Grading- Technology- Archaeology

Jane Eva Baxter, Associate Professor of Anthropology, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois USA.  Email:  Twitter: @janeevabaxter


Reading all of these entertaining Day of Archaeology posts puts my day into perspective.

Fieldwork? No.

Analyses in the lab? No.

Fun technology? No.

Travel? No.

Public engagement? No.

Legos? No.

No, today on this day of archaeology I am grading final essays from my summer session online World Prehistory class. Don’t get me wrong- I love teaching. I am passionate about teaching. But grading? No one loves grading- especially in July.

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We all know that undergraduate essays have the ability to unintentionally revise the past in ways that are most improbable and amusing. See the classic, “Life in the Past Reeked with Joy” as a delightful example. Archaeological essays are often filled with similar types of revisions. Ever imagine what it was like for a Chrome Magnum to hunt a wholly mammoth? Or, wonder who is included in the species Homo Gorgeous? And, who hasn’t been amazed by a famous find in China- an entire army of Terra Cotta Worriers. My current students are on top of proofreading and autocorrect, and no inadvertent revisionist archaeology has taken place. In fact, they’ve provided a really excellent set of essays, and I’m quite pleased.

Evaluating student work is also a way of evaluating one’s own teaching. Successful students are, at least in part, a reflection of a successful class experience. Because I teach my World Prehistory class online, I’m always acutely aware of the disjoin between the multi-sensory, tactile, and material world of archaeology, and the relatively disembodied, non-sensory experiences that characterize online learning. How can I convey archaeology as a discipline, as a practice, as a community, and as a way of thinking to students who may never experience archaeology beyond this online course?

Trying to solve this pedagogical problem requires me to draw heavily on my archaeological training. Archaeology is a discipline focused on technology, particularly how technology mediates, reflects, and structures social relationships. Teaching online demands that I constantly consider how technology can be used most effectively to create a community of learners, to formulate relationships between my students and I, and to enable certain types of learning experiences that connect students to archaeology in meaningful ways. I also have to consider how technology works in the worlds of my students, recognizing that my perspective on course structure and design as a 44-year-old professor may not translate well into the world of my 20-something students. In other words, I have to think about how technology functions both to create and bridge generation gaps.

All of these questions about technology and pedagogy have archaeological parallels, particularly to my own work on the archaeology of childhood, which focuses on inter-generational understandings of technology and material culture. I am grateful to be a part of a discipline where technology can be a catalyst for exploring and understanding human relationships in the past and in my online classroom. Now back to those essays…

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