Benjamin P. Carter 2014-05-21 03:18:11
Real-world problem solving is the seventh and final Principle for Curricular Reform recommended by the SAA’s Task Force on Curriculum (Bender and Smith 2000; Kamp 2014). Its position at the end of this venerable list— which includes Stewardship, Diverse Pasts, Social Relevance, Ethics and Values, Written and Oral Communication, and Fundamental Archaeological Skills— is appropriate because the key to real-world problem solving is the application of the other six principles. It is active engagement in a messy world filled with conflicting interests in which a “right” answer does not exist, but a socially, ethically and legally appropriate resolution must be found. By making use of the multifaceted, chaotic real world, we can teach students to assess the various interests in a situation and produce a best, or most viable, solution. We can foster the most engaged and engaging archaeologists and, in the case of the majority of our students who will not become archaeologists, productive and active citizens who recognize the significance and non-renewable nature of archaeological resources. The following essay includes a brief discussion of the term “realworld problem solving” and a look at where and how we can foster a culture of problem solving in the classroom and beyond, focusing upon how we can bring the real world to our students and them to it. When I began writing this piece, I became less sure of what is meant by the phrase “real-world problem solving,” even though it is something that I care deeply about and volunteered to write about. Where, or what, is the real world? In the original publications by the Committee on Education derived from the Wakulla Springs meeting (Bender and Smith 2000; Davis et al. 1999; Lynott et al. 1999), Davis et al. (1999) contrast “theory (classroom experience) with practice (real world experience).” This suggests that real-world problem solving happens outside of the classroom, or even outside higher education generally, under the assumption that the world inside the classroom is not real. Yet the classroom is a very real place where people from a wide variety of backgrounds interact on many different levels. It certainly isn’t imaginary or fake. Though the assumption that the classroom is not real may be problematic, it remains clear that a student’s experience is distinctly different within the intellectual confines of campus than in the world beyond. The “real world” of archaeology exists temporally and physically outside the classroom; it is archaeological practice, in which people are actively engaged as researchers, experts, employers, employees, consultants, and/or volunteers. However, the mere fact that the real world exists beyond the traditional classroom does not mean that we cannot train students in real-world problem solving in the classroom, but only that opportunities outside the classroom may be preferable. The Task Force on Curriculum provides additional guidance on what they mean by real-world problem solving. It includes “flexibility,” “grounding in the basics of archaeology,” “archaeology as one of many interests,” our “public service responsibilities,” and problem-oriented (rather than research-oriented) archaeology (Bender 2000:37). Suggested topics include “Professional Responsibility and Accountability, Archaeopolitics (know the players and the process), citizenship (civics), how business works and Legal and Regulatory (know the rules)” (Bender 2000:39). Clearly, the Task Force was concerned with developing archaeologists who can solve the complex problems that develop during archaeological practice. Considering that the real world is largely outside of the classroom, one of the primary challenges for instructors is to either bring the world into the classroom or take students outside the confines of the classroom. Let’s examine the former first. Bringing the Real World into the Classroom There are myriad ways to bring real-world problem solving into the classroom. Assignments and activities include the Use of simulation, scenarios, laboratory activities, or projects. Published examples include paper-based problems, such as those in the classic Archaeology Workbook and the Next Archaeology Workbook (Daniels and David 1982; David and Driver 1989; see also Patterson 1994), and hands-on laboratory- based activities (e.g., Banning 2000; Rice 1998). Generally speaking, paper-based activities present the context of an archaeological excavation and associated data that students are asked to interpret. These activities involve problem solving because prior knowledge is brought to bear upon a set of data, and they engage with the real world in the sense that there are no perfect solutions and students are required to document and provide justification for their interpretations. However, the business, logistical, ethical, and political aspects of archaeology are rarely addressed. Hands-on activities (or labs) can involve greater real-world engagement because students must improvise in the face of actual artifacts that imperfectly match academic definitions. However, the value of these activities lies less in the fact that they promote problem-solving skills than in the fact that they allow students to gain a hands-on understanding of materials, types of artifacts, and analysis procedures while experiencing the thrill of engagement with ancient technologies. My students are never quite as happy as when they are making stone tools or clay pots. Hands-on activities are more relevant to teaching Basic Archaeological Skills, but they can be fashioned to encourage students to face real-world issues. Recently, Burke and Smith (2007) produced an edited volume containing a wide variety of activities, including “role play, simulations, games, hands-on learning, narrative, creative construction, performance, and critical reflection” (Burke and Smith 2007:17). The contribution of this volume, however, lies less in the well-designed and diverse activities, but in the promotion of a different kind of classroom, one that is more like the “real world.” The real world of archaeology is about social interactions between and within groups of people— archaeologists, interested communities, government officials, and businesspeople (Perry 2004). Burke and Smith’s (2007) promotion of cooperative learning, collaborative learning, problem-based learning and guided discovery gets to the heart of real-world archaeology by developing and nurturing social skills such as “the ability to lead, develop trusting relationships, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and communicate effectively” (Burke and Smith 2007:12). During cooperative learning students interact with each other to develop a solution to a problem. Collaborative learning places the students on an equal level with the instructor, giving students greater responsibility in their own educational experience. Problem-based learning is similar to the paper-based activities discussed above in that they are complex, openended problems with no clear single answer. Guided discovery focuses upon the student’s role as a discoverer who gains understanding through the messy cumulative process of research through a wide variety of materials, including, but not limited to, historic documents, artifacts, ecofacts, excavation notes, ethnographic interviews, and secondary sources. These methods focus upon the process of learning, which approximates social learning in the real world, not the content. This does not mean that content is lost. As students become more engaged and take responsibility for their own education, they learn both content and how to apply it in the real world. Bringing Students to the Real World Even considering the potential options for teaching realworld problem solving within the academic environment, having students participate directly in archaeological research is a better option- because it is the real world. Though there are a number of ways for students to engage in archaeological practice, such as volunteering, internships, or independent studies (e.g., Schuldenrein and Altschul 2000) , archaeological field schools are our most important tool for teaching real-world problem solving skills, while training future archaeologists in essential methods. “The practice of doing archaeology in this context is one of authentic, collaborative learning and scientific apprenticeship” (Perry 2004:249). Field schools tend to be one of the critical events in nearly every archaeologist’s life; they are a veritable rite of passage into archaeology and are required for nearly any archaeology graduate program or job. It is with great surprise, therefore, that one searches for discussion of field schools and their pedagogical value in Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century (Bender and Smith 2000) to find nothing (Baxter 2009:17, 29). Yet, this lack of discussion appears to be the continuation of a long term pattern in archaeology; we generally do not talk about field school pedagogy or even logistics, but instead simply reminisce about our best, and worst, field school moments (Perry 2004:236). This means that there is little guidance for archaeologists teaching their first field school (Baxter 2009:18). Thankfully, a number of archaeologists have recently expanded upon an extant, but limited, conversation about teaching field schools (see Baxter 2009; Mytum 2012; Perry 2004 and citations therein). Archaeological field schools are the ideal theater in which to teach real-world problem solving to all of our students. Field schools are not just for students intending to be archaeologists; they also attract students who want an adventure in an exotic or unusual locale. Our ability to teach real-world problem solving skills to all students is particularly important; few of them will need to know how to trowel correctly, but all of them will need real-world problem solving skills. I suggest that archaeological field schools are not only one of our most Important disciplinary tools, but also one of the most unique experiences in which college students can participate. The centrality of real-world problem solving in archaeological field schools comes from the variety of purposes they serve. First, field schools focus on active research projects, which means that they have scientific research goals and cannot be exclusively for training students. Directors are instructors and principal investigators; staff members are field technicians, analysts, and teachers. Second, because they affect the archaeological record, field schools are also public projects, for “all archaeology is public archaeology” (e.g., White et al. 2004:26). All concerned parties must be taken into consideration, including Native Americans (or other indigenous peoples), groups of concerned citizens, relevant government agencies, land owners, interested onlookers, potential donors, and more. Third, because field schools are “real” archaeology, not manufactured training exercises that directly affect the non-renewable archaeological record, they come with the multifarious and complex ethical concerns of any archaeological project. In particular, these ethical concerns include stewardship of the site, detailed record keeping, appropriate artifact processing, preliminary analysis, and report writing. How can we teach real-world problem solving in the field? How do we guide students in discovering how to assess and remedy problems that are messy, involving many internal and external factors, some of which they (and we) have no control over? One suggestion is that students learn by watching their instructor(s) solve these problems. It is certainly true that students learn by observing, but they will learn much more by doing. That brings us to an ethical quandary: What problems can students be allowed to solve when they are in the process of being trained how to solve them? Failure is an important part of learning, but we cannot let students fail to preserve the archaeological record. We cannot let untrained undergraduates make decisions that directly affect the archaeological record. Or can we? There are a number of ways to give students problem-solving and decision-making roles in field schools without negatively affecting the archaeological record. Here I offer a few examples from my own experience, organized from the least complex and ethically charged to the most. I should note here that every field school is amazingly different. Therefore, the specific details of the following examples may not be relevant in all cases. However, I hope that there are ideas within them that promote the teaching of real-world problem solving in every archaeological field school. The first example involves something we all care about— food. Provisioning a crew indirectly affects the archaeological record, for, as we all know, a poorly fed crew is a grumpy, less effective crew. However, meal preparation also provides an ethically safe space for students to practice problem solving and to develop complicated relationships with their new peers and housemates. During many, though not all, field schools, participants dine together and food can be a major issue— despised, derided, and divisive, or loved, complimented and unifying. I have found that placing students in charge of cooking has consistently been a resounding success, not because of the quality of the food, but because of the problems the students solve and the relationships they develop. During my field school, two to three students are responsible for a week’s worth of suppers. They plan each meal in consultation with staff and then provide a detailed shopping list. However, most students are inexperienced at organizing and cooking meals, especially for large groups, and food dilemmas occur: some ingredients are unavailable or too expensive or get eaten; fresh ingredients spoil; kitchen tools are missing, etc. This means that, frequently, students begin cooking only to realize that they do not have all of their desired ingredients or tools, which forces them to improvise. While this results in frustrating situations and even arguments, this system also yields some absolutely amazing, nutritious, and imaginative meals, as well as some true flops (such as a meal of tasteless Ramen mush). Because students know that they also made mistakes or that they may make them in the future, a dud meal becomes an occasion for complimenting each other on the “excellent” meal, which later becomes the butt of friendly joking. Because students are responsible to each other and must produce a meal, no matter the hiccups that may arise, they are invariably able to actively problem solve and are always successful; we have yet to go hungry. As important as this exercise is, it is but a preface to teaching students to apply these same skills in archaeological practice. I also involve students in field school budgetary decisions. Doing so means that I expose the inner workings of an archaeological project, which is supported, at least partially, by funds paid by students. This can be awkward and uncomfortable, but tremendously valuable. I don’t show students the entire budget; many decisions are made prior to the commencement of the field school, and, therefore, much of the money has already been spent. Students cannot be involved in those decisions, though they certainly can and should be discussed in retrospect. Throughout the field season many small purchases must be made that tend to involve relatively low cost items and for which there are multiple ethically sound solutions. For example, what kind of covering should be used to protect the excavation from rain? There are many viable solutions, but the students can weigh the costs and benefits of each. When students are involved in financial decisions, they learn to balance budgetary needs with research, ethical, and community goals. Although absolutely essential to any archaeological project, funding is rarely covered in depth in the classroom. Involving students in these decisions in the field means that they get direct, practical exposure to a critical component of field archaeology. Finally, a number of decisions that directly affect the archaeological record and archaeological research can safely be made by students, with supervision. For example, after readings and discussions of sampling strategies, I asked four of my students to devise a shovel test pit strategy around a historic foundation to detect outbuildings. After an hour of discussion, they presented a plan to me. The plan did as I had asked and, with minor modifications, they set about executing it. As they progressed, they decided that their coverage needed to be improved and, with my approval, modified the plan. In the end, the students had solved a research problem while abiding by ethical standards. While I could have made the decision, directed them in what to do, and explained the reasoning, their discussion, planning, execution, and modification of their own plan made it so that they will be able to make those same decisions at different sites and under different conditions. Allowing students to devise and execute small portions of an excavation during a field school, especially when they need to modify them, provides them with authentic learning (Perry 2004) applicable to archeological practice and beyond. Conclusion As instructors of archaeology, one of the most valuable skills that we can teach our students, both those who become archaeologists and those who do not, is real-world problem solving. Students who can solve complex problems involving many different interests will become a valuable asset to the world of archaeology and to their broader community. Realworld problem solving can be taught in the classroom, but the involvement of students in archaeological practice is a more appropriate method. However, archaeologists need to have a more robust discussion about field school pedagogy if we want to protect both the archaeological record and the discipline. References Cited Banning, E. B. 2000 The Archaeologist’s Laboratory: The Analysis of Archaeological Data. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York. Baxter, Jane Eva 2009 Archaeological Field Schools: A Guide for Teaching in the Field. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California. Bender, Susan J., and George S. Smith (editors) 2000 Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century. Society for American Archaeology, Washington, D.C. Bender, Susan J. 2000 A Proposal to Guide Curricular Reform for the Twenty- First Century. In Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Susan J. Bender and George S. Smith, pp. 29–48. Society for American Archaeology, Washington, D. C. 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