Sunoikisis: Computer-Mediated Communication in the Creation of a ...

Sunoikisis: Computer-Mediated Communication in the Creation of a ...


© 2001 CALICO Journal

Kenneth Scott Morrell

Sunoikisis: Computer-Mediated

Communication in the Creation

of a Virtual Department

Kenneth Scott Morrell

Rhodes College

This article chronicles the efforts of faculty members at the institutions of

the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) to create “Sunoikisis,” a virtual

department of Greek and Roman Studies. Because the ACS includes

colleges in 12 states ranging from Texas to Virginia, the project relies

heavily on the Internet. The long-term goal of the project is to expand the

academic opportunities available to undergraduates at small liberal arts

colleges for studying the languages, literatures, and material culture of the

ancient Greco-Roman world. The article addresses the major phases in

the evolution of the initiative: making initial steps to develop a sense of

community and identify areas of possible collaboration, conducting workshops

to train faculty members in the use of information technology, involving

faculty members and students in an excavation and survey in southwestern

Turkey, and launching Web-based interinstitutional collaborative

courses (ICCs).


Interinstitutional Collaboration, Computer-Mediated Communication,

Web-Based Courses


Since the spring of 1995, faculty members in Greek and Roman Studies

(familiar to many as “Classics” and hereafter referred to as GRS) from the

Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) have been engaged in a long-term

initiative to use Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) in an effort

to build a virtual department. The ACS consists of 15 institutions, 14 of

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Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

which have programs in GRS, ranging in size from one faculty member

(Centenary College of Louisiana, Birmingham-Southern College, and

Hendrix College) to four faculty members (Trinity University, the University

of Richmond, and Davidson College). In the summer of 1999, the

faculty adopted “Sunoikisis” as the name of the initiative to create a virtual

department of classics. The name comes from Thucydides’ History of

the Peloponnesian War (3.3.1) and refers to an alliance among the cities

of Lesbos (Methymna excluded), which Mytilene led as Lesbos attempted

to revolt from the Athenian empire in 428 BCE. The name seeks to convey

the idea that a group of small but healthy and autonomous programs can

develop a set of common goals and design a curriculum that goes far beyond

the capacity of any single program. (For more information on the

project, see


Following the lead of colleagues at the institutions of the Associated

Colleges of the Midwest and the Great Lakes Colleges Association, who

hold biennial meetings to focus intensively on the organizational and pedagogical

issues that are unique to colleges of the liberal arts and small GRS

programs, ACS sponsored a meeting at Rhodes College in April 1995. 1

The agenda included five sessions over two days. The first focused on the

status and curricula of programs. The second addressed pedagogy with a

particular focus on the role of oral and aural components in the teaching

of Latin and the use of digital technologies. The third session concerned

issues of articulation between high school and college programs and featured

a panel of teachers from local schools who discussed the nature of

the curricula in middle and high schools and possible ways for college

programs to provide support for programs in the schools. During the fourth

session, the group considered the relationships between undergraduate

and graduate programs and heard from faculty members representing the

graduate programs at Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin

about preparing students for graduate work and possible avenues of

collaboration among undergraduate and graduate programs. In the final

session, the participants discussed ways of developing and supporting individual

programs within a consortium.

The conferees identified two specific areas where collaboration could

measurably enhance the ability of individual programs to meet the needs

and demands of their students. First, faculty members agreed that majors

would greatly benefit from working with a wider variety of faculty members.

Majors in small programs may take as many as 10 courses from a

single professor over the course of their undergraduate career. Although

such mentoring relationships can often work to the advantage of students,

224 CALICO Journal

Kenneth Scott Morrell

the conferees concluded that students should have the opportunity to experience

the views and perspectives of other scholars in the discipline. To

offer students, particularly majors, opportunities to work with peers and

faculty members from other schools in the consortium, the participants

identified three possible initiatives: (a) developing and coordinating travelstudy

programs, (b) planning an intensive program of study during the

summer, and (c) designing Internet-based opportunities for scholarly interaction

during the academic year. The conferees also concluded that

collaborating on a set of easily adaptable, computer-based teaching materials

would help make planning and teaching courses less time consuming

and demanding. They noted that such an archive of teaching materials

should include a library of digital images free of copyright restrictions, a

set of modular “handouts” on various aspects of the ancient world, and a

repository of syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and examinations.

In formulating these initiatives, the need for computer-based materials

and CMC to assume a greater role in the curriculum and classroom became

increasingly apparent. However, participants felt that moving electronic

resources into the classroom would require overcoming three specific

barriers. The first was technical in nature. Before courses could take

advantage of computer-based visual and textual information, faculty members

and students would need access to them not only in their individual

work areas but also in the classrooms themselves. The second barrier concerned

the participants’ familiarity with electronic resources and their

expertise in using them. They felt strongly that they could not integrate

electronic materials until they became more proficient in the use of available

technologies. In general, the participants had found it difficult during

the course of the fall or spring semesters to find enough time to learn

more about the software they currently used, experiment with other applications,

or explore the resources on the Internet. Their experience is not

unlike that of many faculty members, but, for faculty in small programs—

which seldom have more than three or four members—the amount of

discretionary time seems even smaller. The third barrier was support. The

great fear voiced by more than one conferee was having inadequate technical

support to cope with the inevitable problems with hardware and

software that would undoubtedly arise both in preparing the courseware

and in working with it in the classroom.



With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sunoikisis undertook

a program to strengthen the expertise of faculty members in the

use of digital technologies in a series of two workshops held in the sum-

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Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

mers of 1996 and 1997. Nine faculty members from nine institutions attended

the first workshop, which focused primarily on helping them create

and use information on the Web. 2 With the objective of building the

archive of teaching materials, participants were invited to bring slides,

syllabi, handouts, bibliographies, lecture notes, and at least one example

of their own scholarly work for conversion into HTML documents. To

provide as much individualized instruction and support as possible, the

project invited three consultants to conduct the sessions, which were organized

to provide technical background for understanding the Web, to

discuss the design and organization of web sites, to demonstrate methods

for creating and editing images for distribution over the Web, and to introduce

the conventions of HTML. In addition to the more structured

sessions on specific topics, the workshop also incorporated extensive periods

for the participants to work on individual projects.

Building on the results of the first workshop, the project leaders modified

the structure of the second workshop to include two tracks of instruction:

the first intended for those who had not participated in the first

workshop and considered themselves beginners and the second for more

advanced users, including three faculty members who had attended the

first workshop. The elementary sessions followed a curriculum similar to

that used in the first workshop, while the second introduced users to additional

technologies such as databases, streaming media, and geographical

information systems. Based on a survey conducted by the evaluator, “the

majority of participants came to the workshop expecting to learn more

about the Web as a technology, how to identify useful resources on it, and,

depending on their level of expertise, how to begin to develop or to augment

and deepen their own Web materials, from creating home pages to

integrating databases with Web front ends.” By the end of the second

workshop, a total of 16 faculty members from the consortium had participated

in the training sessions, which represented well over half of the 26

GRS faculty members in the consortium at the time. Nine of the 10 participating

programs had established a significant presence on the Web.

Most important, however, the workshops succeeded in creating a stronger

sense of community among the faculty members.

One of the more ambitious projects to emerge from the workshops was

an on-line archaeology course designed by Mark Garrison of Trinity University.

He demonstrated his project during the second workshop and then

offered it to students for the first time in the spring semester of the 1998-

1999 academic year.



In the summer of 1998, the focus of the collaborative efforts shifted

226 CALICO Journal

Kenneth Scott Morrell

away from developing the faculty’s expertise in the use of instructional

technology to expanding an excavation and survey in southwestern Turkey

to include faculty members and students from ACS. That summer,

seven faculty members from ACS, including Garrison (the co-director of

the excavation), conducted fieldwork in Turkey. The group included a biologist,

geologist, engineer, and four classicists who had participated in

the workshops at Rhodes College. 3 The archeological project offered a

context to develop the three major components of the virtual department

initiative. First, working with the data from the excavation and the survey,

as well as developing a course to prepare students for their work in the

field, offered an opportunity to explore potential uses of information technology

for both teaching and research and to build on the infrastructure

established during the workshops. Second, the field school allowed faculty

members from different institutions in ACS to work collaboratively

and to develop projects that would involve their undergraduate students

in significant research. Finally, in subsequent years, the field school would

expand the curricular options for students and enable them to study the

material culture of the ancient world and archaeological methods in ways

that only a very few liberal arts colleges and a limited number of large

research institutions can offer.

To prepare the first group of undergraduates from ACS to work in the

field school, Garrison organized and directed the first interinstitutional

collaborative course offered by the consortium. The one-unit course, Archaeology

Practicum: The Archaeology of Western Asia Minor (Excavation

and Survey at the Mound HacImusalar in the ElmalI Plain), served as

a prerequisite for the summer field school and consisted of two components:

an on-line discussion and lecture. Each week, students were expected

to download reading assignments from the Web and to post responses

to study questions in an asynchronous, threaded discussion. They

also attended a synchronous on-line lecture every week. Each faculty member

involved in the project took the responsibility for providing the readings,

study questions, and lecture for at least one week of the course. In

designing the computer-based elements of the course, the project decided

to use only technology that was readily available to all of the institutions.

WebBoard, which was available through the ACS Technology Center, was

used to distribute the readings and discussion. Lectures were conducted

as conference calls during the first year the course was offered. Students

listened to the lecture over a speakerphone at the remote locations and

referred to notes and images posted to the WebBoard conference. They

could also ask questions in a chatroom which the lecturers monitored

during their presentations. The project contracted with the long-distance

provider to digitally record the sessions which were then made available

as streaming media files for subsequent consultation and review. In the

second year, lectures were directly webcast via the media server at the

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Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

ACS Technology Center, which also automatically archived lectures for

later review. (For more information on the archaeology course, including

the archived audio files, see


In the fall of 2000, the project adapted and expanded Garrison’s model

to launch a three-hour course on the literature of the Neronian period for

advanced students of Latin. The readings for the course included selections

from the Epistulae morales by Seneca, De bello civile by Lucan, and

the Satyricon by Petronius. Following the structure of conventional courses

with three hours of classroom instruction each week, this course consisted

of three components: an hour-long synchronous webcast lecture for

all of the participants, an asynchronous threaded discussion among the

students, and tutorials offered by the participating faculty members on

each campus. 4 As in the archaeology practicum, the professors took responsibility

for at least one week of the programming which included designing

and posting the study questions for the on-line discussion, presenting

the lecture, and evaluating their responses and their comments on

the contributions of their peers. With funding from the Mellon Foundation,

the course also featured the lectures of three scholars from institutions

outside of ACS. Each traveled to one of the participating institutions,

met with the students on that campus, and offered a lecture on a

topic germane to the course but that was also suitable for more general

audiences. An additional technical goal of these lectures was to webcast

the lecture to the students and faculty at other locations in the consortium

without altering the experience of those who attended the lectures in person.

To the students at remote locations, the lectures were not unlike the

other lectures in the course. They had access to a set of notes published

through the WebBoard, and they could pose questions in the chatroom

which a faculty member at the host institution forwarded to the speaker

during the question and answer session. Students did note, however, that

having a live audience at the location from which the lecture originated

contributed to their experience.

The course differed from the archaeological practicum in additional ways.

First, the faculty members who offered the practicum had all had direct

experience in the field at the excavation site and had opportunities for

working on the details of the practicum and planning the field school

while they were in Turkey. In contrast, few—if any—of the faculty members

who participated in the Latin course considered themselves experts

in the field of Neronian literature, and some had never met the course

participants in person before. Consequently, the project held a workshop

in June 2000 to provide the participants with an opportunity to study and

228 CALICO Journal

Kenneth Scott Morrell

discuss the texts and to become familiar with other primary sources for

the period as well as a broad selection of secondary literature. Walt

Stevenson of the University of Richmond planned the workshop which

consisted of a session on the historical context of the Neronian period

followed by sessions on the lives and works of Seneca, Lucan, and

Petronius. For each of the sessions, Stevenson compiled a set of primary

texts and four or five secondary readings. The participants then formed

teams of two participants each and assumed the responsibility for presenting

the major points of the articles and leading the group in a discussion.

Although a considerable amount of planning had taken place earlier

in a planning conference on the WebBoard and a series of conference

calls, the workshop enabled the faculty to finalize details of the course,

incorporate the views and ideas that emerged from the faculty development

component, and develop a deeper sense of community and commitment

to the project.

The backgrounds and objectives of the students who participated in the

archaeological practicum and those of the students in the course differed

as well. As a prerequisite for the field school, which was limited to only

two students from each institution, the practicum enrolled 16 students

from six institutions the first year and 13 students from eight institutions

the second. By contrast, the only factor that limited the enrollment in the

course was the students’ levels of proficiency in Latin. As a result, 30

students from five institutions enrolled in the course. The excavation and

field school also involved faculty members with expertise in a number of

academic disciplines and offered opportunities for students to conduct

research in biology, geology, and anthropology in addition to archaeology

and art history. Consequently, students in the practicum were more diverse

with regard to their declared and intended fields of study than their

counterparts in the course, the overwhelming majority of whom were

majors in GRS.

To help students from different campuses have a better sense of who

their peers were, each participant in the course “registered” for the course

by providing some basic personal information such as their musical preferences,

interests outside of academia, and postgraduate plans. With the

intention of encouraging interaction outside the structure of the course,

students had access to a dedicated chatroom, the Deversorium, where

they could meet in a type of on-line café. Faculty members agreed to respect

the uniqueness of that chatroom as a forum for unmonitored student

interaction by entering only at posted times during the week to hold

on-line office hours. Students could also anonymously submit questions

to the Servus Oracularius, who dutifully posted the questions and responses

with the standard warning that interpreting the meaning of oracular pronouncements

might not be entirely trivial. 5 Students were also required to

do a project, and they reported on their results and provided feedback to

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Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

each other in the context of one of the weekly discussions normally reserved

for the study questions. Over the course of the semester, a strong

sense of community among the entire group of students never emerged.

For example, the Deversorium and the Servus Oracularius went unused.

However, the need for establishing community among the students at the

different campuses was not as great as with the archaeology practicum.

The course was designed to increase the range of views and interpretations

of a period of Latin literature for students who already had considerable

experience in Latin, not as a preparation for a later activity such as a

field school.

Students also developed greater ties to their colleagues at their own

institutions for three major reasons. More students from each campus

enrolled in the course than had in the practicum. As a three-unit course,

the course also included the additional on-campus tutorials. Finally, the

interinstitutional collaboration only lasted for 11 weeks during the fall

semester. Since the semester calendars at all of the institutions extended

beyond the schedule of collaborative events, faculty members and students

met independently and addressed topics and texts suited to the needs

and goals of the individual students and programs.


Current plans call for a further expansion of offerings to include an

elementary sequence in ancient Greek, which will debut in spring 2001,

and advanced courses in Latin and ancient Greek in fall 2001. Discussions

are also underway concerning a more comprehensive elementary

course in archaeology and revising the practicum to address topics at a

more advanced level. The evolution of the project up to this point has,

however, revealed some issues that will require attention if Sunoikisis is

to meet its more ambitious, long-term goals of establishing itself as a viable

academic structure that can directly compete with larger programs at

research universities. As Sunoikisis expands and other collaborative initiatives

get underway, the different academic schedules and calendars at

the member institutions of the consortium will pose increasingly substantial

barriers to interaction. For example, of the five institutions that participated

in the Latin reading course described above, no two institutions

had the same daily schedule nor the same academic calendar. While merging

the schedules and calendars seems unlikely, the project has suggested

that the colleges explore the possibility of designating a period of time

during the week for interinstitutional collaboration.

One of the goals of the second phase of the project was to determine the

level of financial support required to sustain Sunoikisis and a formula for

distributing those costs among the participating institutions. Within this

230 CALICO Journal

Kenneth Scott Morrell

context, creating an adequate framework for compensating faculty members

for participating in collaborative initiatives remains a primary concern.

With support from the Mellon Foundation, the project offered honoraria

to faculty members for participating in the training workshops during

the summers. As the focus shifted towards expanding the curriculum,

the project offered a modest level of compensation for those willing to

direct an ICC while continuing to provide travel support for the other

faculty members who participated in planning workshops. Although the

project recognized that the effort of organizing an ICC clearly called for a

stipend, it was assumed that the curricular advantages of the ICC as well

as opportunities for faculty development would provide adequate incentives

to ensure the participation of others. Reports from faculty members

suggest, however, that Sunoikisis must address a number of indirect costs.

Above all, the collaborative initiatives require faculty members to divert

some of their time and energy from local needs and responsibilities. At the

same time, the collaborative activities and the outcomes do not necessarily

conform to the structures used by member institutions to evaluate faculty

for determining salary increases and awarding tenure and promotion.

For faculty members in the smallest programs who regularly teach large

overloads, participating in a collaborative course rather than teaching an

extra course offers clear advantages both for themselves and their students.

However, for those in the larger programs, which have more faculty

resources and can support majors and minors without requiring their faculty

members to teach heavy overloads, the expanded curricular opportunities

alone do not represent sufficient incentives for modifying their existing

course offerings.

Sunoikisis members are currently working on a number of ideas that

would make the benefits of collaboration more concrete for faculty members

and their institutions. For example, the project is developing a protocol

that would enable the institutions to work as a consortium in the funding

of sabbatical leaves and the hiring of multiyear sabbatical replacements.

Such a plan would offer several advantages. It would allow institutions

to plan leaves well in advance and reduce the costs of recruiting

faculty members for the individual institutions. In spite of the need to

move from one institution to another, the multiyear contracts would make

the positions more attractive and attract a larger pool of qualified applicants.

The institutions would benefit from the experiences the visiting

faculty members gain at their sister institutions. In addition, situated within

the framework of collaborative courses, the institutions could acquire faculty

resources in areas and fields that would otherwise be too specialized

for the curriculum in smaller programs.

In conclusion, Sunoikisis has already achieved some of its basic goals.

More of the faculty members in GRS are proficient and comfortable in the

use of information technology, a strong and growing sense of community

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Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

has developed among the faculty, and the project has expanded the academic

opportunities for both students and faculty. In the process, it has

identified and worked to overcome some of the barriers to interinstitutional

collaboration. Although the long-term viability of the project is far

from ensured, it remains committed to the proposition that collaboration

facilitated by emerging digital technologies will become a widely accepted,

if not the dominant, model for higher education in the future.


1 Participants in this meeting included Stephen Clark (Centenary College of Louisiana),

Catherine Fries (Millsaps College), Dawn LaFon (White Station High

School), Anne Leen (Furman University), Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), Jeanne

O’Neil (Davidson College), Allyson Raymer (St. Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls),

Patsy Ricks (Jackson Preparatory School and Millsaps College), Douglas Seiters

(University of the South), Walter Stevenson (University of Richmond), Livia Tenzer

(Rhodes College), Stuart Wheeler (University of Richmond), Jeffrey Wills (University

of Wisconsin), and Susan Ford Wiltshire (Vanderbilt University).

2 The participants in this workshop were Stephen Clark (Centenary College of

Louisiana), Mark Garrison (Trinity University), Michael Gleason (Millsaps College),

Hal Haskell (Southwestern University), Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College),

Samuel Pezzillo (Birmingham-Southern College), Richard Prior (Furman University),

Douglas Seiters (University of the South), and Walter Stevenson (University

of Richmond). The consultants were Suzanne Bonefas (Associated Colleges

of the South), Ross Scaife (University of Kentucky), and Randy Stewart (University

of Utah).

3 In addition to Mark Garrison (Trinity University), the faculty members from

ACS included Elise Friedland (Rollins College), Stan Galicki (Millsaps College),

Hal Haskell (Southwestern University), Pam Haskell (Southwestern University),

Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), and Jeannette Runquist (Birmingham-Southern

College). Other members of the faculty from American institutions were Jim

Doerner (University of Northern Colorado), Pedar Foss (Depauw University),

Gary Reger (Trinity College), Rebecca K. Schindler (Depauw University), and

Neel Smith (College of the Holy Cross).

4 The principal collaborators in the course were Miriam Clark and Kevin Crotty

(Washington and Lee University), Stephen Clark (Centenary College of Louisiana),

Hal Haskell (Southwestern University), Anne Leen (Furman University),

Rebecca Resinski (Hendrix College), Scott Rubarth (Rollins College), David Sick

(Rhodes College), and Walt Stevenson (University of Richmond).

5 For designing elements to create community, see Rena M. Palloff and Keith

Pratt, Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the

on-line classroom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999), pp. 59-86.

232 CALICO Journal


Kenneth Scott Morrell

Kenneth Scott Morrell received his B.A. in German and Classics from

Stanford University and his Ph.D. in classical philology from Harvard

University. He is Associate Professor of Greek and Roman studies at Rhodes

College in Memphis, Tennessee and has been directing the Sunoikisis

project since 1996.


Kenneth Scott Morrell

Rhodes College

2000 North Parkway

Memphis, Tennessee 38113

Phone: 901/843-3821


Volume 18 Number 2 233

Sunoikisis: Creation of a Virtual Department

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