Last Thursday my third year students and I met for the first time in the corridor of the “Ugly Tower” (officially know as the Attenborough building). In all fairness, I have encountered the same students before. I had the honour to teach them the Introduction to Roman History two years ago. Back then, I have been exceptionally intolerant in an attempt to prepare them for what awaited them the next few years of their study. They have obviously forgiven me or forgotten about me during the interval, since they chose (willingly?) my Slavery module.
During the first hour of the seminar I managed to shock them with my intention to use social media in the class. I immediately noticed that they were divided in three distinct groups: the excited ones, the indifferent ones and the appalled ones. They all shared, though, the same concerns about how this is going to work. No matter what their personal beliefs about social media were, they have never used them as an educational tool. Also, the prospect of exposing themselves online, made some of them feel queasy with fear. Fair enough! Social media are such a new concept that not even the Gurus know how to use them effectively. I am convinced, though, that this will be an exciting (and comparatively safe) trip into unknown lands. And if we are not turned into pigs by Kirke, then Ithake will wait for us in the end. On the whole, I feel confident enough to guide the students, as long as they show some faith to my judgment.
During the second hour we became preoccupied with the logistics of the comparison. This is the third time I am teaching this module, therefore I walk firmly on safe ground. I explained them the format of the class. First of all, I divided them in two discussion groups for next week: the Americans and the Romans. Each student will have to review one ancient source and one article or book. They will present their work in the class and then the discussion will start. The purpose will be to find similarities and differences between Roman and American slavery. Through the method of “compare and contrast” we hope to create a theoretical model that will work. As for the assessment, I do not expect them to go through the ordeal of a final exam. After all, it will not be fair. Most students take exams at one topic for every module. They will have to study for two: Roman and American histories. So, we opted for writing a short essay of 3000 words on Roman slavery and one longer project of 4000 words on comparative slavery.
All in all, we are hopeful that this year’s experiment will not only be successful but also exceedingly enjoyable. Plus, I would like very much to disappoint the Kassandras of the world who predicted its failure and accused me of being an empty headed academic with aspirations to appear supercool in front of the students!