TEACHING CLASSICS WITH TECHNOLOGY

Edited by Bartolo Natoli & Steven Hunt

Bloomsbury (2019) p/b 246pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781350110939)

This must surely now become the seminal text now for all those engaged in the teaching of classics, whether the languages or civilisation. It is also extremely relevant to those who are interested in the development and application of technology in schools and colleges, regardless of subject specialism. 

The editors have skilfully put together a collection of 19 pertinent case studies, all written by current practitioners in schools, colleges and universities in the UK and USA. Each describes the author’s methodology clearly, explaining how their practice is rooted in pedagogical and philosophical theories and providing rigorous evaluation of the success of their approach. Copious notes and references support each chapter, and appendices provide a glossary and a brief outline of the British and American educational systems.

A recurrent theme is the desire to engage students more and to ensure that they become active learners. Kate Gilliver describes her experiments in ‘flipped learning’ at Cardiff University, including the students’ feedback. Justin Schwamm expounds on his ‘mythocosmic’ approach to online language learning in the USA, where students create their own stories to act as a framework for their language learning. Steven Hunt analyses and reflects on the use of an interactive whiteboard in a UK classroom to increase student engagement. Elizabeth Lewis offers a detailed evaluation of how she created a live editing environment to allow more reticent members of her A-level Latin class to share their thoughts on a set text. Similarly, at his American university, Roger Travis exploited the annotation feature of Google docs to enable his students to collaborate on analysing and discussing texts. 

Bartolo Natoli adopted a Project-Based Learning approach for an advanced undergraduate seminar which resulted in students using ICT to create their own full text commentary, complete with an apparatus criticus. The employment of hand-held voting devices led to greater engagement by students in Helen Lovatt’s university lecture theatre. In her British secondary school, Caron Downes encourages students not only to use ipads for making their own notes, but also to collate images into videos, on topics such as Greek drama and Roman sacrifice. Over the past ten years, Alan Chadwick has written an entirely new ‘blended learning’ Latin course, CyberCaesar, for his department; with digital technologies and online activity an integral part of this. It has been highly successful not just in terms of GCSE examination results, but also in motivating students. 

Some chapters describe projects which have been developed by individuals for others to utilise more widely. Matthew Nicholls explains how he has constructed a 3D computerised model of Imperial Rome and how students can ‘fly’ around the model, increasing their understanding of how the city worked and then move on to create models of their own. Scott Arcenas gives a comprehensive account of how the Stanford digital tool ORBIS (a geospatial network model of the Roman World) can help students to understand and conceptualise the geography of the ancient world. Ray Laurence discusses how he developed two animated films or cartoons for school children: one on teenage life in ancient Rome, with more of a male focus, and one on four sisters, both including references to teenage betrothal. Sonya Nevin, too, has developed animations, in her case bringing scenes from Greek vases to life, for schools from primary age upwards. In America, Jessie Craft has promulgated the use of Minecraft based videos to provide a compelling and immersive Latin language learning medium for students. Stephen Slota and Kevin Ballestrini give an account of the philosophical concepts behind their new project in Connecticut, Operation LAPIS, an immersive, interactive adventure in Roman life where students have their own avatars. 

Lisa Hay considers a number of aspects of multi-modal teaching, referring to academic studies as well as giving specific examples of how to make use of ICT in the classroom in a specific lesson. Verity Walden draws on her experience to evaluate the effectiveness of different types of distance learning, using video-conferencing, message boards and email. The OxLat outreach programme for state schools provides the focus for Emma Searle’s chapter on the employment of VLEs in distance learning. Mair Lloyd and James Robson examine the success of the Open University’s new interactive online Latin course.

It is apparent from these case studies that using technology for interactive learning is beneficial for the teachers too, enabling them both to understand more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and to refine and reflect on their own practice. However, this approach to learning and teaching is no soft option, in particular, for those who have developed their own materials spending many hours designing and revising it. Students rightly expect feedback, indeed, increasingly in this digital age, instant feedback—this places a not insignificant burden on their teachers. 

This book aims ‘not only to shine the spotlight on the tremendous and innovative uses of instructional technology occurring in Classics classrooms across the globe, but also to provide fodder for inspiration and debate, for collaboration and networking, and—ultimately—for teaching and learning.’ I have no doubt that it fulfils these aims and will be an inspiration to countless teachers.

Marion Gibbs

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