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Laconia Virtual Archaeology project (LAVA)

virtual excavation: view model of site

One of the biggest challenges for students studying archaeology is getting fieldwork experience, a challenge that has been recognised internationally by a number of governments and higher education bodies.  The opportunities for students to gain real-world fieldwork experience are limited, therefore it is advantageous to be able to utilise computer technologies to provide realistic virtual fieldwork scenarios that can both complement and enhance real-world activities.  The Laconia Virtual Archaeology project (LAVA) aims to meet these goals: it was developed in cooperation with SALTIRE and funded by grants from FILTA (Fund for Initiatives in Learning, Teaching and Assessment) and SELF (Strategic Enhancement of Learning Fund).

The aim of LAVA is not to replace real world fieldwork, but rather to provide realistic simulations that allow students to better prepare for any involvement with a real excavation.  These objectives have been achieved through the combination of a 3D game engine, 2D maps and a group-based learning environment developed by the Schools of Computer Science and Classics.  The combination of these technologies with digital resources sourced from real archaeological excavations allows the School of Classics to provide an engaging, realistic and pedagogically sound environment for enhancing students’ learning of archaeology.

The excavation simulator has been designed to meet four pedagogical goals; the system aims to be:

Computer games were used as a starting point for LAVA as they provide high levels of user engagement.  Realism is achieved by deploying a range of technologies from 3D virtual worlds to high-definition photographs and maps.  A group-based framework for learning environment composition and deployment is used to provide a teamwork dimension and to aid the integration of the different gaming technologies and methods.  This is all delivered via a web interface, so “anytime anywhere” access and consequently self-paced learning is supported.

virtual excavation: view dig (site plan)

The LAVA system has been evaluated by a number of undergraduate students.  The results show promise and have highlighted a number of areas of future development work.  Future evaluation sessions will focus on the educational development of the LAVA platform and will seek to find ways in which the interactivity of the system can be enhanced.

The possibility of expanding the use of LAVA into different educational domains is being actively pursued.  Of particular interest are the fields of geography and geology, owing to their potential for virtual fieldwork.

Further information is available from Rebecca Sweetman (Classics, e-mail rs43) or Alan Miller (Computer Science, e-mail alan@dcs).

virtual excavation: view artefact (coin)