Classically Inclined

June 6, 2014

The rara avis of research

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:09 am
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I realised a month or so ago that there had been very little content on here about my research lately, so this post is an attempt to fill in that gap. There are several reasons for the sudden hiatus – as I mentioned in my end of year round-up, the spring term was full with teaching preparation, which didn’t leave a lot of time for doing much else. The other main reason for there not being much to say is that the biggest chunk of my work over the last year has been editing three of my dissertation chapters and writing a new chapter, beginning the process of putting together a book manuscript; there are still two chapters left to edit before the whole thing is done (or at least, done until I get more peer review feedback). While this is important and serious work, it’s not terribly bloggable – I’m not thinking out new ideas, I’m making sure that I’m communicating existing ideas as efficiently as I could be. Similarly, there’s been quite a bit of editing/finessing work on other projects, like the Ad Polybium article, which is again all very important but not as exciting as classical reception at Eurovision. However, alongside this worthy stuff, there have been a couple of new projects quietly bubbling away – here are the highlights.

Grants, grants, grants: yes, in the new and exciting world of academia, even those of us in humanities have to bring in grant money. Thankfully, the AHRC has a scheme that makes that seem sensible rather than daft, namely their Early Career Researcher grant linked to their ‘Care For The Future’ subtheme. The lovely thing about these grants is that they are designed to be collaborative projects between ECRs which have grown out of a workshop that took place earlier in the year – it’s an example of coming up with new interdisciplinary ideas that fit people rather than trying to squeeze something you already want to do into guidelines and claim it’s interdisciplinary really. I’ve been involved with developing two proposals as a result of the workshop, which were submitted today. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on both of them one way or another, so I hope that they will do well in the funding call; whatever happens, it’s been a very useful learning experience even to get this far.

Women as Classical Scholars: I wrote a little about the early stages of this project back in November; it’s an investigation of the women who taught Classics at Newnham College between 1882 and 1922. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have been seeing the occasional burst of archive-related tweets as I’ve been working through the data gathering stage of the project. I’ve got a first draft written which needs quite a bit of work, but the archive work is done. There is far more research to be done here, but this will be a beneficial first stage for a bigger project.

Public speaking: I may have overdone this a bit this year – I’ve committed myself to five academic talks or seminars in as many months, plus an outreach talk at the end of this month. Which means they all need writing. (Incidentally, if anyone fancies coming to RHUL’s School Teachers’ Colloquium on Roman culture on 20th June, there are more details here.) In fairness, most of these are either projects I’ve been mulling over for a while or spin-offs of existing work, and I’m giving one of the talks twice in two very different venues. However, I think I’ve paid my conference dues for this year and the next, and unless someone offers me something absolutely irresistible, I think I get 2014-15 off from submitting abstracts.

So that’s what I’ve been doing – quite bitty, quite difficult to pin down in any coherent way, but all adding up to a not-at-all bad picture. I’m wondering whether doing a summer goals post this year is actually a helpful thing or not – quite honestly, meeting all my deadlines and getting on with editing the final two book chapters would be more than enough for me.

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April 4, 2014

Teaching at Royal Holloway – a reflection

Term finished at Royal Holloway at the end of March; I’ve now had enough time to catch my breath and finish off all the odds and ends from my teaching, so I can look back over how the year’s teaching has gone. Of course, I’ve still got the marking of exam season to come – precisely when will depend on whether the marking boycott called by UCU as part of the current pay dispute goes ahead. That issue sadly highlights a problem in teaching – there’s more to the process than just the mark that you get in the exam at the end, and when that becomes fetishized as the only valuable outcome of the university experience, we’re doing something wrong. Plashing Vole has written about these issues far more intelligently than I can, so I suggest you read him on them while I think a bit about my first year of teaching in a new institution.

It’s been a heavy teaching load this year, with three and a half units (which is effectively the same as teaching four units in the second term). The first term was manageable, as the three language courses were mainly intensive in the hour of teaching scheduled rather than in the preparation – after all, once you’ve selected an unseen passage and put together the handout, there’s not really much more you can do until you’re in the classroom. However, the second term added a new lecture course to the mix, and that meant I had to prepare two hours of fresh lecture each week on top of nine hours of language teaching. That took a lot of effort, and left me with little time for anything else. On the plus side, I’ll be reusing my prep for Intermediate Latin and the lecture course next year, so it’s work well invested. A few thoughts come to mind about each course.

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February 21, 2014

The Problematic Ovid lecture

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:57 am
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I wrote recently about my thought process behind putting a content warning on my Literature of the Roman Empire syllabus for a particular lecture on Ovid. This post seems to have struck a nerve, and I’ve had a number of people asking how the lecture went. I’ve now delivered the lecture, so I thought I’d let you know my thoughts on it, both as a reflective exercise for me and as a way to share good practice.

A couple of contextual observations. Firstly, this isn’t the first time I’ve taught difficult texts, particularly those which deal with sexual violence. I’ve thought about them as part of a conversation that started in the Women’s Classical Caucus and has been slowly moving outwards – I recently published an article on a test-case lesson that formed part of a gender and sexuality course I ran in the US aimed at a diverse range of students, and you can download a post-print of that article here if you don’t have access to Classical World, where it first appeared. This lesson was an opportunity to try out some of the strategies I developed in that context with UK students specialising in the subject, and also to see how they worked with a different group of texts – that class focused on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this lecture looked at selections of the Amores and the Ars Amatoria.

Second, this lecture formed part of a Literature of the Roman Empire course where, frankly, my goal is to make my first year students realise that there is more to the world of the Romans than A-levels let on. Some of them have looked at Ovid as part of a Latin AS level, but the selection of the Amores chosen is the most insipid and uninteresting four poems in the whole corpus (at least to my mind) – it’s doing Ovid without doing Ovid, which is profoundly cross-making. Mind you, here is one of the reasons I teach at university level, to be able to teach the sorts of texts you can’t teach to the under-eighteens without getting angry letters in the press. However, for a lot of students this will be their first exposure to Ovid in a systematic way, let alone to the world of Roman literature as a whole, so I’m really laying the foundations for how they think about and approach texts, as well as widening their horizons. In that sense, a lecture saying ‘so, this is difficult, what do we do with that?’ is a necessary question to ask at this stage of their undergraduate careers, because this sort of stuff happens all over classical texts. As one colleague said to me, “at least you’re not trying to teach comedy”.

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January 21, 2014

The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 8:03 am
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So, I was putting together my syllabus for Roman Literature of the Empire recently, which is the half-unit course I’m currently teaching to the first year students. It is going to be awesome – we have Livy, Ovid, Lucan, Petronius and Seneca, so I get to spend some time with my favourite boys talking about my favourite things. However. I had decided that for Ovid, if I was going to get the students to read some of his love poetry, I needed to have a lecture titled Why Ovid Is Problematic.

Why? Because it’s not pedagogically responsible to set students loose on the Amores and the Ars Amatoria without explicitly talking about sexual violence and rape. There is a darker side to our witty, playful poet that does need to be talked about, and students need to be given the tools for thinking about these difficult issues. This is, in part, what my article handling teaching the Metamorphoses in the classroom addresses. I had to think quite carefully about how I structured that lecture and what I do with it – I want to talk about the romanticisation of rape in terms of the Sabine women, the abuse of power as it appears in the two Cypassis poems, the violence against the female body as it appears in the two poems about Corinna’s abortion, and the problems of consent and its absence that some of the Amores pose, which feels like a well-structured progression through the issues posed by this sort of writing with some concrete examples.

I have, of course, yet to face the issues involved in actually preparing the lecture. My problem when I was constructing the syllabus was how to make it clear that the content of this session could be disturbing for survivors of rape. What is the pedagogy of the trigger warning on the syllabus?

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December 10, 2013

Getting student feedback: the ‘Dear Liz’ letter

I mentioned on Twitter that I had decided, after some reflection, to return to asking my students to write me ‘dear Liz’ letters. 140 characters isn’t really enough to explain what they are, so here’s a blog post to do the job.

I picked up ‘dear Liz’ letters in the US, as a strategy that complemented the one minute papers I’ve written about before. When I came to Birmingham, however, I had a rude awakening – students in my ancient religion course responded pretty well to one minute papers, but absolutely hated the ‘dear Liz’ letter, and were happy to tell me so! So I dropped them, and moved on. Fast forward to this year, when I’m teaching far more language than I usually do. I wrote in that post that I wanted to use one minute papers to get a clear grasp of grammar that was causing problems. However, despite good intentions and introducing them at the start of the year, I haven’t actually used one minute papers. At all. They don’t seem helpful – my classes are such small groups that I’m engaging with each student heavily in each class session, and it’s easy to flag up areas of confusion through obvious problems of translation and comprehension. I don’t need one minute papers to tell me what I already know. Equally, the Euripides course doesn’t encourage me to use one minute papers either – my students are in single numbers, meaning that debate and questions flow comfortably. If anything the CIQ would have been a better fit here. However, while I feel I have quite a good handle on how individual classes are going, I don’t have any way to take the temperature of the course more broadly. As I’ve got to know the students quite well, I now think they’ll respond well to this reflective assignment.

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October 1, 2013

Those summer goals… 2013 edition

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:41 pm
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At the end of June, I set myself some summer goals – so it’s now time to see how they turned out…

Personal

  • Have a holiday – achieved! We spent a week in Germany and I had a week in Suffolk, so that’s not bad going.
  • Move – achieved! Although now it looks like I’ll be moving again in the next couple of months as we have (quite excitingly) bought a house, but never mind.

Conferences

The Book

  • Finish sorting out the new chapter four – not-quite-achieved… well, when I wrote my summer goals post, I had a very rough full draft with incomplete footnotes. I now have a chapter that has been past my reading group and thus needs some fairly heavy-weight restructuring, but I know what I’m doing with it. So getting this done involved the first draft being more or less fine, which it wasn’t. This is actually OK, and getting this into shape will be my big autumn project.
  • Complete revisions on introduction and chapters one to three – achieved! The appendix still needs going over and I will need to rewrite the paragraph in the introduction which describes what chapter four does, but that’s fine.

Miscellanea

  • Complete a book review – achieved!
  • Do an archive trip to Cambridge if possible – achieved! And very positive it was too.
  • Put together a proper research bibliography on Plautus and Roman comedy – possibly achieved? I had an undergraduate student working with me who was putting this together as a bit of an independent research project over the summer, and am waiting to see the final files before I count this as done. But at least that’s a start made!

I said in my original goals post that the focus this summer needed to be on the book. I think it was, not least for getting the earlier chapters sorted out (they needed rather more work than I had hoped, but that’s always the way). This was a more ambitious set of goals than I set last year, but I’ve still actually done quite well in comparison. I do notice some patterns, namely the tendency to bite off more than I can chew on the research front – but I’m assuming that’s a good thing. I’d rather be overambitious than less, not least because the process of working through this stuff makes it better than it would be if I just fudged along. So autumn is going to be all about trying to sort out chapter four, and I should really start thinking about my classical women chapter as well. I draw a veil over my current interior dialogue over whether to submit something for LonCon3’s academic track and/or for From I, Claudius, to Private Eyes: the Ancient World and Popular Fiction, although that may turn up here in due course…

September 11, 2013

Syllabi-wrangling at Royal Holloway

I haven’t talked about what I am going to be teaching at Royal Holloway yet, and now seems as good a time as any to do so. The biggest difference in my teaching load will be that most of my courses this year are language-based. I will be taking Intermediate Latin, Latin Language and Reading (essentially upper intermediate Latin, or the A-level group), and Greek Author (or advanced Greek, for which I have chosen Euripides). In the spring, I’ll be offering a first year lecture course option on the literature of the early Roman empire, which basically means I get to teach my favourite boys with all the gory bits, but that’s not my current priority.

Having three language courses means I actually need to think a bit about my language teaching pedagogy. My teaching of language at Birmingham was not where I worked on my innovation – that happened in other courses, and language was about getting on with it effectively and efficiently. However, having this much language teaching means I can pay some attention to what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a little bit more. It also means that some of the techniques I’ve used before will have to go on hold – I don’t think the CIQ is appropriate for anything I’m teaching this year, for example, although if the registration for the lecture course ends up being about 20 students I’ll reconsider. One minute papers are definitely making an appearance for the two Latin classes; although this will be first time I’ve used them systematically in a language context, they should help in identifying points of grammar which need more attention. Learning logs and blog posts are, sadly, going on hold because they don’t really have a role in what I’m doing – I might try to get back to using discussion boards for the Roman literature lecture, and I will be having small group discussion in the Greek Author class, but because there are only six students taking it the blog format seems a bit overly cumbersome. I’m going to keep on asking students to facilitate discussion and to report back on secondary literature, but in a more classroom-based way – the focus is, after all, meant to be on translating the Greek.

I’m also going to have to think what, if anything, I want to do with Twitter. I still want to use it as an informal channel of communication – in fact, I have included my Twitter handle as well as my e-mail address in the information I’ve posted on my office door. But I don’t know how to use it effectively as part of my language teaching. My new colleague Sigrun Wagner suggested using it to see which student could generate the best tweet to explain a Latin word or concept, but that might involve more students being signed up to the platform than is likely, and I don’t want it to be exclusionary. I also don’t feel these classes give me the forum I had in the first year projects at Birmingham to make having a Twitter account to track the week’s classically-related news part of the course activities.  

What all of this made me realise was that I haven’t really got as good a range of techniques to draw on when teaching language as I do when teaching non-language material – so it’s time for a refresh. I have a couple of strategies in place for handling this, not least of which is the small treasure-trove of language books that I’ve collected over the years and which are now coming into their own for offering examples, helping to build up exercise handouts and so on. However, my biggest investment will be in my own copy of When Dead Tongues Speak, an APA-sponsored volume on language teaching strategies at the university level. I started reading a copy at Birmingham but moving got in the way; however, it looked useful enough to invest in my own copy, and I’m hoping to find suggestions of various new and alternative techniques to use in the classroom. I’m also going to put a bit of time in to looking over Teaching Classical Languages to see if anything there might be of use. These are mainly American resources, but that seems to be where things are published and I’m not aware of a university-level equivalent in the UK. If anyone is aware of something similar in the UK context, do let me know – the more I can read and think about what I do in the classroom, the better chance I have of making sure that I have ways of getting through to every student, not just those who get on with my tried and tested methods.

June 24, 2013

Summer goals 2013

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:10 pm
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Last year, I found having a set of summer goals surprisingly useful in making sure my work was targeted and well-organised, so I’m going to have another go at it. That’s not to say that I managed to meet all of my goals, of course, but part of the point of strategy is to have a plan and see whether or not it’s a realistic one. Something that’s becoming more and more clear is that I need to be thinking practically about ways that I can keep my research moving over the year to respect the different patterns that the academic year imposes upon academics. The same strategies that work for the summer won’t work in the middle of term, for instance. After an academic year where I’ve been pretty dedicated about carving out half an hour here or there for research, I’m finding that to have days without anything else in them is slightly disconcerting – hence the need for some proper goals to create a bit of structure and order.

Personal

  • Have a holiday! This turned up last year, but it is an important goal, and one that needs acknowledging.
  • Move. This is going to be fairly straightforward, as I have somewhere to move to sorted, but the end of August is going to involve a bit of logistics-wrangling.

Conferences

The Book

  • Finish sorting out the new chapter four.
  • Complete revisions on introduction and chapters one to three.

Miscellanea

  • Complete a book review.
  • Do an archive trip to Cambridge if possible.
  • Put together a proper research bibliography on Plautus and Roman comedy.

There’s a lot of small stuff drifting around the edges, but the main focus over the summer really does have to be on The Book. I’ve made quite big strides with getting the new chapter written during term time, but now I need to pull it all together and get it to a stage where I can send what I have off. Wish me luck!

June 18, 2013

Plans for next year and beyond

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:27 am
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As it’s now up on the website, I guess I can make the announcement – from the start of September, I will be joining the Department of Classics at Royal Holloway on a three year lectureship.

I’ve known about this for a while now and have been passing on the news to people in person, but for various reasons I wanted to wait for something more official before telling the internet. Obviously, I’m delighted. As anyone who has been following the job market knows, a three year job at the moment is an amazing break (and I have to admit that it’s only really just sinking in!). London is a brilliant place for me for personal as well as professional reasons; one of the things I am most looking forward to, if I’m honest, is the novelty of living with my husband. (Radical, I know.) The department at Royal Holloway, despite its well-publicised peril a few years ago, is full of interesting people working on interesting things, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in both teaching and research.

I will be sorry to leave my colleagues at Birmingham. Despite recent upheavals, they have been unfailingly generous and kind to me, particularly given that I’ve been on a Teaching Fellowship (and thus on a two-legged academic contract). They’ve been great to work with, and have put up with all sorts of things from me, most recently wandering around asking ‘what do you think the connection is between classics and spiritualism?’ and making loud verbal expressions of frustration at unhelpful secondary literature. However, I will be there until the end of August, so I have a while yet to enjoy their company.

I’ll blog some more about the teaching I will be doing at Royal Holloway later in the summer, but for now, it’s back to the research grindstone…

May 10, 2013

Unexpected dips: this year’s module evaluation forms

This week I’ve finished writing up my responses to this year’s load of module evaluation forms – I wrote a little bit about them last year, although under different circumstances. This year, we have a new shiny system – although the forms are still completed manually, they are processed by computer, which means that all the clever number-crunching stuff is now delivered to one’s inbox in a shiny PDF. Along with a duplicate e-mail containing the same shiny PDF along with data in three other PDFs which do not appear to be particularly distinct from one other, but never mind, it’s the main one that’s interesting. Particularly clever is the fact that the scanning machine can capture written responses, so as well as the prettified data the PDFs also contain scans of what students actually wrote – meaning the time I put aside to carefully type them all up was wasted, but that’s a small price to pay for progress.

When I last wrote about these module evaluations, I expressed quite a bit of frustration about the conflicting feedback, and the problems with actually identifying anything concrete to do about the sort of comments that completely contradict each other. For that reason, I’m usually a big advocate of using things like the CIQs and one minute papers to engage with students on a micro-level rather than wait for the final assessment when it’s too late to solve problems that have affected students throughout the course. But this time around, a couple of things stood out, and I do have a few things that I want to do differently next time.

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