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Bridging the Gap Between First and Third Year Greek Courses with an Online Commentary to Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus

Norman B. Sandridge

The Internet has become a frequent site for featuring texts, interpretive commentary, as well as grammatical, lexical, and syntactical aids, often with the help of multimedia. While the Perseus Project is the most familiar, a number of helpful and sophisticated online commentaries have emerged at Dickinson College (http://dcc.dickinson.edu/), as well as individual commentaries to, e.g., Virgil’s Aeneid (http://vergil.classics.upenn.edu/) and Plato’s Republic (http://www.onplatosrepublic.com/). In many ways these commentaries are modeled on the traditional book, only the online “book” can be expanded infinitely, arranged in various ways, and utilized easily and inexpensively to feature other media. What is missing from the picture is the revolutionary social and collaborative potential of the Internet, most familiar from such sites as Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter. This potential has great significance for pedagogy.

To address the deficiency of the standard online commentary, we have developed a communal commentary (or “communtary”) for Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus (www.cyropaedia.org), a text and an author long recognized as ideal for third semester Greek. The open-source platform we have utilized (CommentPress) allows users to engage in paragraph-by-paragraph discussion familiar from an online article or blog post. To begin the process of building the commentary we hosted in June of 2012 an online symposium, in which some 35 scholars participated from all over the world. Thus the “communtary” has already received contributions from experts in diverse areas such as Achaemenid Persia, fourth-century Greek prose, the ancient novel, leadership theory, warfare, and horsemanship.

The pedagogical opportunities of this approach are several. In addition to the grammatical aids, parsing tools, and multimedia familiar from other online commentaries, the Education of Cyrus commentary enables students to pose questions of the text that can be answered by any of the many registered scholarly participants. With proper scheduling students could receive answers immediately. Students may also read and discuss the comments from scholars, which collectively resemble a Platonic dialogue, with multiple perspectives and back-and-forth question and answer, more than a concise and comprehensive Aristotelian treatise. This dialogue format can help demystify the scholarly process for students because it allows them to see scholars posing questions, disagreeing, and, in the best instances, working on an answer together. Moreover, the “communtary” has several search features that enable students to look for information based on topic, recentness, and individual scholar. These features make it possible for students to explore the “communtary” in ways impossible with a traditional book and thus to begin to develop their own theses, which can then become blog posts on the site. Finally, the multimedia is geared particularly for beginning students. Many of the video links and pictures are inserted to help them make connections between topics and themes in the Education of Cyrus that are familiar from contemporary culture and make for jumping off points in class discussion. Plus there are audio readings of each section arranged in short phrases, which allow students to master both pronunciation and to process the language by ear.

The “communtary” to the Education of Cyrus has already been used with success at Illinois-Wesleyan and it will be used again at Cornell College (Spring 2013) and as a multi-institution, Sunoikisis-style course (Fall 2013). It is a “bridge” in two distinct ways: first, it utilizes all available technology and human instruction to introduce students to an author whose grammar and vocabulary will already be familiar to them, paving the way for more complicated sentences in the original language; second, it both introduces them to the polite and contentious give-and-take of scholarly discourse while allowing them to practice this role themselves. Students thus trained in the Greek language and introduced to scholarly interpretation are now positioned to take full advantage of the collaborative upper-level Greek courses offered through Sunoikisis.

Session/Panel Title

Moving toward a (Responsible) Hybrid/Online Greek Major

Session/Paper Number

14.2

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