Monday, September 10, 2012

Last week I experimented with Skype as a form of public outreach.  It seems appropriate to share the story via social media, because if not for Facebook it might not have happened.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend the National Council for Social Studies meeting in Washington, D.C.  Like a million other posts I put on my personal Facebook page, "Breakfast at Lincoln's Waffle House.  I don't believe he ever ate here," didn't seem to be work related.  But in the networking business be careful what you post, may lead you on a new adventure.

Quick to respond to my post was my friend from undergrad Sarah Bates, now Sarah King.  She couldn't believe we were both in D.C. at the same time, and after a few posts back and forth we realized we were both in D.C. to attend NCSS.  Sarah is a teacher now at Chancellor Middle School in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  We met up at the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse exhibit table and later had a chance to catch up over lunch.

Sarah asked me during the conference if I'd be willing to Skype with her class and this Fall she came through with her request.  Last week I talked to 125 middle school students, and I didn't have to leave my desk to do it!  We had some technical difficulties to overcome at first, but we both agreed it was well worth working out a system.  Here's a few tips I'd recommend for those considering using Skype as a form of PubArch outreach, and feel free to add your own in the comments section:

 Sarah King's classroom in Virginia.

1.  Set up a time for a trial call.

This is one of those do as I say and not as I do, as Sarah and I didn't have time before the big day.  But as an initial step from now on with teachers, it's imperative to work out all the technical kinks.  I didn't realize, for example, that although my laptop has a built in camera that when it was connected to my port at my office that the camera wouldn't work.  I had to either disconnect the laptop from the port, or use my iPad to connect. 

Room with a View?  Not quite.
2.  Have the archaeologist and teacher connected by a land line.

Having Sarah and I connected by a phone line came organically as we tried to overcome the fact they could see me and hear me in the classroom, but they had no microphone and were blurry.  Turns out it didn't matter that I couldn't see them, as long as they could see me.  The more I think about it, having Sarah facilitate the questions and not having to ask students to repeat and repeat questions made the call go more smoothly.  Even if we resolved the microphone issue, I would still request that direct line with the teacher.

3.   Come prepared with object show and tell.

Props used during calls.
I thought ahead of time about having artifacts to show the students, but in a very positive way those were not the props I needed!  Students had more questions about the science and how of archaeology, and I was delighted for them.  By the time I Skyped with the last class I had a skeleton, trowel, and Munsell color book at the ready.  If I had to do over again, I'd be sure my dig kit was at the ready to show them more of the tools, especially a line level as many of the questions had to do with context and mapping.

4.  Be prepared to tell them the coolest thing you ever found.

There was not a single class that didn't ask this question, which is also common on site visits and other classroom visits.  With such little time, it seemed like the more I could steer the coolest object into to objectives Sarah had, the better.  For a history class artifacts that tied in with world events seemed to fit the bill.  We found jet mourner's beads during the Frankfort Cemetery project, and this tied in well with the death of Prince Albert and trends that began with Queen Victoria in the 1860s having a far reaching effect all the way to Kentucky.  This went over better than the sherds I found in the 1565 trench in St. Augustine.  The discussion of artifacts as information came up in different ways, so I could work those artifacts into that discussion.
Some tried and true "coolest" things ever found: a) "housewife" sewing kit, b) mourners beads (black), c) Frozen Charlotte doll, d) late 18th century eyeglasses.

5.  The more times we Skyped, the more effective the archaeologist/teacher partnership became.

This seems obvious, but the method of using Skype was interesting because I could switch up what we were talking about in a way I couldn't maybe do running from class to class to class.  It's not unusual for a school to ask us to talk to 5-6 different classes on a single visit, but this was definitely unique in that it was the same teacher.  Sarah had a better idea of my repetoir of students and could facilitate the questions more effectively to serve her needs.  I had a better idea of what the students were doing on their end as well.  By class 5 I knew that on page 9 of their text book their was a picture of an ongoing excavation, or I knew they were going to watch a movie on radio carbon dating.  I think the more the students were aware that I was interested in what they were learning and could contextualize the information I was speaking, the better the exercise became.

Sarah & Sarah @NCSS2011 meeting up in exhibitor hall.
Based on this experience, I would highly recommend any archaeologist to make themselves available to teachers via Skype.  Many may be doing this already, but this was my first time.  If you are a teacher in Florida, you can contact any of the FPAN centers by looking up what region serves your county at  If you happen to live in northeast Florida, you can contact us directly.  If you are in another state or country, I have two recommendations.  The first is to look up Project Archaeology and see if there is an active PA program in your state.  If so, there is a state coordinator who may be the best person for your Skype quest.  The second recommendation is to contact any one of the professional archaeology organization (Society for American Archaeology, Society for Historical Archaeology, Archaeological Institute of America), all of which have public archaeologists interested in reaching new audiences.

And keep us posted!  If you have a tip, post it for others below.  If you try it out an have a cautionary tale of something that didn't go well, share!  My next challenge is to conquer Skyping from the field....I'll keep you posted!

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff
Images: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff except class pictures by Sarah King and artifact pictures from various projects for Kentucky Archaeological Survey taken by David McBride.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you Sarah!! It was such a great way for students to form meaningful understandings about the field of archaeology!

  2. The housewife sewing kit: Is this supposed to be the kit? or was this found in a housewife? I see the pins, what is the other stuff, beeswax?
    Regards, Keith.

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