Virtual Seminars, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! This is the beginning of a series of posts about the Virtual Seminar side of the Tres Columnae project. If you’re a longtime reader of the blog, you may remember that we talked about them several months ago, but only in the abstract. Today we’ll get “up close and personal,” and a lot more concrete, as we imagine the participation of our fictional subscribers, homeschooled siblings John and Jane, in a Continuing Virtual Seminar at the end of Lectiō XVI. As usual, Jane will probably get there a week or so before John does; after all, she is the older sister! 🙂

In the fully-formed Tres Columnae project, we envision several different Virtual Seminar options occurring near the end of each Lectiō – sometimes different ones for different ITINERA through the material, and sometimes different topics that appeal to participants with different interests. For example, if you’re fascinated by characterization, there might be a strand of Virtual Seminars in which you can examine the development of various characters in the primary stories; if you’re more interested in sociology, you might choose a seminar that focuses on Roman practices and perspectives; or if you’re fascinated by architecture and art history, you might choose a seminar that focuses on relevant buildings or art work. For non-school-based learners, we certainly won’t mandate that you participate in virtual seminars at all, but we’ll invite you and encourage you … and we may possibly be in touch with you to find out why you haven’t been choosing to participate. School-based learners, of course, might be required to participate in virtual seminars, but that’s between them and their teachers. We’d encourage teachers to ask their students to explore at least one Virtual Seminar per Lectiō, but (other than the one response that’s required for entry), we’d discourage requirements like “you must make 3 postings in the seminar” or “you must respond to two different questions.” I think we’re all aware of the poor-quality responses that come when students are told “you must produce a certain quantity of work!”

Of course, all Tres Columnae participants will be able to develop a new Virtual Seminar if they find an interesting, fruitful topic; the submission requirements for those will be the same as for other forms of content, since they’ll probably require some editing … especially if it’s your first-ever seminar plan.

Anyway, let’s return to Jane, who has perused her available options for a Virtual Seminar in Lectiō XVI. There’s one about the animal fable tradition, one about Mount Vesuvius, and one about farming (and the treatment of agricultural slaves and farm animals), each of which has multiple entry points – that is, you could select it during Lectiō XVI, but you could also choose it at another time. Jane studies the descriptions and clicks a few links to text materials. At first she’s leaning toward the one about farming, but then she decides she’s not quite ready for that one. It includes a couple of brief translated excerpts from Vergil (one from the Eclogues and one from the Georgics) that she found quite difficult. She’s also bothered by the difference between the idealized pastoral world and the gritty reality of life for agricultural slaves, but she can’t quite articulate why. Noting that you can re-enter this Virtual Seminar at a later point, she decides to focus on animal fables.

Like many 21st-century American children, Jane has heard the term “Aesop’s fables,” and she may have had a children’s book of animal fables. But she doesn’t know a lot about the fable tradition or about folklore in general. She thought the story of Trux and Lupa was extremely funny, though, and she wonders whether the fable-tradition animals are equally entertaining. So Jane chooses this Virtual Seminar option and sees a set of pre-seminar directions something like this:

Before you enter the Virtual Seminar, you may want to re-read the stories Trux et LupaTrux pietatem ostendit, and somnium Trucis from Lectiō XVI. Feel free to have them open in separate windows in case you’d like to refer to them during the seminar.

Now please decide whether you’re more interested in dogs or wolves in the fable tradition at this point.

It’s a difficult choice for Jane, but she eventually decides on wolves. She follows a link to the Bestiaria Latina Zoo collection of wolf fables where, as the pre-seminar directions suggest, she explores 5 or 6 that sound interesting. She finds she can get the gist of the one about the wolves and sheep who sign a peace treaty even though there are a lot of verb forms she doesn’t recognize, but Osius’ fable about the goats, the sheep, and the wolf is a bit too hard for her. Eventually, after skimming over seven or eight fables, she has a pretty strong impression about wolves in the fable tradition: she summarizes them as mean, smart, and persistent, listing a few details that would support each of these descriptions. Depending on her learning preferences, Jane might have chosen to make her list in a word processor or even on paper, but she decided to use her “Learning Log” Tres Columnae blog, which she also opened in a separate window. (Jane’s mom happened to walk into the room at this point and tried to tell her a story about dial-up Internet service, to which Jane responded with the eye-rolling that every parent of a preteen has experienced :-), but that’s another story.)

Anyway, Jane skims over the pre-seminar directions and sets a goal for this session, which she also records in her Learning Log blog:

I will try to respond to at least two different Thematic Threads, and I’ll use quotes from the text more often.

She now clicks a link that brings up the Opening Question we saw in Saturday’s post:

As you consider the fables you just explored, what are some ways that Trux and the wolves’ words and behavior are similar to the fable tradition?

Jane pauses for a moment (or, if necessary, several moments) to look back at the Tres Columnae stories; in fact, she even listens to the audio for an especially exciting part. (We’re really looking forward to recording that audio, by the way! And we can hardly wait for someone to make a video of this sequence!) Eventually, she chooses a text response (she could also have chosen to make an audio clip) and writes this:

In the fable tradition, the wolves were mean, smart, and persistent. They were mean when they attacked the sheep just because the puppies were crying. They were smart in all the stories, and they were persistent in most of them. In this story, the wolves were also mean, smart, and persistent. They were mean to Trux when they tried to eat him. Their plan was pretty smart even though it didn’t work. They were persistent when they tried to get Trux to join them. But I think they were more tricky in these stories than they were in the fables. Most of the fable wolves just said a few words before they ate the sheep, goat, or whatever.

Jane reads her response one more time, then clicks the button to submit her response and enter the Virtual Seminar. We’ll follow her in Tuesday’s post.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • For those who are familiar with the seminar process, does this seem like a reasonable adaptation to the realities of an online, asynchronous environment?
  • For those who aren’t familiar with seminars, does it sound like something you’d like to explore?
  • For everyone, can you see how the pre-seminar and opening work has prepared Jane to think about some of the critical issues in the fable tradition?
  • We haven’t established Jane’s age exactly, but I envision her as an intelligent thirteen- or fourteen-year-old. Do you think she could handle a seminar about the fable tradition and the uses of folklore?
  • Our friends at Paideia have had great success with middle-school aged children (for you non-U.S. readers, that would be roughly ages 10-14) and have even had success with seminars for five- and six-year-olds. That may surprise you if you believe in an age-specific progression through the Trivium from Grammar to Logic to Rhetoric, as many people in the Classical homeschooling movement do … but it may not surprise you if you’ve ever had a thoughtful “why?” conversation with a young child. To what extent do you think we should have separate sections of the Virtual Seminar Room for participants of different ages?
  • And what kinds of questions, answers, or Thematic Threads might Jane find when she enters the seminar?

Tune in next time, when we’ll answer these questions and raise some others. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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