New Directions in Classics Teaching at The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on tertiary education delivery throughout 2020-2021, the Ancient History teaching staff at The University of Newcastle presented their experiences in several venues during the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. The teaching staff consisted of Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics and Ancient History; a team of HDR students, Connie Skibinski, Tanika Koosmen, Madelaine Sacco, Thomas Sharples, and Timothy Worrad; and professional staff in the Teaching and Learning Design Unit, Paul McDonald and Adrian Merles.

The team presented at two conferences: (i) A roundtable, ‘Virtual Antiquity in the Classroom – Benefits and Pitfalls – A Mixed Presentation Roundtable’ at “What Has Antiquity Ever Done for Us?” – The Vitality of Ancient Reception Studies, Now: An international virtual conference presented by the society, Antiquity in Media Studies (AIMS); (ii) A joint presentation (Johnson and Skibinski), ‘AHIS@UON Collaborative Innovations in Online Delivery’ at ASCS 2022 panel, ‘New Directions in Classics Teaching Workshop.

Professor Marguerite Johnson and PhD Student Connie Skibinski were delighted to represent this academic team through the ASCS43 ‘New Directions in Classics Teaching Workshop’, by sharing the innovative teaching practices implemented in Semester 2, 2021. Owing to lockdown, the staff delivered two courses online at short notice: AHIS1000: Ancient Greece and AHIS2500 Greek Mythology. Due to the engaging use of online delivery and the innovative Ancient Reception pedagogy implemented in these two courses, the AHIS@UON team were proud recipients of the DVC(A) Educator Innovation and Impact Awards in 2021. You can access a snapshot of their deliver of the two online courses from 2021 here.

While the challenges were intense, they also resulted in new approaches to undergraduate teaching that have been maintained post-pandemic restrictions. In this blog post, Marguerite Johnson and Connie Skibinski address the key points they raised during the teaching workshop, and reflect on what was a successful semester of teaching in spite of unexpected adversities.

Extend your university network:

Some of the 2021 innovations that have been maintained include the extension of our university network to include experts in learning media and solutions development. As academics we are not usually trained in many of the skills required to produce learning modules characterised by effective use of technology to highlight key pedagogical material. By working as a team that includes academics and media production experts, including Ancient Reception segments to supplement specific historical or cultural course components, we have continued to introduce new facets of Ancient History in visually exciting and culturally relevant ways.

Take advantage of what Ancient Reception Studies offers:

This is very much about the vitality of current developments in pedagogy using Ancient Reception Studies in terms of both form and content. By ‘form’ we mean the delivery mode of technology per se – so much at the heart of Ancient Reception Studies – and the direct implementation of such in the vital role played by professional staff with the expertise to manage media, transform lecture content into video recordings, and combine various modes of technical enhancements. By ‘content’ we mean not only ancient history and mythological topics but also the expression of such content in relation to the currency of ‘antiquity’ in diverse media, from television, comics, video games, and film.

Examples from AHIS1000 – Ancient Greece:

In this introductory course, we incorporated video montage with an audio overlay by one of the teachers. Two of the films used were Troy and 300 to show the histories of the Iliad and the Battle of Thermopylae, respectively. These were montages of around five minutes each, and the audio commentary by the teacher pointed out highlights related to the teaching material on the topics that had already been delivered to students. Further on Thermopylae, another teacher used video game extracts to visually demonstrate the battle tactics employed. Keeping the Ancient Reception materials to a strict time limit, incorporating historical content during the videos, and focusing on promoting visualisation learning through popular media, this teaching strategy added a dynamic, relatable and informative component to the online classroom.

Examples from AHIS2500 – Myths of the Ancient Greek World:

Throughout AHIS2500 we opted to incorporate an embedded Ancient Reception approach, meaning that we utilised short case studies from contemporary media (video games, film, television, comic books) throughout the entire semester, when introducing students to ancient material they may be otherwise unfamiliar with. Examples include a case study on Wonder Woman when teaching about the Amazons, and an analysis of a scene from the television series, ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ when teaching about Hecate. This approach was a deliberate divergence from previous iterations of the course, which left Ancient Reception to week 12 only. By incorporating Ancient Reception through practical case studies before introducing the students to Reception Theory in the final week, we found that students were very responsive and engaged with the premises of Reception Theory. The Course Experience Survey results also showed that students particularly enjoyed the references to contemporary media throughout the course, as it prompted them to consider and interrogate how their contemporary context shapes their interpretation of ancient material.

Professor Marguerite Johnson

Connie Skibinski