The Future of Education

Edition 12

Accepted Abstracts

Wikis and Prezi at Work: Poetry Composition and Textual Analysis in a Classical Mythology Class

Valerio Caldesi Valeri, University of Kentucky (United States)

Abstract

With the steady burgeoning of new technologies, teaching requires, beside expertise in the subject matter and in communicating it effectively, the ability and willingness to keep abreast of the latest developments in educational tools. This sort of challenge confronts instructors in any field including those among us who teach disciplines relating to the ancient world. Large classes, such as Classical Mythology at my institution, often supplement the more traditional face-to-face class time with online components. The question then arises as to which technological devices work best for which types of uses. This paper explores how Wikis and Prezi can be successfully incorporated into a Classical Mythology class in order for the students to experience first-hand the process of poetry composition and for the teacher to conduct lectures on textual analysis, respectively.

As students of classical mythology are introduced to the epic poems of Iliad and Odyssey, a wiki format lends itself particularly well to digitally recreating the circumstances of oral poetry composition. In their oral form, ancient poems were the result of a tension between tradition and innovation. Ancient bards orally created their poems by relying on a set of fixed verses passed down by tradition that they would have redeployed, but also by composing their own innovative verses. In the class, students have the opportunity to somewhat relive online the ancient poet’s experience when they are requested to contribute their verses to a wiki entitled an “Unsung Greek Poem.” The wiki consists of the instructor’s first verse and of the verses their classmates have added up to that point. In this way, much like the ancient poet, students build on what has already been written (tradition) while also providing their own contributions (innovation).

Both Iliad and Odyssey feature proems which encapsulate all the major themes that will be developed in the remainder of the poem and thus demand a close textual analysis as well as attention to the ways in which the proems respond to each other. Traditional Powerpoint slides prove to be a quite inadequate vehicle for this type of analysis mainly due to the space constraint they impose. The proems must be unnaturally split between different slides if one wishes to accommodate a running commentary in the same slide. Little space is then necessarily left to include anything other than the bare text.  On the contrary, Prezi offers a virtually limitless canvas that can be populated with visually compelling and meaningful imagery, and also a countless number of frames filled with a modicum of text without ever feeling crowded. In short, the Prezi canvas provides an invaluable means for commenting and comparing texts. The proem’s text can easily be accommodated within a single frame at the center of the canvas encircled by satellite frames that house commentary and images. The teacher’s presentation and student comprehension benefit from such structure.

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