I’m pleased to be able to announce here that in around October this year, the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University will be offering a fully online open course (OOC) in archaeology. The topic differs from many other introductory topics in archaeology though, because we focus on telling the story of archaeologists in contemporary Australian society: what is archaeology, what do real archaeologists do and what are some of the key contexts in which archaeologists work?
This may seem an odd choice for an online topic, however the rationale is simply that our Graduate Programs in Archaeology and Heritage Management are heavily oriented towards helping students move into real jobs in the real world. While academia is a good option for some, there are very fulfilling opportunities for graduates to work as consultant archaeologists, as heritage or interpretation officers, or in archives and museums. In fact, people with these skills are in high demand and in Australia today the role of archaeology is much much more than simply digging up old sites. A considerable part of what we do is instead focussed on helping to look after the places and objects that communities value, and to help others to learn about these places. That is the story that we tell in this topic.
The term MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which is normally applied to these kinds of online topics, doesn’t really apply though because this won’t be massive and we’re not that ambitious that we’re aiming for thousands of participants. Further, we’re offering about one third of a traditional University topic over about six weeks, partly because resourcing a fully online, semester long topic is beyond our capacity and timeframe, but also because we want to evaluate the format, test the MOOC platform being trialed by the University, and of course make sure that students are happy with the product. So, we’re still searching for the right abbreviation:’Tiny OOC’ (TOOC, a good name for a train perhaps), simply ‘OOC’ (taken, but this definition kind of works), or my current favourite, the ‘MOOClet’ are all on the table.
Anyhow, what follows is the topic summary we’re running with at this point. It’s very much a working draft and likely to change:
Working topic title: Inside professional archaeology: the view from down under
Archaeology is an adventurous and exciting way of learning about humankind’s rich and diverse past, and both social and traditional media streams regularly cover the big discoveries throughout the world: the ‘ice mummies’, the ‘hobbits’, and gold hordes that make our headlines. Indeed, if you were left to work out what it is that most archaeologists do based on popular media, you might reasonably imagine that archaeologists are rather dirty little creatures, up to their ears in mud or scurrying about in caves in search of treasure. The reality, of course, is very different and the discipline today is characterised by a very well trained, highly skilled and extremely professional cohort of specialists charged with helping to understand and conserve our cultural heritage.
This topic will help you to learn about the archaeology in the real world from a distinctly Australian perspective. You will learn about the field not only from the point of academics and researchers, but from the perspective of those archaeologists who represent the majority of practitioners and who are working across the industry in heritage and environmental firms, on mine sites and major construction projects, for Governments, museums and conservation parks. Across all of these contexts archaeologists do much more than merely digging: they survey, they dive, they liaise and negotiate, they advise and analyse and conduct detailed research to help protect and understand our cultural heritage.
We begin by exploring what archaeology is and what archaeologists do and then dig more deeply into how archaeology works in different contexts, before concluding with some focus around how you can get more involved in archaeology either as an exciting hobby or as a career. Each module has been designed to be completed in around two or three hours, depending on how much you want to explore the supplementary materials we provide. Modules include videos featuring interviews with a diverse range of Australian professional archaeologists, narrated slideshows and screencasts, quizzes, online and independent research activities.
I’ll post more here as the topic develops in order to share information about any issues we’re having or useful resources that might help others who are also embarking on this path. I can see a potential research project here exploring public perceptions of Australian archaeology on the one hand, and evaluating the ‘MOOClet’ as a tool for community engagement and outreach on the other. For example, might MOOClets be a useful way of developing packages of educational material (e.g. for specific sites, projects or communities) where community outreach is important part of a project? I’m sure that I’m not the first to have that thought though. If you work in this area, or are developing similar topics yourself, I am entirely open to genuine research collaborations as well so feel free to get in touch.