Academic Technology Center
Teaching with Technology Collaboratory

Enhancing Poetry Education through Technology

Professor Joel Brattin, Humanities and Arts

"My initial impetus was simply to save a little time before the beginning of class. I didn’t really have in my mind at the time the idea that it might be a better way to teach or that the outcomes might be better."

Joel Brattin used to arrive early to each of his Introduction to English Poetry classes so that he could write lines of poetry on the blackboard before students arrived to class. This practice helped him teach scansion; the analysis of meter and rhythm. By reading these written lines out loud from the board, Joel and his students could count the syllables in the verse and divide lines into poetic feet, showing the placement of stressed syllables, and try to determine patterns in the verse. The teaching methods Joel used helped his students learn scansion, but arriving early to class to prepare the verse on the blackboard often proved to be challenging for Joel.

In the Spring of 2006, Joel applied for a Teaching with Technology Fellowship so that he could collaborate with the ATC to develop and implement new strategies for using technology to enhance the presentation of metrical analysis. Joel was familiar with technologies like PowerPoint, myWPI, and Flash, but he had never used them and wanted to explore how he could incorporate them into his teaching.

In B term of 2007, Joel introduced interactive PowerPoint slides into his Introduction to English Poetry classes. Instead of written lines on the blackboard, these lines were displayed on the projection screen in an electronic classroom. As with the lines written in chalk, Joel and his students could read syllables out loud and determine which ones should receive emphasis. After students had analyzed the line, Joel could click on any given syllable and reveal whether or not it was stressed and the poetic foot pattern. Not only did these PowerPoints create a more interactive and dynamic classroom for Joel, but they also motivated him to explore other ways he could use technology in his courses.

"I initially conceived the project to be simply a means of displaying lines of poetry and the marks that would indicate emphasis or lack of emphasis on syllables. It grew to be much more than that when I saw how well that technique worked."

Many of Joel’s textbooks contain materials from the days before modern printing and publishing. When visuals were included in with the text, oftentimes there were subtle differences in the images that could provide alternate interpretations. In the past, Joel would pass around two different versions of the “same” visual from a text and encourage students to spot the differences. By the time the visuals circled the classroom, Joel oftentimes had moved on. Using technology and advanced scanning techniques, Joel was able to display these visuals on the projection screen so that all students could view and discuss the subtle differences at the same time. Using zooming tools, Joel and his students could view the image in full size blown up on the screen, but they could also used zoomed-in and cropped views to help analyze the subtle differences.

With the assistance of Dr. Jeanne Hubelbank, an evaluation consultant, Joel did a two-year assessment on two consecutive Introduction to English Poetry courses. The first evaluation occurred in B term 2006, when Joel was still developing interactive material but had not yet implemented it in his teaching. Thus, this class was taught via his traditional method of using the blackboard and passing around materials. Following the completion of the B term 2007 course, where the technology was implemented, the comparative evaluation demonstrated that there was a significant improvement in students’ ability to understand the variations in metrical patterns as demonstrated in exam grades. Additionally, more students reported that the techniques used to teach scansion were interesting in the B07 class when compared to the number of students responding to the same question in the B06 class.

Using technology to teach poetry and literature has not just had a positive impact on his students. Joel himself has benefited in many ways and is pleased with the results. Joel’s work with the ATC has motivated him to think about ways he can approach and use technology in his scholarly research on Charles Dickens and Jimi Hendrix. An unanticipated, but highly rewarding outcome from this implementation was that Joel found that he was also able to spend more time prior to class learning about who his students were and engaging in dialogue with them when this time used to be spent scrambling to get material up on the blackboard.

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Last modified: May 09, 2008, 11:37 EDT
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