A classics professor says students in his Latin classes are usually lousy translators of Horace and Ovid—mainly because they don’t understand the cultural references in their poetry.
So now the professor, Roger Mr. Travis Jr., requires students to do weekly role-playing exercises online to put themselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the ancient Romans.
For Mr. Travis, an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut, the experiment is part of a broader exploration of using games in the classroom, which he describes on his blog, Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World.
He has tried using virtual worlds in the past, where students can build avatars for their characters and move in video-game-like realms. But this semester he’s using Google Wave, and limiting interactions to text (and a few old maps he links to). Each week he creates a new discussion thread using the service, which lets multiple users collaborate on a shared online document. He begins with a fictional scenario related to the material students are learning. Then students, who have been assigned roles in advance, write how they would react to the situation.
Mr. Travis assigns what he calls Latinity Points to clever responses, and the role-playing exercise counts for about 20 percent of a student’s final grade in the course.
“You cannot undersand Latin without understanding Roman culture,” he said. “This is the best way I have ever found to actually get my students to pay attention to Roman culture.”