Final Report for the Major Project - by Xiao Yu


Internet Resources for
Learning and Teaching Anthropology


 




Introduction
 

The Internet is a vast and expanding computer network that has the potential to provide substantial resources for academic world with unprecedented rapidity and economy. It promises, or perhaps threatens, to reshape the character of academic work. But how has such a tool been used in the distribution of the knowledge of anthropological science, a particular sector of academic world? How can the state-of-the-art in information technology be well facilitating anthropology learning and teaching? These questions would be interesting to both learners and educators in academic settings, in addition to computer software industry.

Just three years ago,  Brian Schwimmer, an anthropologist in Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, Canada still felt that " there has been limited use or consideration of this new technology within anthropology beyond a small computer-literate group partially isolated from colleagues within a separate sphere of communication" (Current Anthropology, Volume 37, Number 3, June 1996). Given the hegemonic penetration of informatics in today's world, I hypothesize that the landscape of the internet uses in anthropology must have changed a lot in comparison to the situation three years before. Assuming that there must already be a considerable amount of internet resources fragmented in various referencing locations, I propose that a survey and assessment of the available resources is necessary, and building a web repository  would be meaningful for a better utilizing of the major resources available on the internet.
 

Purpose, Targeted Audiences, and Methodology

This project is thus to conduct a survey by surfing and an assessment, by selecting and categorizing, of current internet resources available on the web, and then present such a repository of assessed and selected resources. This is an attempt to bring the internet - a new and unique medium - to the attention of the anthropological community in educational settings, to evaluate the current uses of computer-based educational technologies in anthropology, and to expose opportunities and challenges for future anthropology learning and teaching in such an evolving information age. The project is also an individual or personal experiment of what Professor Jim Levin called "From Surfing to Serving" -- a strategic transforming process of information uses. In short, the ultimate result of this project will be a web site published under the title "Internet Resources for Learning and Teaching Anthropology" supported by the server lrs.ed.uiuc.edu. This web site will link to, subsume and re-organize the major on-line resources for learning/teaching anthropology, and subsequently lead learners and teachers in anthropology to review and evaluate the current situation of the uses of Internet resources in their field of study.
 

As I proposed at the very beginning, the targeted audiences of this project mainly are college students who are interested in anthropology or taking anthropology courses, and instructors who are or will be teaching anthropology. The project will address the following questions: 1) What kinds of web-based resources are available and appropriate for learning/teaching anthropology? 2) How the learning/teaching in anthropology has been and is being supported by Internet tools? 3) How would college/university instructors and students in anthropology perceive the current uses of IT tools in learning/teaching anthropology? 4) How can the state-of-the-art of IT instructional tools better serve and potentially reshape our college education in anthropology?
 

With Internet as its working environment and tool, the project has employed multiple methods. To create such a web site and address the issues as mentioned above, I have done a web-based searching for various anthropological resources available on the Internet at first. Then I did a systematic filtering and a classification or categorization on the results of searching. An interactive evaluating form has been created to solicit site visitors' comments on my project in general and on each surveyed internet instructional tool and their usage in particular. In addition to my own survey by surfing and the unconventional evaluating surveys executed on and via internet, some face-to-face interviews and observations - both naturalistic and participant ones - have also been undertaken in the Department of Anthropology on UIUC campus.

Surveying, Assessing,
and Re-organizing the Web-based Resources
 

To build up a selected repository of anthropological learning and teaching resources on the Internet, first of all I have to figure out what are available there. Taking advantage of the search capabilities of the Internet, I did a survey of the availability of these resources by surfing around. There is hundreds of what are called "search engines" that allow the user to type a word or phrase and access a list of all the sites relevant the search. The search engines I have used included  Netscape, Yahoo, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, Snap, LookSmart, and etc. Netscape and Yahoo are the best among them. With Netscape, for example, type in "anthropology", and I'll likely get some 69000 matches. To increase the relevancy, I used some other words, such as "teaching," "program", "software", "departments", "university", "journals", to narrow down the search. Nevertheless, the number of matches is still too big. This may be really problematic and frustrating to learners and instructors: Searchers can easily get lost. How to identity the useful entries from the deep and broad sea of information? By then, I have been fully convinced that building up a selected repository of Internet resources for anthropology would be quite helpful for users to navigate in such a broad sea.

After surfing and assessing the web sites relevant to anthropology, I feel that the growth of the uses of Internet in anthropology have been significant in recent years. Although the resources have been highly fragmented on the Internet, I can still see some distribution patterns of resources there. Within anthropology, archaeologists have been the most active innovators in terms of Internet using. Cultural anthropologists have made more modest use of it and physical anthropologists and linguists the least. Experimentation has been tentative so far but has involved all of the major forms of Internet communication and presentation.

To my understanding of the distribution patterns of resources regarding anthropology learning and teaching, I propose that the relevant available Internet resources clustered into can be classified into the following directories of topics: 1) Online definitions and introductions of anthropology, 2) Exemplary Anthropological Research, 3) Online Indexes/References, 4) Anthropological Journals Online, 5) Software for Anthropological Analysis, 6) Newsgroups/Listservs, 7) Meetings and Conferences, 8) Atlases, 9) Anthropology Departments at Universities/ Colleges 10) Graduate Programs Ranking, 11) Curriculum Materials Online, 12) Textbooks and Publishers, 13) Scholarly Societies & Associations, 14) Anthropological Museums, 15) Careers in Anthropology, 16) Ethics and Law Regarding Anthropology. The sixteen directories form a skeleton of my web site of selected resource repository. For each directory, I selected a number of existing web sites I assessed as representative in the discipline of anthropology and important to learning and teaching. Based on my interviews with 10 students and 5 faculty on campus, I revised my selection by adding some URLs that they regarded as very useful for learning or teaching anthropology. I will further add more and more URLs into each directory; perhaps I will also add new directories into the repository as users suggest.
 

Evaluations

There are at least three kinds of evaluations regarding this project: the evaluations I did for the available resources on the Internet; the evaluation I would give on my own project itself; and others' evaluations on my projects.

As I mentioned before, my project is largely drawing on surveying, categorizing and selecting of the existing web-based resources. The process of categorizing and selecting itself is in fact a process of assessing or evaluating. To me, what I have selected is what I evaluate as meaningful and useful in learning and teaching. My main criteria include the following: 1) Whether or not it is relevant to anthropology and helpful to the acquisition of anthropological knowledge among college students, 2) Are the information conveyed in the web sites new or old, or whether the sites themselves are keeping updated? 3) Whether or not it can be downloaded with a reasonable speed; in other words, if a site is too slow to load, I would not select it into my list no matter it meets the former two criteria or not. In short, the content and accessibility are my major concerns, while the layout and format including uses of graphic and image are just minors.

Through this project, I have indeed found out answers for my question about what kinds of web-based resources are available and appropriate for learning/teaching anthropology. The 16 directories in my web site represented the major Internet resources appropriate and useful to anthropology learning and teaching. The directories such as "What is anthropology: online definitions and introduction of anthropology," "Exemplary anthropological research," and "Atlases" might be are more useful to freshmen or beginners in anthropology, while the directories "Online indexes and references," "Meetings and conferences," "Major anthropology departments", "Graduate programs ranking," and "Careers in anthropology" might be more suitable to senior students. As shown in the directory "Curriculum materials online," more and more anthropology instructors have been using internet tools to facilitate their teachings, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and announcements for numerous courses are now accessible online. My investigation in the UIUC anthropology departments informed me that at least one third of the courses had used either FirstClass or Webboard or VCI for class conferencing and communications, although the number of courses using course homepage is still few. But all the interviewed instructors are willing to use internet tools and feel that may be of great help for classes with more than 10 students. Considering the efficiency, a faculty in the interview even thinks it seems a must to create course web page for teaching those general education courses with always hundreds of students, such as ANTH 103 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. But the problem is that many faculties are still lack of skills in utilizing the new instructional technologies. All students interviewed warmly embrace the introduction of the web-based learning and teaching tools into their academic life. They explicitly appreciated the expressing space and the convenience of communications between class members (including the instructor) facilitated by these tools, and they expected more and more faculties use course web-page. All these seem to have answered my inquiries about how the learning/teaching in anthropology has been and is being supported by Internet tools, as well as about the perceptions that college/university instructors and students in anthropology have about the uses of IT tools in learning/teaching anthropology.

By developing a web site serving as a repository of Internet resources, my project has explored how Internet tools can serve the learning and teaching in anthropology. Throughout the process of creating the web page, I have been intensively exposed to the cutting-edge computer tools, including the web authoring tools such as Netscape Composer, PageMill, Microsoft FrontPage, and HTML, and Graphical processing tools such as various scanners and the newest version of Adobe Photoshop (4.01). They are all user-friendly and easy to learn. Thus, it can be safely predicted that in the near future more and more faculties will be involving into the utilizing web-based tools in their teaching and research, and the web will become a dispensable interface for learning and teaching anthropology.

In brief, my main goal proposed for this projct has been achieved. So far I have received a considerable amount of feedback from about 20 students and faculties on campus. Additional directories such as "Research Institutes and Centers", "Governmental Organizations and Independent Agencies (relating to anthropology)", "CD-ROMs" have been suggested. There are some criticisms particularly on the directory "Exemplary Anthropology Research", which is thought as confusing and to be improved. Moreover, some folks suggested inserting more pictures and images to make the site more graphically attractive. Some have suggested providing a frame version. More than 30 URLs have been suggested as additions. All these will help me further improve the web site developed in the project. All responses are overall positive. It is believed that such a web site is helpful to learning and teaching anthropology by presenting a categorized repository of the resources dispersed on the web.
 

Implications

The creation and expansion of Internet services present many opportunities and challenges for anthropology. This new medium is ideally suited to the discipline's character and methodology. E-mail, newsgroups, and listservs can foster rapid and efficient communication within a dispersed and diverse academic community. Multimedia capabilities promise the creation of photographic, video, and sound archives that have never been adequately developed because of the high costs of publication and distribution. Hypertext publication opens the possibility for new forms of expression that are better suited to cultural data and anthropological methods than the writing of plain text. It allows for ethnographic presentations expanded and embellished by the inclusion of visual images, case studies, complementary texts, and field notes. It also opens the possibility for new forms of expression that can better capture the multilevel referencing and interrelatedness of complex symbolic and behavioral systems.

Embracing this great potential, some great efforts have attempted to develop on-line resources, various universities and colleges seem to have been well aware of the new possibilities for scholarly communication. However, several barriers confront future development. These include the problems of obtaining training and achieving proficiency in new skills, gaining and ensuring access to new resources, and assigning and protecting academic credit for new forms. The most obvious barrier to the development of computer based scholarship is of course the reluctance or inability of anthropologists to learn to use and develop this new technology. Although most academics now own computers and have come to find them indispensable for their writing, actual use is limited to a few applications which take little advantage of the technology's full potential. Computer use has been restricted to word-processing and statistical analysis. However, the available resources assessed in my project indicate that we can do more than passively observe the interaction of technological, cultural, and social forces within our own community. Anyway, the state-of-the-art of instructional technologies are calling us to appreciate the importance and power of the new forms of scholarship that are emerging, to think about how we can use new technologies to construct intellectual and social objectives for our discipline, and create the necessary mechanisms and standards for anthropology learning and teaching.