Collaborative Problem-solving

with Internet-based Archaeology Tools

You would think it would be easy to teach archaeology to students in Indiana, the state that brought us the swashbucking "Indiana Jones." But, as we all know, Hollywood has done us no favors. Students come into our classes assuming that archaeologists "discover stuff" and either sell it, or stick it into museums (or both). Our challenge is to teach them that archaeology is less an art of discovery than a science of interpretation.

The classes where we can have the biggest impact are our introductory courses (often electives), where students can be lured briefly into thinking about the past before they go on to future careers in marketing, or ...

Yet introductory classes are often where we fail the most miserably at helping students understand what archaeology is all about. Whether we teach the class as a "World prehistory" survey course, or as an introduction to method, students are basically left in a passive role, learning about "what archaeologists have done." I think we need to engage our students more actively in learning to interpret the past if we want them to really care about our cultural heritage any time in the future.

I believe that students deserve the chance to manipulate and learn to interpret the real data, in all its rich, interesting, frustrating ambiguity -- not just simplified "problem sets" that are easy to xerox, distribute and grade. This was why I created the Investigating Olduvai CD-ROM, and it is also the rationale behind my Prehistoric Puzzles project - a collaboration with Martin Siegel, Director of WisdomTools, the Center for Excellence in Education at IU.

With support from NEH, we are designing a Digital Learning Environment called "Prehistoric Puzzles" for teaching and learning about how archaeologists solve research problems.


It is designed for learner-centered and problem-based instruction, to facilitate multi-disciplinary and collaborative learning among archaeology students, and should be fully functional by fall. It includes:

Students can "zoom into" time, controlling scale and resolution, and go into detail about individual sites:

Check for more links to the project web pages this summer!

(This page based on a paper delivered at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeologists, Seattle, Washington, 3/26/98)


Africa | Primates | Human Evolution | Paleoecology | Archaeology
IU Anthropology | Sept teaching interests | Sept research | Sept Home Page

Jeanne Sept does field research related to the archaeology of human origins in East Africa,and teaches in the Anthropology Department at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Last updated: 23 March, 1998

URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/teach/puzzles.html
Comments: sept@indiana.edu

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Jeanne Sept

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