Posted in Training News
Issues in fieldwork training and assessment in undergraduate teaching

Barry Taylor – Passport to the Past Research Assistant

Introduction

Fieldwork, and the provision of training in fieldwork techniques, is generally recognised throughout much of the relevant literature as an important aspect of an archaeological degree. According to the QAA benchmark statement:

“Much of the best teaching and learning in archaeology will be an interactive process from which students and academics gain mutual benefit because of the research-led environment for teaching. Students need to be encouraged to learn through experience, both as individuals and as members of defined teams, with practicals and fieldwork playing important roles in such provision”
QAA 2000:6

These sentiments are shared by students. According to a recent HEA funded survey, 91% of the undergraduate students who were consulted thought that fieldwork should be a compulsory requirement of their degree, three quarters felt that there should be more fieldwork, and over half felt that it contributed positively to their course (Croucher et al 2008).

However, the perceived role of universities as providers of fieldwork training has changed significantly over the past few years due in part to the rapid growth of commercial archaeology and the increasing numbers of graduates who are employed within that sector. A number of surveys have shown that within commercial archaeology there is an overwhelming perception that degree programmes fail to prepare graduates for work in the professional sector (e.g. Aitchison & Edwards 2003; Aitchison & Edwards 2008). According to Profiling the Profession (2002-3) over half those entering the profession were considered to be poorly equipped with the necessary skills and almost three quarters of the organisations consulted felt that they had to provide considerable training to new entrants (Aitchison & Edwards 2003).

In the most recent survey of skills and training within profession (Aitchison & Edwards 2008), archaeological organisations cited a range of areas in which it was felt that new entrants lacked the necessary skills (p.111, table 114 and see below). Interestingly the lack of relatively specialised skills, in particular building survey and interpretation, historic environment characterisation, desk based research and advising on historic environment conservation and management, were cited more frequently than a lack of field skills (i.e. the ability of contribute to an intrusive field investigation as a digger). These results have reproduced at the end of this document.

The impression that a degree should provide adequate training for those entering the archaeological profession is not restricted to the commercial organisations. According to the recent HEA survey 84% of students felt that it was the responsibility of the university to prepare them for a career in archaeology and a similar number felt that they should be proficient in archaeological techniques by the end of their degree (Croucher et al 2008:24-5). But as Kenneth Aitchison has argued the responsibility for training does not lie solely with universities (Aitchison 2004), a view that is shared by university lecturers (Croucher et al 2008). Given that a relatively small number of graduates go onto pursue careers in archaeology or heritage related industries (roughly 15%), universities balance specialised training with transferable skills relevant to the majority of graduates. Furthermore, there has been some debate as to whether the needs of commercial archaeology should dictate the form that a university education should take (e.g. Hamilakis 2004).

Recent approaches to fieldwork training

Recently a number of related approaches have sought to develop practical skills training that could be applicable between the academic and commercial sectors. The National Occupation Standards for Archaeological Practice provides standard levels of competency for those engaged in archaeological fieldwork. For every particular archaeological task the NOS-AP defines the knowledge and skills that a competent practitioner should have. As such it can provide a standardised framework for professional training and career development. (NB this document is incredibly detailed (over 500 pages) but relevant sections are AC1, AC3 and AC5 – copies of which will be supplied to all on 22/03/10)

The NOS-AP has been used as the basis for the NVQ in Archaeological Practice. This aims to “develop the skills of amateur and professional archaeologists, and to provide a means of demonstrating competence”(IfA Statement). It consists of a combination of core (compulsory) and optional units that are based on the National Occupational Standards for Archaeological Practice. The NVQ is currently available at two levels, Level 3 (roughly equivalent to two A-Levels at grade A-C) and Level 4 (roughly equivalent to a diploma) though there are plans to extend it to Level 5 (roughly equivalent to a degree). Assessment is carried out by a qualified assessor on the basis of work that the candidate has previously undertaken and an ‘action plan’ outlining how completion of the course units will be achieved. The NVQ should take between 6 months (level 3) to a year (level 4) to complete.

The Archaeology Training Forum’s vision makes the point that, as the HEA is currently funding work that would tie HE courses to the National Occupational Standards, this would potentially link academic courses to the NVQ “allowing students to gain two complementary qualifications from the single learning experience” (Aitchison 2007).

Within the academic sector fieldwork and the provision of training in fieldwork skills is generally seen as a positive aspect of an archaeology degree. As Tim Darvill states:

“…fieldwork becomes a crucible within which background knowledge, theory, ethics, skills, competence, experience and practice can be brought together within the educational context” (Darvill 2006:6)

A number of studies have now shown that students feel that fieldwork training not only improves their understanding of the archaeological content of their degree but also “that it increased motivation and helped develop team-working, time and task management and social skills (Aitchison & Giles 2006. See also Embleton 2006, Croucher et al 2008; ). Similarly lecturers have noted that teaching the practical or vocational aspects of archaeology not only benefited the students in the ways outlined above but also improved the teaching experience of the lecturer (Aitchison & Giles 2006).

Assessing fieldwork training

An important part of fieldwork training is assessment. Not only does this measure the successful delivery of training but it plays an important part in the way that students learn. According to a recent HEA survey almost three quarters of the students that were questioned regarded the assessment of their fieldwork training as a positive thing (Croucher et al 2008:34). Furthermore, there appeared to be a relationship between assessment and those students who appreciated the relevance of fieldwork to the other aspects of their degree (ibid). Assessed fieldwork also provides opportunities for students who struggle with more traditional forms of academic grading. According to Croucher et al.

“By assessing or grading practical performance it gives the students another chance to excel, using a set of skills that may not be developed through classroom learning” (Croucher et al 2008:34).

Equally, for fieldwork skills to be valued by employers (either within or outside of the archaeological sector) some form of assessment is required (Aitchison & Giles 2006).

Innovative forms of assessment also help students to gain new skills and enhance their learning experience. Recently, several studies have investigated the potential for student self-assessment within the context of fieldwork training.  In 2000 and 2002 students from King Alfred’s College, Winchester were asked to evaluate their own performance (in terms of their strengths, weaknesses, improvement over time and an overall mark) following their participation in the departments fieldwork projects. The study showed that, in general, the marks that the students gave themselves closely matched those assigned by staff. However, students were less successful at assessing their own weaknesses, either under or over stating them) and there was a greater tendency for female students to underestimate their overall marks (Thorpe 2004). As well as showing that students have the ability to successfully evaluate their own abilities the author of the study stated that, by actively involving the student in the feedback process, self assessment helped them to become more reflective (Thorpe 2004:2).

Bibliography

Aitchison, K. 2004. Supply, Demand and a Failure of Understanding: Addressing the Culture Clash between Archaeologists’ Expectations for Training and Employment in ‘Academia’ versus ‘Practice’ In: World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 2, Archaeological Pedagogies. pp. 203-219

 

Aitchison, K. 2007. A Vision for Training and Career Development in Archaeology. http://www.torc.org.uk/ATFvision.pdf

 

Aitchison, K, and Edwards, R, 2003. Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence:

Profiling the Profession 2002-03. Bradford and Reading: CHNTO and IFA.

 

Aitchison, K, and Edwards, R, 2008. Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2007-08 Reading: IfA

 

Aitchison, K and Giles, M, 2006. Employability and Curriculum Design, Guides for Teaching and Learning in Archaeology, 4

http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hca/documents/archaeology/

 

Croucher, K., Cobb, H., L., and Brennan, A. 2008. Investigating the role of fieldwork in teaching and learning archaeology – a report. Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing (for the Higher Education Academy, Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology).

 

Bibliography

Aitchison, K. 2004. Supply, Demand and a Failure of Understanding: Addressing the Culture Clash between Archaeologists’ Expectations for Training and Employment in ‘Academia’ versus ‘Practice’ In: World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 2, Archaeological Pedagogies. pp. 203-219

Aitchison, K. 2007. A Vision for Training and Career Development in Archaeology. http://www.torc.org.uk/ATFvision.pdf

Aitchison, K, and Edwards, R, 2003. Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence:

Profiling the Profession 2002-03. Bradford and Reading: CHNTO and IfA.

Aitchison, K, and Edwards, R, 2008. Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2007-08 Reading: IfA

Aitchison, K and Giles, M, 2006. Employability and Curriculum Design, Guides for Teaching and Learning in Archaeology, 4

http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hca/documents/archaeology/

Croucher, K., Cobb, H., L., and Brennan, A. 2008. Investigating the role of fieldwork in teaching and learning archaeology – a report. Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing (for the Higher Education Academy, Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology).

Darvill, T. 2006 Linking fieldwork, theory, and knowledge in teaching prehistoric archaeology. In: Research in Archaeological Education Journal. Vol 1:2. Prehistoric Pedagogies? Approaches to teaching European prehistoric archaeology. Proceedings from the European Association of Archaeologists Conference, Krakow, 2006.

Embleton, J., Philips, T.,  Scoullier, S., Gillham, S. &  Gilchrist, R. 2006. A characterisation of archaeological field techniques: Assessed by physical and cognitive demands. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/accessible/documents.php

Hamilakis, Y. 2004. Archaeology and the Politics of Pedagogy. In: World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 2, Archaeological Pedagogies. pp. 287-309

QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), 2007. Subject Benchmark Statements: Archaeology. http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/benchmark/statements/Archaeology.asp#p4

Thorpe, N. 2004 Student Self-Evaluation in Archaeological Fieldwork. Higher Education Academy, Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hca/documents/reports/thorpe-final.pdf

Darvill, T. 2006 Linking fieldwork, theory, and knowledge in teaching prehistoric archaeology. In: Research in Archaeological Education Journal. Vol 1:2. Prehistoric Pedagogies? Approaches to teaching European prehistoric archaeology. Proceedings from the European Association of Archaeologists Conference, Krakow, 2006.

Embleton, J., Philips, T.,  Scoullier, S., Gillham, S. &  Gilchrist, R. 2006. A characterisation of archaeological field techniques: Assessed by physical and cognitive demands. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/accessible/documents.php

Hamilakis, Y. 2004. Archaeology and the Politics of Pedagogy. In: World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 2, Archaeological Pedagogies. pp. 287-309

QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), 2007. Subject Benchmark Statements: Archaeology. http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/benchmark/statements/Archaeology.asp#p4

Thorpe, N. 2004 Student Self-Evaluation in Archaeological Fieldwork. Higher Education Academy, Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hca/documents/reports/thorpe-final.pdf

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