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Technology in teaching literature and culture: some reflections

Sarah Porter, Humanities Computing Development Team,University of Oxford

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The Teaching European Literature with C&IT conference held in Oxford in 1998 gave practitioners the opportunity to share their experiences with using technology to teach literary and cultural studies, and to provide a platform for discussion. This contribution to Interactions  is an abstract from an article to be published in the Computers in Education journal. The article explores some of the reasons for the lack of research into the use of technology in teaching literature and culture within modern languages, and then explores the contribution that technology can make to teaching, its implications for teaching methodologies, and its effect upon the relationship between subject matter and teaching methodology. 

Computer-assisted Language Learning is highly successful both as an area of research, and as a practical methodology for the enhancement of traditional teaching methods, whilst the non-language components of higher level language teaching are barely visible in the pedagogic literature. As a discipline, modern languages has constantly fought the perception that undergraduate study of modern languages is little more than a vocational qualification in which a skill is taught and rehearsed, with limited emphasis upon critical thinking and understanding of issues relating to literature, philosophy, politics and culture. The content of non-language components of degree courses is expanding, and new subject areas could profitably lead to new and innovative teaching methodologies. 

Four projects described in the article are making innovative use of technology to teach literary and cultural studies for a range of European languages. Lessons drawn from the experiences of those projects and more widely point to several implications for the relationship between content and teaching methodology, and it is suggested that it is useful to point out the parallels between traditional teaching and learning metaphors, and their technological counterparts. For lecturing, small-group teaching, and background reading or independent research where technology forms a main component, the tutor needs to give additional consideration to their pedagogic methodology and consider the additional guidance which a student will require. 

The papers given at the ‘Teaching Literature and Culture with C&IT’ conference deliberately focussed not on language acquisition but instead upon examples where the teaching of literature and culture are coming together with technology to enrich the learning process. Technical complexity is not the key to technology-based teaching; rather, a thoughtful relationship between content and technology is central to success.

Dr Sarah Porter
Humanities Computing Development Team
University of Oxford

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