[Press & Publications] OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE OLDER [Old English]

July 2000

No 135

In a novel departure from the norm, tutors in the English Department at the University of Leicester have devised a method of teaching Old English using the most modern of communications systems!

To get across to the undergraduates the finer points of a difficult subject, tutors have found that the web has a way.

Lecturer Dr Julie Coleman said: Semesterisation has replaced time for reflection with more assessment. To counter-balance this, we have tried to provide students with a chance to engage in non-supervised discussion. We have replaced the requirement for a non-assessed essay for this course with a series of contributions to an electronic bulletin board.

Dr Coleman found:

  • Students engaged in heated arguments about their interpretations of Old English texts.
  • By the end of one semester there were over 500 messages on the board.
  • During term-time, 10-12 students were logging in each day to read what other people had said and to make their own contributions.
  • Students who were quiet in seminars demonstrated and shared 'astonishing' insights.
  • She said: What is clear is that students modified their own opinions in the light of other students' messages. They also disagreed with their own previous postings after reflecting on what they had learnt from lectures, seminars and from secondary reading.

    In other words, they were actively learning from their time-tabled sessions and library work, instead of passively absorbing information.

    The innovative teaching and learning method came about because many students found the Old English course particularly difficult and time consuming.

    Said Dr Coleman: In a normal literature seminar, the entire session is devoted to discussion of the content and context of a text. In Old English seminars, we have to cover the basic grammar, history and theology before we can even move on to problems with translation and comprehension.

    Discussions of the texts as literature tend to be lost. For example, where significant proportions of students are hazy about details of the crucifixion, the finer points of The Dream of the Rood are unlikely to make much of an impression.

    When reading the Life of Saint Edmund takes several weeks of gruelling translation, his eventual martyrdom may come as a blessed relief for all concerned! Even a text as action packed as the early sections of Beowulf can lost its momentum in attempts to understand just who is ripping off whose arm!

    Dr Coleman added that the new web-based approach in discussing Old English texts, as well as other literature, brought the best out of students: The discussions helped the students to engage with the texts critically.

    Because they are typing, and had time to compose their thoughts, students are readier to express controversial opinions than in a seminar. They can disagree with one another and admit difficulties without anyone losing face. They can also contribute to the discussion when they are ready to do so than having to be on the ball at the time of the appointed seminar.

    However, Dr Coleman did find that tutor intervention in the forum stopped the discussions: I used a pseudonym when I wanted to join in. This also meant I could be controversial without students accepting my contributions as authoritative. I could, of course, still be authoritative when I wanted.

    The bulletin board is at http://webboard.le.ac.uk/~medievalgroup/login


    For more information, please contact Dr Coleman: jmc21@le.ac.uk

    From lfric's Life of St Edmund:

    Edmund has been decapitated by the Viking leader, Hingwar, for failing to renounce his faith. The Vikings have thrown his head into the brambles in the forest, and Edmund's followers are trying to find it:

    Hi eodon a secende and symle clypigende, swa swa hit gewunelic is am e on wuda ga oft, 'Hwr eart u nu, gefera?', and him andwyrde t heafod, 'Her! Her! Her!', and swa gelome clypode, andswarigende him eallum swa oft swa heora nig clypode, o t hi ealle becomon urh a clypunga him to. a lg se grga wulf e bewiste t heafod and mid his twam fotum hfde t heafod beclypped, grdig and hungrig, and for Gode ne dorste s heafdes onbyrian ac heold hit wi deor.

    and both = th


    Then they walked searching and calling as is customary for those who go into the woods: Where are you now, mate? [so that they don't lose contact with the other searchers], and the head answered, Here! Here! Here!. It answered them all as often as any of them called, until they all followed the voice to the head. There lay a grey wolf which guarded the head between his two front feet. He was greedy and hungry, but he guarded it against wild animals, and did not dare to anger God by tasting it.

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    Last updated: 12 July 2000 09:39
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