As you may remember from a former post, I have been researching lately on MOOCs and the role they can play in the communication of archaeology to larger audiences. In a paper I have recently published I concluded that, if well designed and maintained through time, MOOCs can be an incredibly engaging learning experience. I have enjoyed that research so much that I decided to keep taking and reviewing MOOCs on archaeology and anthropology, not necessarily for a new paper, although you never know, but for this blog. Thus, today I am presenting you with a MOOC that I have finished a couple of days ago and that is one of the best I have ever taken: Rome, A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City, from University of Reading in the platform FutureLearn.
I am sharing with you today a great discovery I made a couple of days ago while searching the web for my studies on archaeological outreach. The name is Archaeological Fantasies, a blog started in 2011 and with an associated podcast since 2015. Awesome. Just fantastic. The main goal of the blog and the podcast is to explain from a scientific and easy to understand perspective many of the fantasies defended by pseudoarchaeology, showing how research in done in archaeology and why many of these conspiracy theories cannot be taken seriously at all.
The hosts are Serra Zander and Prof. Kenneth Feder. I discovered Zander’s fascinating work through the blog. It is just incredible. The reviews of pseudoarchaeological books she posts are amazing, beautifully written and plenty of citations to articles that provide the data to support its arguments. In fact, the quality of this research and the fact that is posted in a blog, which is great, but does not have a parallel presence in academic journals, has reinforced some of the ideas I have defended in a recent paper: we should take this topic much more seriously. Ignoring it is not working at all.
With regard to Prof. Feder, he is one of my favourites on this topic. I discovered him in a couple of episodes of Horizon where Atlantologists ideas were reviewed and put to the test, a test they obviously failed. Then I found that he has been actively publishing on these topics for a while, with two books on Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, and Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. I am afraid that they are right now a little bit expensive for me to buy them right now, but if they are half good the arguments he defends in other places, such as these podcasts, I am sure they will be fantastic readings.
I have just listened to the last episode and a bunch of the early ones, so I cannot have an opinion for every single podcast made. But I love them. The clear way in which our job is explained should in fact be a model for us all, since, whether we like it or not, we are all confronted from time to time to some of the same questions the hosts mention, for example, in the same episode. Like them, I got interested in pseudoarchaeology as some kind of hobby/secondary stuff I file from time to time whenever they cross my way, and like them too I have become more and more active on the topic due to the empowerment and legitimization the media has given to pseudoscience in the last years.
Finally, after much delay due to my dissertation work, I can resume my work on the role free-software can play in archaeology, in this second entry of Open source archaeology, a brief users guide (II). This is a topic I really enjoy writing about, because there are a lot of tools out there created and updated by devoted groups of supporters that just want to provide us with programs that are not restrained by the market rules and, whether you want to believe or not, they can be as good, if not better, than firmware. In the case of LibreOffice, at least for me, this is absolutely true.
LibreOffice is a project of The Document Foundation, a forked version from OpenOffice, and comprises programs for general office work, such as word processing, the creation and editing of spreadsheets, slide-shows, diagrams and drawings, mathematical formulae and, most important for archaeologists, databases. You can work in the native formats or with other software formats such as .doc, and there is no issue, at least on my experience, to shift from one to the other.
A little of self-promotion this time. I hope you enjoy this review I have just published in Advances in Archaeological Practice’s latest issue. This is a paper on MOOCs in an Open Access journal, so very much my approach to science in the last two years. I do believe MOOCs can have a very positive impact in the way scholars interact with a community of students larger than the classroom… society. Here you have the abstract:
This review assesses the capabilities of the technology of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as tools for increasing the presence of archaeology in our digital society. Instead of focusing on the academic value of the content of these courses, I explore their usefulness as promoters of rigorous archaeological practices and ethics, as well as the protection and preservation of cultural heritage. After enrolling as a student in six MOOCs, I have analyzed whether these courses successfully provided students with an informed and critical understanding of the field, as well as creating networks of advocates that can share this knowledge across their communities.
Today I am presenting you with a very exciting project that is taking shape these days around Europe, PLUGGY: an inventive Social Networking site for cultural heritage. I do not know if you have heard of it, but I am sure you will do in the future. Their immediate goal is the creation of a Facebook-like social platform and a series of smartphone apps, in order to promote and encourage the involvement of citizens in safeguarding their local cultural environment. And the idea sounds great to me, and very necessary as well.
This is a topic I have been actually researching in the last year, and I have in press a paper on the role new technologies can play in the diffusion and defence of the cultural heritage, a study I will be sharing with you very soon. We all carry a smartphone today. Perhaps you are reading this from one right now. We have no mobile phones any more, but handheld computers that happen to make phone calls, and in my case not very often. So imagine a project that aims at the creation of a social network and a series of apps, (augmented reality, geolocation, 3D Sonic narratives and collaborative games) that you can carry in your pocket all the time. For me it is impossible not to be excited about it, especially, as a map maker, about the geolocation app.
The had the kick-off meeting in Athens the 12th and the 13th of this month, and although work is still getting organised, you can find some information about the project in their Facebook and webpages, as well as following them on twitter:
Have a look and follow the project. I think this is going to be just great. I can only hope the first releases arrive very soon!