Back to the Classroom After Two Decades as a Dean

In two days, I will return to teaching after over twenty years as a liberal arts dean.  This has spurred some serious thinking and to be honest, rigorous assessment of the educational outlook I have developed over the past 20 plus years.  In other words, I need to hold myself accountable - i.e. practice what I preach. 

My teaching in archaeology spanned almost 20 years at the University of South Carolina.  I taught at BA and MA levels in Anthropology and Archaeology.  I taught in the classroom, the lab and the field.  The latter was by far the most intensive learning environment as I spent 24/7 with undergraduates and graduates in South Carolina and in Ireland.  Most of this 'teaching' involved students in my research, where I directed major archaeological projects in South Carolina and then Waterford County, Ireland. 

I had  honestly  not aspired to (or expected to) return the classroom, but circumstances have indeed made this necessary.  So my first hurdle was to get used to this turn in professional career  beginning in my 41st year in higher education.  

My apprehension soon turned to trying to prepare for a new generation of students and a seriously evolved classroom technological environment.  I spent a good part this past year thinking about this and conceptualising how I would approach the class.  I rehearsed syllabi for undergraduate and graduate courses, and in fact found my anticipatory mood shift between apprehensive to excited.  

But the really interesting part of this period was my coping with the accountability I had in fact created, through my years as an academic administrator.  During the past 20 years or so I have reviewed college programs, general education, Honors programs and faculty teaching.  Through out this all, I have developed an educational outlook that focusses on engaging students in their own learning.  Archaeological field schools have greatly flavored this outlook, as my projects have always required students to take responsibility for some aspect of the field project and its laboratory components. In addition, teamwork and work delegation is central to archaeological research. In my classroom teaching I attempted to avoid lecture and content presentation, as I have always argued against this type of passive education.

So now, in Fall 2016 (my first semester teaching was Fall 1976) I find myself creating an Introduction to Archaeology class for undergraduates, and theory and method seminar for graduate students with the challenge of putting these together as active learning environments. 

In response, I have just submitted syllabi for these courses that require classroom and outside classroom interaction and active learning.  The undergraduate class has as its reference a  cloud based interactive text.  It is the students’ responsibility to complete this reference on their own while bringing questions to class as needed.  My role in the classroom will be to lead discussion on the weekly topics in ways that brings my experiences to them in an engaging way.  Many of you will recognize this as a flipped-classroom approach.

The graduate course is even more interactive and active.  The class will spend its first class developing a syllabus with me that speaks to Archaeological Method and Theory in ways that meets their diverse interests and professional aspirations.  I have provided them with a Course Plan that lists goals and a general list of topics that we need to cover. Woven into these goals will be career mentoring, and writing critiques that will prepare them to move in the professional world of archaeology with an MA, a credential that gains them entrance to many areas of environmental and archaeological professional employment.  

I want to work with them, not teach them. Their first writing assignment, for example, requires a short piece (100 words) on the personal significance aspects of their own material culture. What would they carry with them if they had to evacuate their home?  This assignment, as I explain to them in the Course Plan (which of course is on-line),  both speaks to their interest in Archaeology. and gives me a chance to see their writing and allows them to see w my expectations  In other words, to get used to each other.

Throughout the semester, I will update my blog to share my experiences, but also a way of holding myself accountable.  Wish me luck!