We know that doing hands-on research is an excellent way of developing critical thinking, communication skills, attention to detail, and much more – in short, skills which would be handy in any job.

In 2017, my colleagues Dr Brian Ballsun-Stanton (Data Architect) and Nicolle Leary (Project Manager) and I (Dr Alexandra Woods) established the Beni Hassan Research Group (BHRG), and invited Ancient History students to join. We thought this would be a great opportunity for our doctoral and undergraduate students to actively and collaboratively engage with authentic research undertaken at Macquarie University. The group shares one goal: to develop an online visual archive to showcase current research on Beni Hassan, a site in middle Egypt that Macquarie University holds the concession to record and publish.

Beni Hassan website

The research, part of a current ARC Discovery Project ‘Measuring Meaning in Egyptian Art: A new approach to an intractable problem’ , involves high profile industry partners, including researchers from Macquarie and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2016-2018).

The BHRG is where staff and students work and learn collaboratively by successfully marrying teaching and research, and we apply a learning in partnership methodology to create an inclusive knowledge-building community.

The participating students build capacity in 9 key areas related to a broad spectrum of professional pathways:

  • written communication
  • data curation
  • digital literacy and key technology skills
  • interpersonal skills
  • teamwork
  • problem solving
  • initiative and enterprise
  • self-development
  • learning to learn

Drawing on photographs, line art and architectural plans collected by the Macquarie University expedition (led by Professor Naguib Kanawati working at Beni Hassan in Egypt [2009-present]), the BHRG aims to curate a visual dictionary at benihassan.comfor all inscribed tombs at the site. Over 18 months the students and academics in the group have created a sophisticated data model (our primary Google Sheet has 15 sheets, each with hundreds of rows), representing the tomb’s metadata and the academic research in a systematic and consistent fashion. Using the static site generator engine Jekyll, we transformed the books produced by the Australian Centre for Egyptology into online resources that everyone can use and share. While our research is still in progress, this digital transformation of academic books into a website designed for popular audiences represents an exciting challenge in Digital Humanities. Our students are now familiar with large data transformation processes and the detailed and exacting work needed to make this content accessible to a global audience.

Students were responsible for driving the project and creating the content for the digital exhibition. Each student self-assigned tasks, which ranged from learning to adapt photos and line art, writing accessible descriptions of the various features or scene details in the tomb, through to editing descriptions written by both staff and students. As such, the students were responsible for completing the workflow according to specific guidelines, a template and timeline, all formulated by the group.

The dialogic learning environment was characterised by respectful collaboration and open-ended learning opportunities, and has had a positive impact on student motivation, engagement and self-identity.

Students are able to develop key discipline specific knowledge and skills as well as build essential employability skills (predominantly digital and technical literacy, communication, and interpersonal) through Egyptology, which can be showcased as part of their professional portfolio and CV.

We would like to thank all our students for their continuous passion and engagement: Kirstyn Baker, Penelope Blake, Dominique Brown, Carly Blair, Shannon Collis, Alyssa De Luna, Madeline Jenkins, Kate Keeble, Brittany Priwer, Hannah Vogel, and Ashley Wong.

Do you engage your students in learning through research partnerships? How do you support their learning through research? Share with us in the comments below.

For more information please contact Dr Alexandra Woods or visit the website benihassan.com. Watch out for a follow up post on Teche, where our BHRG students report on their experience and skills gained.

Written by A. Woods, L. Mantai, B. Ballsun-Stanton and N. Leary

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Posted by Alex Woods

I am an Egyptologist in the Department of Ancient History @ Macquarie. I write about ancient Egyptian visual culture and am the academic lead for the Beni Hassan Research Group | benihassan.com

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