From Stone to Screen presents at the Digital Pedagogy Conference

13340777_10101700422257687_1939253938_oOn May 13th, Chelsea and I had the opportunity to present in front of an enthusiastic group of digital humanists for the third annual Digital Pedagogy Institute conference at the University of Guelph. The theme of this year’s discussion was Community Facing Learning & Digital Pedagogy, embracing the future of learning in the digital age. Chelsea and I were excited to contribute, as we had been invited to present on From Stone to Screen’s newly developed open-access Roman Coin Module and its significance to pedagogy in the Classics community and to the general public.

Digital Antiquity in the Classroom

Our presentation, From Stone to Screen: Digital Antiquity in the Classroom, discussed the development of our open-access lecture modules and their significance as online teaching resources for the pedagogy of the ancient world. As classicists know, one of the challenges associated with the study of the ancient civilizations is the lack of accessibility to artifacts due to their age, fragility and rarity. By creating a digital artifact database, From Stone to Screen aimed to make these traditionally inaccessible materials available online to the public. When the project was granted funding from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF), we began to promote the use of open-access digital resources by creating teaching modules – designed for students, by students – which were designed to enhance student learning by having them engage directly with materials from the ancient world. As a result, From Stone to Screen has been given the opportunity to employ students to write modules, having them develop their pedagogical skills while providing them with resources to work with artifacts from the ancient world. The modules are significant because they provide instructors with pre-fabricated open-access lectures that can be freely used by a global audience. They integrate objects from the FSTS artifact collection database into complete lesson plans for instructors who may not have access to their own collections of ancient materials. The modules encourage students and instructors to engage directly with primary source materials that provide context for aspects of religion, society, politics and economics in the ancient world.

A sample slide from the Roman Coin Module

A sample slide from the Roman Coin Module

During the Digital Pedagogy conference, we demonstrated our newly developed Roman Coin Module. This open-access digital resource can be used by anyone, is intended as an introductory course on numismatics which focuses on reading and interpreting ancient coins as tools to better understand their historical context. The module uses coins from the O. J. Todd Collection as the artifacts for interpretation. We originally created the coin module for our professor, Gwynaeth McIntyre, who was willing to implement it in her class on Visual Literacy in the Ancient World at the University of Otago. She wanted the module to focus on how Roman coins promoted imperial power, but she also wanted it to be flexible enough for other professors to be able include the module in their curriculums. We really wanted the module to be implemented at universities without their own artifact collections, as these were the institutions where students would have the most trouble accessing materials from the ancient world. This was achieved when the module was tested in a class on Roman Archaeology at Sewanee: The University of the South, a small liberal arts college without artifact collections of their own. The fact that students were learning about ancient coinage through real coins in our teaching collections was fantastic – it meant that our university teaching collections were being put to good use, and we hope that more universities will take advantage of this open-access teaching resource.

The Roman Coin Module includes a suggested lesson plan, PowerPoint presentation, teaching notes, worksheets, handouts and a coin catalogue. The module is designed to fill a 50-minute long lecture, with an introduction to numismatics and three sections outlining the interpretation of coins. Each section is divided into 5 minutes for lectures and 10 minutes for worksheets, where students are asked to apply the concepts explained to them during the lecture to the coins that they learn about. The worksheets are an important addition to the modules because they help students engage directly with materials from the ancient world, asking them to interpret the significance of a coin for themselves. The worksheets promote individual or group activity, depending on how the instructor wishes to structure the class. Handouts are also supplied with each worksheet in order to assist students with the interpretation of the coins, asking the students to use evidence in order to discover more about the coins that they are learning about. A coin catalogue is included with the module so that instructors can see the other coins available for study in the collection, all of which can be accessed online on the digital database mentioned above.

Why Coins? 

Numismatics, the study of coins, is significant because coins circulated news and information in the ancient world. The images and legends on coins could announce an emperor’s victories and successes by advertising the granting of new titles, and images would supply information about an emperor and the priorities of his reign. Ancient people would view these coins in daily transactions, making judgements about the images and legends that they viewed on their coins. As a result, the images and inscriptions on a coin could supply people with news about what was happening around the empire. Roman coins often depicted the emperor or members of the imperial family, demonstrating how Roman rulers wanted to be portrayed. Emperors would often mint idealized portraits on their coinage, enabling scholars to study how an emperor wanted to be viewed by the public . The coins below are examples of how emperors manipulated their portraits in order to indicate the continuity of an imperial dynasty. The portrait of Tiberius (left) is very similar to that of Augustus (right): Tiberius fashioned his portrait in a way that reflected that of Augustus, wearing a laurel wreath and fashioning his hair so that it is strikingly similar to that of his adoptive father. By depicting himself in a way that reflected Augustus’ portrait, Tiberius was advertising the continuity of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. At the same time, Tiberius wanted to depict himself as Augustus’ successor, and his portrait is slightly different from that of his predecessor. Rather than depicting himself as a young and idealized ruler, Tiberius’ portrait seems to depict a hardened and wiser emperor. It can be argued that Tiberius wanted to demonstrate that he was a competent ruler, the deserving successor of the imperial throne. Images of emperors changed over time according to their ideals, and scholars can comment on changes in portraiture and interpret the priorities of an emperor’s reign through these depictions.


Left: Portrait of Tiberius (Source: From Stone to Screen); Right: Portrait of Augustus (Source: Downies Auction House)

The conference brought together a vibrant group of digital humanists who were interested in developing ways for the community to learn using digital platforms. The keynote speaker was Liz Losh, director of the Culture, Art and Technology program at the University of California, San Diego. Losh talked about the rise of online courses and the future of digital universities. Her presentation outlined the principles of digital learning and discussed the ways that technology can be effectively used in the classroom. The result was an inspiring argument for instructors to embrace technology in their classrooms, as using digital resources can effectively enrich student learning in ways that traditional tools cannot. Another fascinating presentation was made by Brian Sutherland, who introduced the possibilities of low-cost technologies which could help people engage with their surroundings using their smartphones. One of the most fascinating tools that Sutherland brought to our attention was the iBeacon. This tool uses Bluetooth proximity and acts as a beacon which can be attached to an object and used in conjunction with a mobile device to supply people with information about the items that surround them. The possibilities for this technology are endless, but I think that the iBeacon would be especially useful in a museum context, where it could be attached to works of art and used to supply information about an object directly to the viewer’s smartphone. Sutherland and Losh’s talks, among others, brought together fascinating discussions about the future of pedagogical tools in today’s digital world. We were thrilled to participate in the discussion by introducing our lecture modules, and cannot wait for the next opportunity to present on them.

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