The Future of Technology and Education: A Student’s Perspective on Digital Scholarship

by Ashley McCuistion, Student, Digital Curator for the Virtual Curation Laboratory

Living in a world that is so increasingly driven by the use of modern technology can be an exciting, yet daunting experience. This is especially true of college students, as we are expected not only to keep up with this technology, but to continuously find new ways of integrating it into our social and academic lives. “Digital scholarship” is – among other things – a means of applying technology to what we learn in the classroom, and thus creating a more dynamic and stimulating learning environment.

I was introduced to the world of digital scholarship last year, when I began working as an intern for Dr. Bernard K. Means in the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Part of our mission is to travel to various archaeological sites across Virginia, using our NextEngine desktop 3D scanner to scan a selection of historic and prehistoric artifacts from their collections. We then edit the digital files and create three-dimensional models of the artifacts in our lab that can be shared and studied by students, scholars, and researchers via computer and internet resources. We can also print highly accurate plastic replicas of these models using our MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer. In doing this work I found myself immediately drawn to the idea of utilizing 3D technology in the classroom as an educational tool.

It became clear to me that the digital models and plastic replicas we were creating had tremendous potential for supplementing information taught in archaeology, anthropology, history, and osteology classes. Members of the VCL team have recently tested this by putting together a series of lessons in these subjects to share with history students at Clover Hill High School and archaeology students at VCU. These turned out to be terrifically successful lessons, especially in the archaeology classes. This was meaningful to me, as the archaeological record and archaeological materials are not nearly as well utilized as they should be in classrooms. By creating accurate and easily accessible renderings of artifacts and ecofacts, they can be far more easily integrated into lessons and appreciated by a much broader range of students.

I believe that the use of 3D technology in archaeology has tremendous potential in the field when it comes to curation, preservation, research, and education, but the innovative use of technology at VCU stretches far beyond this discipline and our project. Students from across the university are constantly finding new ways to utilize technology to benefit their education, which will undoubtedly enrich the learning experience of all who attend our school. Digital Pragmata at VCU is a brilliant way of bringing together all of these innovations and uniting them so that we may learn from one another and work together to build an even stronger future for incoming students – as well as ourselves.

Members of the Virtual Curation Laboratory frequently give demonstrations of our technology at professional meetings and conferences, and one thing that I have heard from professionals on multiple occasions is that 3D imaging and the virtualization of archaeological data is going to revolutionize archaeology – and we, as students, are helping to initiate it. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to be involved in something so influential to my field of study, and to be one of the driving forces behind what it will eventually become. Understanding and appreciating technology and our ability to shape it into something educationally beneficial is an essential part of today’s learning experience, and we would be foolish not to take advantage of it!

Ashley McCuistion is a senior anthropology student at Virginia Commonwealth University, with a strong focus in archaeology. She is also the Digital Curator for the Virtual Curation Laboratory, which is housed in the School of World Studies. Her research has centered mostly on digital artifact curation and education.