Accessing Object Stories: Student Engagement in Archaeology through Object-based Learning
The University of Melbourne
As archaeologists, we are concerned with discovering and disseminating the stories behind the sites we excavate and the objects we find. When bringing archaeological objects into the classroom, students can connect with these stories through object-based learning (OBL) experiences. OBL as a mode of education has fast become a new trend in tertiary education. Educationalists acknowledge the benefits of ‘active’ and ‘experiential learning’ offered by OBL as a teaching practice. Students connect with objects and their stories by using multiple senses: sight, touch, sound and smell. Through direct engagement with an object, barriers are removed, enabling unimpeded access and opening up connections to a remote, isolated or distant past.
This paper will discuss doctoral research conducted to critically examine and evaluate the use of OBL in teaching Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Melbourne. The project investigated the OBL experiences of undergraduate students across three year levels, using a single collection of objects: 44 Early Bronze Age ceramic vessels from Tomb A 72 South at Bab adh-Dhra’ in Jordan. The biography of the Bab adh-Dhra’ objects offered multiple topics for inquiry: from manufacture and mortuary use, to looting and salvage excavation, to object laundering and strategies for sustainably managing archaeological collections. This presentation reports on the research outcomes. The findings support the efficacy of OBL as a pedagogical practice, but more importantly reveals accessing object stories, associated with the Bab adh-Dhra’ vessels, increased student knowledge and understanding and improved teaching and learning outcomes.