Virtual teaching collections in Archaeology and Classics: turning artefacts into 3D models

Dr Robert Hosfield, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Year of activity: 2015/16

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The project tested different methods for producing and disseminating 3D models of existing artefacts in the teaching collections of Classics and Archaeology. 3D scanning was labour intensive and struggled to accurately represent some of the raw materials. By contrast photogrammetry was more cost and time effective and produced better quality results (see attached figure). Sketchfab was an effective, user-friendly platform for disseminating the models (, and student feedback was positive.


  1. Produce and evaluate 3D laser scans of 10 lithic artefacts and 5 ceramic artefacts from the teaching collections of Classics and Archaeology, with analysis of 3D model resolution, cost, and time requirements, and dissemination options;
  2. Document student evaluations of the new resources.


Archaeology and Classics have wide ranging teaching collections of objects, both genuine and replica, from the human past (e.g. Greek and Roman ceramics). While students have access to this material in practical classes and seminars, out-of-class access is more difficult, due to (i) the intensive use of the teaching spaces holding the collections, and (ii) the fragility of selected specimens. The project explored methods that could enable students to engage with this material evidence through digital models.


The project was primarily undertaken by four Reading students, both postgraduate and undergraduate: Rosie-May Howard (Bsc Archaeology, Part 2), Matthew Abel (BA Museum Studies & Archaeology, Part 1), Daniel O’Brien (BA Ancient History & Archaeology, Part 3), and James Lloyd (Classics, PGR). Supervision and support was provided by Prof. Amy Smith (Classics), Dr Rob Hosfield (Archaeology) and Dr Stuart Black (Archaeology). The four students undertook the following tasks:

(i) Testing the URE Museum’s NextengineTM HD 3D scanner and associated processing software ScanStudioTM to produce 3D laser scan models of selected artefacts (ceramics from the Ure Museum and stone tools from the Archaeology teaching collections).

(ii) Testing 3D printing of the laser scan models using the URE museum’s CubeProTM 3D printer.

(iii) Testing the digital representation of the same range of artefacts through photogrammetry, using memento by Autodesk.

(iv) Trialing the use of Sketchfab as a remote site for posting, storing and accessing the 3D models.

(v) Assessing student responses to the models through a Surveymonkey questionnaire.


(i) The 3D laser scan models provided volumetric data (unlike the photogrammetry models), but struggled with the regular shapes and repeating patterns which were characteristic of many of the ceramics. The laser scanning process was also time-intensive.

(ii) The laser scanner struggled to represent some of the stone artefacts, with the resulting models characterised by poorly defined edges and ‘holes’, due to the material properties of the flint raw material.

(iii) Photogrammetry was used successfully to create 3D models of ceramics from the Ure museum collection.

(iv) Sketchfab was a flexible interface for ‘touching up’ and annotating the models, and was more user-friendly than other options (e.g. scanstudio).

The quality of the 3D printing was mixed, leading to a decision during the project to focus on digital models that could be accessed on-line.

(v) Students responded positively to the virtual models, and would like to see more in future!

Sample survey questions and responses:

Q: What (if any) other objects/material types would you like to see as 3D models?

A: It would be interesting to see 3D models of smaller, more dainty objects as these can often be difficult to look at on such a small scale.

Q: Do you have any other comments?

A: This is a great project that should keep going! P.S. A scale will be helpful for accurately describing the objects. There’s a Part 2 Archaeology module called Artefacts in Archaeology and the scans could be used as an at-home resource by students.


The project was successful in clearly highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 3D laser scan and photogrammetry methods for creating digital models of artefacts. In terms of cost and time it was clear that photogrammetry was a more effective method, while the experiments with 3D printing emphasised on-line hosts such as Sketchfab as the most effective way of disseminating the models.

More specifically, exploring the photogrammetry option highlighted the potential of the Agisoft PhotoScan software as an effective method for Museums or HEIs wishing to capture large collections for teaching and/or archiving purposes.

Student responses emphasised the importance of providing a wide range of models if these sorts of teaching resources are to be further developed.

Follow up

Archaeology has purchased copies of the Agisoft PhotoScan software and is currently looking to develop a photogrammetry-based digital database of its teaching collections.

At the Ure Museum 3D scans are being made available via Sketchfab and more thorough use of photogrammetry is being considered; virtual models of the vases scanned for CL1GH are being used in seminars this term.


Flipping Earth Science practicals and the use of digital specimens

Dr Hazel McGoff, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Year of activity: 2016/17


This project established a library of digital images of our key mineral and rock specimens. Annotated explanatory labels were added to the images to create a resource that can be used to help students familiarise themselves with the specimens before laboratory practical sessions and for reinforcement and revision afterwards.


The aim of this project was to establish a digital resource that could be used alongside practical specimen-based teaching and learning.


While students can handle and see (as well as sometimes smell and taste!) specimens in practical classes, gaining skills in mineral and rock identification takes practice and time. The use of annotated digital images allows participants to gain familiarity with the specimens and their key characteristics before each practical class, thus allowing them to use their time in the laboratory more effectively.  Relevant modules include GV1DE Our Dynamic Earth, GV2GRE Geological Resources as well as some Archaeology teaching.


Three students and a photographer were key to the success of this project.  George Biddulph, a Part 2 Geography student selected specimens to be photographed and we were able to have a large number of high quality digital images taken by a semi-professional photographer. Two final year students Emma Warner (Geography) and Chloe Knight (Environmental Science) used Powerpoint to add annotations and explanatory labels to the specimen images.


This activity was successful in terms of producing the images and using Powerpoint to add labels and annotations. These will be used in 2017-18 taught modules. The project has also been useful in ‘kick starting’ the use of the collections in modules such as GV2MPL Summer Microplacement and also setting up volunteer sessions one afternoon a week during term. These give students the opportunity to identify and catalogue more of the collections.


This project will be used in teaching in 2017-18 so additional reflection will be needed later in the session. Due to time constraints the photography of the specimens was contracted to someone outside the University. Ideally this would also have been allocated to a student.


The information will be made available on Blackboard later in term. Selected specimens are being featured on the Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Reading Facebook page.


Example image of rock sample

Example image of rock sample

Using wikis for assessed group work in new history modules

Shirin Irvine – TEL Adviser, CQSD

Image of Shirin Irvine


For the academic year 2015/16, the Department of History offered a brand-new Part 1 programme as part of the History Project. This resulted in the development of three new core modules.

Dr Mara Oliva transformed common practice by using technology to carry out full electronic assessment for her module. This project included multiple aspects of digital pedagogy, using Blackboard to perform engaging assessment.  This was achieved through innovative and effective use of Blackboard Groups in combination with Blackboard Wikis and Turnitin Assignments, in addition to the Grade Centre for administering students’ marks.

What is a wiki?

A wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to work as a group on one project and write shared content in the form of a website. They can create a series of web pages that can include images, web links and videos, collectively responding to a theme.

Dr Mara Oliva – Lecturer in Modern American History (20th century)

Image of Mara Olive

Mara explains how she used the wiki tool within Blackboard as a new tool for summative assessment.

The Culture Wiki

Journeys through History 2 aims to introduce students to major historical ideas, concepts, beliefs and knowledge systems, and to show how these are exemplified in material culture, with reference to artefacts, buildings, paintings and other works of art, literature and media.

We wanted the assessment tools we chose to reflect the cultural and visual elements of the module. Therefore we decided to use a group wiki of 2,000 words (50% of the module mark), which we called the Culture Wiki, and an individual 2,000-word essay on one of the historical concepts.

The Culture Wiki allowed students to create and contribute to several web pages of course-related material. They were expected to display their research, analytical and communication skills by building a website meant for public consumption. In small groups, students created their wikis based on a theme discussed during lectures. Lecturers provided themes in the module handbook and on Blackboard.

Our aims for using this form of assessment were to teach students the importance of teamwork and how to write in a concise and accessible way in order to develop an understanding of public history, which offers many employability opportunities to history graduates.

Impact – great results! 

Overall, the exercise was very successful! According to the feedback, both students and staff enjoyed working on the Culture Wiki. Students said it gave them a chance to look at history from a different angle and realise how many flexible and transferable skills they can gain through studying history.

We then decided to take this a step further and extend full electronic assessment to the individual assay, using Turnitin Assignments. This was received very enthusiastically by the students, who appreciated the immediacy and flexible, 24/7 access technology can offer.

The project, however, would have never taken off without the invaluable support of the TEL team, in particular Shirin Irvine, Lauren McCann and Maria Papaefthimiou. With their help we arranged training and guidance for the department staff on creating and assessing wikis, using Turnitin for e-assessment, and using the Grade Centre.

To support students, we provided a separate handbook with “how to build a wiki” guidelines, which was uploaded on Blackboard. I then dedicated part of the first lecture to introducing the exercise and answering the questions. Overall, students did not need much support and were very quick at learning – their questions were mainly content related.

We are very pleased with the outcome of the project, so we have decided to continue for the foreseeable future!

Using quickmarks and rubrics in online assessment – Catherine Foley

Catherine Foley is a lecturer in Primary Maths Education in the Institute of Education. She is Director of the Primary School Direct programme which trains people to be teachers whilst they are working in schools.

Image of Catherine Foley


Catherine describes her experience of using the Feedback Studio to move from Word-based marking an assignment to full use of Grademark.


Catherine Foley is a lecturer in Primary Maths Education in the Institute of Education. She is Director of the Primary School Direct programme which trains people to be teachers whilst they are working in schools. Her experience of electronic marking relates primarily to a 20 credit postgraduate module which is part of this programme, developing the reflective practice and critical thinking of the trainees. The module is assessed through one piece of written work which is assessed formatively and summatively and is taken by approximately 80 students each year.


Up until the current academic year, although students would submit their work through Turnitin (for both formative and summative attempts), they would receive feedback in the form of underlined grading sheets and text-based comments which would be completed for each student and uploaded to be released to them via Grade Centre. As with other IoE programmes, all submission, grading and feedback for this assessment is now carried out electronically.

This year, we decided to use the full electronic feedback option for both assessments since the first formative experience would give students (and staff) the chance to get used to the system. We
developed our own rubric for the assessment. For the formative assessment, we decided not to use quickmarks but just to focus on becoming familiar with using the rubric. For the summative
assessment, both a rubric and quickmarks were used: the quickmark set is the same as that used for other initial teacher training programmes.

In my own marking, I found it helpful, when getting started, to open out the full rubric in a grid from the sidebar in the feedback studio. After a while, I was clear what the different statements meant and so could use the sliders more confidently.


  • Speed of marking. Although marking has not been any quicker so far overall, it is likely that this will speed up as the administrative problems are ironed out and we get to know the
    system. Not having to save individual files saves a lot of time which can be spent on quality feedback.
  • Ease of moderation. Because all the assessment and feedback is in the same place, it is much more straightforward and a module convenor is easily able to quality-assure the marking
    that is taking place.
  • Curriculum review opportunity. Developing our own rubric for the assessment encouraged us to review what we had been doing. It made use stop and examine our taken-for-granted practice.
  • Student ownership of feedback. We had a workshop on developing academic writing and it was interesting to see all the students with their laptops open, looking at very specific
    pieces of contextualised feedback received online for their first assignment.
  • Using rubric reports for bespoke study advice sessions. We used the function in Turnitin to generate a report on how well students had achieved as a cohort in relation to the different
    rubric themes. We sent the report to one of the study advisers who was then able to use this to pinpoint areas to focus upon in helping students work towards their next assignment.


Many of the challenges we experienced were due to the fact that the assessment is marked by five different members of staff:

  • When we were using Word-based documents for feedback, we could shape and guide the feedback which tutors were giving more easily (for example with a writing frame). In the feedback studio, the text comment box presents markers with a blank space so it has been harder to ensure a common approach across markers. We therefore agreed a common structure for feedback in this box.
  • The marking team had differing levels of experience with electronic marking. Because the quickmark set had to be uploaded by each marker to their Blackboard account and not all markers were present on campus at the same time, this was a logistical challenge.
  • With the options for quickmarks, rubric statements and open text comments, it would be easy for markers to over-assess each piece of work. Our agreement was that, since students were getting extra feedback in terms of the first two kinds of feedback, the final text comments should be brief and simply recognise specific areas of success then pinpoint areas for
  • Limitations in functionality of the feedback studio. Some markers liked to be able to use Word to check the number of times a student has used a particular phrase or look at the
    consistency between citations and references: you can’t currently move around the document so easily (unless you download it). Some warning or confirmation messages from
    the system (for example when moving onto the next piece of work) would make it still more user-friendly. With several people involved in marking an assignment, it is easy for markers
    to accidentally change each other’s grades – it would be helpful if grades and comments could be ‘locked’ in some way. Are different levels of access possible, so that external examiners can see the feedback studio but without being able to change feedback?
  • There are still issues (mostly to do with administrative protocols) to iron out. The IoE is currently reviewing its moderation processes and determining the extent to which
    students know they have been included. Programme directors are working with their admin teams to determine exactly how
    academics will be informed when an ECF assignment has been submitted.