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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

 

MSCD_FS2 Students Site Tour _10/11/2015

As part of our Memphis Site and Community Development project, students and teachers cooperate in the creation of a tourist trail around Hathor Temple, one site within ancient Egypt’s first capital city. Photo by Amel Ewieda, Autumn 2015.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I was devastated by the outcome of the referendum on British membership in the European Union (i.e., “Brexit”). I woke up on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, read the headlines, and literally started to cry in despair. To me, the results suggested true failure on the part of the British population and the world at large (I consider myself a part of the British population, and indeed my Commonwealth status allowed me to cast a vote). This includes:

* failure to moderate the deep misinformation circulating in the run-up to the vote;

* failure to intervene in a matter that boiled down, in some cases, to bigotry and xenophobia masquerading as democracy;

* failure to educate such that we (1) enable truly critical thinking and (2) foster decision making based on extensive, robust research and real evidence gathering and weighing – not based on gut instinct, nor on personal experience alone, nor on fear or desperation or prejudice.

The events following Brexit have left me even more despairing. As I see it, the fallout has mainly reinforced or actually worsened all of the most contemptible practices and belief systems that fed into the predicament in the first place.

By this I mean, for example, the efforts by many to avoid critical reflection on the implications and potential long-term results of the vote (for one such excellent reflection see Tobias Stone’s post, History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump – and also his follow-up, A response to some of the comments on my last essay, wherein he aims to review the nature of, and respond to, the replies to his attempts at critical discussion and hypothesising about the future).

Also, I mean the tendency to then silence and/or mock those who might express these critical thoughts. Here a “stop complaining and move on” rhetoric is spouted, as though critical thinking and reflexive consideration of the pathways and politics that have contributed to today’s predicament aren’t integral to figuring out how, in fact, to move on.*

Also, I mean the continuing trend not to intervene, not to express any opinion on, and instead basically just pass the buck when such rhetoric begins circulating. Here inaction or passivity usually leaves interested people (like me) without the infrastructure or necessary support to figure out how we might contribute to rethinking the world as it stands today.

These behaviours are seemingly manifest all around me. However, I was especially devastated to see them made possible on a Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Facebook thread launched on 31 July in relation to a Guardian article about funding risks for UK archaeological research post-Brexit. Here a conversation ensued which encouraged or demonstrated many unsubstantiated claims, threatening and/or abusive language, as well as the silencing of critical voices by direct and indirect insults (e.g., “How incredibly stupid”; “The decision has been made…You cannot live in the past”; “you’ll achieve nothing sitting there and moaning”). For a significant portion of the thread, too, there was no obvious mediation by the CBA, an organisation that one might assume would have adopted a stance on Brexit from the moment the referendum was announced. Indeed, the CBA was founded more or less as an advocacy organisation in the mid-20th century, so the notion that it should sit mute about a matter that directly impacts its constituencies is unfathomable to me. (Note that the CBA has indeed responded to Brexit – interestingly, this response was posted the day after the thread was initiated – but the nature of that response deserves its own scrutiny & hence is beyond my scope here.)

I have been so heartbroken about the current state of affairs in Britain that I have begun to diligently seek out advice from friends on how I might personally respond. In the first and most basic of my attempts, I used social media to solicit some thoughts:

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For me, joining a political party was not my priority, but of course several of my friends rightly replied that I need to think seriously about why I’m so quick to dismiss this option as meaningful. (I’ve many reasons both for and against, but the state of politics in Britain strikes me as cruel and dire at the moment, and I’m not prepared to invest in it now.)

Others suggested interesting ideas like public teach-ins, poetry movements, local volunteerism, or seeking out citizen action groups. My worry, of course, is how I initiate and assemble such things when I barely have time to fulfil present obligations.

Still others generously suggested that I’m already doing relevant work through my teaching and field projects. (More on this below.)

Most important to me were extended emails from two of my closest academic friends, Tom and Alistair, whose recommendations all clustered around a similar set of ideas. Tom and I have discussed formalising everything into a clearer call for action for the archaeological community. But for now suffice it to say the general gist is that, relatively speaking, we are in powerful positions in the university system, hence we need to capitalise on these positions. Whether through teaching or writing or using our voices & research to connect us with the media and the wider world, my friends made the point that I do already have the tools at hand to respond (even if I sometimes feel that I’m speaking only to like-minded individuals).

So, I thought I might put this advice from my confidantes in action…

Team Photo 2016

The 2016 Visualisation Team at Catalhoyuk in Turkey, with members from Turkey, Canada, England, USA, and New Zealand.

In late June/early July, my Visualisation Team at Çatalhöyük narrowly missed both the Ataturk Airport attacks in Istanbul and the Turkish coup. We were in the position to leave the country and return safely to our homes abroad, however many of our dear Turkish friends and colleagues were not. I was, and I still am, genuinely scared for their wellbeing and futures.

As my research and practice are effectively entirely centred around community building and cooperation, I couldn’t fathom resting motionless in York whilst events were unfolding as they were in Turkey. I sought advice on the best way to act, and my fabulous colleagues in the department here at York suggested, in the first instance, that I write to more powerful forces in the university system to garner their backing.

I wrote a letter to my university’s Vice-Chancellor and to University Archaeology UK. I’m happy to send you a copy of that letter should you wish – you could then adapt it (i.e., make it better) if you think it might be meaningful for your own activist causes. Sadly, the letter has led to nothing, replicating the disturbing patterns I describe above. In the only constructive outcome of my efforts, our VC kindly proposed that I write to Council for At-Risk Academics and Scholars at Risk, and offered his support if I did so. I’m not sure, though, if it’s worth pursuing this further, as I’m not convinced that my letter (or any letter, for that matter) will lead to consequential action.

Then, this past week, while teaching on a course in Athens (see #dialpast on Twitter) where my focus was mainly on collaborative story-writing as means to foster care/concern, I got the terrific news that I’ve been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education (THE) 2016 award for Most Innovative Teacher of the Year.

This is a tremendous honour for me, and I owe much of the success to colleagues who’ve believed that my quirky goals might be achievable, and hence who’ve supported my endeavours to realise them. I have to explicitly name Lucy Moore, Amanda Walters, Tom Smith, and Meghan Dennis. Their written contributions were ultimately directly included in my nomination – so I’m indebted to them.

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So excited about this!!

However, it wasn’t until one of my brilliant MA students in this year’s Cultural Heritage Management cohort wrote to me that I started to think critically about the THE award:

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Following Gill, whilst my nomination concerns innovation, I have to say that what I strive for most has more to do with the opposite (if one takes innovative to mean a concern for the new and original): i.e., I’m interested in creating sustainable, long-lasting networks of compassion, support, stability, trust and collaboration. For me, digital tools & efforts at novelty help to facilitate such work, but that work also exists independent of them and can manifest just as well (sometimes better) in their absence.

It is matters of care and cooperation, then, that are of most interest to me: nurturing them, passing them along, teaching them to others, and maintaining them in the future. This means my relationships with students (and them with their peers and partners) are often very long-term, going far beyond the lifetime of any single innovative project.

I’ve been particularly inspired by the sociologist Richard Sennett, who’s been writing a trio of books on “the skills humans possess to make a life together.” At the core of his most recent argument, as I read it, is the idea that, to survive in today’s world – and to create a better world for the future – we must cooperate. Most significantly, as I understand, cooperation is a craft that demands skill, and this skill can variously be taught, learned, practiced, valued and advocated for.

Regardless of the results of the THE nomination (although obviously my fingers are crossed! & I feel it might open new spaces for me to take action), I hope it’s this basic craft that I’m recognised for; i.e., nurturing civility, good citizenship and cooperation with my collaborators/students which, in turn, nurtures the same in their colleagues and peers. In this way, my impact may be small, very specific, and ordinary, but with potentially significant consequences in the longer term.

I want to be responsible for making the world a more tolerant, caring, empathetic place. I would like – and I believe it’s imperative – to cooperate with others in this quest. We, as teachers, have a unique capacity to teach not just didactic content, but compassion, sensitivity, kindness and critical thought. We don’t actually need novel tools or methods to do so; rather we need merely a commitment to the principle of togetherness (borrowing from Sennett), and trust in ourselves, our students and colleagues that working together matters, that it must be prioritised, and that it offers us more and better options for the future than does the alternative.

 

* The archaeologist Reinhard Bernbeck (2013, 26-27) is one of many to identify this tendency as a symptom of “our post-critical age”. As he puts it, “At the root of this problem is a deep misunderstanding of what ‘critique’ means…”

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Screenshot of some of my Master’s students’ medium.com shares on Twitter, using hashtag #yorkchm2

As some of you know, I’ve been experimenting this term with the integration of a new mode of digital engagement into my Master’s-level teaching at the University of York. The term has just ended, and the experiment has proven to be far more successful than I could have hoped. In spite of a couple of hiccups along the way, my students have authored a series of truly fascinating and thought-provoking heritage-related articles on medium.com. A background on the project is articulated here. The full range of publications (seven in total) is viewable here (or search for hashtag #yorkchm2). For those interested in pedagogy, it’s perhaps worthwhile to look at the background document first to get a sense of the rationale for applying medium.com. Among other things, I am limited to just 2 hours of in-class contact time per week with my cohort of nearly 50 Master’s students, so I have long been looking for ways to extend the classroom beyond its physical walls and logistical constraints. These publications represent one mode of learning and engagement that weave together with a series of other modes – both digital and analogue.

To briefly introduce the articles:

  • When is a museum not a museum but an experience? Read “Small Museum, Big Impact? Two kings, two gates, one city” – a lively discussion of two of The Jorvik Group’s visitor attractions by Noah Todd, Sally Toon, Celeste Flower, Natasha Anson, Katherine Anderson and Claire Boardman.
  • For an inspiring and entirely original application of the MuseumHack concept to the York Art Gallery, do not miss “Hacking the Gallery! How to Get Teenagers into Art” by Louise Calf, Katie Campbell, Meghan Dennis, Alice Green, Andrea Marcolongo, Benjamin Richards, and Inez Williams
  • For those keen on mobile apps, check out “Debates in app-cessibility: Is the use of mobile apps in heritage contexts enhancing or impeding?” by Gill Bull, Laura Saretsky, Jason Kosh, Amedeo Viccari, Veronica Smith, Aimee Hardy, and Olivia Morrill
  • If you are interested in innovations in digital exhibition and memorialisation, see Geneviève Godin, Valeria Cambule, Charlotte Jenkins, Ben Culpin, Alexander Mitchell, and Nadine Loach’s critical review of the fantastic Project Mosul: “A Digital Afterlife for Destroyed Heritage”
  • Have you heard of the estate of Park Hill? Interested in how to manage the many histories and values of contemporary urban sites? Then see the proposal “Park Hill: Past and Present” developed by Joelle-Louise Hall, Benjamin Gill, Joy Kemp, Caitlin Crosby, Hannah Page and Georgina Pike.
  • If you’re concerned about issues of access, and interested to experiment with extending the reach of already-known heritage spots, please check out the proposed project of Alison Edwards, Apoorva D. Goyle, Matthew Hargreaves, Aoife Kurta, Charlotte Roden, Helen Simmons, and Alice Trew, “Lowry’s York: Your York”.
  • And to witness amongst the most ambitious projects that I’ve ever seen developed and implemented in just a few weeks’ time, view and contribute to the exhibition #CurateMyLife – a full multi-media campaign launched by Lucie Fletcher, Emma Grange, Ana Paz, Margaret Perry, Ben Philips & Eleanor Styles. As the authors/curators describe it, #CurateMyLife aims to “help all generations of people to view heritage as a truly fluid aspect, which surrounds and encompasses every aspect of life, and, by sharing this personal heritage, it…help[s] to blur boundaries between different individuals and maybe even usher in new forms of educative liberalism and awareness of life, in addition to providing new inspiration for future exhibitions.”

I would be very keen to receive your feedback regarding this project overall, as well as regarding my students’ specific publications/responses to the project brief. If you can, please do comment either here (on this blog) or on the medium.com posts themselves. With a couple of tiny tweaks, I’d like to continue this experiment in the future, so your thoughts, recommendations, and constructive critiques will go directly towards informing its next iterations. Your input will also be combined with more formal evaluation data that I’ll be gathering with the students from next week, which I’ll then weave together alongside the official module feedback and share with you in future posts.

Thank you in advance for your help and interest!

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Some of you might know that I’ve spent the past three months in Egypt, living literally next door to the pyramids of Giza and working about an hour’s drive away at the site of ancient Egypt’s first capital city, Memphis (now partially covered by the modern town of Mit Rahina).

Until just two days ago, we weren’t able to speak in detail to the wider public about the nature of the project owing to permissions, but I’m now so pleased to say that my collaborators, Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), have just published our first press release:

and our generous primary funder, USAID, has used social media several times over the Autumn to hint at our activities:

There’s so much to say about the programme that we are running and the incredible history of the site of Memphis (it was the political and religious centre of pharaonic Egypt for thousands of years, the pyramids are part of its cemetery complex, it is the home of the Apis House (the only site of its kind! …where bulls were mummified as part of an elaborate ritual process), Alexander the Great sacrificed to the Apis bull and was crowned king here; it was long a tourist and pilgrimage destination for everyone from ancient Romans to Greek philosophers to antiquarian travellers, and it was ‘lost’ – no one could quite locate its remains – until just two centuries ago.

I’ll save more of the details for our collaborators to tell you about when we launch our webpages and social media in the future. In the meantime, if you’re keen for views on ancient Memphis, check out this impressive Facebook page run independently by one of AERA’s alumni. Also, make sure to learn more about AERA’s fabulous and long-standing research and teaching efforts in Egypt.

For now, I just want to briefly mention the fieldschools that we’re leading, which form one of the principal outputs of the project (and are a new addition to AERA’s portfolio). Herein, we are training Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities inspectors and related Egyptology and museums professionals in archaeological site management, heritage interpretation, tourism development and community engagement. This training is an applied programme, delivered via a combination of lectures, classroom-based production, and on-the-ground development of Memphis as a tourist destination (including construction of a walking trail/interpretative route around eight of Memphis’ principal sites). Just yesterday, at the Ministry of Antiquities headquarters in the Zamalek district of Cairo, we celebrated the graduation of our first 32 Egyptian trainees and 4 Egyptian supervisors, who work at key heritage and cultural locations around the country. I was excited to see that one student, the excellent Shaimaa Magdi, invited her journalist friend to the event, so you can catch some of the diploma ceremony on YouTube:

and if you read Arabic, you can learn more about it all here.

What’s been the most special aspect of this project for me? Definitely my contact with Shaimaa and the many other Egyptians who’ve studied with me, my small team from York, and AERA. These students are truly the most wonderful human beings that I’ve ever encountered. They have touched me in a way that I couldn’t have fathomed, and I feel like my faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity has been affirmed by my interactions with them. I can’t say enough how much happiness, laughter, kindness and warmth they’ve shared with me. I looked forward to every day of teaching them because they made me feel hopeful for the future, and they made our many challenges seem slim and even manageable because of their individual and collective good spirit and generosity. On a personal level, then, I’ve been changed by them.

MSCD_FS1 and FS2 Students Site Tour _10/11/2015

Fieldschool 1 and 2 at Memphis. Photo by Amel Eweida.

But as I teacher I’ve been changed too. This is a direct result of my students’, AERA’s, and York’s shared eagerness to learn together, to revise and edit and rethink our outputs together, to challenge common understandings of heritage management, to work six days a week, at least 9 hours a day (and, on many days, up to 12 or more hours per day!!) on panels and guidebooks and websites and more, and to create something completely new out of a very difficult archaeological site that’s been virtually forgotten. It has been inspiring, and it’s profoundly altered my professional practice.

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Myself and Amina, one of the graduates of our first fieldschool, on graduation day – Tuesday, 15 December 2015. Photo by Ian Kirkpatrick.

Moreover, often on a daily basis, I’ve received the most touching feedback from the students – the kind of feedback that makes you cry with joy – that reaches right to your soul – that warms your heart and leaves you feeling empowered and capable of changing the world. I’ve asked permission from one of my students, the exceptional Sara Komy, to quote her words, because I would be lying if I said that the project wasn’t full of challenges, but it is the highs that come from these comments that instantly boost your confidence and motivate you in the face of difficulties:

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This message of Sara’s is just one of a series that have touched my heart, given me strength, and further heightened my deep love for Egypt. As you can imagine, even though I only flew home yesterday, I miss my students tremendously. Everyone should be so lucky to meet people who make you feel as if, together, you can genuinely transform the course of history and construct a better world.

I’ll leave you with a couple more images of all of the happy times that we’ve had together (and there have been many!).

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Singing together and enjoying the bus trip back from site with some of fieldschool 1.

MSCD_FS2_Students Final Site Tour_13/12/2015

One of our supervisors takes an extra candy while on a break from touring Hathor Temple and Apis House at Memphis. Photo by Amel Eweida.

I look very forward to returning to work with my Egyptian collaborators again in 2016. I’m off now to catch up on everything I’ve missed here in York!

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Detail of a storyboard produced by a team of heritage practice students at the University of York

Detail of a storyboard produced by a team of heritage practice students at the University of York

My 10-week heritage fieldschool for first-year undergraduates was launched at the end of April, and since then, we’ve been engrossed in its many elements, which (like all field training programmes) entail a major commitment of time and energy: more than 32 hours per week of making, doing, learning, revising, accounting and critiquing. As per last year, I designed the course to provide students with the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the full spectrum of heritage practice, from excavation and recording through interpretation, collections handling, audio-visual production, museological display and curation, to archiving, promotion, audience evaluation, reporting and critical self-reflection. The structure is similar to that from 2013 (read more here), but it’s benefited from a massive amount of feedback offered by the students themselves, by our many collaborators, and by generous members of the public and readers of this blog.

The students are documenting their process on group blogs, which you can access through the links below.

Head over Heels into Heritage: http://headingintoheritage.blogspot.co.uk/

Moving Forward into the Past: http://movingforward-past.blogspot.co.uk/

I continue to be amazed by the amount that can be achieved in such a short timeframe, and by the phenomenal progress demonstrated by these students who, just a few weeks ago, had virtually no experience with planning interpretative content, nor with audio-visual production and editing, archival research, blogging, presenting to non-academic audiences, or curation. We invite others to follow along as the next 7 weeks of their training unfurl and they evolve into filmmakers, exhibition designers, audience evaluators, promoters, event organisers, and digital media technicians. I’m really proud of their accomplishments, and I hope you might consider offering your constructive input on their outputs and experiences as we move forward.

This year’s fieldschool is particularly interesting for me, as it coincides with a larger personal research project (part of my PGCAP certification) that I’m doing on the efficacy of digitally-mediated pedagogy. I’ll be presenting on that research several times over the next couple of months, including at the Google Apps for Education (European User Group) conference, and the York Learning and Teaching Conference (please come along – there are some amazing presenters featuring at these events), and I’ll hopefully—fingers crossed—also be publishing some aspects of it in an exciting forthcoming issue of Internet Archaeology (more details soon).

In preparation for these outputs, I’ve been conducting 30-60 minute interviews with my undergraduate and Master’s students who’ve kindly agreed to give me critical feedback on their experiences of my courses. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response that I received from everyone when I emailed to ask for their time—nearly 100% consented to being interviewed, meaning that I’m now in the course of conducting these interviews and processing thousands of minutes of associated qualitative data. I’m very indebted to my students because they’ve offered me much food for thought—and some needed positive reinforcement too. Perhaps the most revelatory of these interviews so far have come from last year’s cohort of fieldwork students, because I can reflect immediately on the relationship between their experiences and my current cohort’s evolving experiences.

I’ll quote here from one such interview:

I think it really did [have an impact on my understanding of heritage]…Before, all year, we were learning a lot of the background of archaeology which was really literature based, so I think we all really enjoyed the module because you had the chance to be creative and think outside the box of what heritage and archaeology have been built up for you to be…[And] it gave me more confidence…gave me confidence to apply for internships, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise…[And] we produced something at the end which we were all really proud of…And also I talked to people outside our sphere of the degree course…What was great about it [the module] is that we were given the task…and we just ran with it. It was great to be given the opportunity to do what we wanted with it, and I think that definitely gives you ideas for the future…Definitely I take different creative experiences from it, and I’d use the ideas in the future…

I engage with digital media in my teaching because I think they have the potential to transform the research that we do, as well as our fundamental conceptions of the nature of archaeology and heritage studies themselves. These media can facilitate (and, of course, hinder) the pedagogical experience, but my concern is not so much their impact on teaching itself as the effect they can have on how my students practice, interpret, and create our field of enquiry in the future. If they leave the classroom feeling enabled, equipped and confident to test out these tools in different contexts, then I feel like I’ve made a constructive contribution to their professional trajectories—and to the profession itself.

Scholarly discussion of the creativity that is made possible through digital media work is recognised within educational (e.g., see Smith and Burrell 2013), media studies (e.g., see Gauntlett 2012; Losh 2012) and archaeological (e.g., see Morgan and Eve 2012; Richardson 2013) circles, but arguably among the latter the conversation is primarily driven by professionals speaking to other professionals or to the interested public, without the benefit of extensive and reflective student input. The digital humanities literature on ‘critical making’ or ‘building’ as a form of scholarship and training is more advanced (e.g., Ramsay and Rockwell 2012; Ratto 2011), and I am hopeful that my research (alongside the work of, for example, Shawn Graham, Terry Brock and Lynne Goldstein, among others) will offer an avenue to insert archaeology into that more substantial and influential line of thinking. At the same time, I am also hopeful that this work will contribute to and challenge the existing discourse on field schools/field work in (and beyond) archaeology, recognising the scope that creative, public, digital production has for narrowing the gap between theory and practice, and simultaneously empowering students.

I’ve much more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for my talks and forthcoming publication! I’ll end by expressing my great thanks to all those who are supporting the students on this year’s heritage fieldschool, including my fantastic teaching assistants Claire Price and Katrina Foxton; the unparalleled team at the Yorkshire Museum – especially Natalie McCaul, Martin Fell and Mike Linstead; filmmaker Gavin Repton; my colleagues on the Star Carr Project; and the many experts who’ve taught the students either in person, via Skype, or by otherwise sharing resources, opinions and good practice – including Colleen Morgan, Simon Davis, Tom Smith, Sophie Norton, Teri Brewer, Joe Tong, Tara-Jane Sutcliffe, Don Henson, Angela Piccini, and Nicole Beale.

As anyone who does fieldwork knows, our investment is long, intense, and filled with highs and lows and innumerable blunders and miscalculations; yet the outcomes are deeply rewarding because of the friendships, creative breakthroughs, and collective ‘ah-ha’ moments that are generated through its collaborative, experimental underpinnings. Thanks so much for following along on our adventures.

References:

Gauntlett, D. 2011. Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Losh, E. (2012) Play, things, rules, and information: Hybridizing learning in the digital university. Leonardo Electronic Almanac 17(2):86-102.

Morgan, C., and Eve, S. (2012) DIY and digital archaeology: What are you doing to participate? World Archaeology 44(4):521-537.

Ramsay, S., and Rockwell, G. (2012) Developing things: Notes toward an epistemology of building in the digital humanities. In Gold, M. (ed.) Debates in the Digital Humanities, Open Access edition: http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/11. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ratto, M. (2011) Critical making: Conceptual and material studies in technology and social life. The Information Society 27(4):252-260.

Richardson, L. (2013) A digital public archaeology? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23(1):10, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pia.431.

Smith, C., and Burrell, A. (2013) Creativity in learning spaces: We can all gain! Paper presented at the University Campus Suffolk Annual Learning and Teaching Day, Ipswich, 5 July 2013.

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One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey

One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey (photo by me)

It’s the second anniversary of my academic post and I’m headed in momentarily for my annual assessment with my scholarly mentor. I continue to find the performance review process very meaningful both professionally and personally (albeit time consuming from a paperwork standpoint). This is not only because it allows me to lay out exactly what I’ve done over the course of a year and, in so doing, attempt to appreciate what is really a significant amount of work accomplished and actions achieved. But it also permits me an opportunity to reflect on all of those lightbulb moments and learning experiences that have changed me and my practice since January of last year, yet that often pass by so fast that I don’t fully recognize their impact on who I am as a human being.

2013 has been good for me, and I say this with much humility as I struggled deeply in my first year to find my way: to adapt to a new job, to new responsibilities with degrees of accountability so high they were truly frightful to me, and to a new city where I knew essentially only two people – friends from research projects – and spent a lot of time alone. More than this, I was very confused in that inaugural year on a personal level.  Andy Shuttleworth did a wonderfully candid and very resonant blog post earlier in 2013 which all new academics should read. It speaks to the kind of inner turmoil that many of us go through as we get more and more bound into our PhD and post-PhD lives – a binding that can lead you into a form of corrosive and relentless self-interrogation and absorption that is damaging both intellectually and emotionally. Escaping that vortex came, in part, for me via getting to work and enjoy time with others – students, colleagues, friends, the public, and especially my partner and family – and learning to see problems as potentially transformative moments (which isn’t easy and is an ongoing effort for me). Because of all the people that I interact with now, unanticipated differences of opinion or unexpected difficulties in implementing plans are the norm. I try to appreciate them now less as failures on my part and more as spaces for me to come out thinking in new ways – although, as per below, I will not compromise myself if these problems contradict the evidence base and my moral code.

The highlights of my year are many, and a lot of them are already documented on this blog so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. But I do want to acknowledge some of those people who have made an especial difference in my career over the past 12 months.

My students continue to be the greatest revelation for me as a new academic. I remember when I was finishing my Master’s degree back in Canada and I was teaching an anthropology tutorial to a group which was clearly not engaged with the subject matter. A member of staff told me not to get discouraged, but to rather invest my energy in the couple of students who did clearly care about the topic. Whilst this advice was well-meaning, I’m glad I never took it to heart. Because what I’ve found is that if I experiment with approaches, if I offer opportunities for students to explore the edges of their creative capabilities, if I push outside normative modes of teaching and assessment and aim to cultivate safe places for students to make and test out ideas and learn the dimensions of constructive critique, I’m actually investing energy in everyone. And those students who one might never have imagined would participate or care about the subject matter, in fact, begin to work through the most thought-provoking and potential-filled concepts. Yes, things go wrong and we make mistakes and the path doesn’t lead where we anticipated. But taking this path – I think – is critical, because in my experience (and in spite of frustrations) it leads us on the journey with the most ‘a-ha’ moments. Our reflexive exhibitionary work at Çatalhöyük is full of these twists, and I’m especially lucky to have been able to take some of our York students out this year to continue the journey during what was my best season yet (read a bit about our work in the most recent Çatal newsletter: pp. 7-8).

These collaborations with my students in the classroom and in the field are just one of a spectrum of productive working relationships that I have with a range of interdisciplinary specialists. Honestly, I couldn’t realise the vast majority of my plans without the ideas and assistance of many people, most significantly Tom Smith (Collaborative Software Specialist), who has been central to essentially all of the digital projects I’ve done at York to date. Tom is one of the most important individuals I’ve been able to work with in 2013, and my experiences have been further enhanced by meeting Simon Davis (E-Learning Advisor) and Ned Potter (Academic Librarian). These colleagues have variously advised me, taught my students, promoted my projects and challenged my ideas. They make my job not just interesting but fun and inspiring. And they are among a community of supportive people, some of whom I only know in digital form, who often provide critical feedback and much-appreciated positive reinforcement through channels like Google Plus, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook and Twitter. On top of this, I’ve also had multiple wonderful surprise introductions to individuals in different fields of practice, like digital identity specialist Abhay Adhikari, who have helped me to conceive of my own work in new ways.

The last highlight of 2013 that I’ll mention now has been the funding, data collection and preliminary reporting of our Gender and Digital Culture project. I am so deeply fortunate to have the privilege of collaborating here with Dr Lucy Shipley and (soon-to-be Dr) Jim Osborne – honestly, they are extraordinary people and I completely lucked out in getting them to work with me. We are all indebted to Dr Graeme Earl whose initial belief in the project provided us with a small amount of seed funding. In just 9 months time, that little seed has led to the launch of our project blog and Twitter account; to the full implementation and analysis of the data from our survey; to presentations at the Australian Archaeological Association’s annual conference, the University of Rochester’s Decoding the Digital conference, and the Integrity Project’s How to be a Public Intellectual conference, and an informal presentation to the University of York Feminist Society; to features in the Times Higher Education and the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog; to web-based and print publications in press or already released for Anthropology Now (forthcoming) and Forum magazine, plus a well-read blog post for Savage Minds. On top of this, we ran our online, multi-institutional seminar in November at York and Southampton; and we have an op-ed piece, two journal publications and another (maybe two more) talks already scheduled for 2014.

It is a testament to just how much can be accomplished when you have a collaborator (or two) and a few resources to help you out.

This is where some of my frustrations begin to surface, because I couldn’t have done any of that project on my own, without Southampton’s seed funding and without Lucy and Jim. I would never have wanted to do it alone, but this wouldn’t ever even have been a possibility: I just don’t have the time owing to the fact that it is consumed with endless other tasks that constantly interrupt your thinking, pulling you out of meaningful reflective moments and making it seemingly impossible for you to string together something coherent on your own. The greatest disappointment of 2013 is surely the 10 funding applications that were submitted for various projects and academic schemes on which I was either a PI or CI, but which were successful in only 3 instances. I am positive that part of the problem here lies in my lack of time to invest in the full intellectual development and refinement of these applications.

This is the demoralising catch-22 of the academic sphere (or one of them at least): I’m finding it hard to set in motion full research projects because I don’t have the time, but I can only find the time if I win sufficient money to buy me out of my other duties and fund research collaborators. But…I need time/support to articulate those funding bids in the first instance. That bit of money that Southampton offered to us led to two subsequent and successful applications to other funders, which speaks again to what might be achieved with the tiniest amount of investment up front. It is profoundly frustrating to recognise that, firstly, such miniscule investment is so elusive, and yet that, secondly, I must somehow secure it to ensure my own career progression.

I’m clearly not the only person struggling with this problem, but it leads me to another concern that surfaced in 2013: namely the now incalculable requests that I’ve received for myself or my students to offer their creative labour for free for causes that aren’t linked to any explicit learning objectives or to demonstrable and equal benefits for them. My partner is an artist, so this predicament is sadly not new to me, but it hasn’t been until recently that, via my field of expertise, I’ve also gained the status of creative producer and teacher of creative producers. In my despair about what seems to be exploitation couched as ‘good experience’, I’ve begun to do some research on the subject (which has been studied by many – amongst the better known as regards unpaid digital work is possibly Tiziana Terranova’s (2002) Free Labor – but also see the critiques being outputted now by archaeologists themselves, like Sam Hardy’s unfree archaeology blog and Emily Johnson’s #freearchaeology hashtag on Twitter). I’m distraught by the idea that in the seemingly ubiquitous search for funds and time, some (many?) heritage practitioners and practitioners-in-training appear to be taken advantage of as unpaid labourers who produce outputs that others then use for profit without providing any genuine reciprocity or compensation for such labour. Whilst I believe in the value of volunteering, I don’t want to reproduce this process, and I’m committed in 2014 to ensuring, where I can, that students volunteer their time to tasks with fair, equitable and well-defined goals which are truly pedagogically and intellectually meaningful. Ultimately, I see this as an opportunity, because long-term equal collaboration that intertwines creative producers with other professionals is a highly constructive pursuit on multiple levels for all parties involved. Indeed, this is the very subject that the last 10 years of my own research has centred upon.

I’ll end by saying that 2013 was made better for me by the many of you who, like Andy Shuttleworth, put your experiences out there for all the rest of us to learn from. Howard Williams’ reflections on the sub-Z-list celebrity status that comes with academic life was similarly meaningful to me. Please don’t hesitate to share other links and ideas!

I head into my review today feeling hopeful for 2014: committed to continuing to make a small difference in the world and, most importantly, standing up for my students, my research collaborators and motivators, my friends, family and my ethics.

Fingers crossed it all goes okay. Thank you so very much for your continuing support.

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My senior-level undergraduate course on Visual Media in Archaeology has been running this term—the second time I’ve taught it since I started at York in 2012. As per last year, my students are working on the production of independent blogs, and whilst I previously left the specifications for those blogs quite broad (the students simply had to tell a story about a subject of their choice), feedback from last year suggested that the brief needed to be more tightly focused.

This year, then, I redesigned the task to centre upon the creation of public blogging campaigns to promote objects, sites, archaeological features or figures of the students’ choice for an audience who would otherwise know little or nothing about them. As you can see, the students have taken a variety of approaches, and I am truly impressed by what they’ve accomplished so far, for reasons that I articulate further below. Some are using their blogs as modes of inquiry into larger archaeological and anthropological ways of thinking (My Student House, One Nation Under CCTV), archives (The Pursuit of Mitfords, The Wonderful World of Dahl), and intellectual and methodological practices (The Archaeology of Painting, Virt Arch). Some are exploring the characters of historic figures (Turpin Time, Diary of a Wimpy King)—and/or are constructing their own such characters in order to comment on and narrativise about material remains (The Cloud Man of Peru) or heritage sites (Legend of the Connacta). And still others are interrogating the histories of different buildings (The King and his Manor), towns (Toton Histories), museums (The History Shop), human material remains (What’s this Mummy Doing in Bolton?) and historic documents (The Bill of Rights 1689).

For some, this marks their first independent experience in doing class work that goes beyond traditional essay-writing. The project, therefore, has not always been easy, because live, creative production for the public, that draws upon more media than simply the written word, is exposing. Indeed, it is experimentation in the sense that Tim Ingold (2011:15-16) uses it: “to do our thinking in the open, out-of doors…[to] place the investigator, in person, right in the midst of things.” As such, any mistakes are made obvious, and everything is laid bare to scrutiny and criticism on a scale that none of the students have experienced before.

But this project is important, I would argue, because to borrow from Darren Newbury (2011), it teaches us to care. Especially as regards visual media, we are often only taught to deconstruct and critique other people’s outputs—a caustic form of practice that might hone our argumentative eyes, but that simultaneously leaves us blind to the complexities of making. Ingold (2011:224) puts it nicely when he says that the “spectator who stands at a distance, in order to make an objective study, is observationally blind.” In other words, to truly understand a type of practice—to truly see—we have to DO; we have to both look and act; we have to observe and participate because, as per Ingold, one is conditional on the other. It’s dubious, then, to teach criticism in the absence of teaching creation—we couldn’t possibly carefully and conscientiously conduct (and comprehend the implications of) the former without an intimate familiarity with the latter.

I am very proud of my students, and I’m lucky to have such an engaged and engaging group to work alongside. I’m not sure that every teacher would say that they thoroughly look forward to their upcoming classes—but I do, because it’s never quiet; it’s never untimely or peripheral to current events; it never lacks in debate or informed dialogue. I hope you’ll consider joining in on our journey by providing your constructive thoughts on the students’ efforts and encouraging them with their projects by commenting directly on their blogs and associated Twitter and social media sites. These have been risky endeavours for the students, but it’s also opened up spaces for them to push their expertise further—to create, to do, to care. I’ve been at the American Anthropological Association conference in Chicago this week where Maria Vesperi (professor and editor at Anthropology Now) said it nicely: to produce for public audiences is how you learn–you write to let go. It’s in this release, then, that real knowledge-making happens.

You can access our aggregate site here:

http://visualmedia-archaeology2013.blogspot.com/

Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London: Routledge.

Newbury, D. (2011) Making arguments with images: Visual scholarship and academic publishing. In Margolis, E., & Pauwels, L. (Eds.) SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, 651-664. London: Sage.

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