Interview by Barbara O’Neill. Published in Magazine Articles on Egyptological. April 3rd 2012.
River and valley first attracted ancient settlers to Bolton in the north of England, whilst agriculture, wool and cotton brought the town its wealth at the dawn of the Industrial revolution. Fast-forward through the centuries and it was a completely different river in another agricultural valley which caught the attention of Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, a native of Bolton, whose academic career has largely focused on the culture of ancient Egypt.
After earning a first class honours degree in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean from the University of Liverpool in 1981, Joyce Tyldesley went on to complete her doctorate in Archaeology, earning a D.Phil from the University of Oxford in 1986. Tyldesley began her teaching career at Liverpool before taking up her current post at the University of Manchester. Aside from her teaching commitments on the Masters programme and in the supervision of PHD students, Dr. Tyldesley oversees an impressive range of online Egyptology delivered via Manchester University’s Virtual Learning Environment.
Students from many different countries are currently enrolled on Tyldesley-designed and led six week ‘Short Courses’ covering a range of topics including; ‘Weapons and Warfare’; ‘Queens of Ancient Egypt’ and ‘Gods and Goddesses’. The latest in the Short Course series, available for the first time this October, focuses on the ever-popular subject of Tutankhamen, also the subject of Dr. Tyldesley’s latest book (published in the UK as, “Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King” and in the USA as, “Tutankhamen: The Search for an Egyptian King”).
The ‘Certificate in Egyptology’ offers a three-year syllabus covering the main periods of Egyptian history. All Manchester’s online Egyptology courses are delivered through the ‘Blackboard’ e-learning system; an innovative ‘Virtual Learning Environment’. The availability of digital resources from the University itself; from Manchester Museum’s Egypt and Sudan collection and with online access to the impressive John Rylands Library, have placed Manchester in a leading position at the sharp end of distance learning.
Distance learning at Manchester has developed from an initial correspondence format to today’s digitally delivered programme which draws on state-of-the-art pedagogic technology still in development when the University first went online with the Certificate course in 2004.
In February 2012, Dr. Tyldesley announced the latest in the University’s impressive portfolio of online courses. The Diploma in Egyptology is set to receive its first intake of students in October; some (not all) will be tech-savvy graduates of previous Tyldesley-designed distance Egyptology. Recently, this busy academic took some time out to discuss Manchester’s pioneering online Egyptology programmes:
Please tell us about the new Diploma course and why it is so unique.
JT: I am really quite pathetically excited about the new Diploma course. It is a two year course which serves as an extension to our well-established Certificate in Egyptology. It carries 120 credits, so that a student who has passed both the Certificate and the Diploma will have 240 credits in total (120 from the Certificate at Level 1 and 120 from the Diploma at Level 2). It is unique because it is taught entirely on-line through a mixture of written material, lectures and activities. It is, as far as I know, the only university Egyptology Diploma to be taught in this way.
What persuaded Manchester to run a distance Diploma course in Egyptology when no other UK university has taken that decision?
JT: Manchester University is committed to developing the Diploma to build on the success and staff expertise of the Certificate course. However, I feel that the sheer enthusiasm of the Manchester students, past, present and future, has played an extremely important role in its development. Without their backing and constructive comments the Diploma would have remained an unachievable dream.
What would you describe as the most challenging and rewarding aspects of distance teaching and learning from both the tutor and student perspectives?
JT: Before I started teaching distance learning, I imagined that the most challenging aspect would be the isolation. I thought that it might be difficult to achieve the sense of belonging to a community that one gets (as both student and lecturer) from face-to-face teaching. I was very wrong. I now realise that it is possible to develop a huge sense of community spirit, uniting people separated by many miles and several generations. The enthusiasm of our students, and their varying expertise, never ceases to amaze me. In fact I now run a Facebook group for ex-students who are reluctant to leave Manchester and each other.
For me, the hardest part can be that I never feel off duty – there is always a temptation to go on-line and see what has been posted. But that is both a blessing and a curse: I enjoy it. The best part is definitely meeting so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I have students all over the world, from Australia to Canada. Whatever we are discussing, be it art, or medicine, or boat building, I can be fairly confident that I will have an artist, or a doctor, or a boat-builder in my class to add to the discussion!
A major benefit of this type of learning is that it is available to anyone who has access to a computer and Internet line: it therefore becomes a viable option for anyone who could not access a university class in the usual way. But this can lead to problems, too. So many of our students have other responsibilities and problems in their lives – jobs, unemployment, health issues, caring for others – that it can be difficult for them to find the time to do something for themselves. I therefore have the utmost respect for all the students: distance learning is hugely rewarding, but it is never an easy option.
What advice would you give to prospective students, unsure if they are up to the discipline and challenges of a two or three year study programme in Egyptology?
JT: If a potential student is interested in Egyptology, but is not sure about this method of learning and is maybe worried about a lack of computer skills, I would urge him or her to try one of our Short Courses in Egyptology first. These provide a very useful introduction to eLearning at Manchester, and are enjoyable in their own right. In fact there is no need to worry about this, as no great computer skills are needed – anyone who can reply to an email and search the web is more than capable of studying Egyptology on-line at Manchester.
Other students worry that they have been out of education for too long, or that others on the course will know far more than they do, and this makes them hesitate to apply. These worries are natural, but unfounded. We have a wide mixture of people on our various courses, and we benefit from their different life experiences. Some have in-depth knowledge of ancient Egypt when they start; others less so. What they all have is an enthusiasm for the subject.
There is a considerable emphasis in the Diploma course on settlements and technology. Is this intended as a complement to the subjects already covered in the Certificate course or are there other reasons for focusing on topics which are often only touched on in some courses?
JT: The Certificate course provides a good, broad basis for the study of ancient Egypt by taking a wide chronological approach, studying ancient Egypt from the Predynastic to the Roman Periods. The Diploma takes a deeper, more thematic approach, building on the knowledge acquired on the Certificate course to study specific aspects of ancient Egyptian culture in more depth.
When they have successfully completed the Diploma, what will students be qualified to do? For example, will the Diploma credits count towards a Bachelor’s degree?
JT: We cannot make any promises, because every university is different in what will, and what will not be accepted towards a Bachelor’s degree. So, all I can say is that students would have to check with the universities concerned.
Are there any hopes of an online BA at some time in the future?
JT: I have very strong hopes that this will happen one day. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I talk about it constantly. But there are no firm plans at the moment.
Could you tell us something of the history of online Egyptology at Manchester? The course began as a correspondence course?
JT: Yes. The Certificate course started as a conventional, face-to-face evening class devised and taught by Professor Rosalie David, who was then Keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum. When it became obvious that there was a wide audience for Egyptology taught at this level, it was converted into a highly successful correspondence course: information, including specially recorded video tapes, was posted out to the students on a regular basis.
With the advent of the Internet, the Certificate course moved on-line. This was originally done through “Courses for the Public”, where the Certificate was run by a group of tutors led by Professor David.
In 2007 “Courses for the Public” closed and the Certificate was transferred to the Faculty of Life Sciences, where it was able to benefit from the IT expertise offered by the dedicated eLearning team. At the same time the course was re-structured, and I was given a joint appointment (shared between the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and the Manchester Museum) to write and teach the course. Later that year I started to work with hieroglyph expert Dr Glenn Godenho. Glenn continues to make a very valuable contribution to eLearning Egyptology at Manchester.
In 2010, with the Certificate Course flourishing, I was given a full time teaching focused-role working from “Teaching and Learning” in the Faculty of Life Sciences. Stemming from this appointment, Short Courses in Egyptology was launched in 2011 to provide a series of thematic courses of online study for students who, for various reasons, could not enrol on the Certificate Course. Now, in 2012, Glenn and I are looking forward to– and are slightly nervous about – the launch of the Diploma!
Your most recent book deals with the subject of Tutankhamen. What would you most like people to understand about this particular king?
JT: I wanted to explore the fact that, although we are familiar with Tutankhamen as the ancient world’s most prominent celebrity, we tend to focus on just a few aspects of his life and times: his link to Akhenaten and Nefertiti, his untimely death, and his “bling”. In fact almost every artefact recovered from Tutankhamen’s tomb has its own story to tell, and these stories combine with archaeological evidence recovered outside the tomb to give us a much wider appreciation of Tutankhamen, his life and reign.
You have an impressive career as an author and Egyptologist; which period of Egyptian history fascinates you the most?
JT: A very difficult question to answer, because every time I study an aspect of ancient Egypt I become fascinated by it. I started my archaeological career studying prehistory and flint technology, and so the Predynastic will always be important to me. As my students probably realise, I will never tire of looking at decorated pottery. But I am also extremely interested in the Amarna age, and the royal women of that time. My next book will focus on Nefertiti, and our interpretation of her role at Amarna.
At the University of Manchester, Dr. Joyce Tyldesley continues to blaze a trail for online Egyptology, available now on a computer screen, ipad or laptop near you, at a time and place of your choosing.
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