Last week I was invited over to Chester to run a four hour glass arrowhead making workshop for the ArcSoc, and I was paid in chocolate! Jules took lots of great pictures and so partly I want to include these, but I also want to explore the experience of teaching and learning as well.
Chester’s Archaeology department has just emerged from a stressful few months where lecturers were under threat of redundancy. One outcome of this threat was a series of protests that included both members of staff, but also students who correctly recognised that a threat to the members of staff was also a threat to the student body.
The current economic rationalisation of an archaeology department is not designed to improve either staff or student experience, and it is exactly this staff and student experience that I find fascinating.
Making stone tools is the gift that keeps on giving. It is an occult activity, in that the skill and experience that allows me to do things like soft hammer thinning, or ribbon flaking with a copper pressure flaker, these things are embodied, or hidden within my body.
Consequently, what students experience during the learning process is not just my ability to do something, but their own inability. There is that interesting space where I show them how to do something, and they find they can’t do it. My job is to bridge that gap and facilitate their ability to produce something within a fixed amount of time.
So the look on these faces is not just about what they have been able to achieve individually, but also the bits they couldn’t do and they had some help with from me. That help is part of the process and so each of these arrowheads is a shared endeavour, and as such we both have a vested interest in a successful outcome.
It is therefore also a social process. Each person will have the same but also different problems with glass arrowhead production. The evidence of the particular problem is revealed by the arrowhead, but the solution to the problem lies within the person’s procedure. What do they need to do differently and how can I facilitate that change?
To make that change so we both focus in on the detail of what they are doing, and then what happens if they make particular changes. That process can also be understood as a ‘getting to know you’ experience, and coming out the other end with a pointy piece of glass that you have sweated over for a good few hours is a great ‘getting to know you’ outcome.
In the same way that I didn’t travel over from Manchester for a box of chocolates, I believe the participants were not there to maximise the value of their £9000 fees for that year. It was a shared four hours where we explored a topic of interest together, got to know each other and worked to achieve a (more or less!) successful outcome.
I think something similar happened earlier this year when staff and students got together in the centre of Chester. Understanding that teaching and learning is a social process becomes important as Archaeology as a subject comes under increasing pressure to justify itself to the university in purely financial terms. Participants recognised a shared interest in resisting redundancies and by working together achieved a (more or less!) successful outcome. I think this was a great learning experience for both staff and students.