Practitioner in Training: Entering into a Community of Practice as an Online Graduate Student


This is an article I wrote for Anthropology News in 2008:

As a third year student in the University of North Texas’ (UNT) online master’s program in applied anthropology, I see graduate school as my introduction to a community of practitioners. As with students in more traditional programs, I have expectations that through my graduate experience I will learn about anthropological theory and research, meet other anthropologists and begin contributing to the discipline by producing my own work. I also expect—and have participated in—an experience that is in some ways quite different from the traditional.

The UNT program was designed to take advantage of the opportunities an online educational forum provides, and to manage the challenges that online students can encounter. For example, students are required to take a qualitative methods course that requires a class project conducted for a real client, which gives them experience not only with conducting anthropological research, but also with long distance collaboration and presentations. A lack of face-to-face communication can be a real challenge in developing close relationships with people you have not yet met. For this reason, each cohort of online students begins the program with a face-to-face orientation on campus. Relationships established during this time can be continued through communication in online forums.

Opportunities outside of the online classroom can also strengthen students’ educational experiences. In addition to working as a research assistant in the department and traveling to professional conferences, I have also been encouraged to join a local practitioner organization. An essential part of becoming an anthropologist is learning about the culture of the discipline through dialog with others in the field, which can be experienced through these local groups or online through blogs, listservs and various digital anthropological networks.

Jennifer Cardew is a graduate student in the online anthropology master’s program at the University of North Texas. In 2007 she initiated a project to make the Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting more accessible to students by providing selected sessions as free podcasts online at She is currently researching the graduate experience of on-campus and online students with Christina Wasson.

“Copyright 2008 American Anthropological Association. Reprinted from Anthropology News, Vol 49, issue 6, with the permission of the American Anthropological Association.”

Student Anthropologists blog


Many moons ago, myself and a couple of students at Wayne State University (Amy Goldmacher & Chris Miller) discussed creating a blog for student anthropologists.

We all met up at the EPIC conference last month and were re-energized about this idea. The focus has changed a bit, I think we’re going to try to create a dialog about what students should know about industry that they won’t learn in school, about collaborating with other disciplines, and also a mentoring type site.

More to come in the next few weeks, we have a teleconference planned. For now, be sure to check out the blog at Chris Miller has begun to post already.