Welcome to The Sustainability Sandbox blog series! The Alexandria Archive Institute and Open Context advocate for data sharing, data literacy, open access, and community collaborations. In this series, we share the story of our journey to identify and develop digital data management, public engagement, and data literacy projects with potential partner institutions.
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and Society for Classical Studies (SCS) Joint Annual Meeting earlier this month gave me an opportunity to present some of my thoughts about the so what behind much of the work we’re doing here at The Alexandria Archive Institute / Open Context (AAI/OC). In my paper, The Untold Potential of Open Data: Computational, Collaborative, and Pedagogical Outcomes in the Limitations Of/On Open Access In Archaeology colloquium, I had a chance to unpack some of our assumptions about open data, and reflect on some of the collective opportunities that open data can facilitate in a really concrete way. Because these big picture objectives are so integral to our ongoing sustainability efforts, I wanted to use this month’s blog post to share an excerpt adapted from my paper. In this excerpt, I discuss the pedagogical potential of open data in archaeology and the humanities more broadly.
One way to think about and measure our reach and impact as scholars is through our work with students. This kind of thinking encourages us to step away from archaeology towards humanistic disciplines more generally.
We’ve all seen articles boasting provocative headlines about how our departments are losing all institutional support and, as a result, are being forced to close. Others claim more broadly that the humanities are in crisis. They go into detail about how humanities classrooms are losing students who are, instead of studying Greek and Latin, ancient history, and site formation processes, pursuing disciplines where they can see a clear and concrete path to future careers after they graduate, careers that will provide a guaranteed and obvious return on investment.
These kinds of articles are obviously rather pessimistic, but ultimately thought-provoking. We know that our students can forge clear concrete paths that could take them in a variety of different directions after pursuing degrees in classics, or classical archaeology, or anthropology. But why are we so bad at conveying that to our students and our institutional administrators? We, as archaeologists, often don’t do a good enough job clearly and concretely articulating that the skills students will take away from our courses can be applied broadly outside the confines of our classrooms.
In our defense, we were not trained to do this! We have had few models for this in our academic training, and we have a lot of other learning objectives to get through each semester, for sure. But, I still think we can do better to make these outcomes, which are already implicitly there, more explicit, in our classrooms. Work by groups like the National Humanities Alliance and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is preparing us to do precisely that, providing not only the data behind some of the daunting sentiments expressed by those provocative articles, but also offering resources for us to begin to reverse these threatening trends.
So how do open data fit here? Because the vast majority of our students are not looking for careers in classical archaeology or in academia, the more we arm them with easily transferable skills, the more often they leave our classrooms satisfied, knowing that even though they may barely remember the content that they learned in my course, they will surely have opportunities to call on some of the bigger picture learning they’ve mastered along the way, which might revolve around data management, data cleaning, public scholarship, and collaboration, objectives that are all made easily achievable through and with open access to data.
Moreover, many of us will also, by necessity or by design, likely find ourselves working outside the once coveted tenure-track and more traditional academic settings. The adaptability and confidence that can be gained through data literacy and carried through applications to various job markets are made easily achievable through and with open access to data.
And it’s important to emphasize here that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t need to propose a digital archeology course from scratch in order to arm the next generation of students with skills around data or to prepare yourself to be more versatile on the job market. Rather, one of your many important objectives for the semester can revolve around students learning, practicing, and applying data skills, skills that are explicitly connected to their future endeavors outside the confines of your classroom.
This is precisely the goal of some of our newest programs at The AAI/OC. From our Digital Data Stories Project to the professional development services we’re piloting, open data provide a strong and equitable foundation to these pedagogical efforts.
We’re looking to build relationships with libraries, museums, educational organizations, and other cultural heritage groups. If you’d like to connect and discuss a potential collaboration, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!