(Report by Bartolo Natoli on the e-learning panel, April 5, 2013.)
Earlier today, the Classical Association’s Annual Conference, hosted by the University of Reading, presented two panels on ‘New Approaches to e-Learning’, a topic of growing interest in Classical Studies. The two panels boasted papers full of insights and suggestions for incorporating educational technology into both Latin and Classical Civilization classes. The first panel, consisting of papers by Jonathan Eaton and Alex Smith, focused more on how technology could be employed in classroom instruction on a macro-level. Eaton’s talk provided examples of how Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) could be used to enhance student learning and touched on the controversial topic of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Eaton suggested that VLEs be used to offer resources to students asynchronically, whereas evaluation and direct instruction be employed in a f2f setting: blended learning was a key means of maximizing learning potential. An example of such blended learning was Alex Smith’s discussion of using technology to provide students with collaborative and higher-level learning activities based on synthesis through the creation of a website in eXeLearning that was based on set lines of Latin. Students worked through both Latin content and 21st century, real-world skills such as collaboration and web design. Technology provided the medium, but was not the goal.
The second panel presented more specific uses of techology in the classroom, providing ample examples for daily classroom activities. Francesca Sapsford, a member of the Pericles Group, presented OPERATION LAPIS, a game-based-learning method of instruction currently in its first few years of operation. Although no long-term quantitative data has been tabulated due to the project’s newness, early qualitative results are positive, and show that OPERATION LAPIS could be an effective means of alternative or supplemental instruction that engages students in the familiar medium of gaming. Ann Martin provided further examples of specific learning activities based on technology. One of her most effective methods was the inclusion of gestures to indicate grammatical case, as it engaged students through multiple modalities of instruction. (Finally, Lalia Tims concluded the panel by sharing methods of teaching vocabulary actively through technology. The most intriguing idea was the use of Glogster to produce student-made semantic vocabulary boards that could be placed on the class website. This approached blended well-known theories of vocabulary with the ability of technology to create data swiftly.
Overall, these panels were some of the best I have attended at a conference because of the enthusiasm and collaboration between panelists and audience. Such excited collaboration was driven by the fact that intellectual sharing of edtech practices tends not to happen in Classics as much as it should, leaving individual practitioners feeling isolated and uninspired. The discovery of others hoping to lead the field into the digital age was both inspiring and refreshing. As a cap to the panels, Jonathan Eaton encouraged all involved to send contact information to him in order to create a collaborative network of support and knowledge. I, in turn, encourage all of you who are interested to send your contact information to his Twitter or his email as well.