Active learning workshops in Anthropology that includes hands on activities

Educator Name: Dr. Emily Stovel
School Name: Ripon College


Include more active learning workshops in anthropology classes that bring students closer to the cultures we study. This includes visual media and collaborative projects that help students have hands on experiences conducting anthropology and archaeology. These activities are paired with exercises to help students collaborate, reflect on what they have learned, and connect class material. This program is divided into two areas: Visual Anthropology, and Andean Fiber Technologies. Visual Anthropology: I have been developing some first year classroom ethnography tools that need current (and usually a bit expensive) anthropological documentaries. Students watch theses films and develop an anthropological research proposal (in small groups) to study an aspect of that community. We then evaluate these proposals together according to certain axes (previously taught in the course) such as ethics, critical comparisons, or applied research. To date we have used general release films but this exercise works best with documentaries which do not provide dominant stories about other people in a way that would impinge on student imagination and creativity. Many of these films are available at a discount if purchased in bulk (i.e., 10). In addition, these films can provide the substance for a new series of upper level courses on visual anthropology and the media and support extant courses on gender and development. Andean Fiber Technologies: I teach a 200 level, hands-on, textile class where we learn about knotting, twining, weaving, spinning, knitting, and complex braiding as part of learning about South American textile traditions, past to present. The course is always in dire need of materials because so far we work with tongue depressors and cotton from a local craft store in town. This semester I am planning on building vertical looms from southern Chile and spinning fibers to make textiles but we need supplies so that all students can participate. Most of these tools can be made by students, but without a full range of dyes and fibers and adequate materials to build multiple tools (such as looms and spindles), students cannot capture the range of abilities ancient weavers developed. Moreover, building looms will involve more collaborative work because so far each student works on their own individual project and this would build solidarity in the class, and help them feel more comfortable commenting on each other’s work.

These activities bring home to students the experience of conducting anthropological research. All three workshops encourage creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, the application of anthropological methods and evaluation of peer work. Each exercise demonstrates how science and collaboration occurs (i.e., it is not an individual thinking alone, but people struggling together to make sense of a data set) and the biases of which one must be aware. New equipment will allow for a shift in the entire course, rather than one or two classes, to a format that de-emphasizes lecturing, especially at the lower levels when it is least effective as a teaching tool, to one that encourages the development of collaborative skills and reflection on doing things in new ways (a fundamental aspect of anthropology). In essence we bring participant observation into the classroom.

Students will engage with new practices that are part of the discipline and part of crafts carried out by prehistoric peoples. These actions bring home learning into their bodies as they struggle to spin, weave, develop research proposals and organize material culture into meaningful categories. Course material (i.e., learning about how other archaeologists have studied pottery) becomes relevant because students will want to see how others have solved the problems they encounter. The key skill acquired in fiber crafting, for example, is experimentation. This is also a vitally important skill in scientific inquiry.

This program and the equipment acquired to support it will constitute permanent changes to the teaching in this department. It will lead to significant changes in the way we teach anthropology, influencing the design of currently taught courses and the development of new classes.