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Field Schools: The First Experience
Jason J. Gonzalez and Eden A. Welker

Finding and choosing an archaeological field school entails a variety of concerns for the undergraduate and graduate student. Most students look for a specific geographic location or methodological focus. However, several factors are involved in choosing the most appropriate field school: reputation, scope, expense, practical arrangements, and even recreation potential. The field school experience shapes the way students look at archaeology and their own futures in the discipline, so it is important to get all the information you can before making a final decision.

Where to Find Field Schools

Start by checking to see if your own or a nearby institution offers a field school. Talk to the faculty member in charge of the program, the graduate student teaching assistants, and former field school students. Word of mouth is also an effective method to investigate field schools and their reputations. Graduate and undergraduate students that have recently attended a field school can speak of their own experiences and share their insights. Faculty members know archaeologists around the world and can point you toward a variety of fieldwork opportunities. A great resource listing of field schools is the Archaeological Institute of America's (AIA) Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin, which costs $10 for AIA members and $12 for nonmembers, plus shipping and handling. It can be ordered by calling (800) 228-0810. It lists field schools and projects all over the globe. Always look at the postings in anthropology departments--they receive field school flyers and pamphlets almost every day. A more recent search method is on the Internet. Some field schools have their own web sites, which can be found through a quick search on any search engine. Some other key places to start are: ArchNet, University of Connecticut [], Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities, Cornell University [], and Archaeological Institute of America [].

After finding a field school, double check its credentials and ask your peers what they have heard about it, good or bad.

Steps for Choosing a Field School

You can narrow down those choices you see posted on hallway bulletin boards or on the Internet in several ways. First, look for a field school in an area you are interested in, whether in the New World (North, South or Central America) or in the Old World (Europe, Asia, or Africa). Also consider the school's primary focus: although many field schools focus on traditional survey and excavation techniques, some also specialize in methodological interests. You can choose from such interests as underwater archaeology, ancient technologies, experimental archaeology, or conservation and preservation methods. You can choose schools with emphases in historic or prehistoric archaeology, or both.

The amount of time spent in the field and content of the program are also important things to consider. A longer field school session means more time to learn. Field schools lasting five to six weeks or longer tend to cover all the skills one needs to work on archaeological projects later, whether in cultural resource management or for academic research. Shorter sessions may not cover as many techniques or provide as thorough instruction.

The quality of the program often relates to the sponsoring institution. Universities offer the most comprehensive field schools. Foundations, companies, and private institutions also offer field schools, but the quality of instruction and field experience may vary widely. Before choosing a field school, you should check the credentials of the establishment responsible for the school and the individuals listed as project directors.

The scope of the archaeological project is another important consideration. The best field schools are those covering the greatest variety of archaeological techniques. You may not get all you want out of a field school if you spend all summer surveying or if you excavate a single small test pit. A field session should teach both excavation and surveying techniques and should provide experiences in different areas of a site. You should ask about instruction in skills such as:

  • finding and defining an archaeological site
  • excavation methods: brushes, trowels, shovels, picks, backhoes
  • excavation breadth: augering or coring, test pits, exposing horizontal expanses, deep vertical excavation in a cave, and so on
  • mapping archaeological sites, whether its architecture, surface artifact scatters, or subsurface finds
  • analyzing, collecting, labeling, and storing of artifacts
  • using a compass
  • using a surveyor's transit
  • reading and interpreting maps
  • subspecialties: remote sensing, preservation, stabilization, and absolute dating techniques
  • reporting and publishing on sites and fieldwork
Along with teaching the skills of field archaeology, a good school also concentrates on teaching about the culture under investigation. Students need to be familiar with the peoples whose past culture and society they are studying to provide a contextual framework for their archaeological work.

Many students also may take into account what kind of job or further education endeavors they hope a field school will prepare them for. Some field schools separate academic archaeological research from cultural resource management (CRM) or contract archaeology, while others combine the personnel and approaches of both orientations. There is often a difference in the scale and speed of fieldwork on an academic versus a CRM project. Field schools undertaking academic research tend to be slower paced and may focus on several different research goals, often working on the same site or in the same study area for years and carrying out an ever-widening scope of research. CRM-oriented field schools don't always have this luxury; they can be faster paced and may not always be focused on the research and excavation of a single large site. Their goal is to prepare you for a career in CRM, whether working for the government or private companies.

The more practical concerns of credit hours earned and the expense of field school must also be considered. Field school duration often determines the number of credit hours offered; anywhere from two to 16 hours may be earned for a field school. The number of hours and location of the field school will directly relate to its total cost.

Tuition costs are the first expense. Private institutions tend to be more expensive than public ones. A field school that runs an entire semester will obviously be more expensive than a six-week program. You may also have to factor in round-trip travel costs, particularly if the sponsoring institution or field site is in another state or country. Some field schools provide all transportation to participants, but others may expect you to make some of your own arrangements (such as arranging for transportation on any days off) or may even ask you not to bring personal means of transportation. Meal and lodging costs are almost always included in field school fees, but accommodations can vary from sandwiches you make yourself to camp cooks and from sleeping in tents to living in motel rooms. Find out exactly what is included in the field school fees.

Equipment costs are another, sometimes unanticipated, expense. Any reputable field school should provide all of the archaeological equipment it expects you to use. But, the student will have to obtain all the personal gear needed to survive comfortably in the field. In many cases the quality of the field experience is enhanced by the extent to which one is adequately prepared. The particular field conditions will determine the kind of gear you will need. For instance, ask if you must bring your own tent or if one is provided, if the climate necessitates a full set of rain gear or an ample supply of sunscreen, if the work requires heavy-duty hiking boots or simply sneakers.

Deciding on a field school should not be a casual affair. Field schools introduce you to the skills that are necessary to pursue archaeology as a career. In addition, anthropology departments may use field school education as part of their criteria when selecting students for graduate programs. A comprehensive and complete background in archaeological field techniques may help you get into the graduate program or job you want.

Eden A. Welker is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder and vice-chair of the SAA Student Affairs Committee. She is currently an instructor at Colorado State University. Jason Gonzalez is a graduate student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and is a campus representative for the SAA Student Affairs Committee.

Teaching Portfolios for Archaeologists
Angela Linse

In a previous SAA Bulletin [1997, 15(5):25], Douglas Pippin wrote about the importance of gaining teaching skills in graduate school. He also offered good ideas about how to document your development as a teacher. I would like to share some additional information about teaching portfolios learned while working with graduate students and faculty in anthropology and in other departments at the University of Washington.

The importance of teaching portfolios in academia has increased in recent years. As "accountability" becomes a more frequently used word in higher education, teaching portfolios (or teaching dossiers) have become a common way to assess the qualifications of those seeking jobs in academia. Use of teaching portfolios in tenure and promotion decisions is also on the rise, even at institutions where the professoriate has traditionally been rewarded for research productivity rather than instructional quality.

The increased popularity of teaching portfolios has spawned a corresponding expansion of suggestions for materials that might be included in them. The possibilities are so extensive that it is tempting to include everything. If you yield to the temptation, your portfolio could include an overabundance of teaching artifacts with no context and too little interpretation. Such a collection is likely to overwhelm search committee members, and, as a result, your portfolio will be a liability rather than an asset in the hiring process.

To help you begin the process of constructing a teaching portfolio, I offer one widely accepted definition and describe two of the most common forms that portfolios take. I also provide a framework for portfolio construction, with lists of materials that could be included.


"A portfolio or dossier is a collection of material that depicts the nature and quality of an individual's teaching and students' learning. Portfolios are structured deliberately to reflect particular aspects of teaching and learning; they are not trunks full of teaching artifacts and memorabilia. At its best, a portfolio documents an instructor's approach to teaching, combining specific evidence of instructional strategies and effectiveness in a way that captures teaching's intellectual substance and complexity" (W. Cerbin 1993:90, Campus Profile: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, in Campus Use of the Teaching Portfolio, edited by E. Anderson, pp. 89-91, American Association for Higher Education Teaching Initiative, AAHE, Washington D.C.).

Note that this definition does not focus on the content and coverage of your courses. One of the main purposes of a teaching portfolio is to demonstrate that you have thought about why you teach the way you do and what you do to help students learn.

Teaching Portfolio Taxonomy

The most basic classification divides portfolios into two kinds: developmental and evaluative. A developmental portfolio is private, for yourself, and focuses on improvement. An evaluative portfolio is a public account of your teaching. If you begin your teaching career with a developmental portfolio, you will save considerable time and energy when it comes time to construct your evaluative portfolio.

Developmental Portfolio

Developmental portfolios record the evolution of your teaching and encourage self-reflection about your role and your interactions with students. You can start your developmental portfolio anytime, even during your first teaching assistantship. You might begin with a teaching journal that includes notes about the success of particular strategies, how you implemented an instructional experiment, documentation of difficult situations and potential solutions, and suggestions for future classes. As you develop as a teacher, you might include some of the following materials: descriptions of the courses taught, representative course syllabi, feedback on your teaching (from supervisors, peers, and students), examples of student work activities aimed at improving your teaching, and honors/recognition.

Evaluative Portfolio

Evaluative portfolios are typically used to supplement a job application, a teaching award nomination, or a bid for tenure or promotion. As the name implies, they are used to evaluate the author. Evaluative portfolios are basically constructed for "public" consumption and nonarchaeologists should be able to understand them easily.

Evaluative portfolios, in particular those available on the World Wide Web, help to challenge the popular "ivory tower" myth in which the academy is accountable to no one. Portfolios available to students, colleagues, and the public demonstrate professional accountability without external (e.g., legislative) controls. Faculty retain the responsibility for monitoring, improving, and ensuring instructional quality (FCIQ 1996, Guidelines for the Preparation and Use of Teaching Portfolios, Faculty Council on Instructional Quality, University of Washington).

Constructing Your Evaluative Portfolio

As noted earlier, the list of what to include in your portfolio seems endless. Here, I offer a few suggestions based on the current literature and my experience helping colleagues to construct teaching portfolios. I recommend that you approach a teaching portfolio as you would a research design. In archaeological parlance, provide an explanation for your teaching rather than a vessel for your teaching artifacts. At its most basic, your evaluative portfolio might include a thesis statement, supporting evidence, analyses and interpretation of the data, and a conclusion (J. M. Lang and K. R. Bain, 1997, Recasting the Teaching Portfolio, The Teaching Professor 11(10):1).

The Teaching Philosophy

Your teaching philosophy is analogous to a thesis statement in a research design. It establishes a context for the accumulated data about your teaching. A statement of teaching philosophy generally delineates what you expect your students to accomplish intellectually and your particular program for helping students to achieve your goals.

Data and Interpretation

The body of a teaching portfolio typically provides supporting evidence for your teaching philosophy. It usually includes a narrative analysis and interpretation based on a sample of your teaching artifacts as the data (e.g., syllabi, grading standards, assignments, exams, student work, student ratings, colleague evaluation, videotape, etc.). Use a judgmental sampling strategy to select the teaching artifacts that provide the best documentation for: the significance of your course objectives, your teaching strategies (how you help students achieve your objectives), how you evaluate student learning, and how you assess and improve the quality of your teaching. For example, you might select the syllabus that epitomizes your course objectives. A description of a reading and discussion assignment could demonstrate your most successful teaching strategy. To show how students achieve compliance with your objectives, you could include a homework exercise or class project. Samples of feedback on your teaching (e.g., student ratings, mid-quarter class interviews, peer observation) can document that you are concerned about your effectiveness in the classroom.


Typically, the concluding statement delineates your future goals. This could take the form of a summary of your portfolio, a discussion of your plans for further development of your teaching skills, and ideas for enhancing your students' learning. You could also take a developmental approach by describing changes in your teaching philosophy or instructional methods and explaining why the changes were made.

Cautionary Notes

Be concise. The text of a typical teaching portfolio is rarely more than seven pages. If your portfolio is lengthy, it will not receive the attention it deserves (FCIQ 1996). Limit each section to a couple of paragraphs. For example, your teaching philosophy should fit on one page.

Finally, be sure not to leave readers to puzzle over the meaning of a particular piece of data. Annotate your teaching data by adding a few sentences to direct the reader's attention to a particular section or result. For example, the summary statistics of student ratings vary with the institution and thus usually require clarification.

Angela Linse is a consultant with the Center for Instructional Development and Research and a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington.

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