On Friday, April 8th, students in Professor Tom Hendrickson's Ancient Books course (CLST 10) gathered in the Arts and Humanities Resource Center for a very unusual assignment. Using papyrus purchased with funding from Dartmouth's Experiential Learning Initiative, they were constructing scrolls for the first of a multi-phase textual criticism project.
Please click "Continue Reading" for a Q&A with Tom about his course, the assignment, and experiential learning at Dartmouth.
Scott Millspaugh: What course are you teaching?
Tom Hendrickson: The Ancient Book: Introduction to Paleography, Papyrology, Codicology, and Textual Criticism
SM:You've adopted some rather unconventional approaches to teaching a course in Classics. Would you describe the students' assignments and how they're related to the goals of the course?
TH: One of the primary goals of the course is for students to explore the ancient book as a material artifact, as well as how that artifact shaped (and was shaped by) the social world of ancient Rome. These are topics on which there has been much scholarly debate. (Scrolls, for instance, usually only survive in tiny torn fragments.) Our projects involve actually making scrolls (and codex-form books), and writing on them using the ancient scripts. This allows us to basically take these scholarly theories into the lab and try them out.
SM: The Experiential Learning Initiative provided funding to purchase materials for your workshops. How do you think that working with authentic writing materials affects your students' learning?
TH: In this class, the experiential learning is taking place on several levels. First, on a basic level, the students get to know the physical qualities of (e.g.) a scroll far better from having actually made one than they would have if they had just read about scrolls. On another level, actually working with these materials helps students make sense of issues in book history-- why do Rustic Capitals look the way they do? Try writing with a reed pen on papyrus and you'll see. On yet another level, students are able to use their experience with these materials and these projects to weigh in on scholarly debates. I've just been reading student reflections on their first project, and it's great to see them applying the insights from their experiences to the problems we've studied in our readings.
SM: What have you learned so far form this experience?
TH: It's been a real learning experience for me too-- This isn't how papyrology is usually taught. My biggest surprise has been the student response. They've really risen to the challenge and made it their own. Active learning can sometimes face a little resistance from students, in part because it makes bigger demands on them. These projects really demand a lot of intellectual (and physical!) effort on the part of students, but they've really gone above and beyond.
If you're interested in working with an instructional designer to implement active-learning strategies in your own teaching, write firstname.lastname@example.org. Click the following link for more information about Dartmouth's Experiential Learning Initiative.