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How You Can Help Curate Collections in Nivin, Peru

March 7, 2016

Nivin-Museum-entryI have posted before about the archaeological surprise that my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I experienced last summer in Nivín, Peru.   Elizabeth and I presented a paper at the 2015 Meeting of the Society for Amazonian and Andean Studies in Baton Rouge that discussed this project.

Our work in Nivín is a textbook example of co-creation.  Elizabeth and I traveled to Nivín at the invitation of Gustavo Valencia, director of the small museum in that rural community.  We asked about the museum needs and Professor Valencia immediately responded that he needed books on best practices for collections management in Spanish.  In a few weeks we were able to secure two state-of-the-art volumes and created a digital archive of over 50 files on the subject.

museum-exhibitWe will return to Nivín this June to discuss a long-term collaborative project with the community museum and school.  Thus far, based on our conversations with Professor Valencia and his colleagues, their expressed interests and needs in which we can take part include:

  • Launch a scholarly and community based research project of the archaeological sites surrounding Nivín.
  • Provide resources for English as a Second Language instruction  to enable residents to engage with anticipated visitors to the area.
  • Assist in instituting best practices in both the analysis and curation of cultural materials in the current museum.
  • Provide both formal and informal instruction on these best  practices in both the school and community.

What you can do to help this project . . .

. . . and this is where you can help to analyze and curate the archaeological collections of Nivín, Peru.  The basic materials for laboratory analysis are in very short supply in this rural community on the north coast of Peru.  Below is a list of materials we have identified with Professor Valencia that are of immediate need to launch the curation project this summer:

  • pocket loupes
  • plastic bags of all sizes
  • digital scale or triple beam balance
  • calipers – including OD for measuring ceramic vessels.
  • Sharpies for labeling bags
  • rapidiographs (or similar writing instruments) for labeling artifacts
  • osteological board
  • Munsell soil book
  • microscope
  • nested geological sieves
  • laminate sheet for estimating vessel size
  • other items?
cases

Display cases to be purchased for the Nivin Museum.

Does your academic department or CRM firm have some new or gently used items of the above that are not being used that you can donate to Professor Valencia and his students in Nivín?  Or would you like to make a financial contribution, large or small, that will be used to purchase the above items?  In addition to the listed materials we plan to buy at least two locking display cabinets for the museum.  The cabinets are available in the nearby Peruvian city of Casma for $350.00 each.

We ask that you consider supporting this exciting opportunity to empower a rural Peruvian community to present and preserve their cultural heritage through museum studies and archaeology.

Please contact me directly at rcnnolly@memphis.edu for more information or to find out if the materials you have available are suitable for the Nivín project.  Elizabeth or I can also take delivery of any items at the SAA meeting in Orlando this April.  As well, you can make financial contributions to the PIARA website that will be used exclusively for the Nivín Project.  (Note “Nivín” in the description box on the contribution form.)

Elizabeth, Gustavo and I thank you for your consideration.

 

Distance Learning in Texas Archaeology

February 15, 2016

C.Crav1I first learned of Candice Cravins’ excellent work in Distance Learning at the Institute of Texan Cultures from a post on the Public Archaeology Interest Group’s Facebook Page.  A quick tour of their Distance Learning site shows that Candice and the Texas folks are doing some very impressive work.  She generously agreed to an interview to talk a bit more about her experience and perspective on Distance Learning.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Institute of Texan Cultures?

I received my M.S. degree in Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management from Utah State University in 2014, where my thesis research explored object- and STEM-based strategies for teaching archaeology to children in a museum setting. Prior to my arrival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in October 2014, I served as the Educational Programs Manager at Utah State University’s Museum of Anthropology.

As an Educational Specialist for the Institute, I wear many hats! I am primarily responsible for developing and leading distance learning programs for K-12 students, writing and coordinating online educator resources, developing and posting content for department web and social media pages, and planning and leading professional development workshops and family programs. I also assist with school group tours and community outreach events.

How do you see online education opportunities as a bridge between formal education curricula and museums?

Online education opportunities can serve to enhance the classroom learning experience by connecting the intangible with the tangible, providing real-world experiences that help bring textbook concepts to life. As funding for field trips dwindles and emphasis is placed more on developing math and reading skills than on social studies and the arts, museum professionals and K-12 educators alike are looking for new ways to bring the museum experience to the classroom. Virtual field trips, online exhibits, Google chats with experts, games, and other online learning opportunities provide the means for teachers to access museum resources without ever having to leave their classrooms. Museums are well-suited to provide these hands-on learning opportunities that teachers need while at the same time support classroom learning standards and objectives.
C.Crav2What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach and community engagement?

I consider one of my most successful recent efforts in public outreach to be the launch of our new TexEdventures distance learning programs – virtual tours designed to bring the museum experience to the classroom. When I arrived at the Institute in October 2014, I was tasked with producing and implementing a new distance learning plan designed to bring engaging learning experiences to K-12 students throughout the state of Texas. Prior to my arrival, the Institute had been delivering distance learning programs using IP H.323 protocol videoconferencing technology. Equipment and services were costly to maintain, and programs could only be booked and delivered with the service and support of a technology service provider housed out of a regional Education Service Center – rural, Title 1, or nontraditional students and their teachers often had limited to no access to these programs. In moving forward with new programs, I first wanted to be sure all students and their teachers would have better access to our programming. To me, this meant that programs would need to be free of charge, require minimal technology (i.e., a computer or tablet device with speakers and an Internet connection), and be easy to set up and maintain by a team of one here at the Institute. My main goal for the program was to take things that were already successful onsite and deliver them in a virtual way. I wanted distance learning sessions to be live, individualized, and interactive, giving students the chance to direct their own learning experiences.

We piloted our first new distance learning program, Can You Dig It? Adventures in Texas Archaeology last May using Adobe Connect web conferencing software and an iPad on our exhibit floor. It was a hit with teachers and students both near and far. We have since expanded our offerings and now feature programs on Native American lifeways and how to use primary and secondary sources in the classroom. We plan to further expand our offerings to feature one-time only webinars on special events and even take the technology outside to incorporate some of our outdoor living history exhibits! More information on our programs can be found at www.texancultures.com/distancelearning.

Any recommendations for the cultural heritage professional looking to begin online learning projects?

Think big, but start small! First take a look at what museums, cultural institutions, and other nonprofits are doing in your region and state. What appeals to you most about their online learning programs? Could you and would you want to do something similar for your organization, and how would new online learning projects help fulfill your organization’s mission and meet outreach goals? Have a clear plan in mind for your project from the very beginning – it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology out there, so narrowing in on exactly what you wish to accomplish is key. Do you want to build a website or start a blog? If you work in a museum, do you wish to recreate the field trip experience for K-12 students online? Do you want to build an online course for adults interested in archaeology? Once you decide what you’d like to do, determine whether or not you have the staff and funding to accomplish your project. Develop a plan and timeline for your project. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things, and don’t think that your project needs to be something completely new and groundbreaking – simple is often better to start, especially for those who have limited experience working with technology, work with small budgets, and often juggle multiple projects at the office. Much of what I know now about educational technology and online learning was learned on the job – Google really is your best friend!

One of the first “smaller” projects I tackled when I arrived at the Institute was developing a plan to manage our department’s social media pages. Spending a bit of time each day developing and sharing new educational content on Facebook or Pinterest does wonders for increasing community interest and engagement – if used correctly, social media platforms can be powerful tools for online learning. Take advantage of free online tools, such as Canva, to help you create eye-catching images for your social media posts, and don’t overlook the subtle power of an iPad in creating engaging video content! The possibilities for what you can do for free are endless.

 

For more information, contact Candice at Candice.Cravins(at)utsa.edu

Online Training as an Essential Tool for Small Museums

December 17, 2015

fenceAs the Director of a small museum and through my work with similarly small-sized nonprofits, I wear many hats and need to know a little bit about a lot of things.  This need is particularly true in the area of digital technology and social media where I have come to rely on resources such as Heather Mansfield’s Nonprofit Tech for Good website and her books that I have reviewed.

In addition to developing a social media strategy, I also need the skills necessary to implement the plan. I tend to get this type of technical support by Googling the need.  I am often frustrated to find instructions that assume starting skills beyond my level of expertise.  I value a step-by-step approach that assumes little substantive prior knowledge of the process.  This week, I found two resources that are excellent examples of that type of instruction. 

The Hour of Code

I know nothing about computer programming, but have always thought I should.  As blog creation and other digital processes become more drag and drop, that need is less pronounced, but I do find situations where knowing code or language is either necessary or at least very helpful.  For example, on another blog I write/manage, The Ancash Advocate, posts are bilingual and require inserting anchor points to jump between the Spanish and English translations.  This process requires entering the text editor and inserting html code.  A colleague performed this task initially.  For the past year, I simply copied the bit of code they created and inserted the different titles into my subsequent posts.  I did not know the meaning of what I copied but simply played around with it until I got it to work.

When I have Googled and looked for training, I found an html for Dummies book.  At over 1000 pages the book was a lot more than I wanted.  But last week I got an email from Khan Academy marketing their participation in the global Hour of Code project.  The idea is that if you invest one hour in the process you will learn something about coding.  On the Hour of Code webpage tab one could “Learn how to make webpages with HTML tags and CSS, finishing up by making your very own greeting card.” The age grade for the hour was listed as 8 and up, so I figured I would understand the presentation.  Through instructional video and real-time input, within one hour, the code I used for the bilingual anchors on the Ancash Advocate blog was explained.  I learned the meaning of the html coding I had done by rote.  Further, at the end of the one hour exercise I was linked to another Kahn Academy page for more training on html and related css coding, if I so desired.

Here is the bottom line on this experience.  For a cost of $0.00 (although donations to Kahn Academy are certainly accepted – which I recommend) and one hour of my time, I learned more about html coding than in my previous efforts over the years.  In a very straight forward approach, mysteries about coding were resolved.  The 8 year plus age-grade proved ideal for me.  This experience reminded me of the brick wall I hit when taking genetics in a Biology for Majors class during my undergraduate days.  I overcame that problem by reviewing the All About Book on Heredity that my mother bought me when I was in grade school.  Starting with the very basics proved essential then and now.

 

Photoshop Basics

A second example of implementing technical skills is a Photoshop tutorial I came across this week.  The 10-point tutorial covered many of the Photoshop skills that my students or staff who are often just getting their feet wet in the software typically need to know.  The tutorial also links to the Marketers Crash Course in Visual Content Creation download – a very useful introduction to best practices in the visuals of website and digital content creation.

The Good and the Bad of Quick Intros

The perspective offered by individuals such as Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of The Amateur likely think little of the types of resources I discuss above.  Their objection is that these simple resources provide folks with the basic tools to edit code, work with photos and so forth without a rigorous and complete training in the area, thus letting the amateurs run amok.  And fair enough, a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, but also useful.  Part of the learning process is knowing the limitations that a bit knowledge brings.

Having taken the Kahn Hour of Code, I am anxious to complete the rest of the introductory course on html and css coding.  In addition to understanding the anchor points I create for bilingual posts, I also see how several formatting issues that have bedeviled me for years on this blog are readily resolved with some simple html code adjustments.  In this regard, I come back to my opening statement for this post – as the Director of a small museum, I wear many hats and need to perform a diversity of tasks that in larger institutions might be the responsibility of an IT or social media specialist.  I do not have that luxury or the funds to outsource the work.  Kahn Academy and other training discussed in this post form a valuable part of my small museum toolkit  that allows me to function efficiently and effectively with limited resources.

What online training helps you to do your job?

 

Asking for Letters of Reference

November 30, 2015

walker artIn contrast to the previous post that draws on the advice of others, below are some my thoughts on job and graduate school requests for letters of recommendation.  Some of the points may seem overly simple, but based on my experience over the past couple of decades, not considered by many applicants.

Who should I ask to write a letter of recommendation?  Generally, if three letters are required, each letter should discuss a specific aspect of the applicant’s potential. Together, the letters should make up a non-redundant complementary whole.  Ideally, for a graduate school application, one letter should highlight academic performance, one research potential or work ethic, and the third letter can highlight another relevant qualification/experience of the candidate, or combine some variation of the first two.  For a job application, the three letters should highlight different strengths/experiences the applicant brings to the position that may or may not include academic and research performance.  Regardless, the three letters should not all focus on your excellent ability to count widgets, unless the position you are applying for is that of a professional widget counter.  Redundant letters are wasted opportunities to show breadth.

Note too that applicants occasionally think that if three letters are required, six are better.  This is not true.  Assuming the logistical possibility of even submitting more than the required number, the first three letters received will be considered and the remainder tossed.  Too, letters from parents, laterally ranked co-workers, clergy and other personal acquaintances are not of value, except perhaps in rare circumstances.

In my opinion, the best way to ask someone to serve as reference or write a letter of reference, is something like “Will you be able to write me a strong and supportive letter of recommendation?”  If uncertain of what their response might be, give them an easy out like “I realize I have only taken one class from you” or “Although you have only known me for six months . . .”  If the response is no, weak, or a qualified response, the writer is essentially saying ask someone else.  Whereas a reference letter that notes limitations is wholly acceptable, a letter that notes mediocre performance is a death knell.  If an applicant does not have three professors or employers to provide strong supportive statements, that is a problem the applicant needs to address separately.

When should I ask for letters of recommendation?  One month’s notice is a reasonable expectation for writing letters of support.  I will not consider requests with less than two weeks notice except under the most exceptional of circumstances.  Realize that faculty are flooded with requests at this time of year.  For me, writing the first letter for an individual student will take at least one hour to review their documents and compose the letter.  Additional letters for the same individual take less time as the first letter is generally adapted for the additional recommendations.

What information should I supply to the writer for a letter of recommendation?  The short answer is – everything the writer asks for.  Specifically, supply a copy of your transcript, resume, a final version of your statement of intent, any relevant test scores such as GRE, and all the forms, contact information web addresses, and due dates for the letter.  Everything provided must be in final form unless you are specifically consulting with the individual on your draft statements.  Make the final forms available at the time of the ask.  That is, don’t ask for the letter one month before the due date but provide the necessary materials five days before the deadline.

What should I do after I supply all the information to the letter writer?  Check with the writer one week before the due date to verify they wrote and submitted the letter.  Right or wrong, ultimately it is applicant’s responsibility to follow-up and not assume the writer submitted the letter.  For example, I recently ran into a student I wrote a letter of recommendation for a summer fellowship.  I asked if they received the award.  They responded they had not and I commented that was unfortunate because I thought their application was strong.  The individual then noted that the other two letter writers did not turn in their recommendations on time thus voiding the application.  The fact is, when checking in with the letter writer, some will need the reminder and others will simply be appreciative of your professionalism in staying on top of the application process.  For most electronic applications, both the student and letter writer receive confirmation once the letter is successfully submitted.  Although I rarely have this happen, a simple note by the applicant to the letter writer thanking them completing the task goes a long way (see point 3, slide 9 from the presentation referenced in previous post).

What should I do after the application, letters, and paperwork are all submitted?   Let your letter writer know the status/results of the application.  If someone goes to the trouble to write a strong letter, that also means they are interested in your career development.  Keep them informed – this is also a good practice if you want them to serve as a reference in the future.

An important note on job references – When using an individual for a reference on a job application, inform them of that fact.  THIS IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT because a former employer, supervisor, or work related person who is listed on a job application, but not asked to serve as a reference, can be legally bound to only provide a prospective employer with your dates of service and job classification.  That is, they cannot and will not serve as a true reference.

Typically, such requests for employment verification are referred to the Department of Human Resources.  Listing someone as a reference is a completely different matter.  If not explicitly understood that you are asking the individual to serve as a reference, their best option is to consider the request simply one of employment verification.

Generally, references are not contacted until after an individual is interviewed and “short-listed” for a job.  After such an interview, contact your references and let them know to expect contact from the potential employer. Provide the reference with basic information about the job so they can adequately speak to your abilities for the position.  Also, supply the potential employer with the best form of contact for the reference, and note if they will have restricted access for a period of time such as being on sabbatical, out of the country, etc.  Again, staying in touch with your references lets them know that you are take the process seriously which assures they will as well.

Best wishes!

Preparing for Academic and Career Transition

November 30, 2015

photo[1]Tis the season for graduate school and employment applications.  Therefore, I have spent a good bit of the past month writing letters of recommendation for an array of student applicants.  As a university faculty member and museum employer, I offer guidelines to students on this process.  The guidelines are not necessarily those I created, but rather flow from conversations with my colleagues both within and outside of higher education.  Here are three relevant slideshare presentations.

  • Here is a presentation I gave to graduates of the AmeriCorps NCCC Southern District Teams.  The presentation includes results of my informal faculty survey on their recommendations when applying to graduate school.
  • Here is a presentation I routinely give to graduate students in the Anthropology Department at the University of Memphis.  The presentation is based on my question to area employers, “If you could tell graduate students about one professional standard that is routinely violated but is of critical importance as they embark on their careers – what is that standard?”
  • Here is a presentation by my colleague Amy Santee on a critical career tool – developing a digital presence.  Amy delivered this presentation in a recent workshop to graduate students in the Anthropology Department at the University of Memphis.

And here is a post that discusses the many aspects of asking for letters of recommendation for both graduate school and other types of applications.

Happy Festivus!

Avocational Archaeologists and the Designation of a World Heritage Site

November 16, 2015

Here is a link to the article below where I talk about the important role of avocational archaeologists in the recent designation of the Poverty Point site in northeast Louisiana as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I conclude that this type of engagement is critical for the future of archaeology.

SAAarchrec

Do Micro-credentials Have Value?

November 9, 2015

stoneAt the University of Memphis, there is not a good course offering on writing skills for graduate students.  In my anecdotal and formal evaluation experiences, poor written and verbal communication skills are a serious deficit for our college graduates.  There are a half-dozen or so MOOC offerings that address written communication on various levels.  I came across one called High Impact Business Writing reviewed the overall content and thought  the offering was appropriate for one of my students in particular.  I then noted that the course was part of a Career Readiness specialization of offerings that seemed to address aspects of training the student would find useful based on their career interest in museum administration.

When I reviewed the suite of nine courses in the specialization, I realized that much of the content expands on what I now cover with all of my advisees in our biweekly workshop meetings.  I began meeting with my student advisees biweekly because:

  • I found that I was having to repeat discussions with each of the graduate students whose committee I now chair, so we started meeting as a group to better use my time and for the students to learn from each other.
  • I see my job as their advisor to not just guide them through the graduate program to get a degree but also prepare them for jobs when they graduate.  Most students are poorly prepared for this part of their career.  They know how to get an A in class but are less skilled at writing a cover letter for a job application.  (Anecdotally, our workshop cover letter discussions have resulted in students getting  paid internships at the Met in New York, solid full-time employment, scholarships, etc.)

I recommended to one student that they consider completing the Career Readiness specialization offering this past summer.  At $350.00, that is about the cost of one graduate course credit at the U of M.  We discussed what the specialization means on a resume.  I noted that if one were applying for a job in higher education, perhaps not much.  But if one were applying for a position, where the importance is less the degree and more what you can do the first day on the job, I am convinced that such micro-credentials are becoming increasingly meaningful.

In this way, I continue to consider MOOCs as a supplement but not replacement for current higher education models.  In fact, perhaps MOOCs allow traditional higher education institutions to stop trying to do things they are not doing well, have MOOCs take on that role, and allow higher education to focus on what they are currently good at.

I asked the student to give me a candid blurb about their experience with the Career Readiness specialization.  They responded:

The Coursera MOOC’s on the career specialization track have been very useful and enriching. Learning professional business strategies will assist me in my future career and these courses have offered a wonderful outline of the skills needed. I found the financial and leadership courses to be the most helpful.

The Career Readiness specialization seems an excellent example of how micro-credentials can work.

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