Collaborative Classics: Technology and the Small Liberal Arts College

Article Contents

Introduction: Sunoikisis and the ACS
Sunoikisis Digital Infrastructure
Inter-institutional Collaborative Courses
Archaeology Program
Collaborative Community

Summary [top]

Sunoikisis, the collaborative  program in classics of the Associated Colleges of the South, has created a digital infrastructure that enables a virtual  classics community. Members of this community use technology for communications,  information management, inter-campus courses, and research. Sunoikisis helps foster ancient Mediterranean cultural informatics through the creation  and use of electronic materials for these activities. By educating students and faculty in electronic resources and making them comfortable in the web  environment, Sunoikisis contributes  to the growing digital culture in the world of classical studies.

Introduction: Sunoikisis and the ACS [top]

This paper will explore the intersection of technology, classical studies, and the small liberal arts college. To many, the first item on that list fits   with neither the second or third. Despite expectations, however, a group of fourteen small liberal arts colleges in the Southeast have fashioned a digital nfrastructure to support a virtual classics department, named Sunoikisis. Members of Sunoikisis seek to strengthen the academic programs of classics departments at small liberal arts colleges through technology-enabled collaboration. These departments average three faculty members, but, by working together with the aid of technology,  they are able to offer both students and faculty the types of opportunities  more typically associated with more faculty, a larger student body, and the ample resources of a large university. Furthermore, this virtual department provides a model for a network of students and teachers of classics, who are  geographically separate but connected through technology. This network contributes to ancient Mediterranean cultural informatics through the creation and use of  electronic materials for research, teaching and learning. By educating students   and faculty in electronic resources and making them comfortable in the web environment, Sunoikisis contributes to the growing digital culture in the world of classical studies.

Sunoikisis is the collaborative   program in classics of the Associated Colleges of the South   (ACS). This consortium comprises sixteen small liberal arts colleges, throughout the Southeast, including Birmingham-Southern College; Centenary College (of Louisiana); Centre College; Davidson College; Furman  University; Hendrix College; Millsaps College; Morehouse College; Rhodes College; Rollins College; Southwestern University; Spelman College; Trinity  University (San Antonio); University of Richmond; University of the South; and Washington and Lee University. These schools range in size from roughly 900 to 3500. Founded in 1991, the ACS has a mission to make the case for liberal arts education and to strengthen  academic programs of the member institutions. Collaboration has proven to be a key factor in accomplishing this mission. ACS institutions originally joined forces in the realm of international programs, but thanks to several generous grants from The Mellon Foundation, they have excelled in the area of technology, as well. In fact, technology provides the tool that allows successful collaboration in all areas to occur. The 1999 opening of the ACS Technology Center at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX solidified and expanded ACS technology programs. For more information about the ACS, please visit

The Sunoikisis program developed from two ACS pilot technology programs in classics and archaeology. Fourteen of the   sixteen ACS schools have classics faculty and participate in this program. (The exceptions are Spelman and Morehouse.) The name, Sunoikisis comes from the term used by Thucydides (3.3.1) in reference to the alliance formed by the cities of Lesbos ( Methymna excluded) in their revolt against the Athenian empire in 428   B.C.E. This name seeks to convey the idea that a group of small but healthy and autonomous programs along with faculty members in complementary disciplines can develop a set of common goals, design a curriculum that goes far beyond   the capacity of any single program, and effectively compete with programs at   the leading research universities in the United States in terms of the range  and quality of academic opportunities for undergraduate students. 


Figure 1: Faculty and Majors in Sunoikisis

ACS classics faculty first began meeting in the summer of 1996 at Rhodes   College. From the beginning this group sought to answer needs for a greater   range of faculty expertise, an expanded curriculum, and more study abroad opportunities. All of these needs go back to small department size resulting from the combination  of a less popular discipline and a small institution. Figure 1 illustrates the   small size of these departments. ACS institutions have from zero to twenty-five majors in classics, but eight   have seven majors or less. With few majors, students have fewer peers for camaraderie and competition within classics. Faculty numbers are low, as well. Although Trinity University is outstanding with six faculty  members in classics, nine of the Sunoikisis institutions have three or less. The small faculty size means that students are exposed to fewer approaches to and specializations within classics. Students   do not get as broad a sense of classics as a discipline, and their restricted major may make them less competitive when applying to graduate programs in classics.  Finally, a smaller institution means that students have fewer practical experiences with classics or outlets for research. Faculty, too, may lack a diverse research  community and pedagogical support network.

The Sunoikisis group found its solution to these problems with collaboration. As figure 1 shows, combined,the Sunoikisis institutions  have 40 faculty members in classics and well over 100 majors. These numbers compare favorably with the largest classics departments in the country. While not all faculty or students take part in all programs, every Sunoikisis institution has participated to some extent. These numbers at least demonstratethe potential of the Sunoikisis collaboration. Before these institutions could work together, however, they had to address the problem of geographic distribution. Since they are spread   across the Southeast, with no more than two schools in close proximity to each other, most collaboration cannot occur face-to-face (see figure 2). Instead, Sunoikisis institutions must rely on a digital infrastructure to facilitate their collaborative programs.  Furthermore, while this collaborative network offers many opportunities, Sunoikisis members must also be wary of compromising the small liberal arts ideals of their  institutions, such as close interaction between students and faculty, a supportive  learning environment, and a liberal education (rather than career training).  These ideals seem diametrically opposed with the ideals of distance education, the prototypical use of technology in education. Accordingly, Sunoikisis has been careful to use their digital infrastructure in a way that fits well with the liberal arts environment.


Figure 2: Map of ACS Institutions

Sunoikisis Digital Infrastructure     [top]

Sunoikisis members collaborate in several different types of programs that are all supported by the digital  infrastructure to some extent. This support ranges from a web presence and electronic  communications to full online interaction. Electronic communications are important  for bridging the geographical divide for these institutions. For example, through  the ACS, Sunoikisis institutions  have access to study abroad programs at a reduced price, such as the Intercollegiate  Center for Classical Studies in Rome. ACS has two memberships divided among eleven institutions, so that the burden of membership fees is spread out among all the institutions. ACS also has a membership in College Year in Athens, for which Southwestern University will validate  the transcripts on behalf of other ACS institutions. Finally, Global Partners,  a joint program of the ACS, Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and   the Great Lakes Colleges Association, offers programs in Turkey . These programs expand the curriculum, offer study abroad opportunities, and increase student interaction within the discipline. Electronic connections via email lists and websites provide   basic avenues of communications for promoting these opportunities. In general, the ACS acts as an information clearinghouse for many programs.

Beyond general communications, Sunoikisis also provides opportunities for virtual attendance of events held at other institutions,   by sponsoring webcasts of conferences or speakers for both its members and the general public. A Sunoikisis member attends the event with a computer and broadcasts the audio via the ACS streaming server. These broadcasts are then archived and available for later use. For example, in 2002 Sunoikisis webcast most of the presentations of The New Posidippus, a Hellenistic Poetry Book, a conference held at the University of Cincinnati. Both the archived audio and some handouts are available   online Other events take place at Sunoikisis institutions, such as the 2003 webcast of The Barbarians of Ancient Europe, a conference held at the University of Richmond (  or the poetry reading of the classically-inspired poet, Michael Longley, November 6, 2003 at Centenary College (available in the online course ICAGR391: Homeric Poetry at Such events fall under the auspices of the Sunoikisis Speakers Bureau which both keeps track of events at member campuses, as well as a database of available speakers drawn from Sunoikisis faculty. The ability to webcast such events allows Sunoikisis to enhance the academic life of both students and faculty in classics. Most of these events are still one-way rather than fully interactive, although the use of the ACS course delivery system did allow questions to be posed to the poet, Michael Longley.

Inter-institutional Collaborative Courses   [top]

Inter-institutional collaborative courses (ICCs) represent the fullest type of interaction enabled by the Sunoikisis digital infrastructure. Sunoikisis members developed these courses with two goals in mind: 1) having majors work  with a wider variety of faculty members and 2) offering courses, e.g., archaeology or advanced languages, that may not normally be available at a small institution. In Spring 1999, Sunoikisis offered its first inter-campus course, a one-hour introduction to archaeology, that prepared students for an excavation in Turkey (see the discussion of the archaeology program below). After refining the inter-institutional   course model, Sunoikisis began offering full-credit advanced language courses in Fall 2000. Currently, they offer two advanced language courses (one in Ancient Greek and one in Latin) each fall, as well as the archaeology class in the Spring. In order to allow member institutions to align their curriculum with each other   for fuller participation, Sunoikisis has also established a five-year course cycle for advanced languages:

  • 2000 Literature of the Early Empire
  • 2001 Literature of the Roman Empire, 70-180 C.E.
  • 2001 Greek Lyric Poetry
  • 2002 Late Antique and Medieval Literature
  • 2002 Hellenistic Literature
  • 2003 Literature of the Early Republic
  • 2003 Homeric Poetry
  • 2004 Literature of the Late Republic
  • 2004 Greek Comedy
  • 2005 Literature of the Early Empire
  • 2005 Greek Literature of the Fourth Century

Sunoikisis staggered the introduction of advanced languages courses, with the first Greek class coming a year later than the first Latin class. In 2004  the program enters its fourth full year of the cycle. Courses such as Hellenistic  Literature or Literature of the Roman Empire, 70-180 C.E. clearly demonstrate the expanded curriculum—many undergraduate programs would not offer such courses. Based on this success in inter-campus teaching, ACS also has begun supporting inter-institutional courses in other areas, such as a seminar on GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in Mediterranean Archaeology.

Inter-institutional collaborative courses resemble distance learning courses in that students participate in the course remotely; they differ, however, from most traditional distance learning courses in that the teaching and curriculum  development responsibilities are also distributed across multiple faculty on  different campuses. These classes are credited at each participating institution,  either by the regular procedures for course approval, or by listing the class  as a tutorial or independent study. Faculty develop the course together in summer  curriculum seminars. During the semester a different faculty member lectures  each week from his or her own area of expertise. Faculty also collaborate on  constructing and grading exams. One faculty member acts as a course director  to coordinate the faculty and students from multiple campuses. All faculty mentors  will give a lecture, and at least one lecturer per semester is an invited expert.  For example, in Fall 2003 Prof. Sander Goldberg of UCLA lectured for the course on early Republican Latin, while Prof. Gregory Nagy of Harvard University lectured for the course on  Homeric poetry. Students get a broader exposure to the discipline of classics through the combined discussion with other students and the online lecture.  As one student put it on a course evaluation, “Our school’s classics department is pretty small, as I imagine is the case for most of the schools that participated in this. With this course we got the variety of expertise   and perspective that one would find in a larger department.” The interaction with other students and faculty combats the isolation both may feel in a small discipline at a small school.

The elements of inter-institutional collaborative courses consist of weekly synchronous online lectures and discussions with asynchronous online course components, as well as face-to-face class meetings with a home-campus mentor.This hybrid model, combining online and face-to-face elements, fits the liberal arts character of these institutions, as described above. In general, collaborative components include a common syllabus, one lecture per week, one set of online study questions with responses to other students per week, and common exams.  For the language courses, the collaborative elements focus on interpretive and thematic issues for the texts, while meetings on individual campuses focus more on issues of translation and language. Home campus mentors meet with their students one to two times per week and may set other readings, assignments, quizzes or examinations for their students based on these meetings. The one-hour archaeology class differs from the full-credit language courses in that there are no exams   and no campus meetings, although there is a campus mentor.

ACS supports this course model through the ACS Course Delivery System (CDS,, software developed by ACS Tech Center staff and student interns specifically to facilitate inter-campus courses. The class meets for their online lecture in the virtual classroom, which combines a live lecture via RealMedia streaming   audio, online lecture notes, and a chat room, where students and faculty engage in live discussion (see figure 3). Students hear the lecture via live streaming by clicking the Live Streaming link (upper right), lecture notes display in the middle frame, and discussion occurs via chat in the bottom frame. The system also supports asynchronous components such as online readings, study questions via threaded discussion, exams, class email, and collaborative web projects.


Figure 3: Virtual Classroom of the CDS

Since this virtual environment is so different from the face-to-face classroom, especially at small liberal arts colleges, the faculty in these courses have developed a more interactive teaching style to fit the virtual classroom. Important   features of this style center around how lecture notes are presented and how  delivery of the lecture is organized. In order to capture and maintain attention,  lecture notes should have images and a clear outline. Lectures should be organized in units so that the speaker does not lecture constantly. Finally, lecturers  can separate lecture units by adding interactivity from questions for discussion  in the chat room; from simulations or other interactive online learning objects;  from group work; and from student contributions, e.g., reports on student projects. Because lecturers cannot rely on immediate presence to maintain the focus of  their students, they must rely on a combination of clear, easy to follow online materials and interactive activities to keep students interested. The interactivity has the added benefit of fostering the growth of an online community, so that students get the feel of a small liberal arts institution in the online environment.

Prof. Pedar Foss of DePauw University, who used the CDS for a course on GIS in Mediterranean Archaeology in Fall 2003 and participates in an ACS co-sponsored excavation in Turkey , explains the creation of the learning community from such varied interaction:

“ It was yesterday, while patching in conference calls to have students  broadcast their projects, that I realized what it ‘felt like’, and that was a ‘radio show’, one in which callers phone in comments,  questions and conversation, while the host has web-information and e-mail messages   at their disposal. However, while I do have to ‘direct’ the flow of interaction, the students at each participating campus do have significant  agency. What is more, I think because people are not face-to-face,  they have a bit more courage about speaking their mind; they do not have to  worry about stage fright, and can relax and simply participate. Consequently,  there is an odd sense of warmth. I had not expected this. ”

Despite the limitations of not being face-to-face, this class has attained an atmosphere that fits with the desired character of the small liberal arts   institution with its focus on close, personal interaction between students and   faculty. Furthermore, for those students who may be too timid to speak in a   face-to-face situation, the online environment actually offers a more comfortable   environment and thus promotes greater interaction.

Students also appreciate the online learning community created by interaction in the virtual classroom. When Prof. Foss’s   students were asked which feature of the CDS they liked best, one answered, “I have found the live chat particularly   advantageous, insofar as we can learn much from other students in the class while simultaneously learning from Dr. Foss and the interactive site.” In the other ICCs, the chat has proved similarly advantageous. For example, in Sunoikisis courses, faculty mentors all attend lectures and take part in the chat room discussion along with the students. Students then see how faculty engage in scholarly debate and the live discussion in these courses has consequently risen to a higher, analytical level. Students are able to rise to this level, in part, because they have time to think about what they will say. One student in a course evaluation explained, “Its very very nice to be able to articulate an idea and edit it before submitting it to a class. In a normal classroom, I often  regret some of my comments. But an online discussion allows for more well thought  out responses.” This observation applies both to the live chat discussion and the threaded discussion in the weekly study questions. In this case, the virtual environment offers alternative advantages that compensate for the lack of face-to-face presence.

Participation in ICCs also contributes to the larger digital infrastructure in classics in terms of materials and users. Because courses are online, both students and faculty are more likely to turn to the web for other research. In discussing the value of   the lectures to the course, one student exhibited this comfort level with online resources, “One key advantage was the diversity of professors’ lecturing  style and topics. I enjoyed the ability to research concepts of the lecture online to get other background information.” That is, faculty typically include links to online resources in their lectures for which they have to be comfortable with electronic resources in classics. Students, then, are at ease with following up on these resources. Because of the diversity of lecturers students are exposed to a greater variety of electronic resources than just   one professor may provide. Their easy availability also stimulates intellectual curiosity. Furthermore, Sunoikisis contributes to the growing number of digital resources in classics, since all lectures, lecture notes, and chat discussions are archived. These materials are available via the guest log-in of the Course Delivery System at For example, students in a Centenary College English class on epic, listened to archived lectures from the Homeric poetry class in Fall 2003. Another example is a virtual excavation tutorial which provides students with a more detailed understanding of the three  major process of summer excavation—survey, excavation, and registry. This   learning object, which was developed at the ACS Tech Center, has already been reused in a separate course on GIS in Mediterranean Archaeology, and is available for use by any interested archaeologist.

Archaeology Program   [top]

The Sunoikisis digital infrastructure also supports scholarly research that integrates students and faculty. Perhaps the best example is the ACS Archaeology program, directed by Mark Garrison, Professor of Art History at Trinity University, which consists of a spring one-hour ICC and a summer field school in HacImusalar, Turkey . The ICC prepares students for the summer field school by introducing them to the field of archaeology in general, and the dig at HacImusalar in particular. The archaeological field school offers even more opportunities for students. There they get to study abroad, interact with students and faculty from other schools, and conduct archaeological research on a level usually only   available to graduate students. In a similar way, faculty also benefit from   participation in this excavation.

An important part of the digital infrastructure that makes this excavation work well is an innovative archaeology data collection and publication system. The primary architect of the system is Neel Smith,Professor of Classics at the College of the Holy Cross, who serves as IT and systems director for the Bilkent University,  Hacimusalar excavation in southwest Turkey . The system is based on the  Cocoon XML publishing framework, which integrates data from project databases, XML marked-up excavation notebooks and the GIS server. Unlike other archaeological projects, all data collected are entered into the system (mostly on site) and are integrated with all other data. These materials are then available for use in the course or for later research and publication. The entire system will be made freely available for use by other archaeological projects. View the system at Project members are also engaged in preparing the preliminary publication, which will be marked up in TEI-conformant XML. Using XSLT (XML stylesheet transformations)   and XSL-FO (XML stylesheet formatting objects), they will be able to produce various formats (e.g., HTML, PDF, Word documents) from a single source. This enables both more efficient publication and the potential to produce customized documents from a single source. Both the data collection and publication system, as well as the XML publication of results set new standards for the use of technology in Mediterranean archaeology.

Collaborative Community   [top]

While the Sunoikisis digital infrastructure has accomplished many things, it is important to remember that   it is a tool that facilitates a community and that the digital infrastructure itself would not succeed without that community. Accordingly, Sunoikisis sponsors several events that allow face-to-face contact between its members, such as summer curriculum workshops for faculty and an undergraduate research conference. The summer curriculum workshop provides an important component of the advanced language ICCs. While its main goal is curriculum development, it gives faculty opportunities for professional development by interacting with faculty from the consortium and invited experts who lead the workshops. Faculty can learn more about pedagogy in the liberal arts environment, as well as more about the subject matter. Several  faculty new to the consortium have attended the workshops preceding their first  year, and the experience helped acclimate them to teaching in a small liberal arts college. The workshops provide an intellectual stimulation reminiscent of graduate school. Even faculty who will not teach the ICC benefit by being able to use the material covered in other courses. Finally,the face-to-face meeting facilitates collaboration in other activities the classics  group plans.

The undergraduate research conference provides students with a similar opportunity   for face-to-face interaction. The University of the South hosted the first ACS Undergraduate Research Symposium in Classics, April 11-12, 2003. In this inaugural year of the symposium, 14 students from six ACS institutions ( Centenary College of Louisiana, Hendrix College, Rhodes College,  Southwestern University, University of Richmond, and University of the South)   presented their research to fellow students and faculty. Eleven Sunoikisis faculty members also attended. Topics presented ranged from Roman politics to  a comparison between Homeric oral poetry and the Southern blues tradition. The  symposium marks an important step towards sustainability because it was funded   completely by the participating institutions. At the same time, the symposium fulfilled a need for ACS students—a meaningful opportunity to perform within their discipline. Students gained a greater sense of classics as a discipline by interacting with students and faculty from other campuses. Thus, the symposium complimented the  interaction of the inter-institutional collaborative courses by providing a chance for students from these courses to meet face-to-face and presenting an   alternative source of inter-campus interaction for students from institutions who do not participate in the ICCs. For those who do take part in the ICCs, this symposium matches the summer excavation in providing a follow-up experience for students.

Both the undergraduate research symposium and the summer excavation were made possible by the combination of motivated faculty and the use of the established digital infrastructure to organize events. Indeed, the entire Sunoikisis collaboration would not be possible without the dedicated faculty who first conceived it and have since implemented it. In addition to those mentioned earlier   and many others, Prof. Kenny Morrell of Rhodes College and Prof. Hal Haskell of Southwestern University, who have both served as program coordinators for Sunoikisis, have been instrumental in the success of this program. Both represent programs   that were small (two or less), when the collaboration started, though the program at Rhodes College has since grown. Their small department size made each of them more willing to work with colleagues on other campuses  and to make the commitment both to become technology-literate themselves and to teach their students. It is this kind of commitment that allows a technology-enabled collaboration like Sunoikisis to succeed. Especially for those faculty in the humanities who are used to working independently, this model of collaboration teaches important lessons about the possibilities for work within ancient Mediterranean cultural informatics.

Conclusion   [top]

The Sunoikisis collaboration  provides a solution to a fundamental problem at many small, liberal arts colleges.  Classics departments at these schools are often threatened or challenged due  to their small size. They find it difficult to offer their students a diverse experience in classical studies and even to attract those students in the first place. Faculty in the Sunoikisis program have found that by collaborating rather than competing with each other for students and resources they can accomplish much, much more than they could alone. That the classics department at Rhodes college has doubled in size since the collaboration began is but one example. In the process Sunoikisis faculty have become technology-literate and have passed that information literacy in both classics and technology along to their students. These students are well-prepared  to contribute to the growing digital culture in the study of the classical world.  Moreover, Sunoikisis exemplifies a new academic model, based on collaboration and technology, that can teach   both other classicists and other disciplines. To that end, ACS , with the help of The Mellon Foundation, has begun a three year evaluation of the program in hopes of setting up a model for establishing and evaluating similar programs that combine elements of traditional liberal   education with collaborative distance learning. Based on the Sunoikisis pilot, ACS is also exploring collaborative programs in other disciplines such as  music and software engineering. Finally, ACS continues to explore ways that the electronic resources created by Sunoikisis,  such as those within the ACS Course Delivery System, can be made more readily available and searchable   for those who wish to use them. In all of these ways, Sunoikisis has played an important role in the growing field of ancient Mediterranean cultural  informatics.

To refer to this please cite it in this way:

Rebecca Frost Davis, “Collaborative Classics: Technology and the Small    Liberal Arts College,” C. Blackwell, R. Scaife, edd., Classics@ volume 2:   C. Dué & M. Ebbott, executive editors, The Center for Hellenic   Studies of Harvard University, edition of April 3, 2004.