Classics on Front Lines of Classroom Technology Revolution

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It’s not difficult to appreciate the irony that Agnes Scott College’s Classics department, which specializes in the study of ancient Greek and Roman language, literature and history, has formed a reputation for pioneering the use of new technologies in the classroom.

The classics department is frequently the first on campus to try out new technology, such as video conferencing and open source software, to help students connect with fellow classics enthusiasts and broaden their learning experience, said Megan Drinkwater, assistant professor of classics at Agnes Scott.

The classics department uses much of its technology as a member of Sunoikisis, a group of partnering classics departments at colleges and universities across the country—a virtual classics department of sorts. The term Sunoikisis comes from the Athenian historian Thucydides and refers to a confederation of small city states that band together against a large empire.

“The idea behind this consortium is that small liberal arts programs like ours could team up to offer an experience that may be more like what’s offered at a graduate level program or at a large university, programs that have eight to 10 faculty members or more in classics. It’s a way that we’re able to band together and offer this richer experience to our students,” Drinkwater said.

Many of the technologies used in Sunoikisis courses, such as streaming lectures, video chat with other students and online learning tools, were later adopted in other courses and departments at Agnes Scott, making the classics department a standard bearer of sorts for new technology adopted by the college, Drinkwater said. From Marrakesh to Elluminate multipoint interactive videoconferencing, from Moodle to Sakai course management sites, emerging technologies have helped to shape the teaching and learning experiences of participants in upper-level Latin classes at Agnes Scott.

For instance, through streaming and other technologies, professors from each participating Sunoikisis colleges and universities serve as guest lecturers on their area of specialization.

“That gives our students much more focused and specialized content than one professor can deliver,” Drinkwater said. “It’s integrated learning experience that includes online learning, lectures that are streamed and interactions with students and faculty at other institutions. It gives them a sense of real community.”

In addition, faculty at other Sunoikisis institutions help grade and assess the work of Agnes Scott students, just as Agnes Scott faculty evaluate the work of other institutions’ participants. Agnes Scott students also ask questions and interact with students at partnering institutions as well, expanding the discussion of each lecture.

Students from every class year participate in Sunoikisis courses and many say they find the courses to be some of the most challenging—and rewarding—available at Agnes Scott.

“It was really great to be able to see and hear other Classics professors and see their styles of teaching as well as their particular areas of expertise. It’s one thing to just read an article or book another professor has written, but to be able to ask them questions while they’re presenting and have them respond in real time is just fantastic,” said Anahita Sotoohi ’13, who took the Sunoikisis course in the fall. “It really made the class much more rewarding.”

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.