LTSN Classics and Ancient History:
a forum for debate and development

Lorna Hardwick

This has been the first full year of activities organised with classicists and ancient historians under the umbrella of the national Learning and Teaching Support Network. In spite of the pressures of the Research Assessment and Subject Review exercises on all departments, there has been vigorous discussion and sharing of new and experimental work. The highlight in the early part of the year was the National Colloquium on Classical Languages, which included a wide variety of short papers on practical aspects of language learning and teaching, as well as intense debate about future directions. The Selected Proceedings have been published on the subject centre web site and in hard copy. (Practical Strategies in the Changing Environment of Classical Language Teaching at University, edd. David Fitzpatrick and Lorna Hardwick, ISBN 0 7492 8590 7.) Copies have been sent to all Departments and the ICS Library. Further copies are available on request (email

Special interest networks have also developed following the Colloquium. These include Learning from Texts and Commentaries, Koine Greek, Intranet and Internet Resources and Peer Observation of teaching. Further details of these are available from David Fitzpatrick and short reports will be published on the web site ( The Texts and Commentaries group has developed questionnaires which are being sent to all departments. The aim of the questionnaire is to collect information on the perceived merits and shortcomings of texts and commentaries currently in use and to invite comments on the kinds of texts and commentaries (including commentaries on translations) which lecturers would like to see in the future. As a broadening of the work of the network, the next National Colloquium will be on Learning and Teaching with Texts, Commentaries and Translations (January 26, 2002). A call for papers is currently being sent round and there will be a refereed publication of selected papers.

This year we held a seminar for new and fairly new lecturers. This also identified priorities for future in-depth sessions (teaching with translations, ICT and course design were those mostly frequently mentioned). An autumn seminar in Edinburgh for departments in Scotland and the North-East generated energetic discussion on language learning through literature and through ICT and on the learning needs of Classical Civilisation students. A similar day in Wales is being planned. Suggestions for future seminars and workshops and offers to lead sessions are always welcome. Sessions on ICT (one for the Midlands/South on November 30 and one in the spring for Scotland/North) and on teaching with images are being developed and a seminar on teaching Reception of classical texts and images has also been suggested.

The subject centre for History, Classics and Archaeology (HCA) also circulates Briefing Papers with its newsletters. Sonja Cameron, the centre's IT co-ordinator, is preparing a paper on getting digital images for teaching and also in the pipe-line are papers by Jan Parker on working with glossed texts, and by Lynette Mitchell on strategies for active learning.

The HCA subject centre has also awarded a number of Teaching Development Grants to enable lecturers to evaluate, write-up and disseminate examples of innovative teaching and learning. These grants support year-long projects, and seminars will be held to discuss the results, with reports published on the web site. Congratulations to Dr. J. Hesk (St Andrews), Dr. C. Osborne (Liverpool) and Dr. G. Shipley (Leicester) who were successful in a very competitive first round of applications. Applications for the next batch of grants are currently being invited and information has been sent to all departments.


This first year has been exhilarating in so many ways. Yet there are considerable challenges which exist both for the subject community and for the LTSN concept itself.

Everyone reading this Bulletin will have personal experience of the changes in the educational and socio-economic environment within which Classics and Ancient History operate. The change in the balance between classical languages and classical civilisation enrolments has generated restructuring of many degree profiles and still requires a radical review of the relationship between language based learning and learning via translations. We need to ask hard questions about the kinds of language awareness and capabilities which are needed by students on language and non-languages courses (including ancient history courses) and about how these needs can best be met.

The bright but inexperienced language student is desperate to engage with difficult texts and ideas at the same time as he or she grapples with the basics of the languages. How can this aspiration be met? How can the professional scholars of tomorrow be identified and given the language basis they need in order to secure their future research and academic employment prospects?

There are difficult areas in the professional framework which lecturers inhabit. According to CUCD statistics, staff/students ratios have generally worsened and it follows that a good deal of the teaching, especially in the languages, is now undertaken by part-time staff or by graduate teaching assistants (who are, of course, our leaders in the next generation). How can we assure that teaching is a valued and rewarding experience for these non-established lecturers and for their students? How can we best enable experienced part-time lecturers (who often have a valuable background in schools) to share their experience and expertise with new appointees?

It is widely held that the demands of the regular Research Assessment Exercises have further diminished the attention given to teaching, and especially to the more time-consuming aspects of curriculum development and innovation. I am not convinced that this claim is totally justified. Certainly it seems that the most active and imaginative university teachers are often people who are also very active in research, although it is true that few can develop both aspects simultaneously throughout their careers. There are now several international journals publishing articles that focus on the relationship between subject research, learning and teaching, and these may enable more lecturers to receive public academic recognition for the importance of their teaching.

Now that the current sequence of Subject Review activities undertaken by the QAA is drawing to an end, there are also challenges to our subject community concerning how we react to it. Are there ways in which the subject community can respond positively to QAA experience (without wasting time agonising over the forests of paper consumed or the precious time devoted to the submissions)? Alternatively, is 'learning from QAA' best left to the private sphere of the conscience? Most pressing of all, how can we make sure that post-QAA exhaustion (and justified distaste for paper-trails) is not used as an excuse to justify a retreat from real intellectual and practical engagement with crucial issues in learning and teaching (especially given the changing environment for our subject)? And how should the subject community try to shape future mechanisms for quality review at national level?

There are challenges, too, for the LTSN and its rationale. The national organisation has, initially, up to five years for work to embed teaching and learning issues into subject cultures. The decision to organise LTSN activities on a subject basis was both practical and idealistic in its implications. So far some promising progress has been made, with a high degree of responsiveness to the wishes of subject communities, practical support in the shape of teaching development grants and some attention to the analysis of longer term and strategic issues. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the operation of the LTSN model as a catalyst for facilitation and development, and its institutionalisation. To put it bluntly, excessive reliance over a long period of time on any organisation can induce dependency. The success or failure of the LTSN, in classics and ancient history at least, will have to be judged by the extent to which it continues to be practitioner-led, and by the quality and effectiveness of the debates that it fosters. How seriously the classics and ancient history community takes teaching and learning and how it perceives the ways in which scholarship binds research and teaching, will govern the long-term development of the subject. Our aim in the LTSN initiatives for classics and ancient history is to work towards the time when debate and the exchange of ideas and approaches about teaching and learning will attain the same extent, depth and quality that is taken for granted in subject-based research.

This article represents the author's personal views.

Lorna Hardwick

The Open University

CUCD Bulletin 30 (2001)
© Lorna Hardwick 2001

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