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.
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.
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.
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!
I promised myself I’d devote some time in the Christmas vacation to reflecting on the new assignments that I including in my teaching during the term, and how they are working. (I wrote about them in these two posts.) Now that they have been in place for half the teaching year, I can have a look at them and work out whether they are doing what I wanted them to be doing – and if there is anything I can do to salvage them, should there be problems, or whether these assignments will be one-offs in my teaching history. The whole process of teaching is about recognising when things don’t quite work, and I feel as if last term clearly demonstrated that some things worked better than others. (more…)
I recently realised that I might be missing a trick by not using the Google Scholar alerts system. Someone on #phdchat mentioned that they found setting up well-targeted and sensible alerts kept them informed of research relevant to their interests, and I wondered whether they might be on to something. My current way of keeping on top of things after the initial trawl through the literature is a combination of a half-hearted glance through the titles of articles in new journals and browsing reviews that appear on BMCR, and this is perhaps not the most efficient way of keeping up to date.
So, on 22nd August I set up five Google Scholar alerts. Setting up an alert was very easy, although the system did decide (perhaps unsurprisingly) to send them to my not-particularly-active Gmail address by default. I set up five alerts to see how useful they would be. I initially thought about setting up one for Seneca, but apparently there is a very prolific scientist publishing in biochemistry of that name, and all the search results came back with his publications. So I set up a search alert for Seneca Stoic and Seneca Latin, to see how that did on keeping me up to date on relevant scholarship. (I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my own thesis came up in the search for Seneca Stoic – at least I’m out there!) I also put in a search for Polybius – risking false positives dealing with the work of the historian Polybius, but I wanted to see whether that risk was worth taking in order to get anything that might mention Seneca’s ad Polybium. Finally, I set up searches for Petronius and Priapea, one for an old project and one for a project-in-the-works, to see what (if anything) turned up. (more…)
So, back in August I posted some random noodlings about what innovations I might incorporate into my teaching for the coming year. Now that the syllabi have gone live and I’m starting to implement those ideas, I thought I’d let you know what form they finally took…
- Learning journals/reflective journals – I ended up using two versions of this for different purposes. As planned, I’m asking my religion students to keep a reflective journal that expects them to do quite a lot of thinking about their learning experience, how things are going, that sort of thing. I’m also asking my first year tutees to keep a learning log, which is a rather more basic kind of journal – all I want them to do is log how much time they’re spending on each activity for each course, as a way for them to be aware about how they’re spending their unstructured time at university. They’re serving two very different purposes, and I’m hoping that they’ll both work well.
- Blog posts. I have followed through my original idea of getting the students in my epic seminar to contribute to a group blog, and decided to do it via WordPress; I’ve set up a ‘private blog’ that seemed to be the best option, given that I didn’t feel I had enough time to get to grips with how the built-in blog function in WebCT works. I will admit to a minor crisis yesterday morning when I managed to convince myself that I had just invited all the students to have complete control over this blog rather than managed control over their blog (hello tech paranoia), but now that the first group have taken up their invitations I can see that the permissions are working as I hoped they would. Now I just have to hope that the blog does its bit in starting some significant discussion on secondary literature!
- The Critical Incident Questionnaire. Again, I’m following through with this for the Epic seminar; small numbers are definitely the way forward. Until I’ve actually had a few weeks of this in practice, though, I won’t be able to say how it’s working.
- I did indeed go ahead and work in Twitter. All my classes have hashtags assigned as an optional extra way of discussing the course material, so if anyone fancies uses that casually, they can. I’ve also gone the extra mile in expecting my first year students to set up and maintain a Twitter account for the purpose of keeping up with developments in the classical world – the latest archaeological discoveries, for example, the latest department under threat, the latest from Classics for All, or the current Big Classics Television/Radio Programme. It also will hopefully give them a bit of an insight into the norms of academic practice, given that I’ve given them a starting list of Tweeters who are professionals in the field.
All in all, quite a lot of innovation there, although it’s mainly to do with community building and reflective learning rather than formal ‘written’ assessment – but then, these kinds of reflective and formative activities make improvement in those formal assignments possible. I’ll keep you posted on how things develop…