Latin @ Lexington – the Journey Out

I think this is by far the most exciting part of my PhD, not that I haven’t found all of it exciting, but compared, say, to the Literature Review, my trip to Lexington to speak Latin for a week is certainly likely to be filled with more thrills and spills. The idea behind the trip is that I investigate the effect of conversational Latin on Latin learning and, in particular, on the learner’s ability to engage with ancient texts.  This will help me assess the utility of a communicative approach in Latin pedagogy, and the applicability of social-constructivist and interactional language learning  theories, to ancient languages.

a boarding pass and an orange card to wave for help
a boarding pass and an orange card to wave for help

Surprisingly, in view of my adventuring history, the journey out was reasonably uneventful.  I made it onto both planes with time to spare though the plane from Heathrow into Chicago was quite late so American Airlines printed me an emergency boarding pass and gave me an orange piece of card to wave as I passed through the airport.  Both these gestures made me feel a lot better and I was really very impressed by their thoughtfulness and efficiency.  The orange card was particularly reassuring and did sometimes attract helpful attention from airline staff, though, more often, quizzical looks from fellow travelers.  The plane from Chicago to Lexington was alarmingly small, but it flew nicely and consistently all the way to Blue Grass airport (named for the deep colour of the grass here, encouraged by frequent rain and sun and high calcium content in the soil).

I first visited the USA about thirty-five years ago and I remember thinking it was like going forward in time. There were drive-in movies, drive-through MacDonalds, all-night stores and hash browns, things I had never seen before, and although it is probably too rainy for drive-in movies to catch on in the UK, all the other novelties are now commonplace here. I haven’t been back to America since then, so I was curious to see what innovations I would find this time round. My first discovery was in a toilet in O’Hare airport. They have the most marvelous mechanism that rotates a kind of clingfilm wrap on the toilet seat and you advance it before you use the loo by waving your hand imperiously at a green symbol above the bowl. Delightful! I look forward to their arrival in UK motorway service stations.  I also met some water imported from Fiji, which is the best in the world, apparently, though it just tasted like water really, and a drink called Cranapple Juice (Cranberry and Apple) which was very nice.

When I finally got to my student-room in Blandings Tower, I was hungry and there were no food outlets open on campus, so I asked the reception staff for advice.  They recommended I get a take-away delivered or take a taxi to a restaurant and they wrote this advice down for me, lest I forget!  When I failed to get my phone to work (it is so old it doesn’t pick up the American networks at all) or to understand the online ordering procedure, they phoned for a pizza for me.  They really were very helpful, but when they asked whether I had thought to bring any American money with me, I realised that they had made a reasonable assessment of my knowing-which-way-is-up skills too!

Anyway, the pizza (in fact just one third of the pizza) certainly solved my hunger problem and the marvelous aircon meant I was more comfortable than I had been in England.  Despite all the adrenalin of the day, I slept like a baby …

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Forever Young #antwerpcall2014

jc we will meet again crop

A few days ago, I wrote to one of the many new friends I had made at the International CALL Conference in Antwerp, “Meeting you … made a huge difference to my time in Antwerp … it was genuinely the best time I have had at a conference and mostly because of your good company.”  The atmosphere at Antwerp made it a huge success. I arrived alone, but felt warmly welcome in this gathering of the CALL community.  I met several real kindred spirits and immediately felt that I was among friends.  All this was and is still true, but there is now a huge pall of sadness hanging over my memory of the conference.

At the gala dinner on the Tuesday night, I sat next to a young researcher from Malaysia, JC Ng Shi Ing, who had brought her one-year-old son, Ben, to the conference with her.  I was full of admiration for her because I couldn’t have imagined coping with a successful teaching and research role along with a young child. However, JC was managing more than well, and she had brought her lovely sister, Elisabeth, with her to help look after Ben while JC did her conference thing.  We laughed together all night, and Ben joined in with a game of peek-a-boo.  The sisters encouraged me in my plans to vIMG_7706 cropisit Asia and invited me to visit them in Malaysia if I did travel out that way.  They were lovely happy, warm, kind people, full of life and plans for the future, a future that was never to be.  JC friended me on Facebook so I was able to watch her progress travelling round Europe before heading back home, to see pictures of her visiting a zoo, and of Ben paddling in a lake in Estonia, and I was also able to follow the dawning realisation among her facebook friends that JC, Elisabeth and Ben had been flying home on MH17, the plane shot down over Ukraine.  This still seems impossible to me and there are no words to describe the awfulness this loss must mean to anyone who knew them and especially their family waiting for them back home.  It is just unbearably sad …

I am posting here a link to my twitter story of the conference, including tweets from JC and pictures of her presentation: Mine is mentioned there too on the Monday afternoon.

Here, also is a gallery of pictures from Antwerp:

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As the conference closed, Jozef Colpaert, visibly moved by its significance for him, put up a slide of the final verse of Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’:

‘May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young ..’

JC tweeted a picture of it with the words ‘We will meet again’. I hope we will somehow JC, and Ben and Elisabeth.  Until then, ‘May God bless and keep you always …”



#CA14 Nottingham – a two-paper booking on my PhD road show

A gratuitous picture of the beautiful Nottingham University campus, taken on my iPad mini

So … I’m just quickly reporting on my appearances at the Classical Association Conference held at the beautiful Nottingham University campus between 13th and 16th April 2014.

The conference was, as ever, a real treat.  Lots of old friends to catch up with and some really exciting new ones to share interests.  Plenty of wine to help the conversation flow too, whilst of course maintaining a keen intellectual focus on Classics in all its forms.

My involvement this year was in two newish areas which are gaining a solid foothold and increasing popularity at the event (as you will see from the number of live-tweets about each).  My first paper was given jointly with Dr James Robson, Head of Classical Studies at the Open University.  We have formed a very productive partnership working together on the Council of University Classics Departments Survey, and organising the very successful #iLeG conference in February.  Our double-act at Nottingham covered interim results for the survey, and exploration of the benefits and pitfalls of eLearning at the Open Uni.  This slotted into a two-part eLearning panel convened by @banatoli, aka Dr Bartolo Natoli, currently at University of Austin, Texas but soon to be at Randolf-Macon college, Virginia.  The panel ranged over various areas of research and practice in eLearning with honest assessment of successes and failures.  The atmosphere throughout was enthusiastic, happy and supportive.  A lovely, friendly group of people has gathered round this field and its future looks to me to be in excellent hands.  The Twitter community came out in force to support this, and their presence added a great deal to the collaborative feel of the gathering.  Here is a flavour of that involvement:

New Approaches to eLearning:
Part 1: [View the story “#CA14 eLearning Part I” on Storify]
Part 2: [View the story “#CA14 eLearning Part II” on Storify]

I was also part of a panel called ‘Defining Classical Scholarship: the Research / Teaching Interface’, convened by Dr Jonathan Eaton of Newcastle College.  Here, I did a solo paper called ‘Theory and Practice in Ancient Language Teaching in UK Universities’.  I spoke about the lack of a sound theoretical basis for some ancient language pedagogy and explored the possibilities of benefiting from engaging with modern language theories and practice.  This might help make ancient languages more accessible to a wider group of students and also enable Classicists to ‘read’ rather than ‘translate’ ancient texts.  I focussed on the possibility of using Latin actively and this provoked some lively debate from the audience.  The whole panel was really well-received and a clear joint message about the positive effects of connecting research with teaching emerged.  Again you can sense the enthusiasm and support from the twitter story:

Defining Classical Scholarship: The Research/Teaching Interface:
[View the story “#CA14 Defining Classical Scholarship” on Storify]
photo (1)
Another iPad mini image of the beautiful Nottingham campus

I was delighted to be in the company of some very erudite and energetic people on both panels and I enjoyed the experience immensely.  I will hope to be back for more at #CA15 and to see more new and enthusiastic faces emerging in my areas of research.  It has certainly enriched my PhD experience and reassured me of the value of my efforts.  Thanks Classical Association! Thanks Nottingham! Ad proximam!

iLatin and eGreek Conference

Yesterday (01/02/2014) saw the first iLatin and eGreek conference in the Open University Regional Centre in Camden.  I say ‘first’ because I would really like there to be more, and there seemed to be enough enthusiasm from our speakers and attendees to make  a regular event possible.  In fact, we had ‘sold out’ a couple of weeks before the conference took place so perhaps we will need a bigger venue next time.

Here is the schedule and a bit of a description of our aims and sponsors.  As you can see, we encouraged ‘tweeting’ the conference with the hashtag #iLeG and we now have a detailed ‘story‘ (created with Storify) including speaker slides and eventually videos. I will be adding these as I get them processed and approved by each speaker.  We also had a presentation made over the internet using google hangouts.  I was really quite worried how that would go, but everything went very smoothly – our speaker, Bartolo Natoli was very well prepared and quickly established simultaneous connections – one for the slides and one for his webcam so that we could show both at once (slides in the main area and webcam below).  After the presentation we brought up the webcam so he could talk to the audience.

At the end of the conference, we adjourned to the Devonshire Arms, which is apparently a goth pub, but they seemed very happy to make Classicists welcome too 🙂

I had a wonderful day, but it was made really special by the number of friends who came and helped out and supported me.   You know who you are and a big thanks for being there.  Here are some photographs (one of the many things friends organised for me) so you can look out for familiar Classics faces.  Enjoy!

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2014 Tour Dates

So … my PhD life has somehow turned into a roadshow.  After a rather difficult finish to last year, where I managed to stagger through my probation assessment despite various medical traumas, I think (hope!) my mojo is returning.  Anyway, I have gathered enough chutzpah to start submitting abstracts to conferences and even to help organise one.

For anyone interested in catching a performance (and as a memory jogger for me!), here are my current commitments:

Three Minute Thesis Competition, 28/01/2014 – speaker on Open University team

iLatin and eGreek, Camden, 01/02/2014 – co-organiser and speaker

Classical Association Conference, Nottingham, 13-16/04/2014 – two papers

CALL 2014, Antwerp, 07-09/07/2014 – one solo paper on methodology


Now, I just need to gather enough self-discipline to prepare something to say at each of these!

A Rose by Any Other Name … Part 1

‘Rosa Black Prince’ photograph by my lovely Classicist friend, Maddy Bowman

Over the past year or so, since I first submitted my PhD proposal in February 2012, my title has gone through three different version … hopefully a quick history of them will show progression …

The first version was:

Technology-Assisted Learning for Ancient Languages‘.

This showed that I had a clear idea that I wanted to help (‘assisted’) by using ‘technology’ and that my focus was on ‘learning’ ‘Ancient Languages’.  All that is still true, but I now know that ‘Technology-Assisted’ doesn’t really coincide with the specialist vocabulary of any of the disciplines with which I will be interacting (education, educational technology, second language development, ancient languages, Latin, Ancient Greek).  It does have a plain English meaning and that is fine, but now I see it from the perspective of someone who does know some of that specialist vocabulary, it might look as if I have just got one of the specialist acronyms wrong, or that I have never even heard any of the acronyms and don’t really know what I am talking about (which was actually true at the time I wrote the proposal and is only slightly less true now!). So, for those of you who haven’t taken the plunge into the world of second language development and related technology, here are the acronyms I just missed when I was making up my title:

TELL = Technology-Enhanced Language Learning

Kirkwood and Price tell (No pun intended!) us that
‘Technology-enhanced learning (TEL) is used to describe the application of information and communication technologies to teaching and learning. Explicit statements about what the term is understood to mean are rare and it is not evident that a shared understanding has been developed in higher education of what constitutes an enhancement of the student learning experience’ (2013:1).

CALL = Computer-Assisted Language Learning

Meanwhile, in 1987, Levy defined Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) as ‘the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning’, noting that ‘the nature of CALL at any particular time is, to a large degree, a reflection of the level of development of technology’ (1-2).  Subsequent developments in technology have taken the scope of CALL far beyond the ‘computer’.

So, I avoided making a decision about aligning myself with either of these modern language acronyms and a made small amount of progress by changing my title to ‘eLearning for Ancient Languages‘.  I was quite pleased with this because the phrase ‘eLearning’, now subsumed under TELL in modern language learning scholarship, is just coming into favour for Classics-related stuff or at least that seems to be the case from the Classical Association panels of 2013 and those under construction for 2014.  This lets me cherish the illusion that I can get a bit ahead of the game by keeping one foot in modern language learning, while contriving to keep the other foot in ‘proper’ Classics circles by attaching myself to current parlance there.  How this will all work out is yet to unfold, but my ‘eLearning for Ancient Languages’ title was very short-lived – I think my supervisors and I agreed on it for all of 20 minutes before deciding I needed to move on to something altogether more descriptive of what I was actually going to do … of which more in Part 2 🙂

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L. (2013) ‘Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review’ in Learning, Media and Technology (In press)

Levy, M. (1997) Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization, Oxford

The Poster and the PhD …

So I started to explain in an earlier post about a crisis brought on by a poster …

This is what happened.  I entered an Open University competition to produce an academic poster explaining my research topic.  It was going to be a practice exercise for taking posters to academic conferences, but it turned out to be much more important than that.  I started by thinking of images to use.  First, I thought it would be fun to use the ancient vase painting by Douris (c.500 BC), which seems to show a young man with a laptop and touch-screen stylus (really a wax tablet and good old fashioned wax-scraping stylus).

After spending a while looking at the young man writing and  smiling, it came to me that I also wanted to use an image of a recipient of whatever message the young man seemed to be sending.  I wanted this to be in some way a mirroring or inversion of the young man, partly because the receiver should be facing the sender but also perhaps because I had made some connection in my subconscious with being able to see though a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) or with Plato’s Cave Allegory.  So … I searched wikimedia commons for a suitable photograph without success, but the idea of the image had become so important to me that I eventually commissioned a photograph from my professional photographer son.  This is the image he produced.  You can read his blog about it here.

Now it occurred to me that the amount of thought and effort going into this second image was surprising and I began to wonder why it was so important and why I wanted the paired images to dominate my poster.  After all, my PhD proposal had led with the idea that I wanted to improve exam success for students beginning ancient languages at university level and the twin images don’t really represent that.  They convey to me the transmission of ideas from one age to another,  a connection between ancient and modern minds.  I realised that that was what I really want for myself – the ability to make a close connection with the ancient world through its textual legacy.  I want to hear what is left of the voices of Ovid and Aeschylus, without the intervention of translators and without wading through ancient writing with a dictionary in one hand and a grammar reference in another (or even with the amazing Perseus on my screen).  I want to read so well that I am not even consciously translating …  And so,  I want to explore what activities and experiences contribute to reading fluency and I want to make those activities and experiences as widely accessible as possible through technology.

But how does that coincide with exam success?  Is reading fluency the ultimate aim of a university education in ancient languages?  I tend to think it is, though I will be trying to confirm that by listening to the views of university staff and students.  Meanwhile do respond in the comments here if you have a view …

So, the poster and the photograph have turned my attention to a very specific theoretical area – that of developing reading fluency – and made me question whether the aims of my PhD need a bit of tweaking or a complete rethink …

#CA14 Call for Papers…

In April, I attended the 2013 Classical Association Conference in Reading.  It was great to see old friends and to meet new ones, but one of the best things to come out of it was meeting others who were interested in eLearning for Classics.  Two very successful panels were devoted to this topic and I hope there will be more next year so I am passing on the call for papers from @banatoli


Call for Papers — ‘New Approaches to e-Learning in Classics’ (CA2014)

Following on from wide interest shown in this topic at the Classical Association 2013 Conference, it is proposed that similar panels on e-Learning be convened for CA 2014. Papers are sought on topics relating to the use of e-learning in Classical subjects, including Latin, Greek, Classical Civilisation and Ancient History. The organisers are keen to encourage the submission of papers presenting the innovative use of new technologies, as well as discussion papers on the current state of theory and practice in e-Learning for Classics. The scope of this panel covers the educational sector as a whole, from Primary level through to Higher Education.  Abstracts of no more than 300 words will need to be submitted for consideration by the end of August. Please message/tweet/DM (@banatoli) if you would like to be involved.

Hope to see you there 🙂

Remote Conference Participation – a Successful Pilot

Strangely, this is the post that nudged this blog into existence.  A fellow eLearning enthusiast asked if I was going to blog about my recent experience of convening a conference with both a remote speaker and a remote audience and, not having anywhere appropriate to make that post, and realising that I hadn’t started blogging my new(ish) PhD journey, led me here.  So here goes …

I am based in the Centre for Education and Education Technology (CREET) at the Open University, and, early this semester, I volunteered to convene the CREET Work in Progress seminars along with fellow student Joe De Lappe.  To begin with, we kept things pretty simple: just two speakers per event, and only the room, the IT equipment (PC and large screen) and tea and coffee to organise.  The idea is that students practice in a supportive atmosphere for participation at more formal events.  All that has worked very well, and it has been a great way to get to know other students and staff around the university, but this week we really pushed the boat out with a Work in Progress conference.  There was a keynote speaker (our Director of Studies) as well as lunch and a couple of coffee breaks.  The biggest breakthroughs though were with the twin challenges of bringing in a speaker and an audience from remote locations.

First, the speaker.  Theron Muller works in Japan and is doing his PhD part-time, but he wanted to be involved and to make a presentation at the conference.  To add to the interest, Theron runs Linux on his laptop while the Open University software is all Windows based.  We tried out the video-conferencing equipment and MS Lync in advance of the conference without success.  First, we only managed to make an audio (not video) connection to the video-conferencing equipment, and then, when we tried MSLync to MSLync, where the video and projection of Theron’s powerpoint presentation did work, we found the sound quality was very poor.  We weren’t sure about the capability of Skype (which also worked) to share presentations so we settled on google hangouts as our means of connecting. This worked wonderfully though we only used it to carry voice and powerpoint while Theron presented, and voice and Theron via camera during the Q&A session.  At the conference side, we had a marvelous piece of ’round table’ equipment which sat in the middle of the audience horseshoe.  When a member of the audience spoke, one of the six cameras on the device tracked to their face so Theron could see and hear them asking their questions.  I believe the Polycom CTX 5000 is ‘optimised for use with MS Lync’ but it worked just fine with google hangouts.

Next the remote audience.  For this conference we had invited along all the EdD (doctorate in education) students, but, as this is a course usually undertaken by teachers while they work, few of them were able to attend.  We therefore asked our audio-visual unit if they could broadcast the conference live over the internet.  They came in and set up sound equipment and a camera (with cameraman) and  we also had a link on the website where the watching audience could send in questions or comments for the speaker.  This also worked very well indeed.  There were watchers in Europe, Malaysia and the USA and a couple did join in by sending in live questions and comment.  The conference presentations and Q&A sessions were also processed and posted to the website afterwards and can still be viewed by clicking here (scroll down to find two recordings, one for the morning and one the afternoon). It is still possible to send messages in to the speakers via the ‘Post a Questsion or a Comment’ button.

All in all it was a very successful event and the double excitement of bringing in a remote speaker and a remote audience without problems made it really memorable.  This certainly expands the possibilities for interaction at future conferences or seminars here and perhaps I can claim for it some sort of demonstration of the affordances of technology for communicating scholarship.

What’s it All About?

I am having one of those crisis moments about my PhD topic.  What do I really want to achieve here?  But since I am starting in media res, as all the best authors do ;-), perhaps you better know what I thought I wanted to achieve to begin with. So here’s a diagram of my original rationale.  The problems I want to address emerge from two areas. First, I have seen several fellow students fall brationale orangey the wayside on initial language courses and, second, to be brutally honest with you (and myself), I am disappointed in my own reading fluency.  After quite a few years of studying Latin and Ancient Greek, I still can’t read ancient texts without good old Perseus by my side, never mind getting anywhere near the pleasure of reading meaning without having to translate at all.   This contrasts quite strongly with the relative ease with which I can skim some modern second language texts for meaning despite far fewer years of study. On the positive side, as you see from my blog list, I have had loads of fun developing or curating eLearning tools for a variety of Classics topics, including learning ancient languages, and that gives me hope that help (though sadly not a magic bullet!) might come from that direction. Finally, I think, that I am here doing this PhD mostly because I love being a student. (I have put ‘Love Learning’ in the diagram because it looks slightly less self-indulgent than ‘Love being a Student’). After some of the pointless political shenanigans of public sector IT Management (c.f. my last lifetime!), I feel as if I have gone to some unlikely and undeserved academic heaven.  So … I am going to make the most of my time here!

Meanwhile, back to my crisis, which has been prompted by trying to put together a poster for an Open University Council event and a poster competition … though, now I think about it, that little lot deserves a post all of its own … at least you now have some idea what I thought I was doing …