Sharing my research with the public is one of my favorite parts of the job. I love answering questions because it helps me to think about why the things I study are important. It also helps me to think about the way I study the past.
Typically, outreach happens in schools, community centers, and museums. I usually sit behind a table and bring artifacts or other hands-on items to share with students (and parents!) of all ages.
During the pandemic, we can't hold indoor events at all. Most museums are closed. Many schools will reopen fully online, including the entire school district where I'm writing this in Michigan. Losing outreach opportunities does seem like a minor concern compared to many other consequences of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it's something that I've missed a great deal. Who doesn't love a good field trip?
That's why I was especially glad to participate in a collaborative, NSF-funded outreach Polar Literacy Program that brought research into students' homes with Zoom. A panel of education experts led by Jason Cervenec at Ohio State University and Janice McDonnell of Rutgers University brought together a cohort of Arctic and Antarctic researchers to craft data-rich learning experiences that could be accessed through a zoom meeting.
Since May, we have met for a few hours every other week to develop two hour-long immersive Zoom learning experiences based around the Data Jam concept. For my module, we worked with some of the results of my excavations at the Niidhaayh Na' site in central Alaska. I asked students to help me decide where I should dig next after orienting them to Alaska and archaeology.
I really like this format because it allowed us to use things within the students home to get them to think about archaeological data. We asked the students to go on a home scavenger hunt: they had to find one object that they were proud of and note the item on top of their kitchen trash. This helped them to think about the things that archaeologists find and interpret, and it's something that I could never do behind a desk at a school or in a library. Moreover, it's something that I never would have thought of without the helpful interventions of Jason and Janice and their expert background in science education.
Going forward, I'm inspired by how easy it was to drop into students' homes and get them to think about my home, Alaska, and the deep history of the Arctic. I'm eager to conduct more distanced outreach, potentially activities that could include students in remote communities around Alaska. The Covid-19 pandemic, with all its associated losses, does offer a few bright spots of inspiration that show what we can look forward to in the future.
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming