Humanities Computing Unit - Oxford University
Oxford's Institute of Archaeology tries to involve its undergraduates as much as possible in 'real life' archaeology. Each student takes part in on site digs at the Hillforts site in their first year. Each new site is dug by succesive generations of students. This allows novice archaeologists to focus their skills whilst in the longer term a picture of the ancient landscape of the Ridgeway area emerges. Lifelong learning students from the University's School of Continuing Education work with the undergraduates to work towards both academic and professional qualifications.
There is a long tradition of the use of databases in archaeology, a result of the need to catalogue and analyse large bodies of complex data. However often, the use and manipulation of the data is the reserve of research staff, and students are seen more as data entry staff in a second stage of 'on site' recording.
The Ridgeway database differentiates itself from this norm in that the project was devised with both teaching and research needs in mind.
The aims of the Database project are twofold.
To aid in the analysis of recorded materials. A flexible database allows for powerful exploration of field data. Such data exploration is the culmination and ultimately the purpose of excavation.
To train students in the practice of on site recording and in the use of databases.
This dual purpose is reflected in the collaboration of the HCDT with staff from the department of continuing education and the archaeology department. The choice of a popular relational database management system allows students to train with a vocationally valuable tool and allow the flexibility of analysis desired by Research staff. To cater for this multiple functions of the database a number of graphical interfaces have been designed, ensuring ease of use by both novice and advanced users. Development has focussed around a series of prototypes allowing constructive feedback form users. Other issues include the development of an easily maintainable help system and tools to customise the database.
In its first phase, the database has been networked within Oxford to allow the addition of records to the database by staff and students. In its second phase, the database will form the centre of a web site dedicated to the Ridgeway Project, which will provide background to the site and give guided, step-by-step instruction to the use of the database by external users.
The project has been a unique experience in the way that it has relied upon the close cooperation of a number of very different parts of the university, to their mutual benefit. Training and teaching expertise provided by the Centre for Continuing Education, and academic rigour by the Institute of Archaeology. Through a process of constant feedback and revision of design a tool which is usable on a number of levels has been created.
The Chinese Institute web site project involves the collaboration of HCDT staff with the Centre for learning Chinese as a foreign language. The Centre for learning Chinese is a new initiative within the faculty of Oriental studies, which was set up to provide a focus for excellence in the teaching of Chinese. The projects main aim is to deliver teaching materials which have been developed in a closed environment over the internet. The first step involves the development of a core of digital graphical and textual information under guidelines set out by the HCDT. This archive of material is then reused in several interactive teaching applications, delivered over the internet. Eventually users progress through tutorials will be monitored, allowing the teacher to build a profile of each student's online activity.
The areas of study have been carefully selected to make best use of the technology, for tasks which will benefit most from its use. We have been given strong pedagogic direction by the academic partner who has made thoughtful decisions about when technology has a place, and when it does not. Our first exercises are a good example of this approach: undergraduates who study Chinese frequently study ab initio and therefore need to work intensively to acquire a good level of familiarity with the Chinese character set. Learning the stroke order for the characters is an essential part of understanding the characters, but this is boring and difficult when done from paper. Use of animated characters in interactive exercises allows the student to practice in a more flexible and stimulating environment.
The use of the internet to deliver such materials have important implications for student access both within the university where students have free access to networked terminals within colleges and for distance learning. The ability for students with disabilities which might otherwise affect their attendance in class, to hand in coursework at times more suited to their needs is also an attractive facet of the project.
As in the case of all computer application development the most challenging aspects of the work have been consolidating the academic partners with realistic technical goals. This can only be achieved with close contact and a mutual understanding and respect. The HCDT method encourages selection of such working partners and projects have proven to be a success for this reason.
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Hosted at University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999
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Conference website: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/ach-allc.99/schedule.html