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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October 3, 2020

One week down…

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 4:02 pm
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I’ve just finished my first week of teaching completely on-line in the new exciting world of COVID-proofed education. Most of my colleagues have been experimenting with the exciting world of HyFlex delivery, where half the class attend in person and half beam in through MS Teams; while there are a couple of rooms where the technology isn’t working at all well, most colleagues seem to have found that it’s all worked a lot better than we feared. For reasons which were entirely predictable, I’m teaching entirely on-line for at least the first half of this term, and I anticipate that being extended to the second half at the very least; as such I’ve been doing a lot of reading and training on the best way to run a fully on-line class. Someone over the summer asked me how much time I thought I’d spent on this; I then guesstimated I’d spent about 40 hours on professional development stuff, and that’s only gone up. (My employer has been running a considerable amount of training, some of which has been catching up with things by the skin of their teeth as IT functionality is implemented, but there’s been a sincere and coordinated effort to provide something. Plus I’ve been spending a lot of time on Futurelearn.)

So this week, reality hit – the first week of teaching. Was it all going to work?

Do you know, it actually wasn’t bad. There were bumps and lumps, of course. Neville Morley has been documenting his particular set of trials and challenges over on his blog, which I’d been watching with some trepidation since one of the things he had noticed was that students were being reluctant to get stuck into the bulletin board aspects of the course. My experience has been very different, but I think I have a very different group of students which also makes a difference to the kind of engagement they’re willing to have. My advanced language course is full of second and third years who came up together from Latin Language & Reading last year, and so are well over the ‘but what if I make a mistake in front of these people?’ stage; some students hadn’t engaged at the time of writing, but there was enough of a lively debate for me to feel they were cracking on.

My other course, Contemporary Approaches in Latin Literature, was a bit more of a worry. Nothing. Crickets on the bulletin board. Why, I wondered, why are they being so quiet when I know from correspondence they’re keen and they’ve introduced themselves on the student introduction forum? All became clear when I got an e-mail on Friday asking why it wasn’t possible to post to the forum. Here’s a picture with the link to press! I blithely replied. We don’t have that link, they counted. Bother and blast, I said, undoing the setting which was meant to stop my colleagues’ inboxes being inundated with thousands of Moodle notifications. We’ll try again next week, but at least it’s a technical hitch which we know about now and the students will let me know if it repeats itself.

On Friday, I had three face-to-face seminars over Teams. Would it work? Would the students turn up? Would they end up in the right meeting? Would anyone press The Forbidden Button and start a parallel meeting? Would I manage to beam in the intercollegiate students who haven’t yet got registered on college systems for the MA seminar? Well, I guess it helps that I’m dealing with a small number of students, because not only did they all end up in the right place, they all managed splendidly. I had three hours of really good discussion-based teaching, including getting my Contemporary Approaches students to separate out into six separate break-out groups without getting lost there or on the way back. I know that coming on Friday, I may have benefited from mistakes earlier in the week – but, do you know, we had a great set of conversations, some really good insight building on the work earlier in the week, and it was as good as being back in the classroom. Yes, there’s work to be done on getting used to the asynchronous work they have to do and I want to do some tweaking for some tools – but, actually, I’m really pleased.

I also met all my dissertation students this week, and they’re as bubbly as ever, full of excitement and enthusiasm for the eclectic area of the subject they’ve identified as their focus for the next six months. The glory of the dissertation supervision is that I can give each student full focus just as well on a virtual meeting as I can in a classroom, and indeed the year before I started going on sabbatical I’d started doing Skype supervisions to make use of my non-campus days rather than cram everything into three days already overfull as it was. I love starting them off, and this year was no exception.

I know that not everywhere is having such a smooth ride. I know that the level of support being provided to colleagues across the sector is wildly variable (and that’s putting it mildly). I know professional service colleagues who are being required to be on campus are having a completely different experience. But for this very small corner of the world, and my contribution to the degrees of a small number of students – actually, it’s going alright. Thank goodness something is.

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.

October 31, 2016

Livetweeting conferences – a protocol

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 1:56 pm
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This set of guidelines was originally compiled by the team of Tweeters who were planning to attend the Classical Association conference in 2014, with me basically kitten herding. The intention was to offer guidance to those new to Twitter and livetweeting, and to help them and more experienced Tweeters create a comprehensive and useful livefeed for those not attending the conference.

These guidelines originally appeared on the Classical Association blog, but because of issues with the CA’s website they are not currently available. I am taking the opportunity to repost them, and to make a few small edits to make them applicable for conferences in general. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the original #CA14 crew for their help and assistance.

The Basics

  • Always tweet using the conference hashtag. Include this in all tweets you want included in the conference feed; anyone following the hashtag will see it, and it will be used to compile an archive of the conference tweets later.
  • If you don’t know the conference hashtag, ask the organisers for one, or come up with your own – before committing to it, do check that it’s not being shared by another event.
  • Be aware that livetweeting can change the atmosphere in a room, particularly if you are attending a single track conference; it may be appropriate to tweet less and be more directly involved in conversation at smaller events.
  • If you are asked to stop livetweeting by a panel chair, a speaker or a conference attendee, please stop. Many are not comfortable with Twitter as a medium; its presence should not negatively impact the conference experience for other attendees, however positive we may feel about social media.
  • You can livetweet whatever you like about the conference – the papers, the plenaries, the social side…
  • You can tweet as little or as much as you like. A livetweeter who tweets half a dozen times over the whole conference is as important as one who tweets half a dozen times to thoroughly summarise a single paper.
  • You may find this article on livetweeting conferences in general helpful: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/03/ethics-live-tweeting-academic-conferences

In Panels and Plenaries

  • Always begin your tweets of a paper with the speaker’s initials, to make it clear that you are reporting their argument. If a tweet gets widely retweeted, this makes sure the right person gets intellectual credit for the idea.
  • If the speaker is on Twitter, please use their Twitter handle when livetweeting – that will let people following on Twitter connect with them if they so wish.
  • If you are giving a paper, mention your Twitter handle as you begin, or include it on your handout.
  • Remember that the goal of livetweeting a paper is for somebody who isn’t in the room to be able to follow along with the speaker’s argument.
  • You may find that sitting at the back of a room makes you feel less self-conscious about tweeting; it may also make the process less obtrusive for other attendees.
  • Please make sure that your device is on ‘silent’.
  • Please demonstrate the usual high standards of professionalism, collegiality and courtesy that are the hallmarks of classicists as a discipline – that is, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • It is fine to have multiple people livetweeting the same session.
  • Don’t try to livetweet your own paper. Trust us on this.
  • If anyone following along on Twitter asks a question, please feel free to ask that question of the speaker and report the answer back. However, be aware that questions from people in the room take precedence.

Outside Panels

  • Again, please demonstrate professionalism, collegiality and courtesy in everything you say.
  • Remember to ask permission before posting photographs.
  • Be mindful that people following the hashtag are interested in the academic aspects of the conference rather than what dinner looks like. Unless someone has made a scale replica of Troy in mashed potato.

January 26, 2015

The Family Archive Project: Advisory Board meeting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:18 pm
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Last week was an exciting one for the Family Archive Project, as we had our first advisory board meeting. It’s the first time the project team have all been in the same physical space since the original AHRC sandpit, and for me it was the first time meeting our advisory board members, who are more senior academics with experience of doing This Sort Of Thing plus a representative from the National Archives, one of our project partners. The meeting served as an opportunity to update the advisory board on the progress that has been made so far, get some advice from them about things we felt could benefit from their input, and also ask them whether they had any thoughts or suggestions for how we should be approaching the project. It was really energising to be sitting in a room of people who were keen about the project – I’ve been getting more and more enthused since I spent a day in the British Library t’other week and realised that there’s something genuinely interesting here that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on (for perfectly good reasons) on the classical side, and the advisory board meeting reinforced that mood.

Two major things came out of it for me. The first was that the unique strength of this project is the chronological scope that the research team bring to the issue, and the possibilities that this opens up for interrogating contemporary practice and building new frameworks for understanding how people approach family archives, both consciously and unconsciously. I think we’d all appreciated that this was something special about the project as we put it together, but hearing other people articulate it certainly brought it home to me. The second was the potential that this work has for making a difference not only to other academics but to people in society more broadly, and how important it is to make sure that we’re keeping track of the needs of the communities and groups we’re working with. At the moment, we’re only operating on a comparatively small scale, but it’s something that simply hadn’t occurred to me before.

A side issue, but no less important, that we spent a bit of time discussing was how we are actually going to write the two articles we hope will come out of this work, beginning with one based on our historical case studies. We found working on the grant proposal through shared documents on Google Drive worked rather well, and I’d assumed we’d try that approach again; one thing the advisory board suggested was that one person took responsibility for calling time on the collaborative drafting process and then gave the article a coherent authorial voice before asking for feedback from everyone on the neatened result. Collaborative writing is not something that my field of the humanities tends to play with very often, although some people find it very productive; certainly it’s not something I’ve ever done. Given that there are four of us on the project team, I think we all appreciated some advice from people who have had more experience producing collaborative writing about what works and what doesn’t!

The next big milestone, other than getting a research assistant appointed for the project and setting up our focus groups, is getting together the meat of the case study article and working out what shape that would best take. Obviously because of oncoming maternity leave, I want to get on with that sooner rather than later – so I can see plenty more reading and note-taking ahead of me in the next few months. I’m looking forward to it.

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.

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August 4, 2014

On social media and impact – a reflection

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 2:30 pm
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I mentioned a while ago that I’d been asked to co-facilitate an event run by the Classical Reception Studies Network about impact and social media. Now that event has taken place, I thought I’d put a couple of thoughts down about it. The event was sort-of-livetweeted by others using the hashtag #csrn, but I don’t think any of us got around to archiving those tweets (ironic, given that one of the things we discussed was the use of Storify).

The afternoon was essentially an opportunity for people who were using social media in various ways to talk about how we used it and what platforms worked, and for people who were interested in using social media in the future or who wanted to know how they might improve their usage to learn, ask for ideas and so forth. Nobody acted as an expert, although the experiences of Emma Bridges (who moderates Classics International over on Facebook) and myself provided a starting-off point for discussions.  I have to admit that my decision to come onto various social media platforms was horribly calculated – my very first post provided a rationale for why I was doing this, although as my post a year later showed, my manifesto shifted and indeed continues to shift depending on how much energy I’ve got spare. Before I got onto Twitter I even (horror of horrors) got out a book from the university library about how to manage one’s brand on-line to work out what I was doing. But oddly enough, that deliberate approach has saved me from a lot of the pitfalls and confusions that I’ve encountered on other platforms, like Facebook (which I got onto because some old students told me I really should be, and now is an odd space full of friends, family, old students and senior colleagues). This sense of needing to work out boundaries and what you are actually doing was something everyone shared – having a clear aim definitely seemed to work better than just sort of hoping.

Another point that came up was the importance of accepting that you can’t control the internet – there’s no point in defining success in metrics about how many people  read or engage with things, because online space can’t be controlled in that way. (See, for instance, the fact that the post with the most hits on here is about writing a thesis introduction, not anything to do with my research or teaching.) Another point that emerged in the conversation was about community – many people commented on how good it was to speak to others in the field, build networks with people in other countries, and cross the interdisciplinary boundaries through the more informal engagement possible on something like Twitter.

I learned things myself – for instance, Silvie Kilgallon gave us a great explanation of how Tumblr works through her various sites, including the Stitched Iliad project and Aristotelian Complacency. I now understand how Tumblr functions, although I have to admit that it’s not for me – it doesn’t really fit with what I’m doing or how I tend to communicate my work. But this was another important thing that I wanted to say, and I think did get said, which was that there wasn’t any point in Doing Stuff on social media unless it worked for you. In the days of graduate training enthusiastically telling every graduate to set up a blog, I think it’s worth pausing to ask why you are doing these things and what it achieves. Without a clear sense of what you are about, it becomes very easy to lose focus and thus lose motivation. And, as we all agreed, there’s nothing sadder than discovering a dead blog that hasn’t been updated in months with no farewell post.

The final important point that came out of the workshop was that social media has a particularly helpful role to play when it comes to classical reception studies. Those of us (like me) who talk a lot about books, films and other forms of cultural production can reach out to the people consuming this material, and indeed in some cases to the people producing it. That means our scholarship has the chance of reaching beyond the walls of the academy and to a general interest audience – some of whom will be reading this post now. And if you are, thank you. Having the chance to talk about my research and my general thoughts about the subject I love to people who aren’t colleagues or students is precious, and I’m glad that you all stick around to listen.

There is an official report on the workshop written by Carol Atack available in PDF form.

Edit: We also seem to have spawned a blog.

November 1, 2013

Rihanna, Medusa, GQ and Photoshop

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 11:47 am
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Some of you will already have seen on Rogue Classicism that the current edition of GQ features a portfolio of shots taken by Damien Hurst of Rihanna… as Medusa. I saw these photos and thought ‘well, that’s interesting’, but what with my whole Medusa and monsters and space thing, those thoughts just sort of kept going, and here I am, writing a blog post on Rihanna in GQ. Which, somewhat embarrassingly, I keep on mis-typing as CQ, and I can only hope that the editors of that august journal would be amused rather than offended. I’m putting a copy of the front cover picture below the cut to make this vaguely SFW, but if you’ve found this post with the predictable search terms – prepare yourself for a bit of cultural analysis to go along with your mildly salacious picture.

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April 19, 2013

Bibliometrics for Classicists

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 2:50 pm
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So, on Wednesday I went along to a training session put on by our excellent library team as part of their series on ways for academic staff to raise their research profiles. This was the only one of the four I attended, partly because of time and partly because I’m probably a bit beyond the 101 seminar on how to use social media at this stage (she types optimistically). But bibliometrics are one of those things that turn up frequently in the pages of the Times Higher Education, have hands wrung over them in despair about what role they’ll play in the approaching REF assessment, are derided as being statistically useless and praised as representing the future of research strategy. It was about time that I actually found out what they were and how they work. I should give massive credit for what follows to our stellar library team, in particular Linda Norbury for all the work she put into pulling this workshop together.

Bibliometrics and Classicists

The major question for me, and for some of you reading this, was whether bibliometrics are one of those things that we as classicists have to care about. Some REF panels have decided to use bibliometric data (albeit sparingly) in their assessments this time around, which obviously raises the spectre of this becoming standard practice. Our REF panel is not one of them, and unless the tools available pick up significantly, it’s not going to be – at the moment, we are peculiarly poorly served by the major services which offer this sort of thing. They’ve got good coverage for the sciences; they’ve got good coverage for the social sciences; but the humanities are nowhere.

In some ways, this might be enough for you to throw up your hands, declare that there’s no point bending over backwards to learn about another science-generated form of measurement imposed on the discipline, and request that bibliometrics hie themselves to a nunnery. It’s tempting. Unfortunately, the funding landscape is starting to get a bit keen on this sort of data – and knowing why we don’t have it available is perhaps as useful in applications as being able to provide it, particularly for cross-disciplinary schemes. It’s a little frustrating to try out this stuff and realise that ‘your field’ isn’t being looked after properly, but being familiar with the principles now will mean that when the providers do eventually catch up, we’ll be ahead of the game.

If the throwing up your hands option still appeals, you can stop reading now.

What can bibliometrics tell you?

Bibliometrics can tell you two things – the impact rating of a journal, and the h-index of an individual researcher. Well, they can tell you more than that, but those are the two things that they’re most commonly used for.

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March 22, 2013

Classical Timeline entry up!

Filed under: Research,Teaching — lizgloyn @ 6:43 pm
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This entry is a signpost to the fact that I’ve written an entry on Seneca the Younger that’s now up at the Classical Timeline project – when you click through, scroll along to 50 AD or so and you’ll find him.

The Timeline is the brainchild of  Erlend Macgillivray, a Ph.D. student at Aberdeen whose own research interests are mainly within early Christianity – he’s bringing together some interesting people to help build the site. It’s still in its early days, but do pop over and, if you feel so inclined, get involved – it’s potentially a very useful project, and deserves to do well!

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