Developing an online course teaching the use of radiography in archaeology
A research project investigating undergraduate archaeology preferences for online learning
An account of the paleoradiography online course research project.
James Elliott - December 2021
Developing an online course to teach the use of radiography in archaeology
In 2020 I enrolled on the Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice, a teaching qualification with Canterbury Christ Church University for those lecturing within Higher Education. As part of the final assessment, I created an online course to teach the use of radiography in archaeology and invited one hundred undergraduate archaeology students to participate and provide feedback.
The results of the study have helped my to create An Introduction to Paleoradiography, a four-hour short course providing essential practical knowledge of radiography along with core research principles in archaeology.
The research study has been published within the Journal of Archaeology and Education and can be viewed below. This webpage provides a summary of the research.
Online, asynchronous course lasting 4 hours
100 undergraduate archaeology students participated
Between April-May and July-August 2021
22 unique universities from 9 different countries
58% female, 16% male, 2% non-binary and 24% prefering not to say
Average age 25.7
52 students completed the course
253 free-text responses, providing praise or constructive suggestions for improvement
This was a Participatory Action Research study, where students were actively involved in the development of the course with the tutor. The full study is available below, or can be viewed on the Journal of Archaeology and Education website. The article is Open Access and can be shared freely.
Ethical approval for the research study was obtained from Canterbury Christ Church University to recruit participants and collect key demographic information. The research was based upon Action Research with two groups of 50 participants providing feedback on the course as separate cohorts. Thus, the course underwent three iterations by the end of the research study:
1. First version - Created by the investigator (James Elliott) using experience of teaching at Higher Education.
2. Second version - The first 50 participants provided feedback on the course, asking for amendments to the navigation buttons, video fixes and greater archaeological examples.
3. Third version - The second group of 50 participants provided more feedback but fewer suggestions for improvement.
(the course is now in its fourth iteration after input from postgraduate students, staff and career-archaeologists)
The image below outlines the Action Research approach as advocated by Riding, Fowell and Levy (1995).
Plan - The Plan phase involved creating the course using best available guidance.
Act - During the Act phase the participants were allowed access to the learning content.
Observe - Participants were asked to provide feedback during the Observe phase.
Reflect - The investigator collects, collates and cognates upon the feedback in the Reflect phase.
The original course then underwent changes for re-release to new participants.
Who were the participants?
The study invited 100 participants who fulfilled the following criteria:
Undergraduate archaeology student in any year of study
From any university, in any country
Must have access to the internet
A university email address
Four hours to complete the learning and provide feedback
Able to understand English to an academic level - this was not explicitly stated but assumed)
The pie charts shown below demonstrate where the participants were from across the world and which year of study they were in.
What were the main findings?
Although only 52% of participants completed the course, there was substantial free-text feedback to improve the course. The main themes from the feedback are shown below, along with key changes related to the design of the website and the learning content.
Overall, archaeology students wanted:
Less radiographic science! Despite the course being about paleoradiography, most archaeology students didn't want to learn much about the science and technology of radiography. As a result, I reduced the complexity and detail of some sections when explaining key physics.
More archaeological examples. I always anticipated this, but students wanted more examples of radiography being applied in archaeology. This meant finding more Open Access (free) academic literature demonstrating how radiography can answer specific research questions. Regrettably, there are some articles which demonstrate paleoradiography excellently but are not Open Access. However, the links to these were provided anyway as some students can request access from their library.
Easier navigation of the website. The original website design was flawed, I put the navigation buttons on the left and right extremes of the page. This made it difficult for some particpants to view the buttons and navigate the course, especially those who did not have a wide screen PC monitor. I completely overhauled the navigation of the course to overcome these issues. The mobile version was also revamped to allow viewing on phones and tablets.
Yes, the first group of participants wanted a discussion forum to ask questions and conntect with other participants. This was created for the second group, but was never used! I'm not sure why, but I suspect that the participants saw little value for the discussion forum and preferred to submit questions/comments elsewhere.
What is the future of the course?
With the completion of the course I met the requried outcomes of my teaching qualification! I am now a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy within the United Kingdom and can evidence my expertise as a lecturer within university.
Following the successful publication of the results of the project, the course has undergone further changes and updates as a paid course on this website. More information can be found here.