Making a Contribution, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This was supposed to be Thursday’s post, but somehow, when you don’t press that “Publish” button, it doesn’t automatically publish itself.  The “future” story to which I refer at the end is, of course, the one that you read today(vae! heu!) 🙂 ….

Today we continue with our look into the future of the Tres Columnae project, imagining a world where the “fully formed” project has many subscribers who have begun to create and upload their own content. In Clayton Christensen‘s language from yesterday’s post, we have begun to become a facilitated user network as well as a Joyful Learning Community.

We’ll continue with the adventures of Jane and John, our fictional sister and brother participants in the project. Delighted by the response to her audio clips and his silly videos, they’ve now decided to create some exercises and quizzes to go along with their previous submissions. Here’s what that process will probably look like.

  1. John and Jane are working with Lectiōnēs XV and XVI of Cursus Prīmus, where the grammatical focus is on consolidating and becoming more comfortable with “what we already know” before we meet the non-present-tense verbs in Lectiō XX. There’s also a lot of new cultural content as we consider marriage, childbirth, and related issues.
  2. John has been struggling a bit with the optātīvus, which was introduced in Lectiō XIV. He decides to create an English-to-Latin exercise where you choose the right verb form (indicative or subjunctive) depending on the sentence. (We’ll be featuring Latin-to-Latin exercises, but we don’t have any objection to translation, as you know, especially when it helps our participants.) Meanwhile, Jane is fascinated by the different types of Roman marriage and especially by the cum manū / sine manū distinction. She decides to create a simple quiz with multiple-choice and true-false questions about the various types of marriage.
  3. Since John and Jane are Tres Columnae subscribers (and yes, their family gets a small discount for those two subscriptions!), they have access to a portion of the site – which will be ready very soon – called Create an Exercise or Quiz. They log on, read the directions, and each one downloads a copy of the spreadsheet that will make their task easier.
  4. They notice that the spreadsheet contains columns called Question, Correct Answer, CAFeedback, Wrong Answer 1, W1Feedback, and so forth.
  5. They both have a lot of fun making up wrong answers and feedback … some of which is not very nice!
  6. They eagerly upload their spreadsheets and wait for a response from Tres Columnae.
  7. “Somebody at Tres Columnae” (who, who could it be?) likes the overall idea, but makes some specific suggestions for corrections – num mentem habēs? nōnne arbor mortua es? is clever and funny, but it’s not very helpful feedback for a wrong answer, for example. “Somebody” also checks carefully to make sure that all the correct answers are, in fact, correct, and that all the wrong answers are, in fact, wrong.
  8. John and Jane add some helpful feedback, and each has one or two questions where the answer needs to be edited or the question needs to be reworded.
  9. They resubmit their spreadsheets and “somebody” approves them.
  10. Busy, busy “somebody” goes through a fairly simple process (but you probably don’t want to know the details) that converts the spreadsheet into a form that can be imported into the Moodle system, and soon there are new exercises and quizzes featured on the New Contributions page.
  11. A very “tradition-minded” Latin teacher is creating a “grammar-focused” Pathway through the Tres Columnae materials for his students. He’s delighted to find John’s exercise and Jane’s quiz – in fact, he says something about how much better they are than “all that new-fangled Latin-only stuff” – and decides to feature both of them in his Pathway. John and Jane, in turn, are happy with the royalty. Should we tell our friend the “traditionalist” that both authors are younger than his high-school students? 🙂

And now a few words about Pathways or Itinera. At the moment, you won’t find any of these, largely because our collection of stories, explanations, audio, and video is still small enough that one person could reasonably use all of it. But as our numbers of participants grow, we expect that will change – imagine trying to watch all the videos on YouTube, or even just all the ones tagged with a single phrase like “silly cat.” (For the record, as of mid-April 2010, there were about 9,130 videos so tagged, and no, I did not watch any of them!) So we assume that our participants will want some help as they navigate through all the material. In part, we’ll depend on the participants themselves to check out – and rate, and comment on – new submissions, which we’ll feature on our New Submissions page. We’ll also invite our participants to categorize their submissions, though we’re not exactly sure what the categories will be in the end.

But we also know that different participants will have different needs and different preferences. For example, some may love the animal stories, while others may prefer stories about the human characters. Some may want an inductive approach to new grammatical concepts, while others may want a deductive approach. Some may be fascinated by Roman culture or history, while others may only be interested in the linguistic elements of Tres Columnae. Over time, as our collection of materials grows, we’ll encourage participants to make their own collections of the material they find most helpful, and we’ll give them a way to share their collections with each other. (It may well be as simple as a collection of Delicious tags, or it may be something that hasn’t even been invented yet!)

Anyway, as time goes by, we expect that teachers, groups of teachers, homeschooling groups, and other organizations of our users will probably want to create their own pathways or Itinera through the ever-larger collections of materials, and we’ll encourage them to do so. If you create a public Iter that’s open to everyone, there’s no fee; after all, it doesn’t require any editing by us, and you’re not doing anything special with anyone’s contributions. But if you decide to create a private Iter, you’ll pay royalties to the creators of any materials you choose to include, much as you would if you bought a DVD with their video clips, an audio CD with their recordings of stories, or even a custom-printed book with their stories or illustrations. (Over time, we expect that people will want to buy those things, and we’ll make it happen if they do; it’s a win-win situation for us, for the creators, and for the purchasers!)

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you see the potential for rapid growth that we’re starting to see? Or do you think that Tres Columnae will remain small and won’t need some of the additional navigation features we’ve discussed?
  • How do you feel about the editing process as we’ve described it? Does it sound like too much – or not enough? And how would you go about improving it?
  • As the project grows, we’ve been thinking about how to handle editing. One logical way would be to invite community members to become part-time editors. Would it make sense to compensate them by giving a discount on their own subscriptions in exchange? Or should we pay them a per-item editing fee?
  • How do you feel about the idea of Itinera?
  • And, if you like the idea in general, what about the idea of an exclusive Iter which would prevent its users from seeing “stuff” that wasn’t on the Iter, rather than just recommend certain “stuff” to them?
  • For example, imagine that a Classical Christian school has purchased subscriptions for its students. They don’t have any objections to teaching about Greco-Roman mythology, which is an important part of their curriculum, but for religious reasons, they would prefer not to include any stories where characters actually pray to Greco-Roman divinities. Should we let them construct such an Iter for their students? Or should we insist that “everybody can see everything” even if some of that “everything” is objectionable to them?
  • What do you think about royalties for “private” use of the materials? And what do you think would be a reasonable royalty? Or should it depend on the type of content … or on the popularity of the item … or on some other factors we haven’t thought of?

When you set out to build a Joyful Learning Community, and when Ownership is a core value, some decisions are a lot simpler, but others are a lot more complicated. And some decisions are just complicated by their very nature. We don’t intend to “punt” those decisions to the community, but we do want to know how you feel about the underlying issues. And as issues come up, both now and in the future, we’ll be bringing them to our subscribers for their input, and sometimes even a formal survey or possibly a vote. I’ve noticed, over the years, that my face-to-face students are often happy for me to make the decisions (after all, that is why I get those big bucks as a public-school teacher!) as long as they know I’ve heard their concerns. It will be fascinating to see whether you, the Tres Columnae community, feel the same way!

Tune in next time when we’ll feature a story from around the point where John and Jane created their materials. It raises interesting issues of identity and community, as well as friendship and loyalty, and it even touches on that quintessentially Roman concept of pietās. And yet most of the characters aren’t human! 🙂 After we explore it, we’ll take a look at the Continuing Virtual Seminar for which it might serve as a text. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming … and there’s still time to register for one of the few remaining Free Trial subscriptions. Remember, even after the Free Trial period expires, you’ll still be able to read and comment for free, so please spread the word about Tres Columnae to your family and friends.


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  1. […] calls “criteria and prerequisites” for accessing a Module. If you think back to blog posts like this one, in which I’ve talked about the idea of different paces or pathways through the material for […]

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