A busy few weeks for the Visible Diggers team!

Hello! It has been a busy few weeks for the Visible Diggers project, and we have lots to catch you up on! Our posts below provide a little background to the project goals, and in the past few weeks we have been incredibly busy gathering our data to meet these!

First we spent some time designing the questionnaire we wanted students to complete – see our post below for more info. Our initial plan was just to have 10 quick questions but, when we started thinking about everything we wanted to know, that number quickly doubled. Our questionnaire was designed to ask students how they felt about fieldwork and particularly the role they played in the interpretive process – but we wanted to examine both perceived role and then if this correlated with the actuality. So for example a student may feel like they were not involved in interpreting the site at all, but then have completed context sheets, done scale drawings and engaged in other forms of recording which, of course, are all interpretive acts. Asking these kind of questions means we can hopefully exclaim not just what students feel but also if there are things that need flagging up more to them when they are training.

We constructed the survey using the University if Manchester’s survey software – like Survey Monkey but with the advantage of being able to ask more questions. Then we tested it out on our ArchSoc who kindly agreed to be guinea pigs! We had phrased a lot of the questions as yes/no but the feedback from ArchSoc was that sliding scale answers would be more appropriate, so we made the changes and then we went live!

We distributed the survey every way we could! On Facebook, from our web page, via Twitter. David Connolly also kindly put it on BAJR’s news website, as did the University of Reading, who placed the link on their excellent Fieldwork, Gender and Careers blog. We also emailed the link to lecturers at a range of British universities. Those at the Universities of Bournemouth, Bradford, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Chester, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Reading, UClan, Winchester and York kindly agreed to distribute it to their students.

Once the survey was out in the world we got on with the next crucial task – holding a focus group. We decided a focus group was important because the online survey is mostly focussed on collecting statistics and has very few free text boxes for opinions, so we thought it would be good to collect some more anecdotal evidence. The focus group was attended by 15 second and third year Manchester students and we asked just three simple questions:

  • What were the positive experiences you had where you contributed to the interpretation of the site?
  • What were the negative experiences you had where you felt you were unable to contribute to the interpretation of the site?
  • What would you suggest as positive strategies to enable students voices and interpretations to be heard on training excavations?

The discussion that followed was brilliant! One point that arose that really made us think was about the dynamics between students and their impact on the interpretive process – we will report more on this in future blogs!

So, now the data is collected, what next? Well, Liya, Matt and Stephanie have also been busy joining the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) as student members, and we have all registered for the CIfA conference next month. We are going to be presenting our findings in the Future of Engagement session – our paper abstract is in the blog post below.

But before we can do that, we now need to crunch the numbers! So that’s our plan for this week, with a half day planned to look at just how many people took the survey and examine what they actually said. We’re looking forward to seeing what people thought and will blog about it soon!

Methods

As we have mentioned previously, we are conducting a study on student’s perceptions of archaeological interpretations in the field, and whether students feel/are valued in this process. We have been busy the past couple of weeks putting together a survey. We have distributed this survey to as many institutions which provide archaeology degrees in the UK to capture a larger percentage of students perceptions as possible. This should enable us to make a more accurate analyse of students thoughts on their fieldwork experiences and whether they feel valued in the interpretation process, as well as whether they think they are contributing to the interpretation of a site during excavation.

We will also hold a focus group, where we will be asking questions to get more detailed responses. We also hope that through engaging with students face to face we will get a more real idea of how students feel they contribute and are valued in their fieldwork.

The data collected will be crunched together, and findings will be talked about in a 15 minute presentation at the CIfA conference April 15th in Cardiff.

Our Goals

This project is led by students Matt Hitchcock, Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh, along with lecturer Dr. Hannah Cobb, from the University of Manchester. We aim to capture the views of UK archaeology students surrounding their experiences of fieldwork. We want to find out whether students feel like they are valued in the field or whether they just feel like a ‘number’ or a ‘cog in the machine’. While a certain amount of direction is necessary, we aim to ascertain whether student are merely told about the theoretical direction of the excavation as it progresses, or whether they are given the theoretical tools necessary to make and contribute their own interpretations. This feedback will be used to highlight some of the current issues within archaeological pedagogy and offer some potential solutions.

We will be presenting the results of this research at the CIfA 2015 conference in Cardiff on March 15th. Our abstract is as follows:-

Visible diggers? Engagement and communication: a student perspective.

Matthew Hitchcock, Stephanie McCulloch, Liya Walsh (University of Manchester)

This is a session that is about the future of engagement, and we are the future of engagement! We are a team of students undertaking a piece of research to understand whether students feel valued, and indeed whether they are valued, in the interpretive process. In this paper we will present the findings of our study and we will think about the implications of them for how engagement occurs – can the experiences of students help us think about how we communicate in the field with other audiences who do archaeology?