful feedback was fostered on all sides. The students felt that the critical approach they needed to take for this tutorial was useful, and could be transferred to other parts of their work. The students had divided the work between themselves, and worked individually, meeting together to finalise the critique and essay plan. They found this collaboration useful, and were told they could do this for other essays. The students had made little use of the Web resources for the essay plan, but had found the links useful. For some, however, meaning was not extracted from the material and the essay became a list of unrelated facts without any confirmatory data. The organisation of their knowledge was compartmentalised and no attempt was made at synthesis or application, which led them to strange conclusions. This may have more serious repercussions as they continued to misinterpret knowledge throughout the course, which had to be addressed in departmental teaching strategies. A more detailed report on this case study can be found on the ASTER Website.

Due to the difficulties encountered here, the test for third year students concentrated on understanding. As their knowledge was greater and debating skills more mature, the exercise was to devise a project which connected some of the topics they had been studying in isolation, and to publish the results of their research as a set of Web pages for further comment. The outcome of this test was successful and encouraging.

Projects have certain advantages for learning (Brown and Atkins 1988, 100):

3.2 Workshop on the Internet, images and archaeology

The immediate objectives of the workshop were:

In-depth investigations are best conducted through a structured medium like a workshop (Brown and Atkins 1988, 22-24). This workshop was carried out with six of our peers to account for the perspectives of both teacher and learner. An online presentation was chosen for it because material could be edited easily and made available for future consultation.

The workshop presented here has been revised and the scope extended: to reflect discussion on the day and incorporate any additional comments and concerns of the participants; to provide a format for general use. This extended version now has seven sections and constitutes the appendix:

Feedback resulted in practical suggestions for future implementation:

A big advantage for archaeology teaching lies in the extensive provision of images on the Web. This means that learners can gain an insight into the landscape, excavations, artefacts and even reconstructions of regions and sites they would never be able to visit otherwise, as well as obtaining up-to-the-minute details of on-going fieldwork in faraway places. Both teachers and learners had easy access to searchable archives. Thus, the participants could see their way to using Internet resources:

3.3 Where to next?

Clearly there are a number of practical problems to be overcome. Some difficulties relating to moving images are technical and require modern computers of large capacity and cost. Web sites with good information all too often suffer from poor presentation, likely to put off the less determined. Copyright issues are a major stumbling block to online publishing.

However, using online resources in teaching along these lines could be of real benefit in these cost-effective times and introduce students to some of the world's richest archaeological databases and museum collections. Virtual tutorials may not be as good as the real thing but they can complement the resources of libraries and museums, where these are not readily accessible. Such schemes should maximise the benefits of on-site training times in the field. Perhaps further attention should also be paid to the use of online conferencing for tutoring, debate and instant feedback.

In view of the findings of these case studies, it is clear that teachers need to pay more attention to the range of Internet resources available and consider how they might best be integrated into their teaching. Obtaining information from the Internet poses two main problems for students of archaeology, both arising from the extensive use of images:


Last updated: Wed Aug 21 2002

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