Education: it’s not on the test
Dr Thomas M Kemnitz, publisher, President of Royal Fireworks Press, and contributor to the new editions of The Word Within The Word and Caesar’s English, talks about how new technology allows us to enhance the learning experience.
This is such a great time to produce educational materials. With digital photography and printing, iBooks and ebooks, it is possible to do so many more exciting things now than it ever was in the past.
I was struck by the enhanced possibilities technological change has fostered when I came to write the Greek history and culture parts for The Word Within the Word I. It had started when I was in the British Museum in London in the special room devoted to the Parthenon. More than two centuries ago, Lord Elgin and his agents had stripped the Parthenon in Athens of its best remaining sculptures and friezes and shipped them to London. (I had looked at them repeatedly years before when I was writing my doctoral dissertation, which had nothing to do with them it was just that they were so stunningly beautiful and were in the same building where I was working, and no other break was as good as spending a few minutes there). It occurred to me in 2010 that we were missing an opportunity in our vocabulary books; we could give students a chance to experience the Elgin Marbles and the Parthenon by simply adding pages about them to the text. The texts are about the Latin and Greek roots of academic English, so the Parthenon is related at least a little.
In the old days this would have taken intricate planning and a huge investment in camera, film, film processing, and scanners, and we would have been limited by the complexity of getting images on film. But now all it takes is a professional digital camera and lens and some storage media. I took thousands of photos in London, went to Athens and took thousands more.
And the extent of the project began to expand with the number of photos, which fired my imagination. It would be the Parthenon in the context of Athens of the fifth century BC. Well, then it would have to include the Persians and the Spartans. No wait, that is not enough. We talk about ancient Greece and Rome all in one breath as though they were the same, but the kids never get a sense of how they were different and how they were related. So first let’s explain Greece and the relations between the Athenians, the Persians, the other Greeks including the Spartans, and Macedonia and Alexander the Great. Then we can explain Rome and how the Romans were related to the Greeks.
First it was going to fit in one volume of The Word Within the Word, then in two, and now in three. I traveled to London, Hadrian’s Wall in the North, York, Bath, Fishbourne in the Sussex countryside, Paris and the Louvre, Rome, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Naples, Tivoli, Ostia, Athens, Delphi, and many other places to get photos as the project continued to expand. in my imagination.
The first volume of The Word Within the Word I is on less than two centuries of Greek history, and the Parthenon appears for a few pages in its context, which I hope is clearly established so the students know how it fits in, why it was built, and why it is important. The volume has more than 100 photos, which enable me to explain things on a much higher level than would have been the case without them. The material on Greece is college level, but I am told that middle school students are reading it and loving it. If so, that is a direct result of the amount the photographs allow me to communicate; it is certainly not a result of my prose.
We can print all those photos because advances in printing technology make it inexpensive now to add photos to texts. So the final book is the result of a double set of technological advances in photography and in printing.
Last week, as we began to explore making the book into an iBook for the iPad, it became clear to me how many more of the photos we can use in an iBook. For example, on the bottom of a page I discuss a vase painting of Athena and the image of a famous statue of the Tyrannicides that is depicted on her shield. The statue itself does not appear in the book. In the iBook, a student who wants to see the statue will be able to click on the text and see the statue from a variety of different angles, see different versions of parts of it that reside in various museums, etc. For each photo in the text, a student will be able to click on it and see a few or perhaps dozens of additional images and get more information about the building, artifact, or person.
The exciting thing to me is how far we will be able to extend learning for students who care to find out more. None of this will ever be on the test. Nothing that I have written about Greece, or will write about Rome, will be on the test. That is not why it is there. It is intended to expand our kids’ horizons, so they can make themselves more knowledgeable about things that interest them, and so they can be better educated about the civilizations that produced their world.
This is the huge educational opportunity the new technology is making possible easy entrance into the Ancient World that is not on the test but is so much a part of our Western civilization.