Tablet PCs in Field Archaeology
Taught by: Lucy Johnson
What is the course in which you use instructional technologies about? Tell us about its origin, goals and objectives.
The course I teach is a traditional Field Archaeology course. The students are outside each Saturday of the fall semester excavating at my research site on the Mohonk Preserve. We use standard archaeological excavation tools, like trowels, buckets and sifting screens. Most important is to record or map the test pits as the excavation proceeds. The tablet PC replaces the paper record form which I had used in the past.
What were the technologies used and how did they change or enhance your course?
Recording the surface of the test pit square with a tablet PC, using the pen to draw that surface allows me to capture the structure of the levels without the drawings having to be copied over or xeroxed. From the field, the students' drawings are transferred directly into my computer. This avoids degradation of the data as occurs inevitably when maps are copied.
The Student Response
How have your students responded to your use of this technology?
After they got used to using the tablet PC, I think most of them could see the value of using this technology for the archaeological field work. There were difficulties in the beginning in that some of them had not used a tablet PC and so found it problematic getting started. Once they got used to using the pen, there were no serious problems. Certainly, for the students analyzing the materials in the lab, the use of the tablets was a huge benefit. I didn't have to have an unfortunate student spending a year copying over field notes.
What were the challenges you faced when teaching this course?
There are major challenges to teaching Field Archaeology. First off, it is much more fun to dig than it is to stop and record. This is true for whatever recording technology you are using. As we familiarized ourselves with using the tablet PC, the process of recording using a tablet became less onerous than using pen and paper.
Those that used the typing functionality on the keyboard rather than writing notes with a pen, made it easier for me to read their notes rather than decipher their handwriting. I would like to see a more sensitive writing tool for the tablet PC in the future.
The most frustrating problem with the technology was the battery life, it was too short. We are out for eight hours and the battery lasted 2 hours. Though we had extra batteries, it is not pleasant to have to stop what you're doing to swap in the spare battery.
What new directions would you like to explore with technology in your teaching?
I would like to have each of the students use a tablet PC in this class. This would allow them to type up their narrative fieldnotes while in the field, again erasing a time-consuming copying process. In the seasons in which I have used the tablet, each test pit, being excavated and recorded by two or three students, had a tablet.
I would like to explore streamlining the data collection methodology even more. I want to investigate Google Forms or Zoho Writer. Not having to copy the form data into Excel would reduce data degradation even more, perhaps eliminating transcription errors entirely.