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Grant: Teaching Online

Wednesday: March 25, 2015

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I was contacted by our Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching department at one of the universities I teach at, letting me know that they had a grant with my name on it if I would be interested in taking a course about how to teach online. Duh – of course!

I am not sure how I was nominated for the grant, or if everyone gets one as they take the course, but I am very excited and it couldn’t come at a better time with my current financial woes.

The class starts Monday, but I have already poked around. See, although I am teaching online already, this program interests me very much – beyond the financial carrot:

  • While I have taken an online course as a student, that was many, many years ago. I’ve forgotten what worked and didn’t for me as a student, and technology has changed dramatically since then. What do online courses even look like today? This course will teach me how to design an online class.
  • (What does teaching itself look like? This course might show me how not to feel like such a fraud! Oh, I still giggle at the cosmic joke that life has played on me!)
  • My university is transitioning to a new Learning Management System, and I haven’t had the motivation to look into it yet. I had decided that I would do it when it was essentially forced on me – but approaching it early and with training is a far better idea! This course will teach me how to use the new LMS.

By the way – that new LMS, Canvas? Golden in comparison. Gosh, why didn’t I look into it sooner?!

From what I gather, my classes are already set up pretty much exactly how they need to be, which is great news for me. Of course there are things to tweak and new ideas that I will learn, but the bulk of the course design is solid. One of my fears when I initially accepted the grant contract was that it would be very taxing to start over from scratch – especially now that I have it running fairly smoothly. Thankfully, though, the most work will simply be taking those ideas to the new LMS. Phew!

I am also looking forward to taking this class with other people. I only know one other enrolled, and just barely. He is another physical anthropologist, in a Lectureship position so he gets to participate a little more than I do in the department. Though I seem to have more teaching experience than him (at least when he was first hired), I am interested to see his ideas about teaching anthropology, and seeing the other “students”‘ comments on what works or doesn’t.

I have plenty of questions that I hope get addressed. How do you direct students to participate *meaningfully* in discussions? How do you objectively grade discussions? How do you handle the time-sap that internet communication brings? How to you keep the class fun and personable when they only know you through a screen? How do you keep from getting bored? And so on.

At the end of the course, to accomplish my grant requirements, I will be peer reviewed for the fall semester. Once I fully pass, I will be certified to teach others how to teach anthropology online. This is cool, but at my small university, unlikely to mean much (I was given the disclaimer as such). Clearly, minimum enrollment would just never be satisfied!

Unrelated side note: I am trying to find small ways to still be “active” in the science community so I nominated myself to be Vice Chair for the Anthropology Section for the Indiana Academy of Science. I could not attend due to car woes, but the current Chair let me know that someone present claimed the position, but no one took on Chair itself. Did I want to be the next Chair? I hemmed and hawed and decided to decline instead – how rude is it to take a title if I cannot commit to the responsibilities? I may wish I had taken the role, but there are always future votes when I can actually be present.

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Ceramics Workshop 2014

Sunday: January 18, 2015

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I attended Indiana State Museum’s Conservation and Mending of Low-Fired Ceramics workshop a few months ago. It was great!

On the first day, following a brief lecture about the need for archaeologists to understand how to conserve and mend pottery (because not everyone can afford an actual conservator), we opened by breaking terra cotta pots.


We then learned the process of consolidation, which I knew nothing about. Essentially, ceramics can be very friable – especially low-fired ones such as that in prehistoric archaeological sites – so it is important to reinforce them structurally before gluing them together. That is where an acrylic resin solution (dissolved in acetone) called B-72 comes into play. We used several solutions: 3%, 6%, and 12% to consolidate and 50% to glue. By using B-72, if needed, you can break the mend with a simple acetone vapor bath (which I also learned how to do).

Slender strips of painters tape was used to piece it back together and label the order we would glue the them back together in. We were also asked to leave two pieces out – one from the rim and one from the body (mine included a bit of the base which was a little problematic later).


We then painted around our missing areas with cyclododecane – a type of wax that sublimates (disappears) in room temperature over time. I painted a smiley face to watch it change. The point of this part is so that when we poured plaster, we didn’t get little specks of it around the missing portion.


The next process was to use dental wax to work as a backing for the plaster. Since mine included a little of the bottom, I had to use a roll of clay along the edge as well (this is more evident in the photo below). We mixed some plaster up, poured it on, and let it set.


On the second day, we then learned how to sand the plaster using tiny sticks (these can be seen standing in the rice; we used 220, 400, and 600 grit sand paper). You can also see how my smiley face had started to disappear.


We also took a small scalpel to pop off any bubbles of B-72 that squeezed through from the previous day’s mending.

Then, we learned how to use varaform (a thermoplastic mesh that acts like cloth when briefly set in warm water, then dries hard). Using clingwrap for protection, we pressed the veraform against the pot to get the shape of the rim.


The next part was tough – cutting the varaform to fit inside the missing area. Don’t cut enough, and it will not fit flush. Cut too much, and you cannot glue it to the pot with B-72. Plus, it is thick and difficult to cut. Aside from sanding and filling in the veraform, this probably took me the longest.


Back it with some dental wax again, and the fun time of filling it in came. We used vinyl spackling this time, but the problem here is getting it to fill without air bubbles. It was tedious, but mine came out ok.


Last, in some pieces that will be showcased, like at a museum, the fill needs to be painted to avoid drawing the eye away from the overall piece. We were provided paint chips and small plaster turtles or frogs to try to match. I tried to just match the terra cotta color on my turtle. It was difficult, but I like to think I got pretty close. Part of this project was also to see how paint takes differently to consolidated and non-consolidated plaster (the lighter areas had B-72; the darker areas did not; the whiteish areas are where I wiped the pigment off).

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It was a little pricey for me with my uncertain job outlook and all that, but it was really informative and worth it – we got a handbook of all kinds of articles and supply lists. I am so glad I did not let the price deter me! Gaby and Michele did a great job keeping it fun but educational and answering all of our questions. I got to try out the Eiteljorg Museum Cafe, got some behind-the-scenes look at the Indiana State Museum, and Gaby showed me how to properly hang my crazy quilt which is currently just draped over a giant curtain rod.

Plus, I got to hang out with these fools, in a Schwitzer Wonderland, complete with plastic – uh, I mean ice – skating, so I won’t complain.



I also realized that I just must be a student for life. As Gaby was explaining what she does at the museum, it was like meshing my artsy side with my academic side and I said, “hey, maybe I’ll go back to school to be a museum conservator!”. So, that is on the table now, alongside zooarchaeology, still, and teaching human anatomy (which may be a thing here, local to where I live if Dr. T has his way!). Of course, if only I lived in Indy, where the opportunities seem to already abound…


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Prehistoric Pottery Workshop

Wednesday: May 21, 2014

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Last year, I attended the Prehistoric Earth and Fire Pottery Workshop at the Taylor Center of Natural History (Strawtown Koteewi Park). I have been there on several occasions, and that is where the Indiana Archaeology Council meets (which I am now a part of). This time, they were hosting Erik Vosteen from the Great Lakes Lifeways Institute to run a prehistoric pottery workshop. I was late because they are in a different time zone 3 hours away, so it was difficult to wake up on time – and although I should have made it by just a hair, a major route I needed ended up being closed. Oi.


I missed the presenation, which bothered me but until time travel is an option, what can you do? To make the pots, we began with natural clay. We picked out some fibers, sticks, and big rocks, then we added grit.


I met up with my undergrad pals (it was a great reunion!) and none of us really thought to take pictures so this is all I have from the making of the pots.


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I had to make the trip again the following weekend to fire the pots, and Boy came because there was a public event. He, of course, took photos. The pots were ready to be baked, carefully placed by Erik.


The first thing we needed to do was make a big roaring fire. It was honestly the hottest fire I had ever been around (could be because I am normally only around fires in the fall, at night, when it is cold).

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Then we hung out a while (not long at all, it seemed) and he dug the pots out carefully to let them cool. It was really neat to see the clay turn glowing red hot.

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The public event included eating natural popcorn. This flavor is called strawberry corn, and I think you can see why.


We also got to practice using atlatls, which are one of the oldest weapons we know of archaeologically. They are spear-throwers – essentially extending the arm so that physics can do its thing and get a lot of force behind throwing a javelin. One person can throw a dart and kill a deer. There is increased interest in atlatls and you can watch plenty of youtube videos about them. (A lot of the “arrowheads” people find are actually atlatl points – much too big for a bow and arrow.) I expected throwing them to be difficult, but its a very fluid movement. I couldn’t aim very well but I could make the dart go much further than I would have expected!

prehistoric_pottery_workshop7I do not have a photo of my pot before I began using it as a humidifier with my wood stove. Our water, being well water and all, is gross. So it has a lot of minerals in it which created a white crusty coating on my pot and splattered all over the stove. It did seem to work though as a humidifier so I didn’t mind. After a while, however, it started disintegrating the rim. I don’t mind that either – it is neat to watch it change and sparks a lot of questions about ancient peoples and their pots.

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