Friday, October 1, 2010

The Joys and Pitfalls of Self-Directed Education

In May, I graduated from college with my BA in Classics. I decided to strike out on my own for a year (and looking increasingly like two years) in order to solidify my education, gain some work and teaching experience, and choose my path forward into academia. Exploring education on my own, and teaching my own classes, continues to provide me with a new perspectives on the benefits and drawbacks to institutionalized learning and also on educational resources.

Here are some of the great things I have found while learning on my own:
  • Skype is awesome. 
    • Although Cerinthus is away, I can still ask him questions and get answers from the experts he has access to in Greece and Italy (see Cerinthus Reports on both Fragments of Sulpicia and Platonic Psychology).
    • Propertius II and I work on Horace together over skype as well and we can share screen, send information, and interact.
    • On a broader educational level, Sugata Mitra's work which he explained in his TED Talk (which I highly recommend if you have not seen it) employs Skype through a method known as the Granny Cloud. This employs British grandmothers to watch over and encourage students using internet resources for the purpose of education and has proved to be an effective tool
  • I can read and research whatever I want, which leads me to exciting new areas of research.
    • As I was doing some more in-depth research on grave monuments to solidify work on my thesis, I stumbled across Ian Morris' Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State (which can be downloaded for free if you have access to ACLS and some minimal computer skills). The book is awesome so far, but I realized I have almost no background whatsoever in archaeology. This lead me to find another book, An Archaeology of Greece, by Anthony Snodgrass, which is currently public from University of California Press.
  • There are a number of websites and blogs that provide immense amounts of information and there are even more under construction.
    • The UC Berkeley Webcast website has some fabulous classes by incredible professors that one can listen to via podcast. They also have campus events and speakers. A truly phenomenal resource.
    • I have a whole list of classics resources under "Interesting Links" on the left-hand side of Platonic Psychology.
    • Wikimedia Commons provides images for people to use. I employed these to find examples of for myself and then to provide examples to me readers for Proto-Corinthian pottery.
    • There are also some unfinished resources which may still be valuable:
      • Wikiversity (and its Classic Department) attempts to provide class outlines and resources to individuals who want to learn from the teachers who are willing to make them. Wikiversity says on its main page: "Wikiversity is a Wikimedia Foundation project devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning. We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities."
      • The Homer Multitext is an incredible resource put together by the Center for Hellenic Studies, which, according to the website, "seeks to present the textual transmission of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey in a historical framework. Such a framework is needed to account for the full reality of a complex medium of oral performance that underwent many changes over a long period of time. These changes, as reflected in the many texts of Homer, need to be understood in their many different historical contexts. The Homer Multitext provides ways to view these contexts both synchronically and diachronically." This is an incredible resource for Homer scholars.
  • Everything you do is directed toward your needs (or the needs of those with whom you study).
    • Something I really need to work on is my Greek and Latin reading fluidity and pronunciation, as well as building my vocabulary. Although all of my classes in college attempted to do a little of this, none of them focused on it. After ascertaining from those who I considered experts in each area what resources I should be using, I have been able to at least begin to work on these areas.
    • Furthermore, I can use old syllabi to review precisely those assignments I did not quite understand (or wanted to look into further).
 Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State An Archaeology of Greece: The Present State and Future Scope of a Discipline (Sather Classical Lectures) Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of Classical Greek
However, there are also inevitable problems with learning on my own:
  • There are no teachers and no deadlines. I have to be ready to set firm deadlines as well as find resources among friends, books, and the internet to provide instruction. It is incredibly easy to slip up or procrastinate. I have slipped up a number of times, but I remind myself that cheating only hurts me, which motivates me to work harder.
  • I have to create my own evidence of my efforts. Unforuntately, I cannot get a degree from Sulpicia University and I am not graded in my endeavors, even when I use resources like UC Berkeley Webcast, so I have to demonstrate my knowledge effective and produce something. Blogging has been one thing that provides a certain amount of accountability and shows some amount of my effort, but I need to also work on getting something published so that I can show it to a graduate school.
  • There are no school facilities. Although I can drive to my local university library to check out books or search for information (and I do), I do not have the same incredible facilities that I had in college, e.g. I cannot use an inter-library loan program nor do I have campus visiting lecturers nor easily-accessible students and professors in other disciplines. However, Skype, email, and access to my parents has helped ameliorate this, because I can contact scholars and peers as well as having greater access to cars and trips to concerts, lectures, conferences, museums, and even out of town to find wonderful opportunities.

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