Classically Inclined

November 2, 2022

Walking supervisions: first thoughts

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 3:31 pm
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One of the teaching goals I set for myself this year was to try group walking supervisions. That came from a desire to bring together my dissertation students (who I have in a bumper crop this year), to get up from behind my desk, and to give  walking pedagogy a go. I said in my original plans that I would try to do at least one a term; at this point, I’m thinking I’ll go for one each half-term, not least as students might be unable to attend one for life!reasons and it’s better to have more opportunities than fewer. I ran my first one last week, so this seemed like a good opportunity to share some thoughts.

Confession one: despite many Noble Intentions, I didn’t do any more reading than I had when I came up with this as a Good Idea, and there had been precious little of that. So I may be missing some of the important elements of how you should structure a walking supervision, what the logistics should be an so on. Instead, I picked a walk on campus and told students to meet in the foyer of the building where my office is, and decided to see how it worked.

In preparation, I did talk to all of my dissertation supervisees to see if they would find doing the walk physically inaccessible, but nobody flagged that as an issue. I’ll need to think what I do if somebody does, but that’s next year’s problem. I also hadn’t thought up a wet weather plan, but again, I got away with that one (just). Confession two: I did not walk the walk in advance. I assumed the map would be sufficient. Dear reader, it was not sufficient. We got lost and eventually worked out that we had been supposed to go up a raaaather steep hill which did not look particularly safe with the ground starting to get a bit more muddy. I’m not sure this really mattered – it added to the sense of shared adventure, at least – but ‘do try the route out first’ does sound like a useful tip to pass on.

Another handy tip is that I should have told the students to meet me at my office rather than the foyer – we went back to my office anyway for people to drop bags and things, so they could walk unencumbered and pick things up when we finished the circuit. As usual, the actual doing of a Pedagogical Thing points out the screamingly obvious in a way that just… thinking about it probably doesn’t. I had about half of my group show up, and the others had all let me know they weren’t available, which I think is a pretty decent hit rate.

I am obviously not going to share much of the detail of what my students discussed, since that would be not terribly ethical, but some themes and topics emerged quite naturally from the discussion. I started by asking them each to share what their dissertation was on (since they might not have talked to others about it), and then used that as a springboard for how their project had changed already and general conversation about the experience. What I hadn’t expected was that we’d spend so long talking about the nuts and bolts of writing – about strategy, planning, organising material, getting over blocks, accepting that perfectly polished prose doesn’t leap from your pen at the first go, all that kind of basic ‘so, writing, then’ stuff that sometimes gets separated out or lost in the way that we manage assessments. The best bit, for me, was the fact the students were able to swap tips with each other rather than just having me go ‘have you tried this way’ – writing is such an individual process that having lots of different suggestions is probably the most helpful thing. I also got the sense that having a chance to talk about it contextualised the experience; even if no-one had exactly the same relationship with their project, it still established that everyone was in a similar position, and that they weren’t alone in doing it.

Finally, do you know what? It was a nice sunny afternoon. Campus was beautiful. There was non-thesis-related chat about interesting things. I saw a deer, up the steeeep hill, although wasn’t quite quick enough to point it out to my students. It was good to get out into the fresh air. The leaves were turning into sharp colours. We saw one of the campus cats, and a sculpture I haven’t really looked at before. That all made it worth doing together as well. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the next one isn’t rained off.

Photo of a tree trunk in a forest. A curved window is carved into the trunk. Two eagles are carved sitting on the sill.
A sculpture in the Royal Holloway woodland.
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August 10, 2022

Teaching goals for 2022-23

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:06 am
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I was thinking the other day that I hadn’t really sat down and thought about what I was doing with my pedagogy… and then remembered that, what with the rapid shift to teaching completely on-line in 2020-21 and then moving back towards more on-site but also on-line elements in 2021-22, I haven’t really done anything but think about pedagogy. It just that the changes haven’t been ones I would have wanted to make; rather they have been necessary responses to the extraordinary circumstances in which we have found ourselves with the COVID-19 pandemic. The one really good thing that has come out of this whole thing is that my Moodle pages are now much, much better and actually work as a support for learning rather than just an infodump – I really doubt I’d have got around to the necessary training and work to make those changes without the last couple of years.

Obviously, next year is not a great year for me to make lots and lots of changes to my teaching, because I’m going to be starting theological college and I don’t want to overpromise what I’m going to have capacity to do. However, I do have things I can do, so here are some goals for the coming teaching year for review in due course.

Ally: we have just introduced the Ally plug-in to Moodle. The idea is that it helps us spot where we’re using documents that might not, for instance, be accessible to students using screen readers or other kinds of accessibility aids. It also does lots of other clever things as detailed on the link. The messaging is very much that this is a guide to help us when we’re creating new content rather than an ‘everything must be retrospectively compliant right this second’, and of course there will always be things (like scanned PDFs where we can’t get to the original file) that we can’t retrofit to be accessible. That said, one of my goals this year is to get more of my files to a ‘good’ Ally rating, and to get into the habit of creating resources with the kinds of simple things that make a file register as ‘good’. In many cases, these really are tiny, like labelling a header as a header to help our a screen reader, but it’s not intuitive right now.

Dissertations: I’m going to have a lot of dissertation students this year, so I want to try something very new – walk and talk group supervisions, at least one a term and ideally one in both halves of the semester. This idea came from both a desire to give walking pedagogy a go, and new maps of walks on campus that have been released. Obviously, I’m going to need to talk to my dissertation students and make sure this plan doesn’t exclude anyone (which I can do as part of our start of term one to one chats, along with asking about any neurodivergent or pastoral stuff I should know about as dissertation supervisor). It’s a relatively low-stakes exercise that might serve to build some group cohesion and community among our third years (who have had a really rough time over the last two years), so if I can get them all on-board, then there should be a lot of benefits to doing this.

Contemporary Approaches: I’m introducing revised content in the final quarter of this course, thinking about classical reception and novels (and, can I say, I am super excited by it), so that’s going to be one new element. However, I also want to do some work on how I’m handling the reflective journals which form 10% of the student assessment. At the moment, they’re really Marmite – some students love them, others really hate them. I want to try doing more feedforward and support with these assessments, starting really in the first week of teaching (made easier by having had Week Zero courses for our rising third years in the summer term, actually). Simple things I could do are talking explicitly about the assessment; reviewing the marking rubric close to the first deadline; and offering an exemplar and evaluating it (either from me as a video or an in-class peer activity). Peer marking will not work here, because the reflective journals are meant to be quite personal. So that’s an identified issue with a clear target.

Roman Drama: this is an entirely new advanced language course, at both BA and MA level, so there’s a lot of work already going on here! Again, I think I want to offer more feedforward and support with the student-led seminars, which is a really important element of our advanced Latin provision, again through discussing them earlier in the course and making more space for students to talk to me and each other about their expectations. The other major thing I really want to address is how to bundle the BA and MA courses together; last year the MA version of my Latin Epic course didn’t run so I couldn’t have another go at what didn’t work perfectly in the 2020-21 session and Latin Letters, so hopefully this year I can give it another tweak and make the integration work better. Should enough students register, of course! Last year I started running a session for students to talk about their essay topics and get some peer feedback, so I’ll keep those as they seemed helpful.

Thinking Myth: this is another entirely new course; I’m teaching four classes on classical reception in the summer (and again, they are going to be really cool). The whole thing is a really exciting new team-taught experiment, so honestly I think I just want us to get through it all in one piece with all the students having an awesome time, and then we can collectively think about what worked and what needs improving.

Given how much new content I’ve got to handle this year, I think that being realistic about updating my materials and producing new course content is probably the right way to go. One other thing I do want to note (as much for myself as anything else) is that producing video guides to both assessments and marking rubrics is not just adding fluffy content, it’s actually making written content more accessible, so it’s worth doing (and ideally doing in such a way that it can be reused!).

Let’s see how this all goes.

April 24, 2021

Reflections On A Year Of Pandemic Teaching

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 6:35 pm
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We have come to the end of our teaching for the academic year, although there’s still plenty to do in the term ahead in terms of student support and assessment. (I seem to be spending an extraordinary amount of time explaining how our extenuating circumstances process works at the moment, reflecting not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students, but an awful lot of Life that they’ve also been dealing with at the same time.) At the start of the year, I wrote about how the first week of teaching fully on-line had gone; now we have had a whole year, I wanted to capture some things I’ve learned from the process overall.

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August 17, 2020

Fitting the pieces together

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:37 pm
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Like everyone else who will be teaching in the autumn, I am currently wrestling with how to move my teaching on-line and what the new world will look like. I think I’ve spent at least 40 hours on professional development over the last few months, what with getting up to speed on best practice for on-line learning and doing my best to respond responsibly to the Black Lives Matter protests and the increasing urgency of the need to decolonise academia in general and my classroom specifically (of which more in a different post). My current job is looking at my Moodles for the autumn and working out how best to apply them. My current brain-fog is sitting around the question of what a syllabus is actually for in a world of electronic teaching resources.

I would be the first person to confess that my use of Moodle over the years has been as a resource-dump rather than as a dynamic teaching tool. This isn’t surprising – Moodle didn’t exist when I did my undergraduate degree, and my introduction to it was much more as a repository than anything else. I was a bit more adventurous with using bulletin boards and so on for assignments when I was teaching as a PhD student, because of the more flexible assessment structure in US universities; when I got back to the UK, that flexibility went, and so did my use of Moodle for that sort of thing. (Because if there’s no grade, the students won’t do it – right?)

Fast-forward to now, a Certain Number of years on, and I am very behind on what can be done in Moodle these days, not to mention having had absolutely no training on digital pedagogy since whatever courses it was I took as a graduate student. Teaching digitally is a pedagogical specialism which can’t just be picked up; while I’ve had some excellent support from my institution for it, I’ve also put work into thinking about how best to organise a Moodle page, what the best way to structure on-line activities is, and multiple things of that nature.

One of the things I now find myself battling with, though, is what on earth a syllabus document is actually for.

In the old world (she types nostalgically), my syllabus was a comprehensive, one-stop shop for the course. It had general policy information, a schedule of classes, and then class-by-class prep work for each class so students could consult the file and have instant knowledge about what they were supposed to be doing. (Let us leave aside how often this happened for the moment, that was the point of the syllabus.) The syllabus also included bibliography, both for individual classes and for the course as a whole.

Fast-forward to the New Normal. Now, I have to have all my asynchronous activities and pre-seminar work clearly set up on Moodle for each week of teaching, so students can navigate through each week’s content independently, with only a small portion of overall learning activity being face-to-face and synchronous. My reading lists are all in our TALIS reading system, with a plug-in which lets me include a link directly in Moodle so students can click and find what they need. But I still need to have a syllabus document on my Moodle because… I still need a syllabus document. But why?

In fairness, I can see the point of having a syllabus which has some general information in it and a full schedule of the year’s learning, in a rather general sort of way, particularly since the Moodle page is not going to be built for the whole year by the start of term. (If I can get five weeks of activity built before term starts, I’ll be counting that as a victory.) But do I really need to duplicate my reading list? Do I need to have the full ‘what we’re doing each week’ seminar details when there’s going to be far more supported detail and activity on Moodle than there has been in any past year?

I suspect I would feel very differently about this question if I were not in an open-ended post, not least to make things easier when moving between institutions and having a core document with all my information handy. But as someone with institutional security (today’s governmental U-turn on A-level results not withstanding), that doesn’t feel as important now; Moodle will roll over next year, and I’ll be there to use it, so I’m pretty sure I will benefit from my work.

My solution at this point is to keep the first parts of the syllabus as they are, but to delete the detailed ‘what we are doing in each seminar’ bit – that’s going to be replicated on Moodle each week, with more interactive content, and I don’t see what the value of having a partial summary in a Word document students probably won’t pay a lot of attention to. I can also download my Moodle page as a PDF to keep a record of this year’s structure if I think that will be helpful (which it probably will be).

I suppose I’m sharing this because it’s an example of one of the small things I’m running up against in preparing for teaching next year which feels pretty straightforward in terms of making a decision but actually reveals an awful lot about some underlying assumptions about how teaching works  and is delivered. Sometimes that means asking whether what you’ve been doing… just because you’ve always been doing it is actually the best thing to do. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be re-examining my teaching under these circumstances, but I do hope that there will be some long-term benefits that come out of it in terms of better practice around the digital environment. Although frankly, given from where I started, isn’t going to be too difficult.

August 21, 2018

Next year’s teaching: Contemporary Approaches to Latin Literature

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:31 pm
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I have to say, I am getting really quite excited about my teaching for the coming academic year. I have the first year Roman Literature survey again (in the autumn this year, to avoid overload on a colleague), and I am doing Latin Language and Reading with a text I know (Seneca’s De Brevitate Vitae) and one I don’t (Plautus’ Amphitryo). But what I’m really very excited about, and getting more so the more I plan, is our new third year course, Contemporary Approaches to Latin Literature.

A little background. We have introduced this course with a lot of flexibility built into it. The idea is that any member of the Latin literature staff in the department can teach it, and can tailor it to their research expertise and interests. This is meant to be a cutting-edge, research-led, completely up to date module, that showcases the work of staff in the department but also advances our research by letting us work on this stuff with our students. The course is taught in translation, so it’s open to anyone in the department. It’s designed to be taught solo (as I’m doing this year) or as a team, depending on who’s about and how we’re feeling, and it’s the first step towards a redesign of our Latin literature provision in the department following the welcome addition of Dr. Chomse to me and Dr. Spentzou last year. Between us we make up 1.9FTE staff; we also offer some really quite butt-kicking feminist takes on Roman literature, and we wanted to find a way to make that integral to our teaching and to support our research.

Our Cunning Plan was to split Contemporary Approaches into four lenses or perspectives: feminism and intersectionality; subjectivity and space; the sublime and the monstrous; and the politics and aesthetics of the reception of classics. We each have areas of our research which can speak to each perspective, or we can share out the mini-units as we feel like it. The last perspective is also designed to be a taster of what students might do in our MRes in Classical Reception, as with such limited resources we can’t stretch to offering to a dedicated reception module (plus we all do reception as part of our research, so it makes sense to have it there). As I say, this year the module is mine, all mine; the library’s request for a reading list by the end of August means I’ve had to focus on what I want them to have on hand in terms of resources, which in turn has meant thinking about what ground I want to cover and putting together a skeleton syllabus. (Fleshing out said syllabus is on the to-do list for September.)

The really brilliant bit is that this module should let third year students engage with (shock horror) actual theory and work out how it might be a way of opening up and understanding Roman literature. I’ve already worked out that there seems to be a bit of a hole in theoretical explanations of classics and feminism from the last ten years or so – loads of people doing feminist literary interpretation, of course, but less in the way of talking about how in a way that might be accessible to an undergraduate audience. Which is interesting. Plus the fact that I’m taking us to the monster studies zone means that I’m already pushing the boundaries in a field where… not a lot of people are pushing this stuff. So I’m going to have to tell students ‘there isn’t this stuff in the library, because it hasn’t been written yet, because I am in the middle of writing it’.

It has been so much fun to look at my current projects in the pipeline and work out which ones coincide best with what I’m working on and what I want students to read and how I’m going to get them talking about the underlying issues and approaches. The module is being assessed by coursework (two long essays plus a formative reflections journal assessment that, erm, I have to write guidelines for), which means there’s no teaching to the exam; I’m really hoping that will encourage students to dig into what they can do with these texts.

There are some ideas I’ve had to put to one side. Despite the fact that it would be fabulous to put Plautus’ Mostellaria and Seneca’s Thyestes next to each other to get a pair of haunted houses, I teach the Thyestes in the first year literature survey, so have had to reluctantly abandon that idea as I have enough on my hands this year without reworking that again. There are, however, enough really interesting pairings of ancient texts and modern theoretical takes that I think it’s going to be a really rewarding course, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. Oh, and I get to teach Hail, Caesar! (2016), so that’s a definite win.

September 24, 2017

Teaching goals for 2017-18

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:31 pm
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I wouldn’t normally blog on a Sunday night, but I am feeling quite strongly about getting a post about this year’s teaching goals up before teaching actually starts (which is tomorrow). I didn’t do a post about this sort of thing last year because I was on sabbatical in the autumn, and in the spring was thinking more about taking on a big new administrative role. This year, I’m still focusing on that administrative role and also on finishing the Monster book (quelle surprise), but there are a couple of things I want to work on.

Inclusivity and pronouns

I have finally come around to the fact that I really should, out of simple courtesy, be giving my students an opportunity to tell me what their preferred pronouns are, and be making an effort to use them. I’m teaching two classes of about a dozen students each for the whole year, plus a half-unit which looks like it’ll have most of the first year in it in the spring; with numbers that small, on language-based courses, I can’t really excuse being rude. I am also calling myself out a bit here – I have a number of genderqueer friends who prefer to use they and their rather than he/she and his/hers, but have always waffled my hands and gone ‘oh, well, my memory is like a sieve, so if I get it wrong I’m really sorry, I don’t mean to be offensive’. While I’ll give myself a pass for forgetting this sort of thing when I was a sleep-deprived mother of an under-eighteen-month-old, at this stage it’s really turned into a rather lazy ‘this is not high on my priorities’, and that’s just not on, is it? So, as part of my general attempt to pull my own socks up, I am trying to become a bit more aware and inclusive, including mentioning my own pronoun preference when I introduce myself. It’s a small thing, but it’s an important one.

Research-led teaching

I really want to get my research and my teaching matching up a bit more this year. This should partly be achieved by teaching Latin on the Edge, our Advanced Latin Author course, which is going to look at Latin texts talking about exile; I’ll write more about that course and what I want it to do in a later blog post, but what I am doing for it is putting together an entirely new commentary on Seneca’s Ad Helviam, which I want to teach and for which there is no such commentary. I’m thinking that once it’s been through testing, I’ll see whether one of the presses that publishes this sort of thing is interested, very much as a teaching support piece rather than as a deeply scholarly commentary – the ad Helviam is a splendid text, and deserves to get out more. I’m also reworking my Roman literature first year module by dumping Livy and bringing in Valerius Maximus, which means two new lectures and a new seminar to write; I want to get into Valerius but haven’t got the time, so this is a nice way to have a think about what’s been said about him and what’s not out there in the scholarship.

Student-led seminars redux

I mentioned last year that I following Ellie Mackin Roberts’ lead and putting student-led seminars into my Latin Letters course. I’ll be using them again in Latin on the Edge, for many of the same reasons and for some different ones which I shall again relate in due course. The second years on Latin Letters will be third years in Latin on the Edge, so it will be interesting to see how they react to going through the process for the second time!

Engaging students

Or, the perennial problem of getting students into my office hours. This year, I’m not doing anything particularly innovative with my teaching methods (unless you count continuing with the student-led seminars), partly because I’ve not seen anything I fancy trying, partly because of the book, and partly because I reckon I’ve got enough on my plate with the new content. So instead I want to try and deal with another aspect of my teaching responsibilities, providing one-on-one support to students who bring me their troubles in my office hour. As most teachers will tell you, despite us explaining this is what office hours are for, turn-out is remarkably low. Always. And the students who turn up are very rarely the students who we think would benefit from some one-on-one time – it’s usually those who are already high achievers but are anxious about their performance. So we can help students get over the first boundary, but we don’t get to those lower down the achievement pyramid (or whatever it’s called). My first tactic is going to be talking more explicitly about office hours more in class – there’s an assumption there that students know what this stuff is for, which is probably wrong. But then, who knows? If anyone knows any literature on this subject, or you have things that have worked, please do shout out in the comments.

 

April 3, 2017

Experimenting with student-led seminars

Term’s been over for a week or so now, and I’m just about catching up with myself and all the things I’d meant to do over term but didn’t get around to. And by ‘catching up’, I mean ‘making a list rather than just remembering them and occasionally flailing’. There are a number of things I could write about, but let’s start with the pedagogy, which has been one reason this term has been so busy – I’ve been running two new courses, which has been a lot of fun but a lot of work as well. I’ve also been trying out something new, since pedagogy only works if you keep it fresh and keep tweaking it to make it better, and I wanted to give up an update on the experiment.

Full credit should go at this point to the marvellous Ellie Mackin, who planted the seed for this project in my head back in the autumn term. At the start of November, she vlogged about her use of the student-led seminar format as part of her teaching, and in chatting about it, I started to get the germ of an idea. I’d come across the student-led seminar when reading around pedagogy, but to be honest it had never appealed – it always got sold as something to make learning student-centered, and I firmly believe in subject-centered learning, plus I couldn’t see how it would operate beneficially with the kinds of subjects I generally teach. However, one of my courses this spring has been our Advanced Latin Author unit, which this academic year has focused on Latin Letters, and I realised that this might be my chance.

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December 23, 2015

2015: A review

Christmas and the turn of the year are coming over the horizon, so it’s as good a moment as any to have a look back over the last year. The blog has been a bit quiet since the arrival of infans, as my priorities have been geared towards getting on with my teaching and research rather than this enjoyable but not particularly critical activity. Which is a shame, as there have been several things I’ve wanted to blog about and may still get around to, but it’s not as much fun as introducing infans to stacking cups. However, the good thing about the silence on here (and the comparative silence on Twitter) is that there’s been a lot getting done elsewhere!

Teaching: this term I’ve been coordinating our first year skills course, repeat teaching Intermediate Latin and teaching Roman Life Stories from scratch. I’ve also had third year dissertations and some MA teaching, along with a spot of Catullus too. I’m really enjoying Roman Life Stories – it’s a version of the Roman Life Course module I taught at Birmingham, into two hours of seminar/lecture rather than just a lecture, and limited to third years rather than second and third years together. It’s lovely having the extra time and being able to have some proper discussion going about the sources, and the students seem to be finding it very interesting too. It’s slightly strange that I’m back to using very detailed lecture notes, written when I was a bit less confident, but it’s all getting there! I’m also enjoying seeing how students engage with secondary literature – I’ve got them leading discussion about a designated article each week in groups of three and four, and that seems to be going quite well.

Intermediate Latin is going pretty much as it did last academic year, with a couple of tweaks to the insignia system. The course has got to the stage where the students have settled down and are a bit more confident in their own abilities, which means they start having more fun with the language and that makes it more fun for me too. It’s always a pleasure to watch students levelling up, and this year is no exception.

Research: the big project this year has been getting on with the book manuscript… and I’m delighted to report that last week, I finally submitted a complete manuscript to the press and have just received the approval of their external reader. There’s still plenty to do – the reader requested a few minor changes, the manuscript needs to be gone over to meet the press style guide, there’s metadata to provide and indexing to sort… but with any luck, it’s all now into the technical bits and bobs, and the academic hard graft is done. Fingers very much crossed for this to go smoothly in the new year.

The other major project on the go has been the AHRC Family Archive project. It’s nearing its final stages – we’ve done all the outreach activities we built into the grant, and are now working on co-writing the two articles we had planned as a result of it. We had a meeting earlier this month to discuss how to structure those articles and what they should say, and it was delightfully productive and positive. I’ve been having a blast working with the project team, and I’m hoping we can find directions to go with this in the future.

I’ve also finally got the pedagogy article that’s been hanging around for a couple of years out the door, which is no small feat but a very nice one to have out of the way, and there’s been continuing admin work around getting the piece on women classicists at Newnham into print. Conference activity has been non-existent this year for pretty obvious reasons, but I’ll be gearing up with two papers in summer 2016 that relate to the Monster Project (which I really do have to write about properly before too long). I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into new projects now that these ones are coming to their natural ends.

Personal: the most obvious amazing thing is the arrival of infans, followed closely by surviving my first term as a parent, followed even more closely by managing to submit a book manuscript (or as near as you can get) whilst parenting. At the end of last year, I wrote that this would be life-changing for me and my husband. Of course, it has been, but in some strange ways things have kept on pottering on just as normal – I still research, I still teach. I also now keep an eye out for new nursery rhymes and memorise any vaguely catchy folksong I come across, and have discovered Views I never knew I had about childrearing and high chair design. Other things have diminished to compensate for that, but they’ve not been things I’ve missed terribly much – and indeed, their current absence is more a fallowness than a complete loss. It does mean I’ve been saying no to things a little more, but that’s not actually a bad thing.

It feels slightly strange to put this under personal, but I’ve been delighted that my vague inclination that we should actually have a British equivalent of the Women’s Classical Caucus has finally started getting somewhere – the Women’s Classical Committee UK is now up and running (or has a proper webpage, which is just as good). We’re organising our launch event for April 2016, and it’s going to be fabulous.

The big question for 2016 is what’s happening with my job prospects. As you may remember, my contract with Royal Holloway lasts for three years, which ends on 31st August 2016. There are jobs coming up, but having a baby and a fixed abode means I don’t have the amazing geographical flexibility that lets me apply for everything. That’s OK – it’s a compromise I decided I was willing to take. Despite this being a three year post, it also comes with a three year probation period; maternity leave meant I had my mid-probation meeting with our dean this semester rather than in the summer. I’m very pleased that I will now be judged to have passed probation when the book is in press… it’s all so close! So if I get that done by Easter, that will be a double whammy. Let’s see how it goes…

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.

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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.

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