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CO 67.1 [Fall 1989], pp. 22-23: New ACL Committee; Compatibility Issues; Perseus, MacLang; APA Bulletin Board


Welcome to the first sailing of a new column dealing with computers in the classical classroom. In this space I hope to discuss with you the impact and opportunities created by these newfangled gadgets. Although computers have existed for several decades now, only recently have they made their way into virtually every one of our schools. We, as teachers of the ancient Western world, may never again be immune to their influence (as much as some of us might wish it to be otherwise). As with any other contrivance of technology, there are both positive and negative aspects to the computer. It is my hope that we might all learn to maintain a skeptical eye toward vague generalizations about its omnipotence and find the appropriate applications (if any) for our own particular situations.

This column also coincides with a new stage in the activities of the ACL's Committee on Educational Computer Applications, which was established in 1987. For the past two years, the committee (consisting of Glenn Knudsvig, Rickie Crown, and myself) has been at work on several specific objectives to assist ACL members in assessing the appropriate use of computers in their classrooms. Through newsletters and workshops, we have been developing an evaluation form to help teachers critique instructional software for the Classics. (If you would like a copy of the current draft of the form, please send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope.) We have also tried to create a development network for the future publication of software which addresses the expressed needs of our members. This column will (for the time being, at least) replace the committee's newsletter and act as a new, expanded forum for its activities and announcements.

More than anything, however, the purpose of this column is to answer your questions and provide up-to-date information about the ever-changing array of computer materials and related resources which might be of particular assistance to teachers of the Classics. Therefore, the column's direction will rely heavily on the interests and questions generated by you, the reader. No question is too simple when it comes to computers. At workshops, I often find that the question one person is anxiously afraid to ask is the exact same question on many other minds in the room. So, please do not hesitate to ask!

I will also be happy to pass on your own specific recommendations, based on hands-on experience with particular types of software or hardware. I do plan to concentrate on applications oriented toward instruction, rather than research, unless the research tools have strong potential for student usage. Let me know what your priorities are for discussion topics; some possibilities are wordprocessing in Greek and Latin (with macrons), hardware intercompatibility, public domain software adaptable for the Classics, authoring systems, and networks.


There are two specific sources of information that I would like to draw your attention to right away. These can give all of us a common base of reference from which to work, and they may often answer some of the simpler questions right away. They are Gerald Culley's Teaching the Classics with Computers, available from the American Philological Association (send $1.50 to the APA, c/o Dept. of Classics, Fordham Univ., Bronx, NY 10458-5154), and my own Survey of Latin Instructional Software for the Microcomputer, available from the American Classical League's TMRC [item B319, $2.60 for ACL members, $2.95 for non-members, postpaid; and see the TMRC listings in this issue for computer software available from ACL. Ed.].

For those of you who are still wondering where exactly these creatures called computers sprang from, I would highly recommend a historical perspective offered by one of our own. J. David Bolter is a Classics professor with a Master's degree in computer science. In his book, Turing's Man (Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1984), Bolter describes clearly, in non-technical language, the logical continuum between the original Plato and the twentieth-century PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operation) manufactured by the Control Data Corporation.


The bulk of the software discussed in the first two booklets above is compatible with the Apple II series of microcomputers. This is probably due to the fact that Apple was the first in the microcomputer field and largely responsible for making computers affordable for schools below the college level. As a result, about 80% of the computers at the primary and secondary levels are now Apple II compatible.

Colleges were actually slower to pick up on microcomputers, since they had been using large "mainframe" computers and terminals since the 1960s and did not see the attraction right away. When they did finally decide to try out the smaller "personal" computers for student and administrative use, they tended to stay IBM-compatible, because IBM had such strong influence at the mainframe level. Colleges which have teacher-training programs usually have an Apple II lab to prepare teachers for the typical primary and secondary school labs. Other early microcomputer manufacturers, such as Tandy, Atari, and Commodore have been able to survive only by becoming in some way IBM-compatible.

Today a majority of college-level microcomputers are still IBM-compatible, but Apple's graphically-oriented Macintosh series (which is not compatible with the Apple II) has been making growing claims to lab space on college campuses. Classicists have been particularly curious about the Macintosh because of its facile handling of alternate character sets, such as Greek.


Perhaps the most ambitious software development project now in progress in the Classics is being executed on the Macintosh. The "Perseus Project," as it is called, is preparing multimedia curricular materials to support all kinds of classes dealing with ancient Greek civilization. The new standard Macintosh program, HyperCard, is being used to organize "stacks" of textual and graphic information which is intensively interconnected for easy cross-referencing. Further connections are being made to the slides of artwork and archaeological sites collected on videodisk. The program will also make use of an on-line lexicon and automatic parser. The first program version is due to be released in the fall of 1989. For further information, write to Greg Crane, Dept. of Classics, 319 Boylston Hall, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA 02138.

MacLang is a Macintosh authoring system which provides a number of built-in foreign language fonts and skeleton formats for several types of drill-and-practice exercises. The program was developed by Judith Frommer at Harvard University's Dept. of Romance Languages; it is being published by Research Design Associates (P.O. Box 848, Stony Brook, NY 11790). The cost is $99.95 per copy or $249 for a department site license.

If you are an electronic bulletin board fan, you may be interested in a new one set up for classicists by the American Philological Association's Committee on Computer Activities. The system provides an on-line newsletter for all kinds of information of interest to classicists, as well as the capacity to critique colleagues' works-in-progress. Materials for posting can be sent to Jeffrey Buller, Dept. of Classical Studies, Loras College, Dubuque, IA 52004. The APA newsletter board is contained within HumaNet, a scholarly electronic network for the humanities. A free HumaNet simulation disk may be requested from Richard Slata, Dept. of History, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC 27695. Specify IBM or Macintosh version.


Barbie is not the only one being handed Latin printouts to read (see Facetiae, CO 66 [1989]: 129). I was amazed to find another barely hidden infusion of Latin text into popular merchandising, this time in InfoWorld, one of the major computer trade journals. An advertisement by IBM and Microsoft for their new operating system, "OS/2," displays a hand-drawn graphic of a computer printer with a fresh page popping completely covered with Latin text. A human face superimposed on the page blocks out about half of the print, making it fairly unintelligible. What's going on? Is there a graphic art instructor somewhere fulfilling buried frustrations by telling students that old Latin textbooks are great for cutting out samples bits of unreadable text? (See next column for more information on this issue.)

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