This is a post about how I teach Latin and why I decided to create CyberCaesar.
Several years ago I stopped using one of the most popular textbooks available for teaching Latin and started to create my own course. I wanted a change. For a long time I had already gone about things my own way. I had designed a grammar book given to students to “fill in the gaps.” Starting from this very basic point, I created exercises that challenged pupils’ abilities to manipulate accidence and syntax. Many of the extension activities were far more useful than the textbook itself.
When a colleague and friend, Paul Glyne-Thomas demonstrated Moodle to me, I liked it. Moodle is a Virtual Learning Environment (or VLE) that provides the scaffolding for schools and universities to develop their own websites. I hope to write more about Moodle in a future blog post. The feature of Moodle that Paul demonstrated that completely won me over was the quiz module. For me, it was the perfect vehicle to practise translating Latin into English and English into Latin. The idea of automatic marking and instant feedback was too good to ignore. This, coupled with my increasing dissatisfaction with existing courses, led me to take the proverbial bull by the horns and create my own teaching course. Thus in August 2009 CyberCaesar flickered into digital being.
Once I began writing CyberCaesar, I had to start everything again from scratch. Freed from the tyranny of the textbook, I had licence to do things my own way and create a course structured around my own priorities. The key to Latin is an understanding of the inflected case system and I felt (and still do) that it is vital to impart an understanding of the cases at an early stage. Therefore I wrote a series of online lessons and exercises on nouns, cases and declension endings. Verbs could wait. So could complex sentences. I also composed my own vocabulary lists which I based upon the recommended wordlists of the examination boards for GCSE but drew widely upon other published vocabulary lists, notably Paul Diederich’s work on the frequency of Latin words. Rarely has so much angst been expended over something as boring (yet as vital) as the composition of a vocabulary list.
That’s how CyberCaesar started. It has developed considerably since then. I’ve chucked some things out, added new bits and pieces, restructured the programme of accidence and syntax regularly until I was satisfied that the programme of learning was perfect. I’ve added a set of Latin stories to the course to give students the experience of reading Latin. I suppose in a way I’ve come full circle. I discarded a textbook only to end up producing a reading course of my own.
However, there is far more to CyberCaesar than just a reading course. It is a fully interactive course that provides instant feedback. It tells students where they are going wrong. I think in this regard (and probably several others) CyberCaesar is unique.