At Home With Anthropology
At Home with Anthropology
At Home With Anthropology was the first UK complete e-learning BA and MA degree programme in Anthropology to run between 2000 and 2008.
I named it 'At Home With Anthropology' to signify different elements: I wanted students to feel 'at home' with anthropology as a concept, as a discipline and as way of learning. I also wanted to signify the relationship between working from 'home' as opposed to the 'classroom'. Distance learning students, by the nature of their studies, often conduct anthropological research and fieldwork in what traditionally anthropology calls 'Anthropology at HOme', that is, the workplace, near one's own locality, interests groups and so on rather than 'abroad'. At Home With Anthropology, then, came to represent this layered concept.
At Home With Anthropology was also based on the concept that the platform and the delivery of the curriculum had to adapt to the needs of the discipline rather than the other way around, and in that sense it was tailored from within and by myself as anthropologist and mediated in that process by other anthropologists than by external non-anthropologists. At Home With Anthropology was not a 'boutique' platform and it was not a platform 'bought' elsewhere; it was all made specifically for this project, with anthropology in mind and with pedagogic strategies for teaching anthropology, it was technically accesible as to be able to reach as many student's as possible worldwide.
Engaging with the Internet: Pedagogies versus Financial Crisis
With some exceptions, most of my line managers and colleagues thought of it in terms of recruitment and marking rather than its pedagogic value and what could be done with it. My line managers appeared to be constantly submerged in financial crisis, that gave e-learning relevance as a vehicle for recruitment. Unfortunately, e-learning was not centralised or articulated in any way to become a clear competitor to the e-learning market or the Open University who had already by then great delivery platforms. One advantadge of the situation we experienced was that although we did not have centralised resources, we did not have centralised enforcement on what we should do thus were able to think about the pedagogic strategies much more freely.
Back in early 00s many universities like ours were affected by staff unwillingness to engage with the Internet and took a long time for people to re-assess their teaching practice in relation to the Internet. E-learning, centrally delivered, was felt as an imposition -and it was eventually imposed- to existing teaching practices. This had an impact on the few of us that were producing work for the Internet as it created a kind of divide where this was an 'us-them' project that was not part of the majority of people's teaching experience. The lack of centralisation of e-learning delivery put a heavy strain on those passionated about it. Staff development courses were struggling to catch up with the times as well.
For me it was always a pedagogic project to do with the teaching and learning of anthropology, and more importantly, with the creation of anthropological knowledge through communication technologies. It still remains so to this day.
Staff low involvement in these kinds of projects was not only due to their perceptions of teaching and the Internet, but also the fact this was a heavily time-consuming project and staff (with one exception) did not want to add to their existing workloads as it was not part of their contracts. I was happy to add the workload because I believed on it as a pedagogic proejct and it allowed me to be involved in an exciting project of producing anthropology through learning and teaching.
Still, I can not deny this was a heavily time-consuming project that had to be done, unpaid, in addition to the existing residential lecturer contract, on full evenings and weekends. It took three years of intense dedication, and when I write intense and time-consuming it does not even come closer to the experience of it. At times I would find solace on the tutors and friends that would look through all the courses with me and share its dimension and effort.
After the completition of its first stage in 2003 it was then assessed externally, by five colleagues, our external examiners and gradually became embeded in practice in the department, with other staff contributing to marking and some tutoring. However, the lack of staff involved in the creation of courses, and the lack of centralised learning technologies and human resources, were always a down-side to this project. The lack of staff made communications slow with students, and made feedback and double-marking times too long.
I am grateful to the colleagues that inspired me to do this work, who volunteered thier classnotes and sad they resigned before they could see its full completion; and forever grateful to Dr Kirtsoglou, our several external examiners, our server administrator for their support, and above all, the help of our then, departmental administrator Ann Mackie for working with me in structuring the administrative side of this project and helping me think through all the thoushand details that went from registration to double-marking and student feedback. Two dedicated and passionate people took over my tutor and anchor role in 2004 and 2005, and then 2007, Roula and Sarah and improved it much more that I was able to do in my streched capacities. There were indeed many other staff that participated through marking essays and sending occasional emails, administering the paper work and asking me the right questions about quality assurance, copyright, and other technical help, and from 2005 and 2007 institutional dialogue to steer the project further.
First Steps: Architecture and Platform
Between 2000 and 2001 I created and developed At Home With Anthropology.
At Home With Anthropology was the first e-learning platform, HTML based that I used in order to support the development of the e-learning degrees for the Department of Anthropology at UWL. This was to become the basic platform delivery until 2003, when it blended the learning strategy with CD-ROMs and electronic-based documents.
The platform, not longer running, was set up in absence of an institutional platform. In 2000 I wanted to be able to deliver anthropology online. However, UWL did not have, from 2000 to 2008 any platform delivery system set up for the delivery of e-learning. UWL started discussing the possibility of having blackboard or moodle at institional level around 2006 but was never provided. The only solution for anthropology was to create our own platform.
At Home With Anthropology is the outcome of my project of creating an online delivery. The project was supported under 'anthropology-online.com'.
The platform was created using HTML and non-institutional funding, re-using existing free sources already available online.
The platform was secured with password and located in a private mirror server because back in 2000 this service was yet not available centrally at institutional level.
At Home With Anthropology was located under "anthropology-online.com" (with an external name provider that secured the brand name, now only a portal).
The tags of the index document flagged up 'online', 'anthropology', 'e-learning', 'degrees'. It took three weeks to crawl through google and it ranked first in googling any combination of those four words (in 2000). [report] This tags were also embeded in departmental pages so when anyone googled 'online', 'anthropology', 'e-learning', 'disance', 'degrees' we would come first online.
In 2000 this was the first UK-based e-learning degree in anthropology and we had very little market competition.
During the first two years the degree attracted over 200 applicants, and approxiamtely 90 full applications, a figure that reduced over the following years with a stable application process of about 24 applications per annual year.
The large numbers had to do with the fact 40 credits were offered free of charge. These were eventually removed and numbers dropped but student retention increased.
Students and applicants found us through google at met the page here.
This page allowed them to get a sense of the degree, and to locate the courses, the department, the tutor and to apply through it.
Registration and Starting a Course
Registering students was cumbersome as the University could not provide an electronic registration and electronic insertion of students in the University student and finances database. Initially, all students had to send the application by post, signed in paper, and entered manually through Registry and Bursary, a process taht would take up to a month if not more. There was no difference between their application and that of a residential student, a fact that had an impact on how students would assess the suitability of an electronic degree platform from the start. Once students had registered they would then be allocated a tutor and receive a welcome letter and their login name and password from me.
As soon as I would receive confirmation a student had been entered into Registry and signed their fees I created a personalised page for each student, with a unique html name, unique password and include them in an electronic mailing list and student list. I created for them a Study Guide, FAQ, a List, A VIrtual Caffe and a Blog, bibliographies, glossaries and the first departmental electronic handbook.
The entry page had the following elements: a top navigation pannel, in html, that students had already met when applying for the degree. Now, with the letter and a password the student would log into their student page.
I wrote the student pages (and update them through the years -with updates also from tutors feedback)this one below is a 2006 version.
The original one had also an inclusion of breakdown of marks and the marks were updated online, this was change to meet data protection act. it also had a calendar that we removed in 2005.
Student addresses were also removed leaving only a contact email address and their picture. Only tutors had access to this information. A list of tutees was divided and circulated amongst staff.
The page contained the student name (here is fictitional), the Degree structure (BA or MA), contact email (for new tutors), photo, start date, receipt for when submitting essays (both in html and word form), description of modules enroled for [with hyperlinks to the modules].
The hyperlink to the modules can now be found in the e-curriculum section. Basically, through this page students could start their modules, find out all the information they needed, tutor emails, student lists, chat areas and tutorial areas to do with their course. I used to dream of the day we would be allowed use either blackboard or Moodle and I could stop making these pages one by one and give students a fuller electronic student page. I lived the paradox that I had access to all these platforms and knew all the many possibilities we could offer students but my institution couldn't provide them, yet. The student page was ingenuous but provided students with all the relevant information, with the help of one anchor tutor we implemented all the changes we received from student feedback, and it worked very well.
The student page also had the following [F=functioning link in the archive]
1- an electronic copy of the departmental Handbook
2- Glossary of Anthropological Terms [F]
3- A guide on 'how to study online' [F]
4- FAQ [F]
5- Technical assistance [what is now basic hardware and software
6- A student list [a list with all the students in the program for them to know their classmates]
7- Virtual Cafe [a link to assessed and self-assessed tutorial questons] [F]
8- An Ethnography Bibliography [F]
9- Links to University Departments
10- University Guidelines
11- Anthropology Links online [F]
12- A Study Skills [F]
Archive / Report I / Report II/ Research Abstract / Research Publication / Hypertext Ethnographies / Applications of Anthropology /
The PDf contains both a linked and a lineal copy of the composition and structure of the e-learning delivery in HTML.
At Home with Anthropology (Archive 1)
The name, platform, most icons, strategies for delivering, the securing of name, marketing, curriculum strategy, the composition and text and images, the architechture, the pedagogic decisons for delivery, all the html pages is my work and my copyright.
In 2000, the University was unable to secure copyright agreements with authors and staff, and these were made informally among ourselves rather than from the Institution to us. Our contracts were only specific to residential teaching and until 2006 and there were no specific appointments for e-learning other than part-time tutors the University secured to aid the original project.
Currently, all anthropologists that were once involved with 'At Home with Anthropology' as I set it up resigned from the University.
The only work shown here is my archive, and the one I have direct copyright as the author and that of the authors that had agreed to share these with me.
This is not a working copy of the platform I built.
if you find any of this online beside this archive it means it is being used without my consent.
I have not agreed with any institutions (including UWL) to make use of these materials without the consent of their authors, and it is the responsability of such institutions to approach all the authors involved in this project and acquire copyright for any present or future use of any working copy of it or of any of its materials, icons, images, text, html, authorware, pdf and so on.
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