When it comes to offering a diversity of courses, departments at small liberal arts colleges are often faced with a dilemma: faculty are often stretched thin just to satisfy basic requirements for majors and minors, may feel they lack the expertise for teaching specialized course, or may face the challenge of under-enrollment. These were precisely the challenges that group of ACS Classical Studies faculty came together to discuss nearly twenty years ago. Their vision was to create collaborative inter-institutional courses, linked digitally, that would rival the offerings their students might find at much larger R-1 institutions. That vision has grown into Sunoikisis, a national consortium of Classics programs that has garnered participation from nearly 80 different institutions since 1999.
In a recent webinar, we heard from one of the founding members of Sunoikisis–Dr. Kenny Morrell, Associate Professor of Greek and Roman Studies–as well as the current Sunoikisis Fellow in Curriculum Development at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, Dr. Ryan Fowler. Morrell and Fowler described the program’s structure and the ways in which it has grown over the past fifteen years. Sunoikisis offers courses in Greek and Latin, typically on a five-year revolving basis. Each course begins over the summer when a Course Director, Course Consultants, and other participating faculty (typically 10 or so faculty members) gather, having read a collection of relevant primary and secondary materials, to work out a syllabus together. Each faculty member takes responsibility for one or more weeks of the course, during which students at each participating institution will read selected materials, meet for a tutorial session with students and faculty from their home institution, participate in an asynchronous discussion lead by the weekly faculty leader, and meet via videoconference for a “common session” that brings together all participating institutions. Students are typically enrolled into Sunoikisis courses through an already existing course on their home campus, and while grading is, to some extent, collaborative, final determinations for each enrolled student by his or her home faculty member. From its beginnings within the ACS, Sunoikisis has grown–both through its time as a National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education program (2006-2009) and from its current position at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University–to include a nation-wide network of participating schools.
The benefits for Sunoikisis students are obvious: within the confines of even a single class, students are able to work with a group of highly qualified and talented faculty members (rather than just one!), and are eligible for other benefits such as archaeological field studies and student research symposia. Through the highly collaborative process of each Sunoiksis class, too, they benefit from interactions with peers across multiple institutions and hone the skills of inquiry and scholarly discussion. Less apparent, but equally important, are the benefits for faculty, who find themselves enriched by one another’s expertise, energized by the process of collaborative course management, and able to offer students a far richer learning experience than they could otherwise. An added benefit is the accumulation of course materials (syllabi, discussion questions, recordings of common hour lectures and discussions) which can be employed as resources for other courses outside the program.
Of particular interest is the course Fowler is currently leading: The Epic Hero in Ancient Literature–The Iliad. The course is based on a MOOC developed by Harvard University’s Dr. Greg Nagy (HeroesX: The Ancient Greek Hero), adapting content from the 24 hours of lecture offered by Nagy to the Sunoikisis format, and bringing together 100 students from Elon University, Sweet Briar College, Howard University, and the University of Southern Maine. This course raises particularly interesting questions about the possible use for MOOCs in the small college context, bringing students at a wide range of institutions together to work through readings and Nagy’s lectures in a high-touch, highly interactive way. (A case study for this project will be available through an upcoming edition the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education’s Transformations platform).