eLatin eGreek eLearn

More wired than a Roman Internet café

Teaching Latin Online, Part I---by Andrew Kuhry-Haeuser, Instructor, Carmenta Online Latin Classroom

Several months back I met Andrew Reinhard, the founder and caretaker of this site, through a series of email messages. He told me about the eClassics site and I told him about myself, specifically about how I had started teaching Latin on the internet. He was interested in hearing about my experiences with the format, and since he thought that others might be interested as well, he suggested that I submit something about it to eClassics—something describing the logistics of teaching in the online setting and my opinions concerning it. I mulled it over for a little while and decided that he was right, that I did have something to say, and this blog is the result. In this first installment I’ll be focusing on my reasons for choosing to teach in the online environment and on why I chose the specific online environment that I currently use.

My reasons for choosing to offer Latin classes online were many, certainly, but in the end it really only boiled down to one—poverty. I badly needed to come up with another source of income, and where I live job opportunities are scarce, especially in teaching. I did look around for quite a while, but when nothing appeared, I decided that I’d better become more creative in my thinking. Searching for some help, I ended up discussing the issue of my unemployment with a friend of mine, and he suggested that I try teaching Latin online. At first I poo-pooed his idea. I think I assumed that the technology wasn’t yet advanced enough to allow for a live audio and video feed between teacher and students, something which I felt would be necessary if Latin were to be taught effectively online. He urged me to look into it, though, and when I did, I found that the technology was available, and if it wasn’t necessarily perfectly glitch-free, it at least seemed sufficiently serviceable for my purposes.

When I finally realized that the venture might be a reasonable possibility, I then started to notice that it might have other advantages as well. Obviously, I liked that it would allow me to teach Latin, a language that I enjoy greatly; but even better, in this particular situation I would have the freedom to teach the language as I chose, freedom to choose the pace of the course, to choose the text I preferred, and to implement my own theories on the best way to teach Latin. I also liked that I could feel good about the work that I was doing since I would be bringing to people an education in a language that I felt to be highly valuable. Many, without advantage of this format, might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn Latin since it is not as widely available (obviously) as it could be. I am a person who believes in universal Latin education, and I knew that I could feel good about helping to bring that a little closer.

As I said earlier, from the very beginning I had decided that to teach this course I would have to have access to an online classroom with a live audio and video feed. And when I investigated a bit, I found that there were two major ways of achieving this. The first was to use web conferencing software, a method that would require every enrolled student to buy and install the necessary program. The second was to teach the class using a web conferencing web site. In the end I chose the latter since I feared that installation of particular software could be a huge headache and also an unwanted expense for my students.

After looking into the many companies providing an online web conferencing platform, I finally decided on one called WiZiQ. I had asked the advice of many people who had more knowledge on he subject than I, making much use of chat rooms and email lists devoted to the subject. And according to those I corresponded with, WiZiQ was a company with one of the better reputations for reliability. Plus, its basic service was completely free, a huge selling point for me since I needed to get this venture off the ground with a minimum of investment. I found that their service was easy to use and worked for both PCs and Macs, and the only investment the format would require for students would be an audio headset with microphone, and possibly a web cam, if they chose to use one. Of course, I expected that a certain amount of technical trouble would be inevitable, but I also felt confident that in time I could learn to work around any problems that might arise. The only good way to figure it all out would be to jump in.

Next time: A description of the Latin online classroom.

Views: 899

Comment by Seumas Macdonald on February 11, 2009 at 3:46pm
Looking forward to hearing more.
Comment by Andrew Reinhard on February 12, 2009 at 9:04am
Thanks, Andrew, for the post, and the promise of future ones. I wonder why you chose WiZiQ over something like Vyew or using an Elluminate vRoom (the Latin teachers at the Illinois Virtual High School use the latter) or something else.
Comment by Andrew K-H on February 12, 2009 at 10:48am
Honestly, I only chose WiZiQ because it was recommended by many people. I have no experience with Vyew or Elluminate vRoom. They may very well be superior to WiZiQ. At this point I'm certainly open to a change of platform if something better presents itself. Are Vyew and Elluminate free?
Comment by Laura Gibbs on February 14, 2009 at 9:33am
Hi Andrew, that's interesting that you have gone the route of synchronous options, simulating a classroom online, etc. I am curious to learn more about how that works! I've been teaching online course (mythology and folklore courses at Univ. of Oklahoma) since 2002, and those courses are completely aynchronous - the university began offering the courses not for distance education but really just rellieve the enormous pressure on campus classrooms and student scheduling dilemmas (a huge number of OU students work, many of them fulltime, while they are in school). So, in order to accommodate that set of priorities, the goal was to make the courses 100% asynchronous. That's the option I've pursued, and it's very congenial to me: we do all our interacting on the web, but none of it in real-time. For college students, whose schedules are sometimes insanely hectic, it's worked out great - it's fine with me if the students do their work at 2 AM. That's definitely a big improvement on the days when I taught 8 AM classes in the classroom and watched the poor students falling asleep. With the asynchronous environment, I've enjoyed the students having me at my best (I prefer to work in daylight hours, ha ha), while the students work at whatever time fits into their own schedules.

We use a lot of different tools for online communicating, including a Ning, like this one. Plus, the students all publish their semester projects online - since you are just starting out I can tell you that this quickly becomes a HUGE resources: I've now got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of past student projects online, and by promoting the best of them as models, it has really increased the quality of work the students do every semester - I've picked out 300 or so of the best past projects for them to look at, and as they browse around that wealth of material, it inspires them to do as well or better than past students. Every semester, I am able to add a few more really excellent projects to the archives in each of my classes, and the ongoing influence it exerts on the students is just great. I never was able to create that kind of archive of student work when I was constrained by the physical limits of a classroom setting! I love teaching online, and I hope it will be a good experience for you, too.

P.S. I keep the Ning closed, but you can see my students' projects and all my course materials at MyfhFolklore.net. I keep hoping I will be allowed to develop an online Latin course, but the Classics dept. at the university, alas, has proved implacably hostile. :-)
Comment by Andrew K-H on February 14, 2009 at 3:46pm
Laura,

I have taken several asynchronous online courses and so I have a good idea what you are talking about. My online teachers, like you, have used past students' projects as a model for us in writing our own projects, and I have found this to be exceptionally helpful.

I chose to make my course synchronous because it seemed close to impossible to me to teach a language effectively asynchronously. Students and teacher really do need to be able to interact with each other in real time. Obviously, I would love to be able to teach classes that students could participate in whenever they had the time (people have all sorts of schedules already in place), but unfortunately, for this subject that didn't seem to be an option. But then again, maybe I'm not being open-minded enough. Perhaps there is a way to create an effective asynchronous online Latin class.
Comment by Laura Gibbs on February 14, 2009 at 4:38pm
I'm eager to try, if/when my university gives me the chance - all the modern languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, even Chinese) have asynchronous online course options, some for just two semesters, and some for three. A good friend of mine teaches the Italian online classes and really enjoys it.

I think students these days are so used to interacting asynchronously that they really thrive on that - also, since these are college students, they can be trusted to chat one-on-one with each and interact asynchronously in pairs, focusing on the task at hand. I'm not sure how effective that would be with younger students.

I taught Biblical Greek online asynchronously and it was just great - that's a case where students are very motivated to read and work very hard, focused on the task at hand (the textbook I used, Clayton Croy, had great Septuagint and NY readings right from the start). I'd love to teach that class again but it was offered through Religious Studies and when Classics found out about that, they shut it down - it committed two sins: being Biblical (not classical) AND being online, ha ha. All the materials are still online - it was a lot of fun! :-)

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