Introduction to Social Anthropology
This project aimed at introducing key concepts in Social Anthropology to a wide audience of publics using an interactive, non-linear software. The key concepts were accompanied of two examples of ethnography. As the project grew, it came to incorporate a description of the School of Anthropological Studies, a description of the conceptual departments within the School though interactive exercises and six ethnographic examples. The project was commissioned by the Head of the School of Anthropological Studies to be used for open Days, widdening participation audiences, to engage with non-academic publics and to examine the representation of ethnography and anthropology through non-sequencial, hypertexted and interactive media.
The background to this project dates back to late 1998 when I created my first, of what is known now as ' open learning objects' for UCLAN and in 1999 for the School of Anthropological Studies at the Queen's University of Belfast. They were small 'objects' on the theme of social anthropology build patiently and ingenously with power-point, a software that back then was unheard off to the extent that when we delivered these presentations to audiences (via CD-ROM) we had to provide a power-point viewer along with the power-point show as, back then, very few people could run these in their computers.
More importantly, these 'objects' were a first attempt to 'think anthropology' through a visual and software-lead media with the hope that it would facilitate the sharing of anthropological ideas, knowledge with wider audiences.
For this project I used texts, photographs, teaching displays from the School of Anthropological Studies who commissioned it. I examined the curriculum, looked at students use of textbooks and draw on my experience as a tutor. I recorded sounds from the ethnomusicology instruments. I worked with staff and students on their case studies, scanned texts, typed papers, re-sized fieldwork pictures, digitalised it all with a small scanner and a simple picture editor. I photographed the departmental offices, rooms, displays, presentations. I looked for everything what could speak for anthropology and the aims of the department at teaching anthropology.
What was a project about introducing anthropology (that would have mirroed the earlier UCLAN project) became a larger project. The final presentation included all under the School, there is a section on Ethnomusicology, a section on the History of Science, a section on School's displays, in particular the founder of the department.
The project also included study cases, examples of ethnographies. For this I bothered all my lecturers and friends for examples of ethnographies. They facilitated papers, photographs (these are their copyright). In 1999, optical recognition was at its near infancy. I bought a scanner and a software for optical recognition that could hardly recognise any of the ethnographic texts. I remember spending hours scanning each page [we could not deliver these as jpgs or image files as it would have been too large for any mobile memory storage of the time, or even our 285MB capacity of computers to hold and distribute]. The pages were scanned and I had to retype all the impossible garbled recognition into word text and then add those documents to the power-point. I was always so grateful to the patience that all staff had in going through their own re-typed texts. I then took all the texts away and sat down for weeks and weeks re-building the ideas from the texts into smaller, hyperlinked and interactive presentations. Very kindly staff produced fieldwork photos to complement these. I had to re-write every page over and over at each change, and update the links at every change. At a time I started dreaming in hypertext, so intense was the constant re-assessing of all the links for all the nine documents together.
The process of taking text, photographs and someone else's authorship of their ethnography and build small 're-usable' objects for each powerpoint page, focussing on the terms, ideas, and thinking of strategies on how to link, emphasise these was an enriching intellectual and practical exercise in itself. The counterpart of the tediousness of all the scanning and re-linking was the possibility to make those connections possible, to think about teaching strategies for dealing with and presenting the materials. The more I worked with it, the faster it got and the more strategies that came my way for visualising ethnographies and visual strategies for presenting learning. I learned a lot about the discipline, the ethnographies and teaching and learning through it.
At the end of three intensive months all these elements were assembled together, discussed with staff and passed on for review and finally, once approved, it was burned on, well..we could not burn it. The file was too large to be supported by a single floppy disk (yes, back then it was floppy disks). I spent my student wages on an external zip drive and finally, as none of us had CD-ROM machines I locate a remote IT department who burn the first CD-ROM for us. I bought my first label-making software and borrowed a color printer. The final CD's were shown to staff, students, few audiences, some Open Days and eventually as technology moved on, they were stored away.
These events took place as the 'Venda' project was also being build up by members of the Ethnomusicology department. It was an exciting period for the visualisation of anthropological ideas at the School of Anthropolgical Studies. The School was thriving and full of ideas and new directions. We tried putting this project online, however back in 1999 and 2000 it was not possible and the project remained 'technology bound' to a physical drive in a CD-ROM.
Enhancing the Learning Context: Ownership and Inventivness
Putting this presentation online and as open projects in 2009 is not without problems. The problems are not technical or pedagogical (it is in fact a project full of what are now known as 're-usable learning objects') but that of copyright (not in its present understanding of rights and digital permissions but of the informal decisions made in 1999 about it).
The project was commissioned by the Head of the School of Anthropological Studies in late 1999 to be shown to audiences outside the Queen's University of Belfast in order to make anthropology accessible to all audiences. The original idea came from an earlier project of mine for another institution. A member of staff saw this earlier project, was impressed with it, showed to the Head of the School. the Head of School liked it, we talked about its potential for anthropology and we moved forward informally.
In viewing this presentation it is important to note that all materials, illustrations, texts, visual narratives were put together for educational purposes. However, the institutional logos are property of the School of Anthropological Studies, (under a new configuration of staff and units within) and the Queen's University of Belfast only. The textual content and photographs of the case studies are the property of their authors. I am responsible, as author, for the narrative (logical sequences, hypertext, structure) of the presentation, as well as the photographs, sounds, and visual strategies that present the materials and the case studies. All illustrations and materials used were obtained with consent for educational purposes and belong to their authors. Mine are the technical interpretative devices that gave shape to it all as an 'enhanced learning context'. It is these that I show here. Any mistakes on these devices or any failed technical resolutions on enhancing the learning contexts are my fault only.
In making public the strategies for enhancing a learning context I am at a loss on how to deal with other copyright issues that may have emerged since 1999. I was paid to produce ideas on how to present anthropology to all audiences and to showcase the anthropological ideas of the time as being defined by each of the anthropologist involved in this project. The payment was little more than nominal because this was novel and a project of exploration. I paid for all the costs from my own pocket, the printing, costs of recording devices, the photographs, developing and digitalising of these. Our attentions were focussed with the new technologies and new possibilities for dealing with anthropologies and publics rather than a contractual or copyright issue. Unlike a textbook where I could claim editorial recognition here I do not. I do not own or claim to own other than the author solutions to think through all these materials as teaching and promotion materials for the department I was a student. This is not a text or textbook but a number of learning objects put together in a non-linear narrative. It includes other people's work but their credit goes to them. In giving a technical voice to these people's work through new technical interpretative devices I and we create new types of anthropological work, new collaborations. I experinece here some of the problems of the 'authorial' voice, that anthropologist are familiar with when looking at the creation of ethnographic pieces. However, I do not claim this work here to be an ethnography per se and there is no reason why any of the authors could make their work public as a learning object independently of this. I would define this project as an ethnographic enhanced learning context, one of the first kind in the UK for anthropology, and it owes to the goodwill of many individuals and the institution behind it.
The purpose of putting it online is educational and it aims at restauring its original aim of being accessible to all audiences and making anthropology 'open' to all. It is a good testimony of many individual efforts to promote anthropology and anthropological thinking. It is testimony of a historical period and departmental initiatives to engage with new technologies. For me, it presents a narrative of solutions (as well as mistakes -all mine-) on how to deal with anthropological concepts and ethnographic cases using non-linear and software-based technologies.
Reflections on what came before 'technology enhanced learning contexts'
Because in my original concept the primary goal was to create an anthropological narrative about the department and about their people and about teaching anthropology that could be 'open' and mobile, I put technology second and the discipline first. I let the ideas decide where to go next with technology rather than encasing ideas inside a technical 'corset'. All the other projects here follow the same approach. I use anything and everything that allows for specific anthropological ideas (i.e ethnocentrism, culture, kinship, ethnography) to be examined within its own disciplinary perspective. It is done at the expense of 'butique' looking artifacts of consumer consumption of blended and e-learning that can be found everywhere these days. None of the project here are made in 'boutique' software, they are used with what is free and available to any teacher.
They are not created as 'final' products but as re-usable objects, by this I mean, places from where to get a new idea from on how to teach the subject of anthropology. They are as re-usable as finding someone else's teaching schedule and bibliography online and using it to develop one's teaching structure and learning directions for one's course. They are not a pure caleidoscope in Levi-Strauss sense because we are not dealing with bounded entities of a structural kind but learning processess. They are tools for the development of a shared process of creating anthropological knowledge through teaching and hopeful providing a forum where this knowledge can be critically assessed and built upon. Ultimately, it is the student, the viewer, the user and what they make of it what counts most in tems of learning about anthropology.
I hope this example will help us think through our new times of 'technology enchanced learning contexts' and reflect on the possibilities of engagement with both technologies and disciplines. It was not called 'technology enhanced learning context' in 1999. We called then, teaching anthropology, distance learning, presentations. The 'learning objects' had not earned this name, I didn't know how to call them, I didn't call them anything so specific, they were 'things done for learning and teaching anthropology'. I believe they still remain good for learning and teaching anthropology, for learning about anthropological contexts, for sharing anthropological experiences and for learning about anthropologist and their interpretations, for learning about culture, history, society, higher education, and they are specifically focussed on one place, one time, one group of people, groups of shared ideas about anthropology and human societies.