Guides for Teaching and Learning in Archaeology

Data into Information into Knowledge:
Dr William Kilbride,

Number 1

Online Resources into Teaching and Learning for Archaeology
Assistant Director, Archaeology Data Service, University of York

for students | for tutors | for developers

This focussed information paper describes the work of the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) in the context of teaching and learning for archaeology. It will introduce some of the services available to assist students, and how these might be included in the curriculum. It identifies a set of tools that may be useful to lecturers in supporting their work and the students that they teach. It ends with a short review of tools available to web masters which can be used to embed many of these services within Virtual Learning Environments or departmental websites. At the core of the paper is the basic principle that ADS and AHDS exist to provide a managed service. We may be good at archaeology, at arts and humanities, and at data: but if we are not also good at providing a service then these other aspects are futile.

The Archaeology Data Service supports research, learning and teaching by providing access to high quality and dependable digital resources. Host to the Arts and Humanities Data Service Centre for Archaeology (AHDS Archaeology) it operates on behalf of the higher and further education sectors to support researchers at all levels, as well as tutors, lecturers and students in ‘post-16’ education. At the core of this service is ArchSearch (, an online catalogue of archaeological resources. At the time of writing, this provides information on some 600,000 sites, monuments or interventions in the UK and wherever UK-based archaeologists work. In many cases, short descriptive records provide access to rich and detailed archives that may contain any form of digital object associated with archaeological research. Archives include very large quantities of text - theses, monographs and journal articles in digital form - as well as unpublished ‘grey literature’. They include prodigious numbers of database files, images, CAD plans, geophysical and topographic survey, virtual realities, animations and statistical data. ArchSearch and the archives it holds are available free of charge to users for research, learning and teaching: users need provide no personal details; nor do they have to remember a user name or password. Access to information is supported by a detailed and context-sensitive help system and a managed help desk which is committed to answering all requests for support within 24 hours - and frequently processes such requests much more quickly than that. The service is actively promoted through a programme of workshops, seminars, newsletters and email. These supporting mechanisms also allow two-way communication: it ensures that ArchSearch meets the needs of its users and, through a large representative Advisory Committee it influences our annual plan of work. In addition, a number of supporting services encourage the deployment of ArchSearch for staff and students. A suite of four tutorials are available which introduce new users to archaeological data and the mechanisms by which data are produced. Researchers engaged in fieldwork are encouraged - in some cases mandated - to supply information through a series of data entry forms. A series of news feeds allow departmental webmasters to syndicate frequently updated news on new collections and events, and late in 2004 a tool was supplied enabling webmasters to embed a simple ArchSearch interface on any website. A suite of portal and portlet services allow information and educational technologists to build flexible and personalised interfaces for remote search, harvest, discovery and delivery.
Glen Coe pillbox from Defence of Britain (Pillbox in Glen Coe, image courtesy of Defence of Britain Project and CBA)

ADS catalogue page Handaxe (Palaeolithic biface from Warren Hill, England, image courtesy of Gilbert Marshall et al and University of Southampton)

For students

Most students are not yet ready to be researchers, so, for very many online resources the promise of access is illusory. It is not that the online resources fail to deliver the sophisticated knowledge environment that they promise - though many fail to deliver on their hyperbole in this is regard too. More fundamentally, students are not able to articulate the sophisticated questions required to exploit the resource, and are poorly equipped to evaluate the resource available. Lifting information out of context, internet search engines suffer in particular from a sort of critical failure in which students are overwhelmed with information that they can neither digest nor discriminate. However, even tailored and carefully contextualised online resources suffer from this problem. Learners are not yet ready to be researchers: so the sort of associative, self-motivating and open ended learning to which we may aspire will not be a practical reality without expert intervention. ArchSearch provides a case study of the phenomena described above. Operating in the first instance as a service to researchers, it should be of interest to all students of archaeology. This is particularly the case for students ready to embark on their first major pieces of personal research, such as a dissertation or portfolio project. The question then is how can students use ArchSearch to support their own research: or more precisely, how can students be introduced to it in such a way that their work will thrive. Experience suggests that students introduced to ArchSearch at the right point in their studies gain a significant advantage over their peers. Time and again the author has been taken aside by early years postgraduate students who have not been introduced to the catalogue as undergraduates, and report that their initial postgraduate research - and presumably their undergraduate work also - has suffered as a result. Staff of field units report significant advantages for information gathering, and are increasingly required to report fieldwork using tools developed with ArchSearch. These reported advantages only reinforce the importance of introducing students to ArchSearch, but do not of themselves recommend how that may be achieved. This comes through reviewing current practice in a number of universities. In particular a suite of online tutorials introduce students to how archaeological information is produced, validated and disseminated. In this respect it goes far beyond the simple mechanical skills for search and retrieval and seeks to help students understand the nature of the information that is available. In 2000, the ADS was commissioned to write a series of online tutorials to encourage and enhance the deployment of digital data in student learning. The project, dubbed Publications and Archives in Teaching with Online Information Systems - PATOIS - developed four online tutorial packs that introduce students to the sorts of issues familiar to users of ArchSearch. Tutorials covered monument inventories, digital archives, internet publication and interdisciplinary study. Designed as a ‘structured engagement’ with data sets, the tutorials are intended as an advanced introduction to the data sets available through ArchSearch. In that respect, the tutorials provide

insights into the implied knowledge of the research community, encouraging students to evaluate data before using it, and supporting further study through access to significant quantities of supporting data. For example, the Monument Inventories module introduces the sorts of sites and monuments records, and historic environment records, that are becoming available to students in increasing numbers through funding from agencies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. These records contain many forms of information, but these might reasonably be broken into ‘site’ records, ‘event’ records and ‘source’ records. One monument may have many different ‘events’ of study - fieldwalking, geophysical survey, excavation and so forth. So the fact that ArchSearch may provide many records for one monument is not a result of duplication: it is because there is a mix of monument and event records. A successful researcher will need to examine all the event records in order to create a simple but thorough biography of a site, following all the leads on offer. A sloppy researcher will suffice with the monument description, and will not pursue all the leads available. These four tutorials were developed with the active help of a number of tutors and lecturers in a range of archaeology departments. The result is that they are widely - but differently used in academic departments in the UK. These variations are partly due to local needs and fitness for purpose. At the time of writing the author knows of twelve departments that routinely use the tutorials within their archaeology curricula. In York, for example, second year undergraduates students have a two hour computing practical where the first half of module one is followed by a ‘treasure hunt’ in which students are required to find information unsupported, and then are invited to develop their own research agenda. In UCL, an undergraduate lecture series was followed by a piece of written work in which module two is cited as a critical source. In other contexts, early years postgraduate students are directed to the tutorials in support of research training. It would be wrong to draw a straight line between the use of these tutorials and improvements in student grades and any attempt to do so would be invidious. However there is reason to believe that students who use PATOIS are likely to return to ArchSearch. This comes in the form of access statistics that identify user domains. Within any given year it is possible to identify trends in how institutions access ArchSearch, and consistently those institutions that have used PATOIS have remained among the most prominent institutions in terms of use of ADS resources.

For tutors

Brooch (Anglo-Saxon bird brooch from Stone Farm Bridleway, courtesy of Channel Tunnel Rail Link)

Danebury Excavations Excavation in progress at Danebury, Hampshire, Courtesy of Gary Lock and The Danebury Trust

For Tutors
As their names imply, the Archaeology Data Service, and the Arts and Humanities Data Service exists to provide a service. Funded through a top slice of funding and research council grants, these services are intended primarily to support universities - and the post-16 education sector more generally. There is much more to be done than simply provide access to data. The most frustrating part of being a researcher and teacher in the digital age is the difficulty of keeping track of new data sets and new access tools. In some respects, the most immediate service groups like ADS and AHDS can deliver is to manage that information flow. Three services exist to support that task for the archaeology community. At a basic level a six monthly newsletter introduces recent developments at the ADS, supported by an update on new collections from the other subject centres of the AHDS. An email bulletin called ‘ADS-ALL’ carries news of new collections as they are launched, and thus becomes a log of new data sets available through ArchSearch and the tools and events that support them. In addition, through a partnership with the Resource Discovery Network, new internet resources for archaeology are catalogued as they are released. The result is a search engine which is as flexible and immediate as any, but whose results are edited and targeted for an expert community. Other tools, such as scripts and code fragments, can be used to embed elements of ArchSearch and related services within departmental web pages. As well as online services, it goes without saying that telephone and personal enquiries are also welcome and frequent. Staff routinely contribute to seminars and workshops - often responding to invitations from colleagues for departmental events. Digital resources need not be simply concerned with teaching computer-based skills. Thoughtfully developed and carefully deployed, information technology can be used to support any number of topics. The ‘Virtual Walkabout’ project is a good example of this, enabling students to undertake a simple but effective group fieldwork project with relatively little preparation. Fieldwork is at the core of many disciplines. Understanding the processes behind the historic environment is a constant challenge: like an exercise book that you fill in every time you walk down a road or look at a building. One of the privileges of teaching is to help students do the same: because

Bifaces archive

PATOIS project page

then you know that you have helped someone see a familiar world differently. But fieldwork is a managerial challenge. Inaccessible and fragile locations, expensive recording equipment and burgeoning numbers make it difficult to extend the rich, deep experience on which disciplines like geography, archaeology and ecology depend. The Virtual Walkabout is a toolkit to overcome some of these issues. It is based on the simple premise that photographs of sites and monuments can be connected by their spatial relationship. So, a series of still images of the stone circles at Avebury can be transformed into a simple walking tour of the site. This could be done with Virtual Reality, but that would require knowledge of specialist software and access to specialist equipment. By using simple technology, it is possible to have a virtual tour of a site, and to create your own. So, armed with little more than a digital camera, students can complete their own field project in little more than an afternoon. The Virtual Walkabout is the brainchild of Prof Clive Ruggles and colleagues, who created the first walkabouts in the late 80s and 90s. Recent work by Leicester University and the ADS/AHDS Archaeology has put these online. Three basic tools exist: exemplars of completed walkabouts; a walkabout generator into which images can be fed; and a tutorial taking students from start to finish. An offer to archive the best student works means that project wants to make a lasting contribution. University College Winchester is the first institution to use the Virtual Walkabout in its teaching. Dr Nick Thorpe, Head of Undergraduate Archaeology, was very positive about the experiences of his students. “Several students undertook individual projects using Virtual Walkabout at historic buildings, archaeological monuments and historic landscapes. These were highly successful, both in terms of the technology and in encouraging a deeper understanding of the place being studied. One of the students also extended the use of Virtual Walkabout beyond our expectations by including engravings of now-destroyed buildings to provide an understanding of why the current view did not seem to ‘make sense’.” He confirmed that the initial success has encouraged them to use the Virtual Walkabout again with students in future years. Dr Michael Reynier, project leader and formerly of LTSN and Leicester University, was one of the principal architects of the Virtual Walkabout and has explained some of the thinking behind it. “We wanted to make a toolkit which could be used in a variety of different ways, according to the needs of different institutions. Students can create walkabouts of almost any landscape: near or far, contemporary or prehistoric”. Commenting on the technology behind the Virtual Walkabout, Dr Julian Richards, Director of the ADS noted “Students using the Virtual Walkabout learn a lot about the underlying technology, but it doesn’t get in the way. Complex issues like file formats, metadata and image processing are addressed, but they don’t deflect from the fieldwork issues.”

Code fragment

Screen shot from the Virtual Walkabout

For developers
Webmasters and educational technologists may also take advantage of a number of facilities. In particular two news feeds and a code fragment exist that can be embedded with ease into departmental web pages and configured to local needs. In addition, a number of portal services are available for the more technically astute. RSS ‘news feeds’ are widely used in the media to supply news agencies with the most up to date information about breaking news stories. They are small XML documents that allow small pieces of information to be incorporated within a local website from a remote data supplier. The remote supplier, who may be an expert in the field, then has the responsibility of updating the story. The benefits are obvious in news contexts: one could use the Met. Office News Feed to provide up to date weather information for your site, or get current local traffic conditions from the AA or RAC. ADS/ AHDS archaeology provides two such news feeds: one describes new collections in ArchSearch, while a second describes other headlines including forthcoming events and newly released tools. The news is embedded by including a small piece of code in the local website which automatically fetches and configures the remote news story every time the page is downloaded to a web browser. ArchSearch is now available as a code fragment. This will allow a simple search box to be embedded within any web page that can in turn be used to initiate a search of the 1,000,000 or so records available. In this way, every archaeology department in the country - indeed anyone with an interest in the historic environment - can construct a local interface to the catalogue. This will also be possible through simply copying and pasting a chunk of code into a web page.

ADS and AHDS exist to provide services, and to provide these first and foremost in support of the academic community. This article has focussed on teaching and learning. It has not described services to the research communities, grant giving agencies and policy makers, but it should be obvious that the diverse demands of the teaching and learning community are significant. ADS and AHDS exist to be friends and allies in your work, and welcome your suggestions on how to achieve that goal.

Useful references
The four PATOIS Tutorial Packs and Virtual Walkabout are online at The PATOIS tutorial packs and their development is discussed in more detail in the follow publications: * Fernie KM, Kilbride WG, and McKinney P (2003) ‘PATOIS: Accessing archaeological archives for teaching and learning on-line’ in M. Doerr and A. Sarris (eds), Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology 2002, Archive of Monuments and Publications, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 405-410 Kilbride, WG, Fernie, KM, McKinney, P and Richards, JD (2002) ‘Contexts of Learning: The PATOIS project and Internet-based teaching and learning in Higher Education” in Internet Archaeology 12 online at: (last accessed 20/10/04) Kilbride WG and Reynier MJ (2002) Editorial: Keeping the Learning in Computer-Based Learning in Internet Archaeology 12 online at: (last accessed 20/10/04) Kilbride, WG (forthcoming) ‘Remembering the cluster: cultural memory institutions and the JISC Learning and Teaching Programme’ in Vine 34




HUMBUL is the humanities hub of the Resource Discovery Network and is available online at For more information on ADS-ALL or to find out about forthcoming events in which we are involved see: . For the ADS newsletter see: For more information on RSS News Feeds, see This includes links to a very large number of news feeds, including those from the Council for British Archaeology and Internet Archaeology. To view an example of the code fragments that need to be pasted into a web page to carry such a News Feed, see http:// See also * Heyworth, M (2004) ‘Feed the world: sharing knowledge via blogs and news feeds’ in Internet Archaeology 14, online at: last accessed 1/11/04

The following URLs will provide additional information on the ArchSearch Code Fragment * * * The simple fragment with documentation is available from This fragment has already been implemented by colleagues at the University of Glasgow and can be viewed at: A more sophisticated code fragment can be constructed to meet specific needs. For example a set of collection specific fragmetsare also available from: and others may be constructed to suit specific needs To see a customised fragment in use see the Council for British Archaeology’s ‘Defence of Britain’ project web page at: