Extramural Teaching Archaeology under COVID-19

A fieldtrip to Roman Castlefield with one of my extramural archaeology classes.

For more than 30 years I have taught archaeology courses at undergraduate, post-graduate, and extramural (adult) levels. In that time I have seen the technology in the classroom move from slide carousels and overhead projectors to laptops and digital projectors. Now, under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic there is another shift in technology, with a pivot towards online teaching. For me personally, this feels as momentous as moving into the digital world of computers and Powerpoint programmes in the early 2000s. However, I suspect for the student this shift is much more dramatic. I do worry about excluding some students from this tech-savvy world (those with low-incomes and those with certain disabilities), but the alternative is not to teach at all, and classroom-based teaching itself can discourage some students.

My specialist teaching subjects include Roman archaeology, late medieval and buildings archaeology, and industrial archaeology, with an emphasis on (but not exclusively) North West England and Britain. All very visual subjects. I continue to particularly enjoy teaching extramural courses, where the interaction with adults from a variety of backgrounds and experience frequently produces lively discussions and new subject insights. One of the features of my teaching is that I always encourage discussion with and questions from the class, combine the course with a landscape fieldtrip, and do not like repeating the same subject each year. Extramural teaching allows me to rotate my teaching subjects, and to update and refresh a course every few years with new fieldwork.

Archaeology has a very long tradition of adult education classes. In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s many local societies were founded in the debates and insights of a local extramural class. The subject specialism of Industrial Archaeology, for instance, partly emerged from extramural classes given during the 1950s and early 1960s. Even ideas for television programmes can take root in these classes – Channel 4’s Time team tv series for instance.

Like all lecturers I’ve had to adapt how, and where, I teach in light of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. COVID-19 is forcing all of us to change the way we do things. I am particularly grateful to the Workers Education Association for providing free tutor training around teaching online. This has enabled a rapid transition to online teaching for many lecturers such as myself who have never taught in this way. The tools available have also allowed a greater range of teaching materials to be made available to me students. Many smaller teaching organisations such MANCENT and the Wilmslow Guild, both based in the Manchester City region, have also moved to online teaching. Online teaching is here to stay, but its also vital that we still support the face-to-face interaction with students. Thus, I expect to blend online and face-to-face teaching in the future, though perhaps not within the same course.

I am teaching the following course wholly online from September 2020 (with further online courses to come in 2021):

WEA – https://enrolonline.wea.org.uk/Online/2020/CourseInfo.aspx?r=C3844649

  • The Industrial Archaeology of Cheshire. Starts Thursday 24th September 2020 at 7.00pm. 5 weeks.

I hope to deliver the following courses face-to-face in the new year, COVID-19 restrictions permitting:

MANCENT http://mancent.org.uk/?page_id=3578

  • Saving a Revolution: The Industrial World Heritage Sites of England & Wales. Starts Wednesday 3rd February 2021. 5 weeks. 7pm to 9pm. South Trafford Archaeological group Display Centre, Timperley Old Hall Gold Course, Altrincham.

Wilmslow Guild – http://www.wilmslowguild.org/

  • Manchester at Work: The Industrial Archaeology of the Manchester City Region Starts Thursday 6 January 2021. 10 weeks, 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

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