Virtual Seminars, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In today’s post we’ll step back from the example of a Continuing Virtual Seminar, which we explored in the last two posts, to see whether it’s logistically possible to do such a thing with the technology that’s available today. Short answer: yes! Both TikiWiki and Moodle, the two software packages that serve as the “back end” for the current version of the Tres Columnae project, have “Forum” capabilities which (with just a bit of tweaking) will be able to provide Jane, John, and our other subscribers with the experience I’ve described in this series of posts. We’ll most likely use the TikiWiki forums, at least at first, since we want to make Virtual Seminars available to the whole community, including our free subscribers who won’t normally have access to the exercises, quizzes, and other material on the Moodle site. Over time, we may possibly migrate to a single “back end” software platform, but if that happens, it probably won’t matter to you as a subscriber. Anyway, either “right out of the box” or with a few simple settings, we should be able to

  • provide multiple Fora/Forums for each Lectiō;
  • require participants to respond to an opening question before they enter the rest of the Forum;
  • provide Thematic Threads within the Forum for our participants to respond to;
  • allow participants to receive email notifications of new posts in any Thematic Thread, or not, as they prefer, and change their preferences at any time;
  • include links to audio files (hosted externally) if they prefer to respond that way; and even
  • rate each other’s responses on a scale from 1-5 if our participants would like that ability.

We’re already able to manage multiple internal blogs for our subscribers, so the Learning Log blog feature is already available if anyone would like one. The audio links are the only element that may not work “right out of the box,” but if that’s a feature that participants really want, we’ll make it happen as soon as possible. Everything else should work right away. In fact, please feel free to check out this link to the Continuing Virtual Seminar we’ve been following for the past couple of days. Everything is there except the sample responses! 🙂 We’ve also included a couple of the Core questions that Jane decided not to respond to, in case you’re interested. Please feel free to post your responses and thoughts, either there or in a comment here. For this Virtual Seminar alone, it won’t be necessary to respond to the Opening question first.

And now for something a bit different! If you haven’t yet taken a look at (potential) Part III of the story of Trux’s adventures, please do, because I need some feedback about it. When you do look at it, you’ll notice that Trux has a vision, dream, or something (his friend Callidus the serpēns would probably say it was a “something”) in which the goddess Diana appears to him. I’m not sure even how I feel about this story, and I’d really like to have your feelings about it … regardless of whether you love it, hate it, or are completely neutral about it. It relates to the rather sensitive subject of Roman religion (specifically, Roman religious practices and perspectives) … a complicated area for us to reconstruct, to be sure, and one that can be fraught with peril depending on the teaching and learning situation in which you find yourself.

As I think about the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks, I’ve observed that they tend to avoid, even minimize, discussion of Romans’ religious practices and perspectives. There’s not much mythology (and, of course, most of the “Greco-Roman” myths aren’t native to Roman culture anyway), and other than at significant milestone events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.), the characters rarely seem to participate in the rituals of pietās and cultus deōrum. I’m not sure why that is!

  • Perhaps it’s because the publishers wanted to be able to sell their books and wanted, therefore, to avoid anything that might be controversial and hurt sales.
  • Perhaps it’s because the books themselves were mostly written in a period (the mid to late twentieth century) when “educated” people saw religion as a “private” matter that need not be publicly discussed.
  • Perhaps Roman religion seemed so strange to the authors that they just didn’t want to bother with portraying it.
  • Perhaps there’s some other reason I haven’t thought of.

In any case, pietās and cultus deōrum are always below the surface of the stories in these books, but that’s where they generally stay. In some ways, that makes sense, especially if you focus (as those books do) on the experiences and attitudes of wealthy, educated Roman men of the late Republican and early Imperial periods. Many of them were quite skeptical of traditional Roman religious perspectives, though they rarely let that skepticism prevent them from taking on politically expedient religious offices or performing public rituals that the voters expected of them! They were, after all, practical men! 🙂

In any case, both pietās and cultus deōrum had a lot more to do with what we might call “right action” than “right belief” or “right feeling.” (This always surprises my students, who mostly come from religious backgrounds where feeling is paramount … and even if they aren’t personally religious, that’s what they, as products of 21st-century American culture, expect religion to be.) So, in one way, it’s perfectly reasonable that the “Big Three” de-emphasize Roman religion … but, in another way, I don’t think we’re painting a completely accurate picture if we leave it out. Anyway, I want to walk a fine but important line in our handling of Roman religious beliefs in the Tres Columnae stories:

  • As a person of faith myself, I think matters of faith and religion do need to be taken seriously, not avoided.
  • If we are to provide a reasonably authentic picture of Roman life, I don’t think we can do it without at least a few references to the religious aspects of their world view.
  • But I don’t worship the Roman divinities, so I can’t fully understand the perspectives of those who do. At the same time, I recognize that there are some folks who do worship them, some of whom may well become Tres Columnae subscribers. I don’t want us to appear to be trivializing or misrepresenting their beliefs. (Side note: that’s one reason I don’t have my face-to-face students “re-enact a Roman wedding” or pretend to do haruspication or augury, as some teachers do. I gather the haruspices use eggs rather than exta … but it still bothers me.)

So, with these thoughts in mind, what do you think of somnium Trucis? I’m especially interested in your responses to

  • the appearance of Diana;
  • the other animals’ response to the dream; and
  • the viewpoint of Callidus serpēns.

Overall, do you think we should

  • keep the story as it is;
  • modify it in some way;
  • provide different versions for different users (in keeping with our idea of ITINERA); or
  • get rid of it completely?

I really need some advice here!

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to explore the rather different path that Jane’s brother John might take through a Virtual Seminar for another Lectiō … and at the end of that, we’ll put the Virtual Seminar in place and let you participate in it, too, if you’d like. We’ll also be sharing a new story before the week is over. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments, emails, and Virtual Seminar responses coming!

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  1. […] and perspectives, even for those of us who are very committed to our own faith traditions, in this post from late April, so I won’t repeat them here. I will say, though, that it’s absolutely up to you, each […]

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