Surfing Indoors: Bringing the Net into the Classroom
David L. Carlson
As the rapid growth of the Internet continues, opportunities to use it to enhance teaching about archeology have expanded as well. While flashy Web sites help to boost students’ interest in archeology, there are a variety of simple ways to use the Internet that do not involve complex programming skills. Class Web pages and electronic conferences are good ways to begin. This paper explores a variety of ways that instructors can use Web pages and e-mail to stimulate interest, deliver course materials, facilitate communication and develop critical skills.
While field archeology has changed dramatically in the last ten years with the introduction of global positioning systems and electronic distance metering, so also has our ability to communicate research results to students and the public. Most of us are still struggling to keep up with new developments while we seek ways to use the new technologies to best advantage. This paper focuses on how the Internet and the World Wide Web fit into the teaching of archeology and anthropology.
In the strictest sense, this paper is misnamed. It is not about bringing a computer to class so that your students can gather around it like a campfire while you surf exotic Web sites. Instead, it is about ways that you can use the Web to expand your existing arsenal of teaching tools.
Some of the most valuable contributions the Internet makes to your teaching are pretty mundane on the surface. They are also the easiest to learn and the easiest to incorporate into your courses without dramatic changes in content or presentation. This paper also discusses methods that require a bit more sophistication of both teacher and students, and some ideas that will not really be effective until the next generation of the Web.
The simplest way to begin using the Internet in your class is to put your e-mail address on your syllabus. All of the advantages of e-mail apply to your interactions with students. No phone tag, no garbled messages, you control when you respond. Especially for large classes and for shy students, e-mail allows you to communicate more effectively.
While e-mail is generally one-to-one communication, you can conduct class discussions outside of class with an electronic conference or bulletin board. An electronic conference handles the distribution of e-mail so that any message sent to the conference is redistributed to all the participants. You can use an electronic conference to remind students about upcoming tests or assignments, television specials or lectures that are relevant to the course. You can also use them to make sure that everyone gets an answer to a question that someone asked after class or by e-mail. The conference also is a way of encouraging students to talk to one another about the course. A bulletin board works similarly to a conference, but the messages are not delivered automatically to each student’s e-mail account. Conferences and bulletin boards assume that all of your students have access to the campus computer network and have e-mail accounts, but that is increasingly common on campuses today. You will need to talk to someone at your college or university who is responsible for the campus network to find out how to create a bulletin board or electronic conference at your institution. Once you have created the conference or bulletin board, you will be able to re-use it from one semester to the next. You can use the conference or bulletin board to facilitate communication informally or you can include participation as part of your evaluation of each student at the end of the course.
You don’t necessarily have to create your own conference or bulletin board. There are many that have been already established around broad and narrow topics. There are general archeology lists such as ARCH-L,1 regional lists such as AZTLAN-L and topical lists such as HISTARCH. In addition, there are many USENET bulletin boards including sci.archaeology.mesoamerica, sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology.paleo and talk.origins. Two good sources of information about mailing lists are Anthropology Resources on the Internet2 (formerly by Allen Lutins and now maintained by Bernard Clist) and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training’s Preservation Internet Resources3 (Figure 1).
If you are going to ask your students to subscribe to one of these conferences, you should provide them with some guidance regarding etiquette. Lists with established subscribers do not always respond diplomatically to requests like, “I need to know about some books on the Aztecs by tomorrow.” On the other hand, good questions usually stimulate good answers and productive discussions that draw on the experience of archeologists around the world.
Creating Web Pages
If you are teaching a large lecture class, creating a class Web page will allow you to provide a variety of information to your students at virtually no cost to your department. I generally create a simple Web page for each class that contains a copy of the course syllabus, links to Web sites that are relevant to the class, copies of the transparencies that have my lecture outlines and any visual material that I use in class that is not copyrighted. I also put study guides for the tests on the class Web page and post test grades. For some classes I have developed collections of Web links that relate to class topics.
While creating visually engaging Web pages can be time-consuming, simple Web pages are created easily with software you already may have on your own computer. Current versions of Corel WordPerfect and Microsoft Word allow you to convert a file to html4 format. While the results will not perfectly reproduce your original materials, it will probably suffice. You can improve the conversion by keeping several things in mind when you create a document that you plan to publish on the Web using a word processing program. Certain formatting codes that are common in word processing are missing from the current definitions of html. Tabs and indent codes are examples of formatting codes that do not exist in html. When making a syllabus with columns for dates and reading assignments, create a table in Word or WordPerfect instead of using tabs to create columns. Tables convert easily to Web documents. Lists also are defined in html so that creating a numbered list or a bulleted list is another way of indenting text.
If you want to work directly in html format, you probably will be better off using a Web page editor. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Communicator each come with Web page editors that will be adequate for most of your needs. The only missing step is getting your pages on the Web. Your university probably provides space on the university computers for your Web page, but you will have to find out how they want you to upload the information. This may involve another program or you may be able to retrieve and save your Web files from your Web page editor.
While setting up electronic conferences and class Web pages will help you reach your students more effectively, you also can use the material on the Web to stimulate their interest in archeology and anthropology. While you can attempt to load and display Web pages in class on a computer connected to a video projector, your students will not find this very stimulating. The Web is an interactive medium that works best when each student controls the pace and direction of the exploration. You will get better results by assigning activities to your students that are completed outside of class. Those activities should result in papers, class presentations or class discussions. You can create these activities yourself, but you should check with the publisher of your textbook since many of them are now establishing Web sites to support their texts.
The excitement of archeology and its relevance in the contemporary world are reflected in recent news stories that concern discoveries, great debates and controversies. All of the major news media now maintain Web sites that contain much of their printed or broadcast material. You can easily find links to news items relating to anthropology and archeology at Anthropology in the News,5 a site that I started about two years ago to replace a bulletin board full of news clippings that I kept outside my office (Figure 2). The news items on the site can be used to stimulate discussion in class or on your class mailing list.
If you have spent any time surfing the Web, you know that archeology is well represented. If you don’t know what is on the Web for archeologists, you should visit some of the Web sites that index other Web sites. For archeologists some good starting points are ARCHNET6 — the grandfather of indexes to archeology sites, but no longer up-to-date — the World Wide Web Virtual Library for Anthropology,7 Yahoo’s Anthropology and Archaeology8 section, Kris Hirst’s Archaeology9 page for About.com, and Anita Cohen-Williams’ Archaeology on the Net.10
A simple way to begin incorporating information available on the Web is to provide links to Web pages that provide additional details to material covered in your lectures, in the text or in the documentary videos that you are using. The sites can be sources of more up-to-date statistical information or current events that relate to people, societies or other topics covered in the course. While these links are useful to students, you often will find that they do not use the material unless you are specific regarding how the material is to be used. The sites can provide a basis for classroom discussions or your students might use them to find ideas for research papers or reaction papers. Students also could be asked to review and critique the sites in papers or classroom presentations. You can ask for written reviews or critiques of the sites or can include questions about the sites on your tests. If you don’t yet have a collection of relevant links ask students to find Web sites that relate to topics in the course. If your class is relatively small, you can make the creation of the course Web site a project for the entire class.
The various activities that you can organize around the Web fall roughly into four categories. First, you can assign a Web site or page as you would a reading assignment and ask students to learn the material presented there. Second, you can assign a Web site and ask students to critically evaluate the logic and evidence cited. Third, you can ask students to find information on the Web, at either a Web site addressing a topic or a Web page containing specific information. Finally students can use the Web to master course materials through interactive quizzing.
Supplementing Traditional Course Materials
The simplest Web assignment is one in which you ask students to read a specific document. This activity uses the Web as a kind of 24-hour reserve room and is a good way for students to begin to become comfortable with the Web. The variety of articles available on the Web is limited but it is growing. Scientific American, American Scientist, and other magazines put one or two articles from each issue online. In other cases, authors put copies of published articles on the Web, or put unpublished or in-progress work on the Web. As examples, the following articles are available:
- “The African Emergence and Early Asian Dispersals
of the Genus Homo”11 from American Scientist by
Roy Larick and Russell L. Ciochon
- “An Evaluation of Chaco Anasazi Roadways”12 —
a paper presented at the 1996 SAA Meetings by John Kantner
- “The Origin of the Human Capacity”13 — the Sixty-Eighth James Arthur Lecture on the Evolution of the Human Brain, given at the American Museum of Natural History by Ian Tattersall (Figure 3)
- “The Viking Longship”14 in Scientific American by John R. Hale
- “Getting Their Hands Dirty: Archaeologists and the Looting Trade”15 in Lingua Franca by John Dorfman
- “Transitions in Prehistory”16 in Science by Tim
Appenzeller, Daniel Clery and Elizabeth Culotta
Your university may have electronic versions of scholarly journals that your students can access. Electronic versions of the Annual Review series and Academic Press journals are available now and others eventually will be available.
In addition to assigning an article on the Web, you can assign audio or video clips. The availability of these also is limited but growing. National Public Radio maintains an archive of programs and interviews that can be played with a RealAudio plugin. National Geographic Society,17 PBS,18 and the Discovery Channel19also have audio programs available. Some examples include the following programs –
- “First Humans in the Americas”20 with Michael Waters, Thomas Dillehay, Dena Dincauze and Roger Powers, February 28, 1997 Talk of the Nation
- “Human Origins”21 with Donald Johanson, May 9, 1997 Talk of the Nation
- “Early Human Ancestors”22 with Antonio Rosas, May 30, 1997 Talk of the Nation
- Interview with Mark Lehner23 from “Pyramids, The Inside Story”24 from NOVA.
- “Discovering the Maya”25 by George Stuart, National Geographic Society, April 14, 1999 (Figure 4)
- “Demille Dig”26 Renee Montagne reports on an archeological excavation along the coast of California to recover Cecil B. Demille’s set for “The Ten Commandments” on Sounds Like Science for National Public Radio, April 3, 1999
Video still is relatively rare on the Web because the storage requirements are so great and the quality is still low, but clips of recent news stories are available on many different news sites including CNN27 and ABC.28
Articles, audio clips, and video clips are relatively easy to incorporate into your course since they are linear media. All students proceed from beginning to end in the same sequence so it is relatively easy to define what they should learn in the process. One of the advantages of the Web is that multimedia presentations need not be linear, which means that visitors to a site may all begin at the same place, but then diverge into different directions. Archeology has a relatively large number of multimedia sites that use a combination of text, images, sound, video or virtual modeling to describe an archeological site or to discuss an archeological topic. Your students can get much out of these sites, but you will have to be specific regarding how much of the site they need to visit.
Web sites that focus on particular archeological sites have a number of advantages over printed versions. Publication to the Web is fast and inexpensive. Web treatments of archeological sites have even been developed simultaneously with excavation. Color images cost no more to reproduce than line drawings. They cost students nothing to use. On the other hand, they usually go through fewer stages of review and, once created, they can linger on the Web after their information has become obsolete. While the sites can be a valuable complement to teaching about archeology, you will need to exercise quality control by selecting only sites that are accurate, current and present archeology as more than the collection and illustration of interesting artifacts. There are a number of good sites available, such as:
- The Jamestown Rediscovery Site29 by the Jamestown Rediscovery Project
- Keatley Creek,30 Charlie Lake,31 and Namu32 at Simon Fraser University
- Five Points, New York City33 by Rebecca Yamin
- La Grotte de Lascaux34 by the France’s Ministry of Culture
- The Ceren Web Resource, Joya del Ceren, Archaeological site, El Salvador35 at the University of Colorado
- Çatalhöyük36 at Cambridge University (Figure 5)
Providing less detail about sites, but fun to explore are a variety of three-dimensional reconstructions of archeological sites including:
- The 3-D Reconstruction of Chetro Ketl Great Kiva37 by John Kantner
- Tikal38 by Studio360
- Tenochtitlan39 by Dell Maxwell
- Ancient Hrappa40 by Wayne Belcher
- Tunnels of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem41 by Aish HaTorah
- Virtual Palenque42 by Qvision (Figure 6)
Other Web sites address a particular topic. Many of these have been designed around documentary programs so that they provide a nice complement to the program if you are using the video in class. Most of them will also stand on their own and allow students to explore a topic on their own in more detail than their text or classroom presentations.
- “Andes Expedition: Search for Inca Secrets”43 by National Geographic Society
- “Secrets of Easter Island”44 by NOVA
- “In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great”45 — Michael Wood’s series on PBS
- “Collapse: Why Do Civilizations Fail?”46 from the Out of the Past series by Annenberg/CPB (Figure 7)
- Treasures of the Sunken City47 by NOVA
Developing Critical Skills
One of the biggest concerns about material on the Web is how reliable it is. You can use archeology and the Web to help students develop their critical skills when it comes to evaluating claims made at Web sites. As you would expect, there are Web sites that talk about how to evaluate Web sites critically. For example, Internet Detective48 is an interactive tutorial in how to evaluate the quality of Web resources (Figure 8). Other good pages are Critical Thinking Resources49 at Longview Community College and A Student’s Guide to WWW Research: Web Searching, Web Page Evaluation, and Research Strategies50 by Craig Branham at St. Louis University. Once you have discussed evaluating Web sites, you can provide a link to a Web site and ask your students to evaluate its credibility. Alternatively you could ask students to compare two Web sites such as a fantastic archeology site and a site critiquing those claims. The Web is not the home to more outlandish claims about archeology than you will find on television or at the newsstand, but the Web makes it easy to place claim and counterclaim side-by-side.
As your students become familiar with the Web, you can assign the task of finding types of sites on the Web. You may ask students to find one or more Web sites that are designed for a specific audience. In doing this, they will become more experienced at using the variety of search engines that are available. Some engines, (such as Yahoo!), are better at finding Web sites, as opposed to specific information on specific pages within a site. There is no correct answer but students learn how to find sites on the Web and get the flexibility of seeking sites related to their individual interests. In a similar activity you may ask students to find specific data on the Web. This activity is slightly more challenging since students must evaluate the quality of alternate sources. In some cases there may be more than one correct answer so that evaluation of this activity should focus on the process of locating and evaluating the information more than the specific answer.
Asking your students to learn about an issue on the Web is more challenging. Your question may be posed more broadly and the issue can involve strong proponents for opposite positions. Students may be asked to locate two or more competing positions and analyze the issue in terms of the claims by each side. This activity involves more skill in searching the Web for information and sifting through numerous possible Web sites for those that are relevant. The activity also involves a critical evaluation of two or more positions. This activity could be used as the basis for an essay question on an exam or as a springboard for class discussion. Combined with library research, this activity could be the basis for a research paper.
While the Web provides a great deal of information to assist students in learning about anthropology and the world around them, the Web can also tempt them to bypass the library and limit themselves to Internet resources. You, or a library representative, should talk to students about how students can use the Web to improve research skills with books and journals in the library. Help students find out how to access the university library catalog online and let them know which journal indices are available online at your institution. You should also talk about plagiarism and the Web. You will get some useful ideas on Gregory Senechal’s Instructor’s Guide to Internet Plagiarism51 site and from Tom Rocklin’s article “Downloadable Term Papers: What’s a Prof to Do?”52
You should be aware of the large number of services on the Web that provide term papers to students. A few sites, such as School Sucks53 (Figure 9) provide papers for free to students (and their instructors). Other services charge for papers. The cost is usually about $5 to $10 per page for pre-written papers and more for custom-written papers. You can find sites like these at Yahoo’s Research and Term Papers54 section or by using a search engine for term papers or research papers. There are now a few sites that claim to evaluate papers for plagiarism by comparing them to a database of papers, but it is very unlikely that the database is really complete or could possibly include “custom” papers. Tom Rocklin suggests focusing on the process of writing a term paper. Require students to select their paper topic early in the term. Require a bibliography and an outline of the paper. Have students give a brief presentation on their paper with time for questions from other students or the instructor. While none of these guarantee that a student will not take the easy way out, they make it somewhat more difficult than if the paper is simply announced at the beginning of the term and collected at the end of the term.
Interactive Quizzing and Tutorials
Many major publishers are building Web sites for their texts and increasingly offer various interactive activities such as quizzing. You should try these activities yourself before deciding what to require or recommend. Since there is no security for online quizzing you probably will not want to use the quiz scores directly. The quizzes may, however, be a useful study tool in helping students to master the material.
The Web has the potential to enhance and improve the quality of teaching about archeology. By providing students with direct access to current information and to diverse claims and counterclaims, the Web helps us to communicate the process that archeologists employ to understand the past. In that sense, the Web does not replace texts or the library, but provides additional means to help students see how we come to conclusions about the past.