Classically Inclined

January 9, 2012

New assignments – mid-year review

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:41 am
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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…)

October 11, 2011

Experimenting with Google Scholar alerts

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:52 am
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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…)

September 27, 2011

An update on those new assignments

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 1:35 pm
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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…

September 26, 2011

PSA: Possible disruption

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 7:19 am
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This is just a quick heads up that there might be a bit of disruption on the blog this week, as I’m currently enrolling my epic seminar students in their blog, which I’m also administering off this account. I’m not quite sure how this is going to work, as it’s my first attempt at doing this – but just in case something goes wrong, I thought I’d give everyone a warning!

August 8, 2011

Syllabi wrangling – new assignments

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 9:57 am
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Over the weekend I’ve been putting together some syllabi for the courses I’m going to be teaching at Birmingham. Specifically for the first semester, this involves working out what I want to do for an option course on religion, myth and ritual, which will be lectures for about 70 students; a seminar course on ancient epic; and a first year project course designed to help student improve their research skills, which I am going to base around the Roman novel, because I can’t think of a better way to start your university career than some quality time with the smutty bits of the Satyricon and Metamorphoses.

The syllabi are still quite rough and very much in outline, but I’ve got a better sense of what I intend to cover in each course. I’ve particularly been mulling over what I want to do in terms of course assessment. Now, formal assessment at Birmingham is very formalised, but there’s plenty of space for informal activities within the course itself – which suits me fine, as I can use that flexibility to try out some things I’ve wanted to experiment with for a while now without going through the paperwork necessary to use these ideas for formal assessment. The ideas I want to play with are as follows: (more…)

July 4, 2011

The tail end of Ovid’s Ars

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:01 am
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I’m delighted to announce that the Ovid passage I’ve been preparing for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women” has now gone up on the website! I’ve already written about the process of picking a passage and preparing the materials, and I wanted to finish off this mini-series of blog posts by writing a little bit about the process behind actually getting the passage up on line.  

As I said in my previous post, the first thing to happen was a discussion between myself and my editor, Ann, about questions she had about the text and glosses I’d sent her. This collaborative work makes a vital contribution to the strengths of the Companion; I brought her up to speed on the latest scholarship on the text, in the form of Roy Gibson’s Cambridge commentary on Ars Amatoria 3, and she brought fresh eyes to a couple of passages of the text which I’d got unnecessarily twisted into knots over. We sorted out our issues by clarifying some of the notes and including a handful of references to Gibson’s commentary at appropriate points (Gibson’s text differs from the OCT, so the differences needed flagging up for anyone trying to use that edition). Ann also helped to refine the glosses I’d prepared and get them more in line with the Companion‘s house style. (more…)

June 13, 2011

Tech tools – managing those pesky PDFs

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:30 am
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I’ve finally caved and realised that filing all of my PDFs of articles in subfolders along with whatever piece of academic work I’m using said article for isn’t going to work any more. The approach of having a subfolder called ‘Articles’ alongside whatever I was writing worked just fine for the PhD, and for the various other projects that I ran alongside the PhD. However, their bibliographies are now starting to overlap. The Stoic exile article, for instance, uses a lot of the same biblio that chapter two of the thesis did, and while it was fine to have one big folder of articles for the PhD as a whole, jumping between the Stoic Exile article folder and the PhD article folder is… well, let’s say that I’ve only been trying to run this routine for a week or so, and it’s already irritating the hell out of me.

So! Clearly what I need is one centralised place to keep all my PDFs. I could just shove them all in a folder marked ‘articles’ and just hope, but this seems a good a time as any to experiment with some of this bibliographic management software that people keep on sounding keen on. I had heard really good things about Papers2, but alas! That only operates on a Mac platform, and I’m a Windows girl. My two options seemed to be Mendeley and  Qiqqa. Mendeley tends to go head to head with Zotero when #phdchat has these kinds of discussions,  and after looking at the feature comparison charts I figured that I’d give it a go rather than Qiqqa – the main advantage of Qiqqa seemed to be a lot of ‘also by this author’ material, and I’ll admit that I’m sceptical they have much background data of any use to a classicist. So I downloaded Mendeley last night, copied all my PDFs into it, and then found myself looking at a huge job of getting all the references right on nearly four hundred documents.

I’m not saying that I am completely convinced by Mendeley’s pitch – I’m deeply sceptical of the claim that it creates effective academic social networking, not to mention this metadata of which they speak (a good chunk of my PDFs are scans of articles rather than PDF files, and as my transfer of data last night showed, the metadata is rather thin on the ground). A lot of the supposed benefits are, shall we say, causing me to raise my eyebrow in a sceptical fashion. But I’m figuring that I can’t afford to be properly sceptical until I’ve given it a go – and if I do end up being right in my hunch that I’m likely to be a research community of one, then at least I’ll have well-ordered PDFs out of it. I guess this starts with going through the files when I have a spare moment and making sure that the reference information is in order and that each article is properly tagged with the projects I’m using it for. One might argue that there are perhaps better times to do this than a fortnight before negotiating a transatlantic move… but I’m going with the old adage that there’s no time like the present.

(I suppose the second stage will be working out whether I can get the automatic citation tool to work in MS Word, and figuring out what the hell to do with citation references that aren’t in PDF form, like books, but baby steps.)

May 23, 2011

Tech tools and research

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:04 pm
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Last week’s #phdchat (7.30pm UK time, 2.30pm NYC time, every Wednesday!) focused on new technologies people are using to complete their PhDs. The conversation essentially went in the direction of what particular programs, websites and so forth people were finding useful to organise their research. At one point, @klbz suggested that “it’d be interesting to hear everyone’s tech tools & how you use them together on a day to day basis. #phdchat Blog topic?”

Now, I’m a great advocate of using technology that suits you, not for the sake of the technology itself. I also have a somewhat weird brain as far as tech is concerned – and classics as a field is certainly very much its own beast. I thought I’d take @klbz’s prompt to write a blog post about how I use tech, why I use tech the way I do and where I might want to use tech in the future.

I would say that the most important tech tool for me has to be my Palm Z22 and its accompanying Palm Desktop program. I think this may actually have been the last Palm model that was available without the ability to access the internet, which was precisely what I wanted. I use the Palm to manage my diary and my to-do lists, which is what keeps me on track. The to-do list function on the Palm and the parallel desktop program is brilliant – it lets you set up parallel to-do lists, which means I have my daily to-do list along with separate lists for ‘classics’, ‘admin’, ‘teaching’, ‘personal’ and so on. My problem with keeping regular to-do lists is that I quickly get overwhelmed by all the stuff on them. Running parallel lists not only means I don’t forget things, it also means I don’t get paralysed by the total length of my list – I can look at just what I need to get done today, which helps keep things manageable. The other plus is that you can use the calendar feature to block out time for tasks (I believe the Outlook diary has a similar function, but it’s been a while since I used Outlook). This means I can timeblock my week – parcel out so many hours for work on job applications here, so many for writing the article there, a couple of hours for lunch with a friend here – thus getting a good picture of whether I’m balancing my work tasks, and whether the work-life balance is in good shape or not.


May 9, 2011

How do you solve a problem like the Amatoria?

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:16 pm
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Phew! At the weekend, I finally finished the text, commentary and introductory essay for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women” that I mentioned in an earlier post. This is brilliant because the project has been getting done in dribs and drabs, so it’s a good achievement to have the materials sent off to the website editor so we can move into the next stage of getting the passage on-line. Now that I’ve finished off this first part of the process, I wanted to talk a little bit about what creating a passage like this involves. It’s the kind of work that normally doesn’t get talked about, and it’s actually a rather interesting intellectual exercise – so interesting, in fact, that a number of the passages on the site have been prepared by students in courses where creating a commentary has been an assignment.

The aim of the Companion is to provide thorough grammar notes that are easy to understand, and that students can navigate without professorial help; a preliminary essay that focuses the text specifically on women and their lives; and suitable images to place text in the world of material culture that it references. The images I don’t have to worry about so much; when I submit a passage, the editors scan the vast files of VRoma, an associated project, to find what they need. At this first stage, it’s my responsibility to generate the first version of the text, commentary notes and essay.

The first part of the process is whittling down a suitable passage from all of Latin literature, consulting with the editors to make sure the passage you pick fits in with their master-vision for the site. I initially wanted to do something from the Priapea, but alas, there was nothing high-school friendly in the entire corpus (but I will write about these poems another time). The third book of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria fits the site’s mission both in terms of being addressed explicitly to female readers and slotting nicely into one of the conceptual worlds that organise  the Companion. We narrowed the choices down to three possible selections – 3.235-250, in which a nasty mistress mistreats her slave hairdresser; 3.255-280, on minimising defects; and 3.281-310, on adjusting one’s laughter and walk to attract a man. I went for the third passage, with a view to doing the second at some point in the future.


April 25, 2011

Keeping company with Ovid and his Ars

In my current research project, or the one that is taking up what brainspace I have free from completing job applications, I’m working up a text and commentary for the Online Companion to “The Worlds of Roman Women”“The Worlds of Roman Women” is a  language textbook designed to teach Latin at the intermediate level with a thematic interest in teaching students about cultural history at the same time; the Companion takes it that one step further and provides texts with hyperlinked glosses, a short essay to introduce each passage, and appropriate supporting images. The texts are all organised into Worlds, so teachers can pick passages that look at marriage, the family, the body, flirtation, or any other area that interests them.

I’m a collaborator with the site, which basically involves proofreading new contributions when they go up, and contributing my own passages now and then. I’ve previously done two texts and commentaries; the first was Tacitus’ account of the death of Pompeia Paulina, Seneca’s wife, while the second was a description of Seneca’s aunt and her courage after her husband was killed in a shipwreck from his Consolation to Helvia. As you may have astutely spotted, these two passages are both pretty directly related to my Ph.D. thesis. Half of chapter one was dedicated to the Consolation to Helvia, while the Tacitus passage provided pretty crucial evidence for chapter three.

This time, though, I’ve decided to go a different route, for two reasons. First, I’m bored of prose! Well, that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve spent my whole Ph.D. looking at prose, and I wanted to ease myself back into some poetry, not least of all because I have two nascent articles that look at poetic texts. Second, the Body world of the Companion is a bit thin, and I thought it would be a good idea to bulk it up. This gives me an excellent reason to get into one of my favourite texts that I haven’t been able to play with for a while: Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, and more specifically, book three thereof.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with the Ars will be interested to know that it’s Ovid’s poetic handbook for how to seduce members of the opposite sex – where to hang about to meet girls, what pick-up lines to use, what techniques to employ to gain a furtive caress (and more), that sort of thing. The first two books address male readers, but the third decides that all’s fair in love and war, and attempts to teach the female reader how she might get her man, going so far as to advise how to ensure the most flattering views of one’s body during sex. We can’t really include those kinds of passages in a resource that’s targeting high school as well as college students, but there’s plenty of less X-rated material about posture and how to carry oneself that’s good fodder for the Companion’s intended audience. The passage I’m currently preparing focuses on how to laugh and cry attractively, and the most becoming way to walk – and I’ll talk a little bit about how I’m preparing the text another time.

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