Classically Inclined

October 2, 2015

Gamifying Intermediate Latin – the first year

Following on from my noodlings here about whether I should submit my gamification of intermediate Latin for a College Excellence Teaching Prize, I managed to put the paperwork in before the small boy appeared – and I’m delighted to say that I won one of the awards! The prize was awarded for “an innovative and creative project, which engages students from diverse backgrounds in motivational extracurricular learning”, which is rather nice as that was what I was after. As those of you reading who teach intermediate language classes will know, it’s probably the most diverse set of student experiences you find in a college classroom, and thus presents some really interesting challenges.

For those of you coming to this fresh – gamification is a strategy that tries to use the human enjoyment of games to enhance the learning experience within the classes. Last year, I reworked how I teach intermediate Latin to make the formative work I’d assumed students would do out of the goodness of their hearts into a tangible system of game-based activities. This would make the previously unspoken assumptions about the workload in the class clear and visible, and hopefully also give students the motivation to keep on top of the work required. The introduction of short-term rewards in a game format functioned through an insignia or badge system, where each activity had its own specific sticker type to collect. Students competed to collect the most insignia over the course of the term, with a ‘top three’ scoreboard updated regularly on Moodle. I wrote about how I thought things were going after one term here.


January 23, 2015

Gamifying Intermediate Latin – a mid-year update

When I posted that I was intending to gamify intermediate Latin, I got quite a positive response back, and I promised to give you an update on how it was all going. As we start the second week of the spring term, now seems like a good moment to review how things have gone so far. I should also add that I’m thinking of putting together an application for our college teaching excellence prize based on this, not least because (as a colleague pointed out to me the other day) the potential applications of the technique go beyond the languages, which is where I’d thought it might be useful – every subject has got its bit of ‘stuff we need students to put the work into, that doesn’t feature as part of the summative assessment, but that will impact students’ performance in the summative assessment’. When I explained what I was doing, she immediately thought of how useful it could be for statistics, which wasn’t something I’d thought of at all. At any rate, now seems like a good moment to reflect on the experience so far.

To recap, the goals I had in gamifying Intermediate Latin were:

  • Give students a short-term motivation and reward for doing work they otherwise wouldn’t see paying off until the medium or long term.
  • Increase participation rates in optional homework activities.
  • Through this participation, increase student confidence with vocabulary, grammar and other skills they need for in-class tasks.
  • Generate a bit of friendly competition in the classroom and thus build community among students on the course.


October 20, 2014

New edition of Cloelia out now!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:08 pm
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You may remember that I have been acting as co-editor for the 2014 edition of Cloelia, the annual newsletter of the Women’s Classical Caucus. I’m delighted to announce that the 2014 edition is now out – click here for the official blog post and to download a PDF of the final product!

I have to say that I’m absolutely delighted with how the edition has turned out. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get the volume into shape, and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of documents between me and Alison, Cloelia‘s fearless editor, over the last few weeks to get it into this format, and it’s good to see the hard work pay off. More generally, I’m very proud of the collection of articles that the issue pulls together on a variety of topics concerning feminist pedagogy, particularly language pedagogy. There’s some great stuff in there, as well as some interesting insights from the survey we ran earlier in the year, and I hope that other teachers find the articles interesting and inspirational as well. It’s been great fun to pull together, and with any luck it will be of use and interest to many of its readers.

October 6, 2014

On trying new things: my very first MOOC

Filed under: Learning — lizgloyn @ 11:51 am
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As those who follow me on Twitter will know, I recently took the plunge and signed up for my first MOOC. MOOC, for those of you to whom this is newspeak, stands for Massive Open Online Course – it is, apparently, the new disruptive technology that means we won’t need universities any more and everyone will just access electronic higher education from the best professors more or less for free. Or, alternatively, it is the development that will lead to a dystopian nightmare of low-paid part-time staff doing all the actual dealing with students while star professors record a couple of videos, fees calculated on a per appearance basis, and students become utterly detached from any form of intellectual community. You can read the fears and dreams that cluster around MOOCs in articles appearing in the educational and popular press more or less weekly, and if you want some chunky analysis of the language that gets used, you should go and read Melonie Fullick’s Speculative Diction blog, which has some excellent pieces unpicking the rhetoric that both sides use on this subject.

Now, I am a selective Luddite – you won’t find me near an e-reader, but I do apparently get on with quite a lot of this new technology stuff reasonably well. So I decided that rather than sit and nay-say about MOOCs, the only sensible thing to do was to sign up for one and give it a go. I decided to sign up with FutureLearn, which is the first UK-based MOOC platform, because they were running a course on the English Literature of the Country House, which appealed since I like both literature and country houses. I was also curious about the FutureLearn platform, as it’s still in development but looks like it’s marketing itself very much as the UK option for universities interested in providing this sort of thing in the future.


September 22, 2014

Gamifying Intermediate Latin

I said in my post about this year’s syllabus-wrangling that the biggest change in my teaching was going to be my gamification of Intermediate Latin. I figured the subject deserved its own post, so here it is. Gamification is rapidly increasing in popularity as a way to plug into our basic motivations as humans, in that we enjoy playing games where we get rewards, can follow strict rules and so on. Academic courses respond well to being gamified, because it is a way of making the implicit rules we expect our students to follow explicit, and associating them with a value system which the students buy into. This model of teaching is, as far as I am aware, doing particularly well in American institutions, at least in part because of the freedom to change assessment requirements in individual courses that instructors often have. This means they can link accomplishments within the course-game explicitly to a student’s final grade without having to run it past, for instance, a university registry office and external examiners to get their approval. However, just because I don’t feel I can go that far doesn’t mean that gamification is a lost cause.

This term, following my colleague Tim Phin’s lead (and very generous sharing of materials), I am trying to gamify Intermediate Latin. As I have implied, this won’t affect students’ final grades – they’ll still have their in-class quizzes and end of year exam to do that. However, what struck me teaching this course last year was that there is an awful lot of work expected of students that they don’t actually get any credit for, and I suspect that may be part of the reason why it often gets neglected. For instance, I expect students to be finishing off hand-outs and translations from class, doing translation and grammar homework, learning vocabulary, reviewing their performance on tests… none of which ever gets any recognition, except for the pay-off they hopefully receive in their grades for the in-class quizzes. For students who perhaps work better with short-term than medium- or long-term motivation, that’s not really a winner.

So I am trying to give that previously unacknowledged work a value by borrowing Tim’s system of insignia or badges. Tim structured his course so that students won insignia for in-class activities, homework and other challenges; the number of insignia won corresponded to the final grade in the course. I’ve taken his model and instead created different kinds of insignia for different kinds of tasks – there are insignia verborum for vocabulary learning and insignia grammatica for grammar-based homework tasks, for instance. Students can keep track of which insignia they have won by a chart and – you guessed it – stickers. When I first found myself thinking about gamifying the course, my mind immediately went to auto-awarded badges and technology and all the clever things you can do with programming – but actually, that’s all a bit of a distraction from the underlying gamification principle. It’s a nice add if you can have it, but if you can’t, stickers will work just as well to signify that the work is being recognised, and as things to be won and collected. I’ve even bought a special stickers, because what’s the point if you can’t generate some excitement? Mind you, my mind goes back to my first Latin 101 class at Rutgers. Whenever they scored over 90 on a quiz, as the quizzes were designed to let them, I would give them a little star sticker. After the initial ‘wait, we’re back in high school now?’ moment, the competition for those stickers and who got them on each weekly quiz became one of the most intense contests that I’ve ever seen in a classroom. Technology may be shiny, but never underestimate the power of a sticker.

I’ll be keeping close tabs on how this strategy works over the coming year, and will report back on how well or otherwise it works. I’m optimistic, but it will only work if my students buy into it.

April 4, 2014

Teaching at Royal Holloway – a reflection

Term finished at Royal Holloway at the end of March; I’ve now had enough time to catch my breath and finish off all the odds and ends from my teaching, so I can look back over how the year’s teaching has gone. Of course, I’ve still got the marking of exam season to come – precisely when will depend on whether the marking boycott called by UCU as part of the current pay dispute goes ahead. That issue sadly highlights a problem in teaching – there’s more to the process than just the mark that you get in the exam at the end, and when that becomes fetishized as the only valuable outcome of the university experience, we’re doing something wrong. Plashing Vole has written about these issues far more intelligently than I can, so I suggest you read him on them while I think a bit about my first year of teaching in a new institution.

It’s been a heavy teaching load this year, with three and a half units (which is effectively the same as teaching four units in the second term). The first term was manageable, as the three language courses were mainly intensive in the hour of teaching scheduled rather than in the preparation – after all, once you’ve selected an unseen passage and put together the handout, there’s not really much more you can do until you’re in the classroom. However, the second term added a new lecture course to the mix, and that meant I had to prepare two hours of fresh lecture each week on top of nine hours of language teaching. That took a lot of effort, and left me with little time for anything else. On the plus side, I’ll be reusing my prep for Intermediate Latin and the lecture course next year, so it’s work well invested. A few thoughts come to mind about each course.


March 13, 2014

Cloelia and Feminist Language Pedagogy – A Survey

As some of you will have picked up on Twitter, I am acting as the guest editor for the forthcoming edition of Cloelia, the magazine of the Women’s Classical Caucus. Even though I’m not based in the US any more, I still have extremely warm feelings for the WCC as a place where intellectually like-minded scholars can come together and discuss both research and professional issues experienced by women in the academy. In fact, I’m starting to think that a project to start in the next couple of the years is setting up a UK equivalent of the WCC, not least because it would be great to have a UK equivalent of Feminism & Classics as a semi-regular feature in the conference schedule. That, however, is another story and quite a long way down the road, but expect me to keep on making murmurings about it until I have time to apply for the grant.

As I was saying, I’m acting as the guest editor for Cloelia, and the theme of this year’s magazine is pedagogy. Specifically, I’ve suggested that we focus on ancient language pedagogy – one of those areas that I’ve discovered from my teaching experience this year is perhaps rather less well covered than it might be. I thought Cloelia would be a great venue to pull together best practice, find out what’s going on in a range of departments, and hopefully get a sense of the ways in which the WCC and its members might support each other in this valuable enterprise.

This post is basically a rather long-winded invitation for those of you who are teaching the ancient languages in your day job, either at the university or the secondary level, to fill out the 2014 Cloelia survey on pedagogy. I’ve put it together with the permanent editor, Alison Jeppesen-Wigelsworth, as a way to collect information and experiences from those of us at the linguistic coalface; the results will be published in the 2014 edition of Cloelia, which will also be freely available on the web. We’ve already had some really interesting responses, but we’d like more! So if you are an ancient language teacher or you know ancient language teachers, please take a minute to fill in the survey or ask them to do so. We’d really appreciate your input, and it will help us get a better sense of what we as a profession are actually doing when it comes to this area of our teaching.

December 10, 2013

Getting student feedback: the ‘Dear Liz’ letter

I mentioned on Twitter that I had decided, after some reflection, to return to asking my students to write me ‘dear Liz’ letters. 140 characters isn’t really enough to explain what they are, so here’s a blog post to do the job.

I picked up ‘dear Liz’ letters in the US, as a strategy that complemented the one minute papers I’ve written about before. When I came to Birmingham, however, I had a rude awakening – students in my ancient religion course responded pretty well to one minute papers, but absolutely hated the ‘dear Liz’ letter, and were happy to tell me so! So I dropped them, and moved on. Fast forward to this year, when I’m teaching far more language than I usually do. I wrote in that post that I wanted to use one minute papers to get a clear grasp of grammar that was causing problems. However, despite good intentions and introducing them at the start of the year, I haven’t actually used one minute papers. At all. They don’t seem helpful – my classes are such small groups that I’m engaging with each student heavily in each class session, and it’s easy to flag up areas of confusion through obvious problems of translation and comprehension. I don’t need one minute papers to tell me what I already know. Equally, the Euripides course doesn’t encourage me to use one minute papers either – my students are in single numbers, meaning that debate and questions flow comfortably. If anything the CIQ would have been a better fit here. However, while I feel I have quite a good handle on how individual classes are going, I don’t have any way to take the temperature of the course more broadly. As I’ve got to know the students quite well, I now think they’ll respond well to this reflective assignment.


September 11, 2013

Syllabi-wrangling at Royal Holloway

I haven’t talked about what I am going to be teaching at Royal Holloway yet, and now seems as good a time as any to do so. The biggest difference in my teaching load will be that most of my courses this year are language-based. I will be taking Intermediate Latin, Latin Language and Reading (essentially upper intermediate Latin, or the A-level group), and Greek Author (or advanced Greek, for which I have chosen Euripides). In the spring, I’ll be offering a first year lecture course option on the literature of the early Roman empire, which basically means I get to teach my favourite boys with all the gory bits, but that’s not my current priority.

Having three language courses means I actually need to think a bit about my language teaching pedagogy. My teaching of language at Birmingham was not where I worked on my innovation – that happened in other courses, and language was about getting on with it effectively and efficiently. However, having this much language teaching means I can pay some attention to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a little bit more. It also means that some of the techniques I’ve used before will have to go on hold – I don’t think the CIQ is appropriate for anything I’m teaching this year, for example, although if the registration for the lecture course ends up being about 20 students I’ll reconsider. One minute papers are definitely making an appearance for the two Latin classes; although this will be first time I’ve used them systematically in a language context, they should help in identifying points of grammar which need more attention. Learning logs and blog posts are, sadly, going on hold because they don’t really have a role in what I’m doing – I might try to get back to using discussion boards for the Roman literature lecture, and I will be having small group discussion in the Greek Author class, but because there are only six students taking it the blog format seems a bit overly cumbersome. I’m going to keep on asking students to facilitate discussion and to report back on secondary literature, but in a more classroom-based way – the focus is, after all, meant to be on translating the Greek.

I’m also going to have to think what, if anything, I want to do with Twitter. I still want to use it as an informal channel of communication – in fact, I have included my Twitter handle as well as my e-mail address in the information I’ve posted on my office door. But I don’t know how to use it effectively as part of my language teaching. My new colleague Sigrun Wagner suggested using it to see which student could generate the best tweet to explain a Latin word or concept, but that might involve more students being signed up to the platform than is likely, and I don’t want it to be exclusionary. I also don’t feel these classes give me the forum I had in the first year projects at Birmingham to make having a Twitter account to track the week’s classically-related news part of the course activities.  

What all of this made me realise was that I haven’t really got as good a range of techniques to draw on when teaching language as I do when teaching non-language material – so it’s time for a refresh. I have a couple of strategies in place for handling this, not least of which is the small treasure-trove of language books that I’ve collected over the years and which are now coming into their own for offering examples, helping to build up exercise handouts and so on. However, my biggest investment will be in my own copy of When Dead Tongues Speak, an APA-sponsored volume on language teaching strategies at the university level. I started reading a copy at Birmingham but moving got in the way; however, it looked useful enough to invest in my own copy, and I’m hoping to find suggestions of various new and alternative techniques to use in the classroom. I’m also going to put a bit of time in to looking over Teaching Classical Languages to see if anything there might be of use. These are mainly American resources, but that seems to be where things are published and I’m not aware of a university-level equivalent in the UK. If anyone is aware of something similar in the UK context, do let me know – the more I can read and think about what I do in the classroom, the better chance I have of making sure that I have ways of getting through to every student, not just those who get on with my tried and tested methods.

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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