It’s not every class that you see students laughing and getting creative while they intently explore, and aim to describe, the inner nature of characters out of ancient Greek literature. We’ve been going through the Odyssey with a fine-tooth comb for weeks now and focussing on the finer points of paper writing and argument construction. Things have been dry as dirt, as sometimes instruction must be. My spidey senses told me, however, that we needed to break things up a bit and have a laugh while still focussing on the text. A lot of instructors might introduce a movie at this point, which I am loath to do. Sure, students like sitting back, relaxing in the dark and just watching something, but this is more akin to a tired mom pacifying her kids than an act that stimulates independent thought and engagement with the text.
All I can say, is thank heavens for high-tech classrooms and tech-savvy students, because that really made this assignment. Before class I went online to OkCupid (Julian Assange’s preferred dating site, no less!) and opened up accounts for major characters from the epic poem. Fortunately, moreover, 4 students had laptops so I made one group per laptop. Then I set the students loose on the site after assigning each group a particular character. What is especially fun about OkCupid is that the fields highlighted by the site include sections such as “on a typical Friday night I am …” or “I spend a lot of time thinking about …” which tend to evoke interesting responses. The students also guffawed together as they uploaded shots of Conan the Barbarian and Hugh Jackman (a somewhat mysterious choice), then we went through all the profiles together on the big screen in front of the class.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t undertake this activity with just any old group of students. These ones, however, tend to be on top of the material, meanwhile lectures typically focus on only 4 books of the Odyssey per week. Hence, different aspects of the story and details about the major characters’ personalities have had a chance to sink in and I trusted that they had enough background material to get a little creative and have fun with the assignment. Meanwhile, letting them fool around online is a good a way of grabbing their focus as putting on what will probably be a terrible depiction of the poem anyway (if you’ve seen the television miniseries with Armande Assante, you’ll know what I mean).