Teaching a summer course with the eHRAF Workbooks

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During the Summer 2020 term, HRAF’s member services manager Matthew Longcore taught an online course for the University of Connecticut. ANTH 1006 Introduction to Anthropology introduces students to the four subfields of anthropology: cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and biological anthropology. The course covers the biological and cultural development of humans from their origin to the present. A brief survey of human evolution is followed by a comparative study of behavior and beliefs of our own and other societies. The syllabus, course schedule, and assignments are available to view and download in Teaching eHRAF.

The assigned textbook for the course is Introducing Anthropology: An Integrated Approach, 6th Edition (2014) by Michael Alan Park. Park is a noted Emeritus Professor of Anthropology from Central Connecticut State University whose work focuses upon on the application of evolutionary theory to the story of human evolution. In the textbook, Park draws extensively upon his fieldwork with the Hutterites, a colony of people belonging to a 450-year-old religious group called the Hutterian Brethren. Following the Hutterites as a case study, students are introduced to anthropological concepts that are ideally suited to explore through further research about the societies covered in eHRAF World Cultures, making the text and the database perfect companions for Professor Longcore’s introductory summer course.

Matthew was pleased to have the opportunity to incorporate the recently launched eHRAF Workbooks into his summer course. eHRAF Workbooks have been designed with flexible, distance, and hybrid learning in mind given the uneven landscape of college instruction throughout 2020. During the fall and spring semesters, his UConn anthropology courses typically have larger enrollments of 50 or more students per section. With a smaller enrollment of 12 students, the intensive 5-week online summer course provided an ideal setting for observing the new eHRAF Workbooks in action and for assessing their effectiveness for teaching and learning.

In keeping with Matthew’s teaching philosophy, he prefers to have students engage with course materials by preparing and delivering team presentations. As he explains,

As a former academic advisor, I understand that undergraduate education is as much about student development as it is about course content. Through team presentations, students develop highly transferable skills: teamwork, collaboration, organization, public speaking, and critical thinking skills.

Since the eHRAF Workbooks allow for faculty members to customize student assignments for each workbook activity, Matthew decided that his team presentation format work would well. For the summer course, the 12 students were divided into 4 teams comprised of 3 students in each team. Each student team prepared and delivered two PowerPoint presentations, one based on the eHRAF Workbook activities, and another based on a particular question posed by the textbook and explored in article from National Public Radio (NPR). Each of the teams determined how best to synthesize the information in their selected workbook and how to present their eHRAF findings to the rest of the class.

The teams and their presentation topics are listed below:

Team eHRAF Workbook Topic NPR Article Topic
YELLOW Ethnobotany: Medicinal Plants Should Nonhuman Primates Have Rights?
GREEN Altered States of Consciousness What Causes Differences in Sexual Orientation?
BLUE Consuming Milk Are There Racial Differences in Athletic Ability?
PINK Social Control Are Humans Naturally Violent?

HRAF’s digital media anthropologist Dr. Francine Barone has been instrumental in the development of the eHRAF Workbooks. In the first week of ANTH 1000, Francine and Matthew co-facilitated an eHRAF webinar for the students in the course. The webinar provided students with a general overview to eHRAF World Cultures, including the subjects and cultures covered in the database, and examples of how to construct effective advanced searches. Over the weeks that followed, Francine was invited to observe the student presentations on their eHRAF Workbook topics.

Here is a slideshow highlighting one of the eHRAF Workbook presentations:

As collaborators on the development of the eHRAF Workbooks prior to the summer course, Matthew and Francine were pleased to see their ideas put into practice, and they were especially impressed by the quality of the work produced by students. They have described the summer course as “proof of concept” for the effectiveness of the workbooks. This test run of the workbooks also revealed that students did not find the online learning setting to be a barrier since they could easily access eHRAF World Cultures from home.

The format of the workbooks, which provide a more general overview of the topic at hand before offering a variety of assignment types, enables faculty members to modify and incorporate only the activities that suit their needs in coordination with their existing lectures or textbook materials. For the Fall 2020 semester, Matthew will have the opportunity to repeat his model of group presentations based upon the eHRAF Workbooks for two sections of ANTH 1000 Peoples and Cultures of the World, an introductory course in cultural anthropology with combined enrollment of over 100 students.

With the new academic year starting at colleges and universities, HRAF is pleased to offer a wide (and growing) selection of eHRAF Workbooks to complement teaching and learning about anthropology. We would be delighted to learn how other faculty members plan to implement the eHRAF Workbooks in their classes.

For more information about the HRAF membership, or to schedule an eHRAF webinar for your course, please contact Matthew Longcore at hraf-membership@yale.edu.