Solving online teaching conundrums with eHRAF

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Online learning presents myriad challenges for students and instructors alike. As providers of the world’s largest anthropological data bank, HRAF has been developing and curating digital resources in anthropology and archaeology for over two decades. The ethnographic and archaeological contents of our eHRAF databases are ideal for learning from anywhere: at home, online, or on campus. In this post, we will offer solutions to some common online teaching and learning challenges that can be realized with eHRAF.

Now that most instructors have begun teaching at least partially online or in some hybrid format, unforeseen challenges have arisen amidst experiments with online instruction. While there is plenty of existing advice on adapting methods for delivering materials, the focus within academia moving forward will likely be on enabling successful learning and engagement through adequate resources, virtual classroom management, and innovative digital coursework.

The following questions and answers distill some common problems that anthropology instructors may be facing, with tips for how HRAF can help to resolve them.

My institution’s physical library is closed. How can I assign required anthropological texts and monographs?

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With students unable to visit a library, and not all previous reading assignments readily available as digital reserves, instructors may find themselves with critical gaps in their regular curricula. Our ethnographic and archaeological databases include over 880,000 pages of expertly indexed information on over 420 cultures and traditions available online, including off-campus, to all member institutions.

Having hundreds of pages of ethnographic and archaeological material at your fingertips can be an invaluable resource when working remotely without access to traditional campus-based resources. The databases contain many original texts including classic ethnographies from authors such as Malinowski, Mead, Boas, Lévi-Strauss, Evans-Pritchard, and Abu-Lughod – to name just a few – that you might otherwise find on your university library shelf (and some that you might not).

Unlike academic journal servers offering static articles in PDF format, no file downloads are required. eHRAF allows users to search through the text of the entire database at once, and to zoom in on relevant passages across all of the documents in our collections in moments. Each and every paragraph has been subject-indexed by anthropologists at HRAF with OCM identifiers in the sidebar so that readers can easily see which topics of interests are covered, and then follow those subject identifiers throughout the database to find additional ethnographic texts on the same and related topics across cultures.

Results are presented initially at the paragraph level with the option to jump out to the original document page for more context and to dig deeper into the source ethnography or archaeological data. It is also possible to browse for specific topics or cultures, and to narrow searches by region, subsistence type, and samples. This makes eHRAF ideal not only for specific reading assignments, but also for students to discover their own topics of interest and build their own research projects.

For an example of how to design a classroom assignment around a portion of a classic ethnographic text found in eHRAF World Cultures, see Adjusting to Remote Teaching with eHRAF.

No matter how much effort I put into my course materials, students try to use Google to answer all the questions. How do I get them to engage with the content that I provide?

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Like instructors, students are adjusting to a complex landscape of remote education. Immediate access to sites like Google and Wikipedia from their laptops and mobile devices may seem like the easiest and fastest route to completing tasks or researching facts. Of course, popular search engines can direct students to secondary and tertiary sources, as well as other valuable anthropological content in the form of blog posts, podcasts, videos, and open access resources. While this type of independent research need not be discouraged, in the context of course assignments, it is often to the dismay of instructors who curate their syllabus contents to include vetted academic sources and original activities. Copying and pasting passages from Google leaves little scope for engaging with the materials as intended.

As an anthropological “search engine”, eHRAF offers several solutions to the problem of easy access that can help to keep students interacting with instructor-approved texts (and with less dependence on Google). As described above, the eHRAF World Cultures and eHRAF Archaeology databases are comprised of monographs, manuscripts, articles, and theses. These trustworthy academic sources have been hand-indexed for subject contents by HRAF anthropologists. Whether reading specific pages or conducting their own searches in eHRAF, this means that students will find anthropological data to complete their assignments that is not available elsewhere on the web.

In addition to our databases, our homepage contains accessibly-written posts on popular anthropological themes that can help introduce students to cross-cultural topics of interest, such as chocolate, pets, luck, and the home, as well as tips for conducting research in eHRAF.

Where can I find assignments that are ready to upload to a learning management system?

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Launching in Summer 2020, our latest development, eHRAF Workbooks, are comprised of PowerPoint presentations that can be uploaded and shared with classes via any platform. The first workbook – Introduction to Cultural Anthropology – covers a wide range of topics including sex and gender, subsistence, religion, politics, kinship, and art, with more categories to follow. Full details will be available here soon. Sign up to our monthly newsletter to receive our latest updates.

We also encourage faculty to explore our various companion open access resources. Teaching eHRAF offers sample syllabi and activities that can serve as a model for incorporating eHRAF-based assignments and activities in anthropology courses. For additional online teaching resources, see Teaching Online.

Introducing Cross-Cultural Research is an excellent guide for any introductory research methods or eHRAF research project. It introduces the basics of cross-cultural research and analysis across several chapters available in colorful PDF format.

Explaining Human Culture (EHC) contains information on over 1,000 cross-cultural studies spanning more than 100 years of research about cultural universals and differences. It also contains topical summaries on popular anthropological themes such as Gender, Religion, Dwellings, Hunter-Gatherers and Altered States of Consciousness. These summaries are a great place to begin thinking about cultural universals and synthesizing broad anthropological questions across societies, making them ideal to initiate group discussion, or as supplementary online reading.

Why are students having trouble accessing resources from off-campus?

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To obtain access to eHRAF World Cultures or eHRAF Archaeology for yourself or your class, first check to see if your university is a member by searching the tables on this page. If your university or college is already a member of HRAF, your students will have access to the databases in their entirety via their usual university ID/library login, even from off campus.

When following links to eHRAF, if a paywall appears prompting for a HRAF username and password, the likelihood is that you are required to use a VPN or Proxy from your off-campus location. Please be sure to make your students aware of your library’s process for accessing resources off campus, for example via the library website portal or by using a VPN. Each institution’s procedure can vary slightly, so your librarian is your best point of contact to resolve connection issues. Librarians can also email help@hraf.org to update us with any additional IP address ranges or proxies to ensure seamless off-campus access.

If your institution is not yet a member, learn more about membership and how to sign up for an institution-wide trial here.

My library cannot become a member at this time, but I would still like to use eHRAF for teaching a single course. What options do I have?

If you would like to teach with eHRAF for an academic term, you may be interested in our Course Membership. Available in Fall 2020, Course Membership provides a truncated collection of cultures in our database. Learn more here.

The new normal

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Seemingly overnight, academic faculty throughout the world have been expected to transition from campus-based instructors to expert designers of online curricula. A lack of lecture halls, libraries, computer labs, study rooms, dorms, gyms, offices, and cafes that make up campus life can make online learning feel distinctly isolating on both sides of the screen. Online or hybrid education may be different from the usual campus experience, but it can be just as dynamic and valuable. Wherever and however learning takes place moving forward, quality digital resources provide the foundation.