Classically Inclined

June 18, 2013

Plans for next year and beyond

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:27 am
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As it’s now up on the website, I guess I can make the announcement – from the start of September, I will be joining the Department of Classics at Royal Holloway on a three year lectureship.

I’ve known about this for a while now and have been passing on the news to people in person, but for various reasons I wanted to wait for something more official before telling the internet. Obviously, I’m delighted. As anyone who has been following the job market knows, a three year job at the moment is an amazing break (and I have to admit that it’s only really just sinking in!). London is a brilliant place for me for personal as well as professional reasons; one of the things I am most looking forward to, if I’m honest, is the novelty of living with my husband. (Radical, I know.) The department at Royal Holloway, despite its well-publicised peril a few years ago, is full of interesting people working on interesting things, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in both teaching and research.

I will be sorry to leave my colleagues at Birmingham. Despite recent upheavals, they have been unfailingly generous and kind to me, particularly given that I’ve been on a Teaching Fellowship (and thus on a two-legged academic contract). They’ve been great to work with, and have put up with all sorts of things from me, most recently wandering around asking ‘what do you think the connection is between classics and spiritualism?’ and making loud verbal expressions of frustration at unhelpful secondary literature. However, I will be there until the end of August, so I have a while yet to enjoy their company.

I’ll blog some more about the teaching I will be doing at Royal Holloway later in the summer, but for now, it’s back to the research grindstone…

May 10, 2013

Unexpected dips: this year’s module evaluation forms

This week I’ve finished writing up my responses to this year’s load of module evaluation forms – I wrote a little bit about them last year, although under different circumstances. This year, we have a new shiny system – although the forms are still completed manually, they are processed by computer, which means that all the clever number-crunching stuff is now delivered to one’s inbox in a shiny PDF. Along with a duplicate e-mail containing the same shiny PDF along with data in three other PDFs which do not appear to be particularly distinct from one other, but never mind, it’s the main one that’s interesting. Particularly clever is the fact that the scanning machine can capture written responses, so as well as the prettified data the PDFs also contain scans of what students actually wrote – meaning the time I put aside to carefully type them all up was wasted, but that’s a small price to pay for progress.

When I last wrote about these module evaluations, I expressed quite a bit of frustration about the conflicting feedback, and the problems with actually identifying anything concrete to do about the sort of comments that completely contradict each other. For that reason, I’m usually a big advocate of using things like the CIQs and one minute papers to engage with students on a micro-level rather than wait for the final assessment when it’s too late to solve problems that have affected students throughout the course. But this time around, a couple of things stood out, and I do have a few things that I want to do differently next time.

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December 17, 2012

End of term wrap-up

What with one thing and another, I’ve been run off my feet for the last fortnight or so. Term has now officially been over for a week, but I don’t feel as if I’ve got the paperwork and administration for everything quite under control yet. It’s getting there, but there are a couple of things that still need finishing off. I have, of course, finished all my teaching. The Roman novel first year seminar is working much more smoothly than it did last year; this is partly due to the department increasing seminar lengths from one to two hours across the board, meaning there’s more space for presentations and discussions, but I think the tweaks to the syllabus that I made at the start of the year have paid off as well. There’s still one class that isn’t quite working as I want it to work, but I’ve had another go at redefining the discussion questions, so we’ll see if that helps. It is, in fairness, the class dealing with literary form (e.g. why are parts of the Satyricon in poetry, and do we care?), so I think it’s going to be a case of continually experimenting until I get the formula right. I shall miss my first year tutees, who will be disappearing off to pastures new, but it will be good to meet some more of the first year intake next term.

The Roman Life Course lectures are going well – I have a good group of students, and we’ve established what feels like a productive discussion-based atmosphere to complement the parts of the session where I lecture more traditionally. The material seems to be engaging the students’ interest, and I’m sneakily incorporating as much philosophical evidence for social history as I can – one of the surprise hits was Plutarch’s The Training of Children, which seems to have gone over rather well! The blog posts are still working more or less as I want them to, and the students seem to like the idea of blog-based work in principle even if the practice is a little shakier. I’m also glad that I decided to stick it out with the critical incident questionnaire, for the simple reason that it’s really helping me see what is and isn’t working with this sort of teaching.

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October 1, 2012

Syllabi-wrangling – the 2012-13 edition

Things have been so busy here that I haven’t had the chance to talk very much about what I am actually doing this year in terms of my teaching. I have three major courses that are swinging into action this term – the Roman Novel first year seminar again; intermediate Greek language; and a lecture option on the Roman Life Course. Now, I’ve been thinking a bit about the new forms of assessment and interaction I worked with last year, and have come up with some changes and alterations for this year’s teaching:

  • Learning logs: I am going to have another go at doing these, particularly with my first year students as I think there’s a real benefit to using them and getting good study habits established early. This is made a bit easier because all of the department’s seminars and projects now last for two hours rather than one, meaning there’s a bit more time not only to have decent discussion but also to include some more pastoral-style checking in, particularly at the first year level. So I am going to incorporate this into our weekly sessions and see whether that makes the learning log a more effective tool. I am, however, dropping the reflective journal from the option course, given how unpopular it was last year.
  • Blog posts: instead, I’m going to use the method from last year’s epic seminar in the option course.  This time around I’ve got twenty students enrolled rather than seventy, which should make using this kind of micro-format a bit simpler and let everyone get involved. As I don’t have a seminar this year, I’m suspect I’m going treat the option as a slightly over-large seminar, so we’ll see how well that goes.
  • CIQs: given that the numbers for the Roman Life Course are fairly small, I’m going to take the plunge and carry on using the Critical Incident Questionnaire with the students. I will admit to being a bit nervous about this – an option is a different kind of fowl to a seminar, after all, and there are slightly more students here than I thought I was comfortable with for using the CIQ. But we shall see how it goes, particularly as I want the comparative material on how well the method works with a larger group for whenever I eventually come to write something on this. I also want to be better at keeping records of student responses – I suspect the departmental scanner will come in handy!
  • Twitter: as I said in my reflections at the end of last year, I’m in the process of reconsidering how best to use Twitter in class. I am still requiring my first year students to use it as a way to keep up to date with developments in the discipline and cultivate a classical identity; however, I think I want to move towards a more social-media-esque attitude to it rather than a formal class discussion backchannel. I do know that a lot of my now-second years are still on it and are still using it for various purposes, so at least that is heartening. I’ve started a proper list of staff and students currently at the IAA, so hopefully that should also provide some potential for students to discover each other.
  • Discussion: I’ve also made some broad outline tweaks to the Roman Novel syllabus – after teaching the course twice, I think I’ve worked out what I wasn’t doing enough of (deep engagement with the primary texts), and I’m trying a more student-driven approach to discussion to see if that remedies the problem. I haven’t tried student-led discussion in my teaching very much, apart from a couple of sessions in epic at the very end of last term, so I’m curious to see how this works out.

The one course missing from all of this is, of course, intermediate Greek! I figured that getting to grips with a new textbook was going to be enough of a teaching challenge for the time being – we’ll see if I’ve changed my mind by the Christmas break…

August 17, 2012

Employment for next year

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:00 am
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September is creeping ever closer, and so I’m delighted to share that my contract as a Teaching Fellow in Latin Literature at Birmingham has been extended for another year.

In personal terms, this is a very promising step, as it means I’ll be in a familiar environment and won’t have to learn the administrative processes all over again – which, in turn, translates into more time, which (if I’m careful) I’ll be able to use to work on revising the book manuscript. There’s also a chance I’ll get to teach something directly related to the book, but as that’s still a bit up in the air I’ll say no more just yet. (Plus I don’t have to move. This is worth its weight in gold.)

However, this feels like a very simple solution to an extremely long-running and frustrating problem. Those who follow me on Twitter know that I have been submitting job and fellowship applications here, there and everywhere – twenty-eight at the last count, which is a lot for a field as small as Classics. Very few of those have progressed to interviews, and the ones that have have been teaching-focused rather than research-based. I have the very strong suspicion that’s because I don’t currently have a book contract under my belt. There’s been a bit of a build-up of researchers at my level over the last few years, so I’m competing against people with not just one but sometimes two or three books – and in the current REF-driven environment, that effectively means I don’t stand a chance. The hiring system doesn’t have a way to take into account that I am the earliest of early career researchers, and thus only need to submit one output to the assessment panels (although I’ve been working on ways to flag this fact up more clearly, as it’s not the sort of information that’s immediately obvious to people looking over applications). The requirements of the REF really do seem to be pushing hiring panels towards the bird in the hand, as it were, instead of thinking about how to nurture potential excellence – and, in fairness to the panels, they can do that because they have such a large pool of good people three or four years ahead of me in their careers to pick from.

I am looking forward to staying at Birmingham – I’ve really enjoyed working with my colleagues this year, I’m delighted that I get to see current students again and that I get to meet the new intake, and the coming year is going to have some interesting opportunities in it. But this year’s job hunt has made it inexorably clear that if I want to get any further next year, it’s all about getting that book contract nailed down.

July 18, 2012

New assignments – final reflections

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:05 am
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Well, the end of the teaching year has come and gone, so it’s more than time to have a last look at the new assignments I put in place this year and to see how they went. I have to say that I don’t think my feelings have changed much since I did the mid-year review, but it’s good to close the circle. I also wonder whether the reason my thoughts haven’t changed much is because I didn’t do enough myself as a teacher to change what was happening, or whether the way I incorporated the assignments in the first place simply wasn’t right.

I should note that although I picked up some new courses in the spring term (most significantly the Augustan and imperial literature core course), I did not make any innovations in how I was teaching those courses. (The additional workload may also explain why I didn’t make more of an effort with the new assessment strategies I felt were failing after the first term.) For the Augustan course, this was a simple matter of survival as there was a lot to prepare and cover, and mastery of the material was more important than innovative teaching with a course that was compulsory for so many students. However, I think I may have missed a trick with Latin IV, where I could have done some more interesting things with the teaching and how I chose to approach language instruction. That said, I did pick an unusual text (some of Seneca’s Epistulae Morales), and given all the other things I had on my plate for spring, that was probably enough extra innovation to work with.

  • Learning journals/reflective journals: the update on these continued to be poor, particularly the reflective journals for the religion lecture, and I’m afraid I wasn’t proactive enough a personal tutor to keep pressing my first years on their learning journals. I do think that this has got some potential as a tool, in a pastoral rather than a teaching setting, and I need to think about how best to optimise that, but I suspect I’m not going to go back to the journal as a teaching tool until I’ve seriously rethought it and read around a bit more about UK-specific successes with the strategy.
  • Blog posts: I continue to be really pleased with the way that these worked to get students thinking about secondary literature and engaging with it properly. Some of my colleagues have done other interesting things with blogs to get students to engage with primary sources in a similarly reflective way; perhaps next time I’ll think about doing something like that as well, if there’s an appropriate source to use. But I’m delighted to have finally found a way to get students to critically engage with secondary literature in a fairly deep and thoughtful manner that helps them develop the sorts of skills I want them using as they deal with that body of material in a supportive and useful environment. The one thing I do want to think about is how to get students commenting on each other’s blogs more – they were good at posting the original entries and at discussing responses in seminar, but less at engaging in discussion on-line.
  • The Critical Incident Questionnaire: my use of this has really made me think that I need to do more with it. I want to try using it with other classes and see what sort of responses I get. I’ve asked the students from the epic seminar to give me some feedback, but I think there’s some scope here for a bit of concentrated research and thinking about it as a strategy within classics more broadly. For that, I’ll need more students to experiment on… but this definitely feels like a technique with some potential.
  • Twitter: now, I’ve had a bit of a volte-face on this. The introduction of hash tags for each course definitely didn’t work – but over the last term, I’ve had more and more IAA students following me on Twitter. The Latin IV students have been particularly vocal, including one student who used the medium to arrange a pre-exam meeting to go over some passages we hadn’t got to in class.  I know my colleague in Law Martin George uses Twitter a lot to communicate with his students off-site (as it were); I’m wondering whether this more informal kind of contact, where students find you if they want you, is a more useful way of encouraging continued thinking about the subject than trying to impose formal hashtags and assessments which work better in an American-style assessment system (where students can hypothetically be given credit for participating in out-of-classroom discussions – much harder to work into a UK marking scheme, especially whilst in a one year position).

What I end up trying next year on the basis of this will depend on what I end up doing next year… so stay tuned!

May 2, 2012

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 1:16 pm
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At the weekend, I dropped into the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – partly as a fairly safe bet on somewhere to stay dry, partly because I wanted to see the Staffordshire Hoard before it gets moved, and partly because I hadn’t been in yet and it seemed rather sad not to have popped my head in at some point during my time here. Which, incidentally, was a great pleasure, not least because they have one of the copies of Rossetti’s Persephone and Sandys’ absolutely amazing Medea (on the left), both of which are beautiful pieces of pre-Raphaelite classical reception, and which are going to get at least one more visit before I decamp. Especially the Sandys, which, incidentally, was considered an affront to public taste when it was first painted. (Classical myth continues to provide contraversial material for artistic minds to turn their hands to, as the recent furore over Derrick Santini’s Leda and the Swan photo demonstrates – do be aware that the link may not be safe for work!)

Anyway, at the back of the museum there is an all-purpose ‘ancient stuff’ room that puts Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, ancient Crete, the Holy Land and various other old things on show (Egypt has its own room), and I thought I’d have a nose around from professional curiosity. The first thing I had to keep in mind was the audience of the objects – the good people of Birmingham, not the classical scholar. That said, I did find the labels rather frustrating, in that they didn’t include information like provenance or find site. This was particularly irritating for a group of small statues that used Hercules iconography (lion skin, raised arm with hand holding club) but in rather cruder workmanship than I’ve seen use that iconography before, making me wonder about where in the empire these things had been made and what sort of context they’d been used in, especially since the label referred to the Roman practice of assimilating local gods to Hercules in northern Europe.

But the lack of labels did give me an amusing surprise. One of the cases had a series of rather nice clay lamps on show, in three groups from the first/second century A.D., the third/fourth centuries and the fifth/sixth centuries, to show the change in design and shape over time. I cast my eye over these quite quickly at first, but after a circuit of the gallery came back to have another look. Where, to my surprise, among the representations of gladiators, lions and locusts, I found an oil lamp decorated with a copulating couple. Now, this in and of itself is hardly a unique object; lamps were frequently decorated with saucy pictures of one variety or another, and regular readers may recall that the ‘sex room’ in the Times Square Pompeii exhibit made something of a feature of four poorly preserved examples. But I will admit to being a little startled when I realised what I was looking at, as this particular piece of household erotica was quietly hiding in the middle of an otherwise entirely decorous display. I suppose that in and of itself might be a case for not overlabelling things – there’s an extra bonus for those who make the effort to look carefully.

April 16, 2012

The Classical Association meeting 2012 – Exeter

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:10 am
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I have just got back from the Classical Association annual conference, this year hosted by the department at the University of Exeter. For those who were not able to attend, you can read all the abstracts of the papers presented at the meeting online, and there was also a fair amount of live-tweeting going on (including my own modest efforts); I’ve been informed that the CA Secretary intends to archive the tweets alongside the abstracts as part of the records of the conference, and I’ll share the link to that archive when it becomes available. It’s the first time I’ve live-tweeted an event, incidentally, and overall it was a very positive experience; I was asked to stop once, in a session which was very popular and thus didn’t let me find an isolated spot where I could tap away at the netbook without disturbing anybody, and that’s pretty good going. I should add that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the superb wifi provision throughout the venue, which meant I could tweet without relying on a smartphone vel sim (a form of modern technology I continue to vehemently resist).

I should also note that the Classical Association has worked out that if  you want to sell merchanise to academics, you come up with groovy cloth bags and bears. I purchased my own Percy bear, pictured on the right settling into his new Birmingham home; apparently the plan is to fill a gallery with images of bears enjoying themselves around the world. Which, I think, says an awful lot (mainly positive) about British academia, including the gentle echoes of Brideshead Revisited‘s Aloysius that it invokes.

The format of the CA conference also makes a very positive statement about British academia, in that the format is so very different to the megaconferences of the American academic world which are the only national opportunity for academics to gather together. The CA maintains the practice of communal meals and, even better, the celebratory disco at the end of the Gala Dinner on the Friday night. Never before have I seen so many classicists in one place doing the Macarena.  (It helps that the air is not saturated with the nervous terror of people interviewing for jobs, which puts a heavy damper on the atmosphere of the APA conference.)

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March 1, 2012

Holy motivational force, Batwoman! Reflections on the first #femlead chat

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 5:22 pm
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So, last night was the first Twitter chat of #femlead, which is a new project of the University of Venus. You can read more about the logic behind it through the link, but the main goal is to provide a space “for those who lead, those with vision, those who seek to support one another in the challenges and opportunities facing us in all areas of academic life”. I’d count myself in the second and third categories, and I’d like to be in the first category one day, so I thought this was a good thing to take part in – particularly given the lack of women in leadership roles in higher ed. My immediate concerns going into the chat were centred around what opportunities there are to develop leadership in the world of the short term contract, and what I could do to develop my skills and my career path.

I have to say that I got a great deal more than that out of the chat, focused around the topic of service vs. leadership, and which is now available over at Storify. A couple of broad themes emerged. Firstly, leadership has to fit into the wider narrative of who you are and what you do – there’s no point in taking on a leadership role if it doesn’t somehow fit your picture of yourself and where you’re going. There was also a lot of emphasis on noticing the rhetoric of how you present these things.  You need to talk about achievements as demonstrating leadership rather than be modest about them.

The chat wasn’t short of ideas about how to cope with the short term contract problem either. As I was often told, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you need to look for them and make sure it’s clear you are interested in them, and then present them in such a way in the next short term contract that more opportunities arise. There are opportunities for leadership that arise outside the institution you are based in, such as in professional organisations, that aren’t affected by moving about. Whatever the location, you should still be aware of the power structures and create mentoring opportunities, because that’s how you let people know that you want these kinds of responsibilities.

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January 9, 2012

New assignments – mid-year review

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:41 am
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I promised myself I’d devote some time in the Christmas vacation to reflecting on the new assignments that I including in my teaching during the term, and how they are working. (I wrote about them in these two posts.) Now that they have been in place for half the teaching year, I can have a look at them and work out whether they are doing what I wanted them to be doing – and if there is anything I can do to salvage them, should there be problems, or whether these assignments will be one-offs in my teaching history. The whole process of teaching is about recognising when things don’t quite work, and I feel as if last term clearly demonstrated that some things worked better than others. (more…)

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