Challenges of Blended Learning in Ancient Greek, Follow-Up

May 28, 2013 § 5 Comments

Since I posted about the challenges of finding good materials to blended learning in Introductory Ancient Greek, last Friday, I’ve found a few more resources and information to share. I’d also like to suggest some partnerships to advance this work.

Online: Delivery or Interaction?

I ran across a Day of DH post, “Teaching Greek“,  by Adam Rabinowitz, which mentioned an online component for an introductory Greek textbook: Luschnig’s “An Introduction to Ancient Greek“. Rabinowitz notes,  “I wasn’t enthralled with this textbook, and although it does have an online companion, my students didn’t use it much (or at all, really),” so I decided to check out so called the online companion. I can see why his students didn’t use it much.  It contains pdfs of study guides with answer keys.  The only thing online about it seems to be the delivery system. One advantage, I suppose, is that these materials are free, but they aren’t particularly interactive. Still, if students use the answer key they can get their own feedback.

Rabinowitz also discusses the types of online digital tools students do find useful for studying Ancient Greek:

At the beginning of the semester, the students were already well familiar with Perseus, and used its morphological tools avidly to check their forms and accentuation (they also used it for cutting-and-pasting Greek words into emails, since they weren’t yet comfortable typing polytonic Greek)

This use of Perseus demonstrates the difference between a useful tool and a delivery method.  It also embodies, for me, the difference between digital pedagogy and teaching online.  The first uses digital tools and resources for learning; the second is merely a medium of delivery.  Of course, those teaching online can practice digital pedagogy, but I often get frustrated with the assumption that delivery of content equals pedagogy. Unfortunately, this definition of seems to dominate discussions of technology use in higher education.  Consider, for example, the definition of online learning offered by the Sloan Consortium:

Types of Online Learning as  defined by the Sloan Consortium

Types of Online Learning as defined by the Sloan Consortium











This chart comes from Allen, I. Elaine and Jeff Seaman. Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011. The Sloan Consortium, November 2011, p. 7 In categorizing courses by how much material is delivered online they imply that delivery = pedagogy and lump together so many different ways of teaching with technology.  Again, looking back at Rabinowitz’s Greek course, by the Sloan definition, we’d probably call it web facilitated because students had access to that supplementary Greek material via pdf.

After Rabinowitz’s students finished with their textbook, they went on to do more digital work, which we would probably again classify as web-enhanced, but notice the difference from using online pdfs:

It was after we’d finished the textbook, however, that the digital resources and tools available for the study of ancient Greek really opened new doors. I introduced them to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, to the Ancient Lives project and, and to the PHI database of searchable Greek inscriptions. We even transliterated and transcribed part of the Oath of Chersonesos, a 4th-century BC civic oath from Chersonesos in Crimea, using an interactively lighted image generated using Reflectance Transformation Imaging in the course of a workshop led by Cultural Heritage Imaging at the site in 2008. We used a wiki page in the Blackboard CMS system to work on this collaboratively, and the students managed, with relatively little input on my side, to produce a version of the first twenty lines that is relatively close to the established text (learning some Dorian dialect in the process).

Here we see students using the resources created by digital scholarship of the Ancient World and taking advantage of new research techniques, like Reflectance Transformation Imaging.  They also pratice collaborative scholarship in producing their transliterated and transcribed text. This type of pedagogy involves students in digital scholarly practices, exposes them to the products of that practice, and uses the affordances of digital tools to enable collaborative work rather than just content transfer. To me, this is the kind of hybrid course we should see–one that involves students in using the same digital tools that scholars use, essentially bringing them into the practice of their discipline and using digital tools to improve learning rather than just as a digital version of a print resource.

Rabinowitz also introduces his students to Greek flashcards available through the Mnemosyne Project: As noted in my previous post, these are some of the types of resources that students can usually find on their own, but there are some nice sets here because they particularly concentrate on most frequently used Greek vocabulary, including the Core Vocabulary Lists from the Dickinson College Commentaries. These lists remind me of a point made by Chris Blackwell (The Louis G. Forgione University Professor of Classics, Furman University) in a panel I organized on “Digital Humanities for Undergraduates” at the AAC&U 2012 Annual Meeting. When describing the digital work done by his students, Chris explained that making lists is a core and long-standing activity of Classical Studies. His students were doing the same thing, but creating their lists by working with high resolution scanned manuscripts, transcribing texts, and mapping text to image. I like this explanation because it points to how digital work can extend and improve existing disciplinary practice rather than replacing it. The Dickinson College Commentary Core Vocabulary could be created by hand, but much more easily using computer analysis. Flashcards could be created by hand, but computerized flashcard programs are mobile and can use statistical analysis to quiz you on the material where you need more help. This is the difference between content delivery and interactive learning.

Hybrid Learning: Best of Face-to-Face and Online

Rabinowitz concludes his post with reflection about the use of digital tools and the importance of face-to-face learning.

My overall sense right now is that certain digital tools have become indispensable for the students — morphology and lexical tools in particular — but that the crucial factor remains the face-to-face, discursive element. I’ve had my students partner up to review each other’s Greek compositions, and I think this has resulted in more improvement than any of the online tools I’ve introduced. This makes intuitive sense to me, since human beings are programmed to learn language discursively, but I would love to see more systematic and data-rich analyses of the ways in which digital tools improve acquisition of dead languages in particular, and the ways in which face-to-face interaction remains necessary. This will be especially important as institutions of higher education seek to reduce costs and deploy digital substitutes for courses with low enrollment and a high faculty time commitment.

Essentially, he validates the importance of hybrid learning.  The face-to-face component he describes demonstrates a richer use of face-to-face time because students interact with each other rather than just their instructor. As  we make arguments for the value of face-to-face learning, here, too, we need to be able to demostrate that we are doing more than just content delivery (a.k.a. lecture). To have a truly effective hybrid or blended learning experience, we must make the most of face-to-face interaction and have the best use of digital tools.

As Rabinowitz argues, we also truly need “more systematic and data-rich analyses of the ways in which digital tools improve acquisition of dead languages.”  One of the key advantages of Carnegie-Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative Tools is the instructional design and the analysis of modules in use, which in turn leads to improved modules.  I hope that we can take resources like  A Digital Tutorial For Ancient Greek Based on White’s First Greek Book and analyze their usage to lead to improvements.  In Classical Studies, we do have the advantage of centuries (or even millenia) of pedagogical practice. We can build on that practice to create better resources for hybrid learning, as well.

Partnerships to Improve Hybrid Learning and Advance the Study of Ancient Greek

Let me suggest some specific partnerships that could help. The Blended Learning Program of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) is currently taking proposals (pre-proposals are due September 12, 2013). I could imagine a Greek instructor in that consortium using a grant from ACS to study how his or her students use digital tools, like those described by Rabinowitz or the Digital Tutorial for Ancient Greek.  Likewise, the “Hybrid Thinking About The Role of Technology For Liberal Education,” faculty workshop of the Great Lakes Colleges Association also resulted in a group studying blended learning and accumulating resources.  And the Bryn Mawr consortium may be exploring developoing modules with the Open Learning Iniative.  I’d like to see liberal art colleges where there is a focus on undergraduate pedagogy partner with other types of institutions to explore how we can create truly effective learning using digital tools.

A second type of partnership comes from the Open Philology Project. This research plan led by Greg Crane includes a Historical Language E-Learning Project. Crane’s vision for crowdsourcing the work of open philology with sustantial student contributions embodies the vision for student crowdsourcing I laid out in Crowdsourcing, Undergraduates, and Digital Humanities Projects. This vision taps students as effective contributors to the work of open philology and gives them a concrete application for their languge acquisition, one that fits well with the tenets of applied and experiential learning. In an email sent to me on May 24 and prompted by my query for material on the Digital Classicist List, Crane writes “we are hoping to have a Greek course on-line by January 1. Jeff Rydberg Cox has done the most for that language and we are pushing hard to help and build on that. Your colleagues interests are VERY similar to ours.” I’m heartened to see both this activity and this potential for more collaborative work to advance the study of Ancient Greek.


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