Review of Vroma: A Virtual Community for Teaching and Learning Classics

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VRoma: A Virtual Community for Teaching and Learning Classics

The VRoma project is a collaboration between small undergraduate colleges and secondary schools to improve and expand the teaching of Latin and Roman culture through the creative use of technology. At a time when the viability of the humanities in general - and classics in particular - is increasingly threatened, the project's organizers have initially targeted classics programs at smaller undergraduate colleges because the discipline is especially at risk in many of these institutions.

Funded for two years by a grant from the Teaching with Technology Program of the National Endowment of the Humanities, VRoma has achieved two notable results: a) the creation of a virtual forum (VRoma) through MOO (Multi-User Dimension, Object Oriented), the real-time, text-based environment by which students and instructors interact live, conduct courses and lectures, and share resources for the study of the ancient Roman world; and b) two summer workshops designed to enable college and high school faculty to develop expertise with site technology, create on-line teaching materials, and plan future projects. An extension from the NEH made possible a third workshop in 1999.

To date, 44 high school and college-level teachers have attended the workshops and 115 additional teachers have made use of MOO resources. As a result, some twenty courses have been developed and offered to more than 400 students. These courses, which include various levels of Latin as well as Roman history, civilization, and mythology, form the core of the project. The site also serves as a collection of and filter for a wide range of internet resources relating to the Roman world.

The site's home page provides access to five headings. The first, and most important for course participants, is VRoma Information. Here, in addition to a description of the project and a listing of instructors and workshop attendees, one finds links providing background on virtual teaching and "how-to" information for those wanting to put their own material on-line. Also included is a wide selection of links to classics and Latin teaching on the Web. These links are quite useful, although some oversights are inevitable. One site that comes to mind as worthy of inclusion is "Warfare in the Ancient World" (, especially since military topics can be easily exploited for classroom use.

The remainder of the first section links project participants to course materials created by VRoma faculty (Augustan sites and monuments, Exploring the Appian Way, and "treasure hunt" exercises in conjunction with courses on Roman myth and ritual, to cite but a few) and to the procedures for bringing students onto VRoma. In the context of the latter link, the site's log-in directions and accompanying instructions are quite clear. For those requiring additional technical support, the instructors who have participated in the summer workshops remain as a ready resource.

The second topic listed on the home page, VRoma Image Collection, is a repository of several hundred pictures utilized in the courses developed for the project. The archive consists mainly of key sites from Rome and Italy, as well as busts of emperors and various imperial personages. The collection also includes the 109 offerings of Art Images for College Teaching (AICT). While these resources are quite useful, as one might expect, they relate directly to the specific courses that have been developed by VRoma instructors. Presumably, as the site grows and the number of instructors increases, so too will the pictorial archive. One can readily envision a corpus of sites from the Roman West, for example, to supplement future course development in that particular area.

The third topic, Select Materials Created by VRomans, is a sampling of instructional materials developed thus far. Plautus' Aulularia and select letters of Pliny, both of which offer Latin texts, English translations and appropriate background information, represent the literary works currently on line, while Juvenal's Satires and the poems of Catullus are under construction. To be sure, the initial focus on the likes of Plautus and Catullus is eminently sensible, given that they are generally the most accessible and popular ancient authors among secondary and college level Latin students. As with the Image Collection, this sample represents a first step and will surely expand as the project itself grows. Indeed, as a perusal of the course listings reveals, Latin pedagogy has also been a key focus of course development, and one hopes that it is not too long before such offerings begin to appear as permanent material in this section.

On the historical side, the material is less well developed. "Rome: Republic to Empire" is an excellent series of web pages on Roman history and culture by Barbara McManus. "A Roman History Timeline" by James Reubel and Michael Arnush is handy, but still under construction. Finally, the Select Materials section includes the database of Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW) and a collection of lexica and search engines, resources offering an excellent place to start when hunting for things classical.

Two more topics complete the major headings. The first is a link to the National Latin Exam web site, an important locus for secondary school Latin teachers. The second consists of a link to two additional NEH Teaching with Technology Classics projects: the Perseus Project's On-Line Roman Resources, a new effort to extend coverage of the Perseus Project to Roman civilization that will also provide a foundation on which VRoma can build; and Joseph Farrell's Vergil Project, an excellent resource for teachers, students, and readers of Vergil.

Part virtual classroom and part resource center, VRoma is off to a promising start. A critical core of experts has been trained in the appropriate technology, courses have been developed and presented to a first generation of high school and college students, and links most useful to Romanists have been collected at a single site. Moreover, the project remains very much in the process of development, as evident in the ongoing "builders' workshops," where veterans of NEH-funded workshops gather to continue "building" the historical sites, and in a planned series of web pages that will provide a kind of travel guide to all of the VRoma resources. The latter will be an especially welcome improvement, since it is not always easy to see what sites have been constructed, where they are, and what kinds of information they contain. Appropriately enough, this will be called "Eamus VRomam! Let's Go VRoma!"

Carefully designed to test several hypotheses about the capacity of technology to promote effective learning in classics (see "Teaching and Technology: Our Pedagogical Objectives" under VRoma Information), VRoma is now at the end of its grant period and its principal architects are assessing the results. One can only hope that an evaluation of the outcome will, in the words of its creators, allow the site to grow "exactly as the Roman Republic and empire did, by adding allied cities and by annexing provinces" (see "Project Proposal"). The classics community would surely be enriched in the process.

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