Institute of Archaeology



Curriculum Wars: Edutainment, Employability, Critical Thinking? New Archaeological Pedagogies of Power, Knowledge and Accessibility | Wed Dec 18 09:30:00 | Room 777/80

At a time when the heritage and education sectors are both firmly in the grip of financial cutbacks, a battle ensues. It is the battle between delivering interesting and engaging content, versus providing foundations for employability, whilst also offering suitable pastoral support. Meanwhile there is an alternative view of education that it is an improving activity without the need for instrumentalization (although critical thinking may make the individual more adaptable and resilient in the face of changing skills needs). This is a challenge with a complex and interdisciplinary subject such as archaeology. Is there a need to construct an archaeological pedagogy? Or do we need to be developing multiple pedagogies to deal with and accommodate the interdisciplinary nature of archaeology?

Such interdisciplinary pedagogies need to deal with the question as to how are we expected to manage these challenges of providing an accessible rounded education to an increasingly diverse audience? Does the drive for accessibility compete with the desire to create suitable confident graduates to take up the mantle in the seemingly growing demand for industry professionals? Empowering students with knowledge and confidence could be promoted with pedagogies that can cope with the uncertainties of the current education sector. This session encourages contributors to share insights into how we continue to entice students into the sector by emphasising the wide-reaching opportunities this sector offers before they consider or reach university, and how we keep them on track into higher education given the ever-rising costs of undergraduate and postgraduate study. In these times of austerity, current trends are towards more monetarily rewarding futures. We need to identify how we meet these challenges to ensure a resilient and robust heritage sector in the future.

As part of this, theories of knowledge and power are important for archaeological purposes, and also analyses of how power and knowledge operate, are performed, and maintained in the classroom space. Diversity issues include autism, depression, gender, age and ethnicity. Support for disabilities is under financial threat, and demographic diversity may become less of a priority with increasing institutional pressures.

Session timetable
9:30 | Session organisers


9:35 | Don Henson, University of York

Prehistory in the curriculum: let's write a schools’ resource for the Mesolithic site of Star Carr

Teaching prehistory in schools has long been a goal of archaeologists. Now we can do this, but how? For the Mesolithic, this is challenging. The period is largely unknown and misunderstood by the public having few iconic sites and lacking monumentality. For Star Carr the challenge was to create a teaching resource that could deliver a deep understanding based on the archaeological evidence. This talk will show the approach that was taken. Come and enter the world of Neska and Mutil and their family 11,000 years ago.

9:55 | Sally Herriett, Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Bristol / Truro College, University of Plymouth

It’s Not Just About Digging Holes – Understanding The Wealth Of Opportunities An Archaeology Degree Can Present

Research has shown that the younger we engage with children the more familiar they become with a subject and the greater the chances are that they will continue with that engagement in later life. However, with the absence of any mention of archaeology in either the primary or secondary curriculum, and the removal of archaeology at A-level, how are schools supposed to appreciate and understand that studying archaeology is so much more that simply digging a hole. How can we encourage engagement that supports teaching across an increasing narrowing curriculum, whilst inspiring children and young people to see the potential of studying archaeology at university level?

This paper will draw on personal experience and practice of over 30 years hands-on interaction with children and adults and demonstrates the ease at which children can become enthralled, particularly those that do not generally do so well in a more sterile academic environment. By demonstrating how hands-on activities, such as handling boxes can be used within schools, Young Archaeology Clubs (YAC), and the growing home education community, this paper seeks to widen the understanding of the importance of such activities that can be easily introduced, to enrich education across seemingly unconnected subjects within the curriculum. This paper will discuss the impact that such scenarios have had on children and young people and consider the many ways in which embracing a hands-on approach encourages children and young people to think outside of the box and offers valuable opportunities to engage and open young minds to the potential diverse opportunities within archaeology and the heritage industry.

10:15 | Stuart Falconer, Open University / Truro College, University of Plymouth

So, when do we learn how to dig? Employability and existing skill sets

Since the loss of A Level Archaeology, students who sign up to HE programmes often come with limited perceptions of what the subject entails. Any media will have informed them that an archaeologist’s role is surveying or digging in a trench and as such, have no existing skills relevant to the field. With an ever competitive HE marketplace it is becoming increasingly important to challenge these student preconceptions by getting them to understand and accept that the wide range of skills and knowledge they possess before arriving on the course and the different things they learn whilst on programme, can have significant real-life applications in an archaeological workplace.

Therefore, the role of the institutions and archaeology programmes is two-fold. They must ensure students have a clear understanding of themselves and their existing skills and abilities, and they must also offer diverse and enriching pedagogical approaches which not only build on a student's knowledge and confidence but develops much wider skill sets, which see students in a position to undertake different roles in the heritage sector.

Whilst students will often perceive the term employability is often perceived with a sense of irrelevance when up against more traditional archaeological skills, its importance cannot be underestimated. By building in assignments and activities that enhance learner skills directly and indirectly we can create much stronger job candidates whose skills and knowledge stand them in good stead for the future in the heritage sector. The key is to get them to acknowledge this and understand just how ready to get involved they already are.

10:35 | Jennie Robinson, University of Leeds

The benefits of an employability teaching model

The sea change created by introducing high tuition fees, and turning students into consumers, has benefited some departments, whilst others, including archaeology, have been severely disadvantaged by falling student numbers and hence diminished income. This paper presents my observations on employability, pedagogy and student priorities, after moving from archaeology and anthropology into a Business School.

The fee-paying climate has not deterred those students who passionately wish to study, and work in archaeology come what may, but has deterred those who, in the past, might have taken it as an interesting route to a degree without a clear career plan or passion. (This is even more so in anthropology.) These plan-less students are now converging on business departments, who are dealing with unprecedented admission numbers. Without a driving passion for topic, or much clue what the content of a business degree might be, what these students want – what they show up for - are the skills to secure a well paid job. Having worked in both departments, I will argue that archaeology is in fact just as able to provide students with a route to generic graduate jobs, but often does not market itself as such. I will share the model of employability teaching used in my current school and invite discussion about whether it would be beneficial for archaeology and other subjects to adopt a similar model.

10:55 | Session organisers


11:10 | BREAK
11:40 | Caitlin Kitchener, University of York

In Small Things Forgotten: PhDs, pedagogy, and teaching historical archaeology

How do you teach according to your pedagogy in a module you did not design, have four two-hour seminars to transmit important archaeological themes, and as a PhD student? The power dynamics of the learning space are complex and layered: I am both a staff member and student, I have materials to work within, and I am not necessarily teaching every group. In this paper I will discuss my experiences teaching on a four-week module block Themes in Historical Archaeology: Modern and connect them to wider experiences of PhD students who teach. I attempted to include a queer pedagogy through introducing moments of discomfort and disrupting the rhythm of the seminars.

As well as making these connections, I will argue that historical archaeology (defined loosely as c.1500-c.1900) needs to develop its own pedagogy and teaching needs to incorporate and value historical methodologies. It is speculated that increasing the appreciation of history, text, and its methods in the classroom could be beneficial to future relationships between history and archaeology. Historical archaeology is in the position to guide students into history, heritage, archaeology or a combination. What small things about teaching, learning, and other disciplines can we remember to improve, enhance, and enthuse our archaeological pedagogies?

12:00 | Caradoc Peters, Truro College, University of Plymouth

Autism -Reality & Practice

The idea of an ethnography of student cohorts is useful in analysing their needs and therefore how to teach them. Hiving off students with different conditions (or just ignoring them and hoping for the best) does not help with employability or even integration with the rest of the group. Many lecturers have limited experience of autism, Asperger’s or even prosopagnosia and other conditions that limit a student’s ability to ‘read’ other people and their experiences. They may be concerned when common modes of assessment, and the teaching that leads up to them, prove difficult or even insurmountable in achieving successful outcomes. The recent reduction in funding for learning support such as note-takers and study-advisers places the lecturers and students in a direct interface without intervening interpretation or mediation.

Consider the nature of assignments that are traditionally set. They often require hypotheticals. Sometimes assignments can ask a student to imagine circumstances that whilst realistic are not real. Other times, they may include open-ended questions that do not necessarily have a specific answer, or answers, but rather attempt to test the students’ critical abilities in putting together an argument. Furthermore, if an assignment relates to experiences that have already taken place, some students may not have the advantage of ‘mind’s eye’ in their sensory recall.

It is possible to make allowances for over-literality, but actually there are benefits to increasing the realism of assignments for all students. This can involve using real workplace or research formats, and by selecting real sites and artefacts that have been investigated before, but not from the viewpoint required by the assignment. Reflective assignments or others that contain an element or elements of past sensory experience can be front-loaded. One can ensure that students collect and collate written, audio-visual and tabulated data collected in advance for the assignment. All these solutions are good practice for any student.

12:20 | Catriona Cooper, University of Cambridge / University of York

Multisensory pedagogy: listening and feeling as part of the learning process

Archaeology and museum studies are highly adaptive disciplines and quickly adopt methods, approaches and theories developed elsewhere. However, what is critical, is that the disciplines, however practical, take on a fundamentally visual focus (think viewsheds, Munsell charts and do not touch signs). However, we also know that we can experience and learn in a non-visual way. In this presentation I am going to touch on two non-visual ways of approaching elements of archaeology; through 3d printing and touch as explored at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and through acoustic exploration developed as part of the MSc Digital Archaeology at the University of York. Through these two engagements, which I hope delegates will take part in, I will show how taking a visual approach to teaching a non-visual subject can limit our understanding and interpretation of the archaeological record. Further, that we need to develop appropriate and varied teaching strategies to impart knowledge that goes beyond the lecture, seminar or exhibition. Please be aware that this presentation will involve the popping of balloons and interactivity.

12:40 | Session organisers


13:00 | END