What impact does visiting a cultural venue have on adult learners?

Action Led Research:

We have just been awarded an EmCett grant to use action led research to try and answer the above question.

As tutors on the Digability project we have taken out student groups to many heritage sites and museums. At the end of each visit the groups all declare they have had a fantastic time. They have often visited sites for the first time and enjoyed the new experience. They have enjoyed being out with their fellow students. If we are lucky the weather has been great and they have enjoyed being out in the fresh air. But what have they learnt? What do we mean by ‘learnt’? Is it fulfilling a SMART learning objective for the lesson e.g ‘ the learner can name 3 features of a castle’ or is it that heritage sites are accessible and a place to enjoy and discover new things? Is one more valid than the other and how do measure the impact of ‘enjoyment’ on the learner? We are currently looking at the longitudinal impact of visiting a cultural sites. What do students remember of the visit 6 months or a year later? Did it lead them into further study? Did it inspire them to revisit the site or other similar sites? Has the visit had any impact on their well being? Did it inspired them to take up a new hobby such as art or photography?

If you have visited a cultural site in the last six months what was the impact on you? Is it possible to record impact? Is that impact long term? What questions would you ask of your students or visitors?

We look forward to seeing some of your responses.


Working with D/deaf people in archaeology

After Christmas, Digability will be launching a new group for people who are D/deaf in the Sheffield/Doncaster area. It will be necessary to make sure that there is an interpreter for each session as well as any other additional support the students feel is necessary. As tutors we are also learning some BSL.

In this month’s forum we would like to ask for opinions on what it is like to work in archaeology if you are D/deaf. What challenges do you face and are there examples of how these have been overcome?

If you work in community archaeology, what provision do you make for D/deaf people?

There are some fabulous stories on the web. Have a look at Tory Sampson’s story about becoming an archaeology student here.

In the 1990s, White conducted a field school on Mount Vernon, described as ‘The first archaeological fieldschool specifically directed for deaf and hard of hearing students’. The blog they set up in 2011 describes their work between 1992 and 1994 with the Gaulladet University and the commitment of the staff to learning ASL.

Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home, offers a Deaf and Hard of Hearing tour once a year in Archaeology Month.

On trawling the web I also came across some interesting historical evidence for teaching communication so that others could communicate with the deaf. In the 1660s, John Wallis produced for his pupil Alexander Popham an early form of sign language so that they could communicate.

Let us know your thoughts.

How can we measure and evidence the health and well-being benefits of participation in heritage activity?

The Digability project has wider implications than just developing or improving an individual’s archaeological or historical knowledge. We feel that archaeology/heritage is a fantastic vehicle for developing our students’ sense of self and improving their transferable skills, as well as their health and well-being. We have found many of our students have improved their communication skills and confidence as a result of participating in the project. Our students have particularly thrived in a learning environment where they are encouraged to voice their opinions. All our students feedback positively and very personally about the impact the project has had on them and their health and well-being, but it is hard to measure these apart from through quotes.

The capture of this data is becoming more and more important as we all seek to justify our funding to those outside the heritage industry.

At the recent WEA conference in Cambridge we learnt of projects working with refugees who use historical sites and museums as a way of introducing immigrants to Britain, promoting discussion and language development in addition to giving navigational landmarks around a large city such as Glasgow.

We would love to hear if anyone has managed to turn these quotes into quantifiable data or if you have found innovative ways of capturing health and well-being benefits. What questions should be asked? Often when presented with a questionnaire at the beginning of a course students are a bit baffled by what they should put down for questions such as ‘What is your health like?’, so it is hard to formulate a measure of development over the course as there is no starting point recorded. Can we capture data only at the end of the course with questions such as ‘Has your health improved?’

Engaging BAME communities in Archaeology

How does archaeology engage Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK?
Although archaeology often tackles the question of ethnicity in e.g. slave trade studies (http://www.assemblage.group.shef.ac.uk/5/hicks.html), the University of Durham’s ‘Archaeology of Race’ (challenging schools to look at immigration through time) and recent investigations of important ‘Black’ sites in America e.g. ‘The Hill’ , how often are the communities about whom the story is being told involved in their interpretation?  It may be telling that the Society of Black Archaeologists was formed last year in the USA to encourage more people of African descent to enter the field of archaeology and argue for the proper treatment of African material culture .

How do we encourage BAME groups to get involved in archaeology? A recent good example was the University of Brighton Inclusive Archaeology Project while in Sheffield Hindu Samaj , whilst not looking directly at archaeology, are investigating links between the present Hindu community and the Derbyshire textile industry, preparing walks around the surviving buildings in Carver.

One of our target groups for the Digability project was the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in Yorkshire and the Humber.  To date we have been unsuccessful in either recruiting or sustaining a viable student cohort from these communities.  This we believe is probably for a number of different reasons: a lack of awareness of the transferability of the archaeological subject to communities with seemingly no ‘origin’ roots in the UK; a paucity of active involvement of BAME adults in heritage activity in the region as a whole; or a difficulty (on our behalf) in liaising with, and responding to the interests and needs of the potential student groups that we have been in contact with.

We would love to hear of other projects where BAME groups are getting involved in local history and archaeology and the inspirations behind each project.

Can Archaeology be Inclusive?

Public participation in archaeology has increased over the last decade with the rise in community-orientated projects.  This has seen many individuals and community groups making the transition from interested audiences to active participants.  Community archaeology tends to operate separately to research or commercial undertakings, and has only recently has started to receive attention and acceptance from the wider discipline.  For the most part, the demographic of participants in these community projects frequently mirror the demographic of the existing archaeological community: white, educated, advantaged and able-bodied (though there are some exceptions to this observation).

If archaeology is to rise to the challenge, set down by the National Planning Policy Framework, of a further increase in public participation and engagement, and establish demonstrable public benefits of its activities, particularly within the commercial sector, surely it should aspire to have inclusivity at its core?  The general public is by-no-means a homogeneous group, and thus mechanisms for public participation should not follow a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.  The questions we should be asking ourselves are: Can archaeology ever become fully inclusive?  And if so, what does inclusive archaeology look like?  Are inclusive strategies in archaeology sustainable?  How can archaeology benefit disadvantaged groups and individuals?  And how can their participation in-turn benefit the archaeological discipline?

We look forward to your views on this subject.


This blog has come about because of the work of the Workers’ Educational Association Inclusive Archaeology Education Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Over the past two years we have been seeking to create a sustainable project that allows those from disadvantaged backgrounds to get involved in archaeology. We have presented our work at several conferences and have received positive feedback. On this page we would like to create a monthly discussion about current issues, sustainability, successes and difficulties around inclusive archaeology.

Please add your comments and share your ideas with us.

This month the topic is:  How to make visits to historic sites accessible – and meaningful – to those with disabilities.

The Digability sessions are now in their field visit phase after our introductory classroom sessions. We have visited some fantastic sites over the past few weeks and seen some great examples of adapting access to suit the learners we have taken. The National Coal Mining Museum for example, having been advised of mobility problems, adapted their underground tour so the route was shorter and more accessible. At Barnsley and Doncaster Museums, handling sessions have been tailored to learners needs and interests. Cannon Hall prepared a fantastic day allowing us to excavate in the kitchen gardens and at Heeley City Farm the staff were very supportive, encouraging students to have a go at helping to repair the round house. We have of course taken full advantage of the free access for education groups provided by English Heritage and visited sites at Bolsover Castle, Brodsworth Hall and Conisbrough Castle. We have also made links with East Peak Industrial Partnership and Elmet Archaeology to provide fieldwork opportunities; both have been incredibly supportive of our students and helped to provide worthwhile and memorable access to our local archaeology.

In terms of access and support, then, we have found our partners very willing to work with us to develop opportunities for students with additional needs.  Access, of course, is only part of the picture.  As educational practitioners, we also face issues relating to the impact of field activities – particularly for students with learning difficulties. How much do our students learn? Can we measure what they have learnt from field visits? For some of our students it is an almost overwhelming experience to visit a castle for the first time or to see what it was like for family members to work underground. For others the experience of being outside for long periods ( usually 4-5 hours) is challenging and the benefits of these experiences is hard to measure, except from the  large smiles and excited chatter. There are learning goals: identifying parts of a building; learning new words; working together as a group to measure and record a site or building; trying something new (such as handling mud in building the round house); but it is hard to capture these at times in a way that can be fully recorded.

We would really welcome any views on this and examples of how other people measure learning in the field – as well as your experiences in accessing/providing access to heritage sites.