Teaching Osteology- BC (Before COVID)

Hello! My name is Micayla Spiros and I am a fellow in the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) fellowship initiative for the 2020-2021 school year. I am a third year doctoral student in the Anthropology Ph.D. program with a specialization in forensic anthropology. My dissertation research focuses on growth and development of the human skeleton and understanding when and why variations in the skeleton occur from a biocultural approach. I received my B.A. in Anthropology from Miami University, the one in Ohio— which technically was a university before Florida was a state. I then went to University College London, Institute of Archaeology and received my M.Sc. in Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology.

What led me to apply for CHI? I was teaching human osteology labs here at Michigan State during the 2020 spring semester, the beginning of COVID-19. I was responsible for figuring out how to change in-person, hands-on laboratories into online experiences. With the quick turnaround, I realized that open-source, online resources for osteology were limited but that there is such great potential (see Rachael Carew’s research on 3D modeling in the forensic sciences). Something that my discipline relies on is being able to visualize skeletal variation whether it be for biological sex, age, stature, ancestry estimation or trauma analysis. When it comes to the majority of anatomical textbooks, the elements that are photographed or diagramed are “normal” depictions of bones. There is a lack of open-access pedagogical tools that go beyond the basic bony features not allowing comprehensive, method-focused education. While there is some scholarship that specifically focus on skeletal variations, these resource rely on diagrams and photography. The truest way to understand human variation is by looking at as many examples of three-dimensional bones as possible. This way of learning limits those who do not have access to large skeletal collections. My goal through this fellowship is to make scholarship as accessible as possible in biological anthropology, not only due to the virtual society that COVID-19 has propelled our world into, but also to give access to resources to as many individuals as possible, regardless of a pandemic.  Cultural heritage informatics broadly allows pedagogical outreach to anyone interested in the field without the constraints of networks, travel, or inclusion in academia.

I have also created social media platforms both for the MSU Forensic Anthropology Laboratory (Instagram) and for the Forensic Anthropology journal (Twitter and Instagram). Through these platforms I have seen how social media brings a whole new level of outreach to the public. While social media is both a blessing and a curse, I believe it can be used for good to involve interested students through digital scholarship, to archive research through imagery, to engage the greater public, and to bolster collaboration and community-building within disciplines at large. As a CHI fellow, I will aim to explore the ethics of digitizing osteology, the technological implications of public outreach, and to create resources that allow equitable access to students on a global scale.

Follow me on Twitter @MicaylaSpiros