Introducing Applied Medical Anthropology
This was a project to build a series of key anthropological concepts on a basic interactive presentation between text and images for health care practitioners undertaking an introductory module on (applied) medical anthropology. The project aimed at providing a blended-learning package for health care practitioners in the absence of a residential tutor at UCLAN universit. This package included a portfolio of readings, an ethnographic case study, a CD-ROM with introductory concepts. Due to copyright, the readings and case study are not included here. The pdf only shows an archive of the power-point solutions to presenting an introduction to anthropology to an audience of health care practitioners.
In late 1998 a lecturer in the department where I was a postgraduate student and tutor approached me to discuss how a colleague of her in UCLAN university could develop some teaching materials for an introduction to applied medical anthropology to health care practitioners. The project needed someone who could transform a series of introductory notes into some form of electronic, protable format for 'distance learning'. The project needed to introduce three key concepts in anthropology and a general description of medical anthropology and applied medical anthropology. These descriptions and concepts were meant to be used by health care practitioners to start thinking anthropologically about health care. These notes needed to be contained in a software that could be distributed to students in the absence of direct, face-to-face, tutoring.
The three key concepts for students to consider were an approach to health care founded on 'critical', 'comparative', 'non-ethnocentric' perspectives The introduction to key concepts was accompanied by a portfolio of readings and an ethnographic case study. The ethnographic case study was Gay-y-Blasco's work on the Spanish Gitanos ('gypsies) and their understanding of the female body and virginity. This provided students with a good example of an ethnographic description of social practices to do with health and body. The example was complemented with an ethnographic text based in a London hospital in order to give students a variety of examples in an attempt to reduce the dangers of 'exoticisation' and to give a holistic approach to health care. The project aimed at providing health care practitioners ideas about how to understand health from a critical, comparative, non-ethnocentric perspective, one that could help them deal with the cultural complexities of health care work in the UK. I felt, like all those involved, it was an exciting project that challenged the boundaries of the discipline and one that had a specific targeted audience outside anthropology, it was an exercise on thinking about applied anthropology, but more importantly, using anthropology to aid health care practitioners in the kinds of ideas they could explore through their work.
Challenges of the time: The CD-ROM
In 1999 this project was full of challenges. Distance, e-learning and electronic media were still not part of the strategic vision of most institutions. With the exception of the Open University and other centres that aimed to widden participation in their learning strategies, most departments were unsure on how to deal with 'not teaching in a classroom'. Electronic software and communication technologies were still not developed at the level of simple user-engagement, and although email was becoming more common we were far away from the immediacy of use we have at present.
The project did not have a large fund either, it could only pay for minimal costs of producing a template for distribution and producing a package of materials. There were no salaries involved and I had to pay for buying the software, CD-burners and so on. The solution in 1999 was to take a series of notes (edited and agreed amongst the contributors by post, mail and telephone) into then the newest software at our disposal, one that gave some interaction and broke the lineality of teaching, allowing for students to make choices within their learning process. The software in question was powerpoint. PowerPoint in 2008 is perhpas one of the most widely accessed software available after word.doc, however in 1999 it was seen as 'geeky', 'new', 'complex'. It was a nearly 'enchanted technology' in Gell's sense. I remember how fascinated the audiences were at the final product, and the excitement that many teachers had at considering the possibilities with it. I often find that most current use of powepoint, tends to be quite linear and generated around a series of lists and bullet poitns. The software however, now like then, allowes for very inventive approaches to delivering teaching, mroe than we often give it credit to. In 1999, powerpoint allowed for the use of sound, image and hyperlinks. It allowed for choice and interactivity to be put in motion in a presentation, specially in cases where it was the student, and not the teacher, in control of deciding where to go with the presentation given to them.
A further challenge, was, of course, the electronic distribution of the presentation itself. The powerpoint did not contain many images (the following project I did had nine poerpoint presentations with 30 file sounds, more than 50 large photographs (that had to be scanned and digitalised adding to their size) but was still too large in size for the computers, internet and floppy drives of the time. IT departments were, geographically speaking, at the periphery of the University, and there was no full integration of IT facilities (beyond some minimal printing -where we used to spend one hour to print 12 pages in those printers-) within departments or centrally. We did have a computer room with the loveliest Macs Classic and another room with printers with flat fold punched paper. I walked from department to department trying to resolve how to distribute these. Finally I managed to put them in a CD-ROM. The knowledge about executable programing was some sort of 'protected knowledge' and we burn the presentations without an executable program. I added a small 'read me' file to provide instructions on how to access, click and execute the program. It felt dismal and each step was new. People around me were all in a similar situation and there were many very creative people dotted around the landscape. FInally, a worried IT person came back to me with the news that the University would not be able to burn the CD-ROMs but that there were some 'geeks' in the basement of the Student Union that may help. Indeed, they did. A group of young DJs and IT developers had been given an old small boiler room in a dark basement. They smiled at my predicament and burned a collection of 4 CD-ROMs, it felt a treasure found.
I printed a sleeve with their logos and sent it out to UCLAN with the hope their insitution would be better provided and able to find the means to distribute the CD-ROM, the reading package in a way it would facilitate the task of introducing anthropology to their students. In absence of feedback I thought maybe the project had not been succesful at all.
After the project
This project was shown to other anthropologists and I re-used the basic principles with new content with other students with success. I was asked to produce five entirely new projects based on the strategies developed for this one and one featured in a conference. Each new project, however, included a more extensive use of power-point and the technical difficulties of CD-ROM distribution lessened, eventually by 2005 these became web-based.
Whilst the project became an example of practice and colleagues used it as a way of creating their presentations, it was too complex for the time. Now I look back I find it amazing how a power-point was once complex. I find interesting that it found its way into teaching, specially residential teaching in such a large way as it did. What I find also interesting is the fact that whilst powerpoint became a popular teaching and demonstration tool in residential teaching, its support, the CD-ROM was soon to be overtaken by web-based distribution. I myself switched to HTML on the following year and web-based learning the following years as a way of complementing the elivery of teaching with a blend of approaches that included, paper-based, electronic distribution, CD-ROM companions. It is perhaps the idea that CD-ROMs became 'companions' rather than the main supporting source for learning that I find significative. In 1999, the powerpoint could not be distributed any other way within those budgets. I did try zip drives but those were not very popular and went out of fashion by 2001. Ultimately it was an example of an attempt to create a teaching objects out of blended teaching supported by different technical supports (CD-ROM, photocopies of articles, printed articles, portfolio of printed materials). The following projects incorporated email support to students and web-based feedback forms as a way of enhancing the learning process.
This project is a small project but in a sense it exemplifies what happens with learning and teaching in the context of developing communication technologies that are 'technology-centered' as opposed to 'user and student centered'. For this reason I like to distinguish the work put into the actual powerpoint as it was thought with the 'student-in-mind' from the technical support even though current technologies blend these and allow for more 'student-centered' and discipline centered than before.
A feature of many of these projects is that they were short lived, often lasting one term, one module, a series of presentations.
The PDF here is unable still to cope with the internal functionality of links, hyperlinks, sounds, and instead it provides the material linearly. It provides an overview of the document but it fails to provide an actual use of it. I can send it to you on a CD-ROM ;-)
The linear PDF has an effect on 'copyright' (there was never a discussion on copyright for this project. I included an allocation of authorship written at the end of the presentation -something I kept for succesive project where still (up to 2008, institutions I worked with did not provide copyright support or even clarification in their contracts about it) of the project as basically the PDF only shows it secuentially but does not provide the user with access to the actual project.