Home > Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project > Teaching in the Sun: Managing Fatigue

Teaching in the Sun: Managing Fatigue

(Crossposted to Pyla-Koutsopetria Staff Blog and Teaching Thursday)

One of the key challenges that we face on Cyprus is managing the fatigue of students and staff.  Our archaeological project often spends over 8 hours a day in the sun working on our trenches, processing pottery in the museum, or visiting other ancient sites.  Most of students (and staff) come from mild climates like central or western Pennsylvania or North Dakota.  By the end of the first week of work, the effect of the sun, work, hours, combine with the lingering remains of jet lag to produce a very tired cohort of students.  Despite the fatigue, the students and staff have to keep pushing in their rigorous schedule if we hope to accomplish our research and pedagogical goals.  In general, the students enjoy the rigor.  Our site is beautifully situated on the south coast of Cyprus, the trench supervisors are an exceptional lot, and there comes a feeling of comradery from working together long hours in the field. 

The downside of this, of course, is that as the students become more tired, they become less susceptible to learning.  This goes for staff as well.  There is just enough of the macho ethic in archaeology that staff work beyond their maximum fatigue levels and become less effective both as excavator and teachers.

It would be easy to simply suggest that we take more time off or ease back on our schedule just a bit, but the students have traveled quite a ways and paid a good bit of money to experience both the culture and history of Cyprus and gain experience as excavators.  So, every time that we consider cutting back on the “contact hours”, we worry that we are shortchanging the students.  As the students become more fatigued, of course, the quality of contact hours decreases.  There is some threshold beyond which it is not useful to keep the students in the field working under the argument that we are doing it to provide them with the fullest learning experience! 

This challenge of balancing work load and actual learning has made me think of how we organize our classes during the regular school year.  For example, at my home institution, University of North Dakota, it is fairly common for students to take many credits above the typical 15 credit work load.  This puts pressure on the students to function at a relatively high level even under significant stress from their increasing workload.  While the visible evidence for the fatigue is more striking when students are doing archaeological fieldwork, the fatigue and stress experienced during the academic year is no less real. 

The issue that arises, of course, is where is the threshold where students can maximize their experiences on a project or in a class, while still functioning at a high enough level to appreciate it.  If you push too hard and the students break down, tempers flair, and decision making (a key aspect of archaeological fieldwork and learning) unravels.  If you don’t push hard enough, you’ll leave experiences and work on the table.  To make matters more complex, some students and staff can go at maximum intensity for weeks on end, while some break down after only a week of the stress of working and managing a complex group of students and scholars.

Today is the end of our first week in the field and while we planned on going into the field all afternoon, it is clear that the students (and staff!) need some time off to recover from the first full week of excavating.  We’re going to work for a half day today and then take most of Sunday morning off.  Our GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) team arrives later today…

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