Susan Dixon Renoe is an archaeology educator from Columbia, Missouri and is the Project Archaeology state coordinator for on-line workshops.
I have always enjoyed using Project Archaeology in my classroom. However, I was a little skeptical when they told me there was an on-line course. I thought how could someone learn about archaeology in front of a computer? Worse yet, how could someone learn how to teach the curriculum if they haven’t been through a hands-on workshop? I have always believed that the best instruction happens face to face not interface to interface. So when someone suggested that students in an on-line course receive more personal attention than students in a traditional classroom, I was not convinced. Still, when they asked people to “sit in” on the course with an eye toward becoming instructors, I was intrigued.
Through my experience as both a student and an instructor, two things have pleasantly surprised me: first, it is possible for teachers to learn how to use the curriculum in their classrooms without sitting through the traditional two-day workshop; and second, participants do receive personal attention. In a traditional classroom, learning is constrained by time and space. Classes meet for a set period time in a set place, and often that space is used by multiple instructors for multiple classes. It is not always possible for class discussion to continue past the hour. However, in an on-line community, it is possible for the discussion to continue indefinitely. Students are not as constrained by fear of rejection or embarrassment because they do not interact face to face; so they are more likely to participate. They can think about their discussion posts before they enter them into the site, and posts can be entered at any time, so there is no pressure to respond immediately.
The instructor in an on-line course can answer personal emails and provide one-on-one feedback 24 hours a day. He or she is only constrained by his or her own availability and interest. This generally provides students with a more personalized educational experience. The course is designed to get participants involved in an on-line community of scholars who are tackling problems and learning together. The discussion questions encourage participants to share their experiences teaching the material with each other. There are also several assignments that include uploading personal photos, which add to the sense of community. This is important because participants come from geographically and culturally diverse areas. For instance, this class session, I have a student from Canada and one from Florida.
One of the objections people have to taking the on-line course is that they are not sure about the technological side of things. Never Fear!!! The Project Archaeology staff has thought of everything, and they have the BEST technical support I have ever encountered. Not only have they tested every aspect of the site for problems, they also provide almost 24-hour technical support. Rarely do students have a problem using the course site, and, if they do, the staff is ready to get them back on track.
One of the benefits of the course is that people from all over have access to a wonderful curriculum without having to leave the comfort of their own homes. Some participants may not be able to attend a traditional workshop because there are no facilitators in their area. Another benefit is that information is disseminated quickly and efficiently. In eight weeks, participants are ready to start using Project Archaeology: Investing Shelter in their own classrooms. Teachers can elect to receive two hours of college credit for taking this class, so they can work on professional development credits during the school year and not just in the summer.
In this increasingly technological age, on-line classes seem to be the new educational frontier. Most colleges and universities have on-line degree programs. It only makes sense that other educational programs would follow suit. Project Archaeology has created a curriculum relevant to diverse people and cultures. They have found a way to marry cutting-edge technology with timeless information. Still a skeptic? Take it from a reformed skeptic, try the on-line course, and you’ll be a believer too!
Small confession (I just had to find a way to get their hands dirty): Last year, when I taught the course, several of the students were from my geographic area. When a two-day summer workshop was held in our state, participants had the opportunity to extend their experience and participate in an excavation. The workshop facilitator graciously agreed to let participants from the on-line course come to the excavation as well.
If you would like to attend a Project Archaeology on-line course or would like more information, please follow this link. http://umnh.utah.edu/projectarchaeologycourse or contact Madlyn Runburg at (801) 585-6310.