A Web-Based Digital Learning Environment for Archaeology Students

Jeanne Sept
Anthropology Department
Indiana University
701 North Kirkwood Ave
Bloomington IN 47405-7100

Martin Siegel
Center For Excellence In Education
Indiana University
201 North Rose Avenue, Room 2201
Bloomington, Indiana 47405-1006

All faculty teaching introductory survey courses in the social sciences and humanities face a dilemma: how to give students a broad overview of the fundamental issues in a field while at the same time engaging them in problem-solving, using the analytical methods of their discipline. We are exploring this pedagogical challenge in the context of introductory archaeology classes. We are developing a Digital Learning Environment for use on the World Wide Web (WWW) that we propose can not only transform student-teacher relationships in archaeology, but also model an innovative strategy for improving the quality of learning opportunities for students across a range of disciplines.

With support from a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Department of Education (FIPSE) we are designing a Web-based visualization tool called TimeWeb that allows students to query a complex relational database on African archaeology, and examine the time/space relationships of the archaeological materials that they find. Asked to evaluate the earliest farming in Africa, for example, students can search for sites with dated evidence of food production, such as plant remains or artifacts, and display the search results chronologically on a dynamic time scale, on a choice of integrated maps, or as a sortable list. They can then link from any site displayed in TimeWeb to a web page that contains archaeological data and multimedia information for that site. Students can use information they discover at individual sites to refine their next TimeWeb research queries.

We have done formative tests of TimeWeb in two archaeology classes, taught at Indiana University during the 1998-99 academic year by J. Sept. While our database is still in an early stage of development, preliminary classroom results suggest that students are eager to use these web-based tools to explore complex datasets for themselves. However, they initially need more structured class time and digital tools to work cooperatively, both to develop team strategies for problem-solving, and to integrate and interpret their research results and discuss them with other members of the class. The next phase of our project will be addressing these issues of curriculum and technological development.