European Literature and Culture with C & IT
Introduction: technology in teaching literature and culture:
In March 1998 the CTI Centre for Textual Studies hosted a one-day conference entitled 'Teaching European Literature and Culture with Communication and Information Technology'. The lengthy title is justified by the specific focus of the conference: to consider those aspects of current teaching in European languages with C& IT which broaden the view beyond language learning to consider the cultural, historical and literary elements which complement and inform the learning of a language. There is a general perception in higher education that technology has little to contribute to the study of literature and culture. This conference aimed to redress the balance by giving practitioners the opportunity to share their experiences with using technology to teach literary and cultural studies, and to provide a platform for discussion. This paper will first explore some of the reasons for the lack of research into the use of technology in teaching literature and culture within modern languages, and will then explore three basic questions: how can technology make a valuable contribution to the teaching of literature and cultural studies? How does technology affect the relationships between subject matter and teaching methodology? Are there implications for the traditional boundaries between subject areas?
CALLs poor relation?
Computer-assisted Language Learning is highly successful both as an area of research, and as a practical methodology for the enhancement of traditional teaching methods. This great success has led to a situation where the use of technology in teaching aspects of language studies other than language acquisition has frequently been overlooked. As a discipline, modern languages has constantly fought the perception that undergraduate study of modern languages is little more than a vocational qualification in which a skill is taught and rehearsed, with limited emphasis upon critical thinking and understanding of issues relating to literature, philosophy, politics and culture. This perception is confirmed by the huge amount of literature that is available to guide students and teachers in the field of language acquisition, with strategies for imparting and developing expertise in languages discussed in depth. Similarly, this is an extremely active area of research in many universities, schools, and colleges around the world, and language learning is one of the must fruitful and successful areas of pedagogic research at all levels.
The situation is not helped by the different camps which exist within language studies, where teaching and research staff often specialise in either language acquisition, linguistics, contemporary culture or literature, with at times little exchange of ideas between these fields. As computers have so clearly proved their value for language teaching, fuel is added to the anti-technology stance common to some of the other areas of specialisation. Also, language teaching by nature has a greater tendency to reflect upon and describe pedagogic methodologies, which is not the case with literary and cultural studies.
For some or all of the reasons given above, the non-language components of higher level language teaching are barely visible in the pedagogic literature. This clearly does not reflect the status of many taught university courses where the study of literature and culture has played a central role (and held considerable academic status) in modern language departments for many years. Indeed, some of the more traditional higher education institutions have in the past been accused of placing more emphasis on the study of the literature of a culture than on the acquisition of spoken fluency in a language. Literature's privileged place in language studies has now been challenged and other cultural forms such as film and television, for example, are frequently taking its place. This provides new challenges to teachers of languages and to pedagogic approaches and for the discipline as a whole. It is argued that the new emphases which we are seeing in the syllabi of language study, with inter-disciplinary components such as Area Studies, are leading to new developments in the discipline itself (Polezzi, 1997). New subject areas could profitably lead to new and innovative teaching methodologies: these changes provide us with a judicious point at which to give consideration to teaching methods. Where the media employed may be changing, the message is still the same: it is essential that language studies should include core components that require critical thinking and depth of understanding. So how can teaching of these areas best be achieved?
Technology in teaching literature
In technology-assisted learning, there is little literature outside that which describes methodologies to harness technology for language acquisition: the acquisition of specific vocabulary, testing and improving grammar competency, aural and written comprehension of the second language. In general, literary or cultural resources are used only as materials for the practice of particular language competencies. The papers given at the Teaching Literature and Culture with C&IT conference focussed instead upon examples where the teaching of literature and culture are coming together with technology to enrich the learning process.
This collection does not attempt to present the examples discussed during the conference as perfect examples of teaching practice with C&IT, because we do not yet know enough about what is required to make that judgement. However, they are interesting examples which present varied perspectives and which can thus be used to discuss some important issues. The reader will note that the collection also describes examples of practice drawn from the teaching of literature in its own language, primarily within English studies. This was a deliberate decision, as the teaching methodology used in these subjects has many areas of commonality with the teaching of European literature and culture, for obvious, though frequently overlooked, reasons. It is interesting to note that as the emphasis upon literature is lessened in some language courses, language studies components are increasingly included within English studies courses in the UK. Projects such as the 'Read-Write' project at the University of East Anglia are looking at the way that the study of literature is used as a basis for increasing general literacy skills, which is interestingly similar to the traditional model used as a part of second language teaching.
The following section will describe some of the papers given from a common analytic perspective: to examine the teaching methodology was used and how the technology influenced the success of that methodology.
Using C&IT to teach literary and cultural studies
The Digital Variants project grew out of the development of a research archive, and this has no doubt helped its application to teaching in an innovative and challenging way. Working with writers such as Antonio Millán, Roberto Vacca, and Francesca Sanvitale, the Projects website makes available a number of drafts of each authors work, with the variants in the text highlighted and linked by hypertext, as well as sound recordings of interviews with the authors; we can also compare the text transcriptions with the manuscripts in digital format. The resources allow a user access to otherwise inaccessible materials, and, most importantly, we can follow the authors decisions made during the authoring process. The resources thus have the potential to allow a user to learn on a number of different levels, and this was exploited within the University of Edinburghs department of Italian, where the Digital Variants archive has been used to teach language learners skills in literary analysis, and in particular analysis of the authorial process, with the refinement of language skills as an educational by-product. An important part of the teaching strategy was that the IT resources were extremely well integrated into the regular face-to-face sessions. Many implementations of technology involve its use as a support tool or as an additional source of resources, but in this case the IT resources were an essential part of the course, and were given substantial amounts of class time. The tutors attitudes towards the technology were also influential; for example, IT training sessions on the use of the WWW and using word-processing packages for research activities were carried out in parallel with introductions to new research skills, such as the analysis of a critical edition. It was thus made clear to the students that the tutor perceived IT research skills to be as important and relevant to their studies as the more traditional research skills which they were also taught.
Examples of the exercises which the students completed and all the project materials are available from the Digital Variants web site at <http://www.ed.ac.uk/~esit04/digitalv.htm> and from reading Fiormonte et al. (1999).
Benito Pérez Galdós is one of Spains most celebrated realist authors and is thus widely studied at undergraduate level. The Pérez Galdós Editions Project is combining two complementary aims: to publish a new scholarly edition of Galdóss works in traditional format complete with apparatus; and also to make available an electronic collection of scholarly materials which will complement the paper edition. The electronic collection, to be published on CD-ROM, will include full, searchable editions of all of the texts and also draw together otherwise inaccessible materials such as the manuscripts, galley proofs, serialised versions and first editions, with other research tools such as indexes and concordances. There will also be some multimedia background materials such as maps and other relevant images. The electronic collection will thus contain more material in more varied formats than the scholarly print edition.
The electronic collection is openly aimed at an academic rather than popular use, which is reflected in its selection of serious, scholarly content. It is hoped that students may find that the use of digital search tools and editions can give them an easier route into the text, particularly where language may be something of a barrier to understanding.
Whilst the project clearly has a strong research orientation, it also has interesting implications for teaching and learning at undergraduate level. By collecting together into a single source the type of resources which would normally only be accessible to a determined researcher, the project developers are opening up scholarly research to a far wider community. This raises a number of issues for a tutor who is considering directing students towards these types of sophisticated research resources: undergraduates cannot be presumed to have the skills needed to work with this type of material, as it makes new demands upon them. In addition, it is not yet clear whether the new information interrogation techniques afforded by automatic indexing and searching help or hinder the development of independent research skills. We need to think carefully about the implications for the future of scholarship and the special relationship which a scholar builds with resources that can be accessed by only a select few. The use of complex research tools by undergraduates requires careful introduction and ongoing support. (1)
A web page for the Pérez Galdós Editions Project is located at <http://www.shef.ac.uk/uni/projects/gep/>.
The resources at the Communiqué web site are centred around specific taught courses in literature, language and culture, and the structure of the site reflects this focus. The site was developed through a collaboration between academic and an educational technologist, and this has led to a reflective and thoughtful approach to the development of the resources. Some of the more complex sections to the Communiqué site include the Introduction to Contemporary France II, where frames and hyperlinks have been used to allow students guided access to poetry written in verlan, or slang; poems are re-produced in full and additional frames are used to give access to an online glossary of terms. Also included is Les chemins du savoir, a collection of over a hundred short texts or textèmes which have been selected to relate to the themes of the course. Students can perform word or phrase searches and explore themes across a number of different texts but in a non-linear fashion.
The teaching strategy for this implementation of technology was carefully thought-out and implemented. In brief, the aims were to improve the quality of student participation in both lectures and seminars, to encourage wider reading of secondary sources, and to develop essay writing skills (McNeill, 1999). The tutor felt that IT could help to meet these aims by offering more stimulating ways of delivering content and supporting learning.
The tutor explored several different methods of delivering materials in different formats as he believed that web resources hold advantages in terms of access, easy updating, offering flexibility for the student, easier administration, and the opportunity to use multimedia. The most successful uses of the resources were in two areas: where they were integrated into the teaching schedule in seminars, and where the resources offered additional possibilities beyond the traditional teaching paradigm, for example by offering better supporting materials, the possibility for students and tutors to communicate between lectures and seminars, with a consequent expansion of the teaching situation to create more space beyond the few contact sessions per week. In addition, the use of web resources will allow the student to share more of the responsibility for their learning with the lecturer. Communiqué can be accessed at <http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/~us0cma/comm.html>.
The Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature project has produced four online tutorials for teaching the poetry of the First World War. The project has been developed with a dual purpose: firstly, to provide high-quality teaching materials for use by teachers all over the world, and secondly, to explore issues of using technology in teaching, by giving concrete examples of ways in which technology can enhance teaching methods. This is seen most clearly in the third of the four tutorials, An Introduction to Manuscript Study which uses digital versions of Wilfred Owens manuscripts for Dulce et Decorum est to introduce the student to the academic skills used in the close study of manuscripts. Students study four different manuscripts for the poem, and then use decisions which they make about the chronology of the manuscripts to create their own edition of the poem. Using methods which are coincidentally similar to the Digital Variants project, this tutorial gives step-by-step instructions for the development of skills, accompanied by practical exercises. Like a number of other projects, the tutorial gives the student access to research resources of which they would probably not ever have been aware, and certainly would not have had the opportunity to study in depth. Access to these resources allows students to create their own digital copy and to compare it with other rare resources. The carefully structured introduction to the study of manuscript resources helps the student to overcome some of the problems described with the Pérez Galdós project; students are guided through the activity in a precise and detailed manner, with new tasks carefully explained.
The project has particular teaching aims: to open access to the resources to students outside traditional University courses and offer more flexible modes of delivery; to offer better learning situations for large seminar groups with more communication tools; to offer possibilities which are interesting to the teacher and not just the IT designer. To help the teacher to take advantage of resources in a teaching situation which may be unfamiliar, the resources include detailed teachers notes, which give advice about the best methods of using the resources, and give some suggestions for specific classroom activities.
Three simple rules for applying technology to teaching have been developed following the projects experiences, namely: Technology should not be used to replace teachers or teaching; ...Technology should only be used where a noticeable gain to the teaching quality is evident; ..., Technology should only be applied in appropriate stages. (Lee, 1999).
The project can be found at <http://info.ox.ac.uk/jtap/>.
How can technology contribute to the teaching of literature and culture in language studies?
Drawing from the experiences described above, this section draws together some remarks about how technology might make a valuable contribution to teaching literary and cultural studies. There can be no doubt that technology can make a contribution to the teaching of literary and cultural studies, given sufficient time and resources, but what is less clear is pinpointing the most appropriate ways in which this can happen.
Before moving on to more specific examples of particular practice, it is useful to first consider some of the wider implications of using technology to learn about literature and culture. The verb learn is used advisedly because it is in benefiting the student and developing the learning process that the advantages of technology are most apparent. In general, in the arts and humanities disciplines, there is little evidence of technology saving academic staff hours of teaching and preparation time when it is used for teaching and learning. The most striking advantages are in offering benefits to the learners above and beyond the quantity and quality of contact in the usual teaching situation.
At a general level, there are a number of claims made for the advantages which the appropriate use of technology can offer to the learner. The most relevant issues are summarised below.
There are certain specific ways in which the quantity of teaching and learning activity, and the quality of teaching and learning can be enhanced. With proper, well-considered planning, technology has the opportunity to enhance the learner's experience in some key areas.
Implications for the relationship between content and teaching methodology
A successful use of technology in teaching must imply some assessment of the teaching strategy, therefore. In order to do this, we need to try to take an objective view of the real relationship between the subject-based content of a taught course, and the methodology which is employed to teach it. It is interesting to note that the most successful uses of C&IT resources have clear parallels in traditional learning situations - the library, the coursebook and the seminar - and a brief assessment of these parallels can provide a useful starting point towards examining what methodology is being used when technology is used in teaching.
In addition to these obvious parallels to traditional learning resources, technology offers possibilities for innovation in delivery .Examples of innovation on a traditional theme include:
The most useful way to address this question is, in the view of this author, to compare the methodologies which are enabled by the use of technology with those which are traditionally used to teach literary and cultural studies.
We can see how the four possibilities described above - the digital library, lecture and coursebook, and seminar - can map onto each of the three traditional learning paradigms. To take each of the three teaching methods in turn, we can explore the difference that technology can make in each case. Naturally, this difference will by no means be entirely positive; in each case, technology can clearly play a part and will influence the student's learning experience, for good or ill.
The lecture paradigm can be mirrored in a technology-based situation, with varying degrees of complexity. At a simple level, the lecturer can present the transcription of the lecture which he or she plans to give in advance of the lecture. Unlike in the lecturing situation, the student can have unlimited access to the digital version and the lecturer has the option to incorporate additional, more complex text than he or she could explain during a fifty minute lecture. There is a further advantage offered by technology in facilitating the use of additional resources of any media which may be referred to during the lecture, or used in addition to the lecture notes. For example, colour images of artworks which are held in virtual galleries around the world can be referred to and linked to directly. Tony McNeill has used this method successfully; by making his lecture notes available to students on the Web in advance of each lecture, he finds that students still attend the 'real' lecture, but do so with prior understanding of the issues which he plans to discuss, and having had the opportunity to do further reading or prepare questions in advance.
The possible danger with digital equivalents of the lecture is that the material can lack its own 'voice'; research has shown that students are motivated to learn when lecturers impart their information enthusiastically and knowledgably. This is clearly more difficult to achieve when dealing with computer-based resources which will be used independently.
In this case, materials need to be carefully structured; they need to guide the student but also to invite them along the way. Lee and Fiormonte have provided good examples of this; they have developed courses built around the resources made available; the technology is enabling them to accomplish actions which would otherwise be difficult or impossible, and they are directing students through these resources in a structured way with a combination of online and traditional teaching materials and methods. For example, the four tutorials which Lee describes take resources which are rare and inaccessible and, instead of simply exposing the student to these by listing the contents and saying 'here you are' (the equivalent of a traditional reading list), the tutorials use hyperlinking, clear labelling, and careful presentation of information to guide the student through the resources.
The importance of the content must be made sufficiently clear to the student in order for them to be motivated to navigate their way through a web of seemingly identical hyperlinks to the resources which lie beyond. It is therefore essential that clear goals are given to the student as they move; what could be more over-awing (and thus discouraging) than to be confronted by a web page of sixty identical hyperlinks to sixty different resources? The student needs to be given a sense that they are accomplishing something if their interest is to be held, and blindly choosing from a collection of non-annotated links is not going to do this, just as a student is less likely to read a text which is recommended on a reading list if they have no idea of the content of that text. Free-standing hypertext is a fine model for the creative sharing of information but it is unlikely that many undergraduates will make time to 'explore a web' without some indication of what they are following and why.
The equivalents to small-group teaching sessions in the digital environment are provided by email discussion lists and conferencing systems. These resources have been widely implemented into a variety of teaching and research situations, to the extent that their use has been given the specific title of 'Computer-Mediated Communication' (CMC). Much of the research into CMC has centred upon aspects of the social interaction which is seen within groups of CMC users, for example research into concepts of identity which a user experiences (and may manipulate) within a CMC (see for example Marvin, 1996). This research has been popular since the early 1990s as technologies such as Internet Relay Chat and Multi-User Dimensions have been in widespread use since this time. Beyond these more theoretical areas the tools have also seen use in teaching. Language learning is one area in which these tools have been particularly popular, as the level of communication which these resources allow will constitute some of their purpose. (2)
Background reading and independent research
Technology has already had a tremendous impact with the widespread establishment of computerised library catalogues which can be searched by users with relatively little IT experience on their own keywords, and thus immediately broaden their awareness of library resources beyond those recommended by their tutor on a reading list or bibliography. Added to this is the fast growing number of important resources which are now being published in digital format, some of the most obvious being fully searchable CD-ROM versions of many international newspapers, encyclopaedias and other reference tools, and even journals and research papers. At a simple level, technology is working to provide far better access to resources. At a more complex level, the type of access which is provided will allow students to make more complex and thoughtful use of resources than was previously possible. For example, where a student would previously locate a copy of a daily newspaper in the native language in order to keep up to date with events, the student can now use complex tools to perform keyword or phrase searches across an entire year's issues of the paper, and thus look for changes in reporting patterns across time or build up a corpus of articles on a particular theme. In the past, this level of research would have been the provenance of the postgraduate researcher or specialist, far beyond the time restraints and difficulties of access experienced by most undergraduates. This state of affairs has been dramatically changed in the digital world.
This increase in possibilities for independent research raises one essential question: are students equipped to use resources in this way, and to interpret the results of their investigations? More resources do not necessarily bring abetter depth of understanding or better analytic skills. Use of the new technologies requires equally thoughtful direction by teachers and other teaching support staff such as library and IT staff, if they are to inform rather than to confuse.
All of the projects described in the following papers have come to the same conclusion: that the latest technology, in itself, is not sufficient to create a 'learning environment'. Content is crucial to the successful uptake and use of digital resources, just as with traditional resources such as journals and other publications. It is frequently claimed by educational technologists and enthusiasts of the Web alike that the use of accessible delivery mechanisms such as the Web will increase the scholarly use of resources, simply because the Web facilitates the delivery of resources straight to the desktop.
Clearly, lack of access to resources is a distinct barrier to their usage. While it would be foolish to argue that making texts, images, and video accessible by the Web will not lead to greater use of these resources by students, it is the opinion of this author that it is not enough to simply make resources available and that the role of the teacher is crucial in ensuring that real learning happens when students interrogate web resources.
The influences of technology upon teaching and learning radiate beyond the role of the teacher and draw upon other staff such as library and IT staff. These staff have a growing importance in supporting and delivering learning resources and have fast developing roles in additional areas such as teaching students the techniques needed to make use of the resources. Thus support and teaching roles are increasingly blurred and interdependencies and cooperative working practices are becoming more crucial.
In general, the above points can work together to give the student a more enjoyable learning experience. However, this is not without some cost to the teacher in terms of development of their own IT skills, the need to research teaching methodologies which use IT and to think about how best to apply it to their area, and the need to invest time in the development of IT resources either directly or in partnership.
Changing subject boundaries
It is fascinating to note the blurring of subject boundaries which occurs when digital methods are applied to teaching and research. The seven papers given during the conference came from a range of language areas and backgrounds, including a commercial publisher, but the emphasis throughout was upon resources which, whilst retaining a strong subject focus, nevertheless had resonance for many other subject areas.
Technology encourages and facilitates a multidisciplinary perspective on learning and on research. Hyperlinks in multimedia documents or authoring tools make it easy (and attractive) to hop between different subject areas at a whim, and thus arrive in areas into which one would not usually stray. The internet, bringing increased levels of dissemination and sharing of information and knowledge, also has an important role to play. A web search on a particular writer's name such as Louis Aragon will return the predictable 'hits' on the Club des Poètes site but will also highlight sites based in Finland, in Canada, in Germany and so on, with a different perspective on the study of his work. A student can used computer-based software such as quantitative text analysis tools to manipulate and dissect a digital text, regardless of its source languages; as with the Pérez Galdós project, this provides the opportunity to control and manipulate a resource in an unknown language. Finally, the interface between technology and learning impacts directly upon the way in which teachers of different languages communicate and cooperate; software such as TransIT-Tiger is used by teachers of many different languages, but with common pedagogic and technical practices, and these methodologies are frequently shared by teachers who can appreciate each other's efforts. The use of specialist resources thus encourages the crossing of subject boundaries between and within languages. Cross-discipline collaboration is one of the interesting issues which is raised in many digital projects. In areas such as translation studies and comparative literature, where the use of resources across standard discipline boundaries is essential to research, this is immediately obvious.
Perhaps the new possibilities which technology offers to the teaching of literary and cultural studies will have a doubly beneficial effect by providing the impetus for further educational research to take place in this fascinating (but relatively unexplored) area.
Conclusion: towards a model for teaching literary and cultural studies with C&IT
As discussed above, something which is frequently overlooked is the interface between highlighting content and the appropriate use of technology which leads to successful implementations of digital learning resources. The projects which were demonstrated at the conference are not successful because they are technically complex, graphically stunning, or pedagogically different in their approach. They have succeeded, however, in focusing upon interesting and relevant content, and applying technology to it with methods which are appropriate to a learning aim.
We need to look beyond the immediate focus of content which is specific to a single subject area to consider at a higher level the methodologies which are being used for successful teaching, and thus be able to make informed decisions about whether technology will enhance or dilute the teaching situation.
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Literature and Culture with Communication and Information Technologies