Computers & Texts No. 13
Table of Contents
December 1996

Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature

The notion of a seminar is central to most Humanities disciplines. In this students are asked to analyse a particular topic (in this case a literary text) and report on their findings. The seminar system combines both tuition and discussion developing the students' analytical and research skills. However, there are two problems with the current situation. First, due to financial constraints many institutions face a staff/student ratio that prohibits the continuation of seminars. Second, even when running, a seminar is limited purely to the views of the handful of students that attend, allowing for very little cross discussion between seminar groups either within or outside the institution.

IT has the potential to overcome both of these problems. It can be used in a very cost-effective manner, and it makes possible the interaction and construction of very large self-organising communities. Such phenomena as electronic newsgroups, mailing lists, and bulletin boards are one very visible manifestation of this ability. Where such groups have been unsuccessful or intellectually vacuous it has generally been because of a lack of focus or clear motivation, such as that given (in the academic environment) by the traditional seminar. The virtual seminar or tutorial is an attempt to preserve the best aspects of traditional humanities teach-ing, using the potential offered by new media and new capabilities.

Due to the success of the Isaac Rosenberg tutorial on the Web (at, money has been put forward by the JISC Technology Applications Programme (JTAP) to develop three more tutorials, again built around the idea of teaching World War One poetry. These tutorials will each explore different methods of literary study and of delivery.

The project will also involve building up an electronic archive of material relating to the War (SGML & HTML texts, images, audio etc.), which lecturers and students will be able to use across the Web, creating their own tutorials or online essays. As with the Rosenberg project, this will be a free, publicly available service.

Funding has been provided for two years, with Paul Groves ( as the Project Research Officer and Dr. Stuart Lee ( as the Project Manager. The project is based within Oxford University¹s Humanities Computing Unit.

A discussion and announcement mailing list (called virtual-seminars) for the project has been created. Please see: for subscription details.

Alternatively if using Netscape 2.0 or higher you can use a simple form to subscribe at:

If you would be interested in testing the seminars and/or contributing to them, please get in touch with Paul Groves, JTAP Project Officer, Humanities Computing Unit, Oxford University Computing Services, 13 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6NN. Email:

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 13 (1996), 24. Not to be republished in any form without the permission of CTI Textual Studies.

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