Classically Inclined

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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December 30, 2014

Reflections and plans at the end of 2014

We’re half-way through the academic year, and coming to the close of 2014, so for a variety of reasons it seemed a good moment to pause and reflect on how things are going so far.

Teaching: as I mentioned in my most recent syllabi-wrangling post, my two biggest obligations were putting together a new half-unit on Virgil and a new Advanced Latin course (in two half units) for intercollegiate MA provision. I also decided to gamify intermediate Latin. I think gamification deserves its own post again, but I will say that I’ve been enjoying the process of incorporating game theory into my language teaching at this level, and it’s certainly appealing to some of the students. Some of the pitfalls I’m coming across are similar to those I’ve encountered with other techniques that have worked in US classrooms but seem to falter a bit in UK ones, but as I say, I’ll hold those thoughts over for another post.

The Advanced Latin course has been quietly rewarding in its own right, partly because of teaching Suetonius’ Life of Vespasian for the first time (which has turned out to be surprisingly good fun), and partly because of the student response to the independent project element. I set this up using the second year undergraduate projects we set students at Royal Holloway as an initial model, so while I knew that the format would work in principle, I had no idea whether the students in the course would bite. Well, it turns out that giving MA students an opportunity to work on texts that they actually like and want to work into their research means they have fun with the assessment you set. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with students about their individual research and where they see it fitting into their broader profile as researchers, and the students have shown me directions these projects can go in that I hadn’t envisaged when putting the syllabus together. For some reason, our impression when setting these courses up had been that they would be of interest mainly to those working on history and literature – my brain had completely left out the possibility that students with a primary research interest in classical reception might want to polish up their Latin too! The projects aren’t due in until the new year, but I’m really excited to see how they’ll turn out. And I think the students’ Latin has improved too.

The Virgil half-unit has basically been a new build, and I’ve found myself being more comfortable with a note-and-text based lecture style than I have been previously. I’ve also rather liked the seminar-lecture two hour format, although I think that in the future I’d like to experiment with the active learning/lecture format that I used during my Roman Life Course unit at Birmingham – leaving students to their own devices for more or less the first hour and then lecturing at them for the second hour isn’t a format that I think works for me particularly well, although I’m very glad I’ve tried it and seen how it plays out in practice. In the end, because of the number of students, I ended up not assigning in-class presentations on secondary literature, but I think there are other ways to work that skill-set in. However, the most rewarding part of the whole course has been re-reading the Aeneid with fresh eyes and trying to get some more enthusiasm into the students about the text. I think my decision to keep Virgil out of the first year Roman literature survey is definitely the right one, as it gives students a year off and the ability to come at the poem fresh. All in all, I’m quite pleased with the experiment.

Research: a year-long view here. As far as the book is concerned, I’ve revised two chapters, finished off writing a new one, and have done a complete text/translation review of the manuscript as well as respond to a set of readers’ reports. I need to redraft the conclusion (sometime before term? Who knows?), but there’s been slow and steady progress towards getting the manuscript together. However, I will admit to being quite frustrated that another year has passed and I still don’t have a contract in hand. Still, none of the work I’m doing is wasted, and let’s hope 2015 is The Year Of The Book.

I’ve also written a chapter on women classicists at Newnham, been awarded an AHRC grant for work on the Family Archive Project (about which I will blog on here before too long, I hope!), got some thoughts together about women, space and the stage in Plautus, had the Ad Polybium article published at long last, given several other conference papers, almost got a pedagogy article finished about preparing a text commentary for the Companion To The Worlds of Roman Women, and have some positive developments on the Monster Project front (of which also more before too long, hopefully). I have to be honest that while I feel like I’ve stalled a bit on the book front, other research has been bubbling alongside it. I think the trick is going to be making sure that these opportunities generate tangible results rather than Interesting Thoughts – I’m sure they will, but the trick is going to be in the planning. So the book stays at the top of the research to-do list, but I’d also like to spend next year working on the AHRC project and preparing an article on Seneca’s use of imagery in his political philosophy that’s come out of writing the new book chapter.

Personal life: as some of you may have seen me announce on Twitter recently, my husband and I are expecting our first child in April. We are both excited and petrified in equal measures, which I gather is the sensible position to be in at this stage. Because infans has had the grace to time themselves conveniently, I’m planning to complete my spring 2015 teaching before going on maternity leave at the start of April; I hope to be back in September or October at the start of the 2015-16 academic year, all being well. It goes without saying that this is going to be a massive life-changing event for us, and we have no sense of the impact that it is going to have on our quotidian existence, let alone something as rarefied and intellectual as research. We’re looking forward to finding out – for the foreseeable future, this little project is going to be taking top priority.

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.

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