Cross-posted to Teaching Thursday and the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Staff Blog.
As the spring semester gradually recedes into memory, the summer beckons. Many folks at the University of North Dakota, head off campus or switch gears on campus as they begin to focus on new summer research and teaching projects. These projects, even when it’s just teaching a summer class, inevitably involve a change of pace. The pace of the summer semester slows down for some; for others who look to the summer as a time of more intensive research and teaching find that the summer brings a new bustle to their routine.
I will be heading to the Mediterranean this summer, as I have for the last 6 years to conduct archaeological research on Greece and Cyprus. This year, I’ll be joined in Cyprus by about 15 undergraduate and graduate students from across the US. These students arrive with different expectations, different skills and experiences, and different ways of learning, but all of them expect to leave Cyprus after 4 weeks with a better grasp of the methods, theory, and practice of archaeology. They’ll attempt to acquire these skills in the most distraction filled environment possible. Not only will they be inserted into a fully-functioning archaeological research project, but one that is located in a beach side town (Larnaka, Cyprus) in a foreign country! While it is easy to see how an travel outside the US provides additional opportunities to learn through experience, these same experiences can also provide considerable “background noise” to the more routine and regimented learning processes that we are accustomed to in the classroom. (As much as we might embrace the chaos of Edu-punk, few of us turn our classroom into a night at CBGBs, but there are days in Cyprus, when the height of our research season meets head on with the annual summer festival in Larnaka (the Kataclysmos) that we’d embrace a daily routine that took on the relatively predictable routine of, say, an Iggy Pop show.)
Teaching in the sun, in Cyprus or anyway away from the standard routines of the classroom involves new strategies that not only allow students to absorb the chaotic realities of experience, but nevertheless ensures that they acquire basic skills essential to the courses (so to speak) that they are taking. For us, it’s balancing between imparting the rigorous and structured requirements of “scientific” archaeological research and allowing them enough unstructured times to feel comfortable in a dynamic and complex foreign city. This is particularly challenging for us because we also have research priorities each season. On the one hand, this ensures that the students feel the genuine (and authentic) experience of professional, archaeological research with all its contingency and excitement. On the other hand, this creates a place where some members of the project are constantly tempted to sacrifice the unstructured time for the structured and rigorous experiences of primary data gathering. One season, we famously broke our students. The senior staff were disappointed that this dedicated cadre of students weren’t taking in the local culture more consistency until we realized that after a grueling day in the field the students were collapsing on their beds and sleeping until dinnertime and then crashing out immediately after dinner clean up. This was hardly an environment that cultivated students’ access to unstructured time!
Over subsequent seasons we’ve been better balancing work and play, but the balance is always deliberate. Keep an eye on how well we are maintaining it through our Pyla-Koutsopetria Project Blog page.