Collaborative Classics: Technology and the Small Liberal Arts College
Rebecca Frost Davis
Small liberal arts colleges pride themselves on providing a supportive academic environment, with small class size and extensive contact between faculty and students. Yet, students who choose such an environment often miss out on the opportunities available in a large university, such as a rich assortment of teachers, courses, peers, and stimulating opportunities to develop in their discipline. Faculty, too, may lack a diverse research community and teaching support network. This problem is even more severe for disciplines like Classics, in which departments of three or less are the norm. In answer to this problem, the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), a consortium of sixteen southeastern schools, has developed a technology-enabled collaboration, called “Sunoikisis,” which preserves the ideals of small school education, while allowing both students and faculty to experience the benefits of a large Classics program.
The Sunoikisis virtual department first answered student needs by developing the “inter-institutional collaborative course” (ICC). The first ICC, a one-hour introduction to archaeology offered every spring since 1999, prepares students for the ACS summer archaeological field school in Turkey. A five-year sequence of upper-level courses in both Greek and Latin has also been initiated. Once a week students across the consortium gather to listen to a live, on-line broadcast, streamed via Real Producer and Player. Lectures by invited specialists and ACS faculty bring diverse intellectual perspectives to the material, while additional weekly meetings on each home campus help preserve the liberal arts ideal. The group also plans a gateway course for Classics, which each week would introduce a different aspect of the discipline, such as epigraphy. Sunoikisis also presents research opportunities for students in the summer archaeological field school and a proposed undergraduate research forum, both of which allow face-to-face interaction across different campuses. By widely publishing such opportunities on-line, Sunoikisis demonstrates the abilities of it students to prospective graduate schools.
Faculty benefit as much if not more so from the Sunoikisis collaboration. Professors at different ACS institutions team-teach the classes by planning the curriculum together and dividing up duties, such as lectures, exam creation, and grading. The summer curriculum workshops recall the rich intellectual stimulation of graduate schools. Even those who will not have students in the courses enjoy the development opportunity, as well as the support network of teachers skilled in the small liberal arts environment. Initiatives, such as the Sunoikisis Speaker’s Bureau, continue faculty development, by maintaining a list of willing faculty speakers (including their expertise) along with public events and lectures across the consortium.
Finally, Sunoikisis has created an interdisciplinary synergy between Classics and Computer Science. Since WebBoard, the commercially available software used for the ICCs proved unsatisfactory, the ACS developed its own open-source, web-based Course Delivery System (CDS) that consists of a Virtual Classroom with chat enabled by Flash, Real Media live streaming, and on-line course materials. The system also allows for threaded discussion, on-line exams, and review of archived lecture sessions. Most importantly, student interns developed the CDS from the initial design specifications to the finished project. Their work formed the pilot for a new ACS software engineering program, which will also function via inter-institutional collaboration to provide a rich assortment of faculty, peers, and unique learning experiences to ACS students. Thus, Sunoikisis has created a model of collaboration with wide application for both Classics and other disciplines, within the ACS and across the continent.
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