Lauri Reitzammer and Mitch Pentzer
Beginning Classical Greek Online
In the summer of 2012, a donation made it possible to create an online version of an established ancient Greek summer class. This occasion provided the opportunity to do something unique, the chance to transform an intensive summer Greek program into an online course that used state-of-the-art courseware (Camtasia, Adobe Connect) to create a distance learning environment that felt like traditional, instructor-led training, and one that, through the digital medium, opened up the course to students in a much wider audience than could be brought to campus. A tenure-track faculty member was able to work closely with a graduate student to create the content and digital platform for the course; the class itself ran for the first time in summer 2013. This presentation is a discussion of the development of the course, its debut session, and its subsequent offering in summer 2014. Equally important is how invaluable this kind of distance learning can be for the instructors involved and for students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study Greek. Finally, on-line courses of this nature provide an opportunity for universities, especially those networked in some way already, to collaborate and share instructional resources in ways impossible in a physical classroom.
Several principles guided the construction of the online version of the course. First, although the MOOC (massive open online course) revolution was an influence, the course was constructed to create a stronger online community than the inherent massiveness of the MOOC can offer. In addition, the course would be fast-paced, and thus at odds with the informal and asynchronous learning that characterizes the MOOC. Finally, to avoid poaching students from other universities where Classics departments were already feeling the strains of low enrollment numbers, the numbers were kept small, and the course was offered for credit, with a standard, if modest, tuition ($2840 for ten weeks). Offering the class in the summer also lessened the likelihood of competition with introductory Greek courses in small departments during the academic year.
The online course, Beginning Classical Greek, was taught for the first time during summer of 2013. The two-course series (two five-week classes, each worth four credits) was taught jointly by the tenure-track faculty member and the graduate student, and the sections enrolled 15 and 8 students respectively. While they were enrolled, students were situated in such far-flung places as Colorado, Wisconsin, Italy, and (fittingly) Greece. This class may represent the first entirely online for-credit ancient Greek class in the world. The cohesion of this diverse group of learners and the success of the class is thanks to two features of the course that mark it as distinctive: dialogue videos and daily online chat sessions.
The dialogue videos are short lessons that discuss grammatical points with the graduate student playing the role of a student struggling with the Greek language, and the tenure-track faculty member guiding him through the material. Students are able to see “talking heads” while simultaneously viewing a PDF containing the Greek sentences under discussion. These videos hold the viewers’ attention and act to reinforce and complement the lecture videos that formally introduce the grammar. While the dialogue videos simulate a classroom setting, daily online chat sessions add the important element of interactive multimedia. During these chats, students check in with the instructors and with fellow students, and receive immediate feedback in real time, thereby creating a sense of belonging to an online community. In addition to feedback through these daily video conferences, assessment of student learning was measured through a combination of daily homework and quizzes, as well as weekly tests, submitted to a digital dropbox.
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