Hey guys, so I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. Largely because that’s just how I roll, always and forever thinking about learning, but also because I get asked a lot of questions about education and careers in archaeology. A good number of these are from people who are non-traditional learners. I totally understand what you guys are going through, as I have also been a non-trad student in need of some magical way to make getting a degree work with my life. Not always so easy, depending on what you want to do, and anthropology and social science-based degrees are unfortunately not as easy to acquire when the education has to come to you and not the other way around.
Luckily, there has been a virtual explosion of online and distance learning programs in the last few years (get it?!) I have been a part of the evolution of this educational paradigm as a student and intend on continuing my role in it as an instructor and instructional designer. So let me share with you a few things you should think about if a traditional collegiate experience may be difficult for you.
Personally, I was so grateful to discover I had another option when I decided to pursue a career in archaeology. My situation has not been very conducive to the traditional route (I’m a military spouse, I move every two to three years, I live in the middle of nowhere, the list goes on and on…). But thankfully I was able to get a distance certificate that set me on my way to graduate school, and have been able to continue my education by taking online courses and receiving professional certifications online in my post-grad life #addictedtolearning.
So what does distance learning look like? Well, when I started at the University of Leicester (one of the first and best schools for distance programs in archaeology) the programs were all asynchronous (they required no real-time communication, instruction, or chat). I received my course materials and books every module (a 3 month course, 6 of which made up a certificate) in the mail. Then I proceeded to read the appropriate materials and prepare my assignments to be sent to my teachers in the UK. We communicated through email and forums (which I regretfully did not take advantage of enough). This seems a pretty antiquated way of doing it now. New online learning tools have made interaction between classmates and teachers so much easier.
Many distance programs are now blended to include some form of synchronous instruction, where the class meets to listen to a lecture or work together via a virtual classroom interface. Methods and technologies vary between programs, but online courses can now be completed entirely from home through the dissemination of video lectures, powerpoints, assignments, tests, and forums on a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Sakaii. These programs are fairly intuitive, so no need to be too intimidated by having to navigate the system if you aren’t the greatest with technology. It can be a great way to get comfortable with learning for those who would rather type a question in a chat box or forum post than raise their hand in front of a class, or discuss a topic over a headset in a virtual classroom where no one can see that you’re in your pajamas and have your head stuffed into the textbook. There are many reasons why taking part in a course online may be beneficial for you, which is something to consider when thinking about whether you would prefer to earn your degree in a classroom or online.
But what about FIELD WORK? Ah, yes, the most complicated factor in getting an anthropology degree online is that education in the field usually includes an applied element such as a field school. This is true not only of archaeology, but often bioarchaeology and cultural anthropology as well. Fear not, there are schools all over the world that offer field schools for credit that can be transferred to your online program. Hopefully your online program will also have options for attending their summer field schools as long as you can get yourself there. Unfortunately, if you live in a remote location this may require a little extra money and inconvenience, but if you are planning on a career in archaeology you might want to get used to having to go where the digs are… The Archaeological Institute of America has lots of great resources on field schools and scholarships that might be perfect for you!
So that’s all for now. If you’d like a head start on some good distance programs in anthropology here in the U.S. check out this list, though a thorough online search will give you more options. Also, I might be biased, but look into the University of Leicester’s Distance Learning programs in archaeology and ancient history. They’re smashing, and they offer several options like a certificate, B.A., M.A., or even Ph.D. I found them quite affordable and they have been one of the most respected names in archaeology and distance learning for quite some time. If you have questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help the best I can.
Good luck, friends. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of learning online. It may just be the perfect fit for you!
Well, here we are, the day after the day of archaeology. I’m writing on the day after the day of archaeology because I spent all of yesterday in planes and airports wrangling a ten month old, and the week before on a remote Canadian island with no computer or internet. So there you go. This year I bet you’re wondering what the Struggling Archaeologist is up to and if she’s, well, still struggling. To be honest, the short and most honest answer to that question is: yes. In a manner I suppose this career is one which we are all likely to struggle in from time to time. As needed and important as archaeology is in the world, it’s still a small and competitive field and there are more brilliant minds (and trowels) in it than jobs. Or at least it feels that way. This day of archaeology my mind is preoccupied with my future, continuing to build my skills and experience, and staying relevant two years out of grad school with a new baby. I’m not in the field this year. I am doing as so many archaeologists do repeatedly through their career, sitting at a computer working on what I hope will help me keep my career growing for many years to come. Definitely not the sexy part of the job. I guess it’s more like the morning after a great party part of the job– when you wake up feeling foggy and wondering whether whatever you did all of last night was worth the headache you have right now.
You know what my problem is? I’m a sedentary woman in a nomadic world. I won’t bore you with the details of my personal life or play a tiny violin as l lament what choices brought me to this weird and unfulfilling time in my career (I have a full-size violin which I do play, incidentally. Not to brag, but I could play the violin and lament all day if I wanted to). The point being, in order to find more fulfilling work and a job in which I feel I would be much happier it would behoove me to leave my current home and go wherever that work is. This, sad to say, is not an option for me at the moment. Call me crazy, but being a 35 year old nomad is not as appealing as it was when I was a 25 year student embarking on my archaeology career. I have a family, my husband has a good job, and giving up that stability seems pretty darn stupid to me. Alas, there are very limited job opportunities in my current community for academics and archaeologists alike. So here I sit, updating my linkedin, taking online skills development courses to improve my wretched history with technology, looking for jobs and research opportunities, preparing a paper for submittal, reading blogs and planning a new podcast, unpacking, making dinner, and enjoying the giggles escaping my son as he wobbles across the house to explore some new wonder.
I feel perhaps, as usual, there is something here than I am missing. Some hidden spring of employment that other M.A archaeologists are swimming in. But I think the truth is that this field is so varied, random, diverse, and the opposite of normal that there is no one path to success. What kinds of jobs can archaeologists do? Where do they work? There are about as many answers as there are archaeologists. Finding not only a job but knowing where the opportunities for jobs are is an added challenge in our field. I have come to a place where, much like with my podcast, I am almost convinced that for me the answer is to create the opportunity for myself. I consider myself, first and foremost, an educator, and so today I am also thinking of designing online educational materials about archaeology and history. I am tweaking the design on an infographic I have been working on to accompany my next podcast episode. I am also considering the creation of new media projects aimed at introducing young people to anthropology. As much as I love to dig, this is what is really exciting me right now.
As I reread it hits me that this post is a major downer. Sorry about that. Well, not really, as I have never wanted to be anything other than my own genuine self in all of my Struggling Archaeologist related materials. The truth is that we all struggle, and today– this day after the day of archaeology– this happens to be my reality. I know we’re all supposed to look brilliant and successful and have it all figured out all of the time, but the truth is that we don’t. Not most of us anyway. Still, I end this blog and this day feeling hopeful for my future. I get to be a part, in some small way, of a world that seeks to preserve the wonders of the past and to do good things for humanity. I think of my son and the things he’ll get to learn and the awe it might inspire in him as a result of what we do. It makes the giggles outweigh everything else. That’s all that matters in the end.