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An Archaeology PhD by eMail

Leicester's Distance Learning Program


One of the hottest new uses of the Internet these days, and one many people are taking advantage of, is online or distance learning. Distance learning allows anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to learn new things from their home or work place, whether to take a single course or to get a degree in the subject of their choice. Archaeology as a discipline, while relatively quick to adapt to the new medium of the Internet for disseminating information, has been relatively slow in adopting to accredited distance learning for degrees, with only a handful of accredited schools offering programs so far.

In 2001, the first fully-accredited Ph.D. program for archaeological studies was introduced at the University of Leicester, in Leicester, England. Leicester's program is unusual, in that while a handful of schools are providing opportunities for bachelor's and master's degrees, such as the University of Exeter, and in Canada the universities of Victoria and Waterloo [update 2006: all of these programs have been discontinued], Leicester is the first Ph.D. program available through distance learning. And, probably because the original emphasis of distance learning classes has been vocational education, the focus of most of the other programs has been on cultural heritage management. In contrast, Leicester's program is on the academic study of archaeology and ancient history.

Leicester's Online Program

The way the Leicester program works is this. A prospective student registers at the university, and maintains intensive guidance and support from a designated research supervisor, by mail, email, and telephone. The program begins with modules on research skills and the context of the research to be undertaken, on completion of which all students attend a one-week residential course in Leicester where they familiarize themselves wtih the ranges of available resources, staff, and methods. After that, students are asked to attend one further study week in either their second or third year. The rest of the program can be completed from the student's home, although students may visit Leicester at any time.

Alan McWhirr, project leader for the program, developed the distance learning Ph.D. with a particular kind of student in mind. He described them recently as, "Students who have been professionally involved with archaeology and may have collected a great deal of data which they now want to analyse; or students who have been thinking about a particular research problem and now feel they are ready to conduct the research."

Bachelor's and Master's Degrees

Leicester also provides master's and bachelor's programs directed towards individuals who wish to work in professional archaeology, related fields such as museums, government agencies, national parks and heritage sites, and also in planning, landscape management, and the heritage tourism sector. The programs are open to any student, in any country, although classes are taught in English. As always, you are wise to choose a university based on the research interests of the faculty: faculty research is strong at Leicester in the areas of landscape archaeology, material culture studies, and historical archaeology from classical times to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What the program at Leicester and the other universities does is open up the possibilities for education to those people who could not otherwise get an advanced degree, who because of family responsibilities or economic necessity cannot enjoy the intellectual stimulation of the university environment--or the economic benefits of an advanced degree.

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