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Designing and Teaching Distance-Learning Classics 430: An Open Pedagogy Experiment


  • Brian Gutierrez, he/him, Staff member, Continuum College, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Dr. Marie La Fond, she/her, Lecturer, Classics department, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Eddie Sams, he/him, Instructional Multimedia Production Specialist, UW Continuum, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Verletta Kern, she/her, Digital Scholarship Librarian, University of Washington, Seattle campus

Project Question

In the process of redesigning and improving the course after its first implementation, we introduced two separate assignment “paths” to allow students more agency over their academic experience and how they demonstrate mastery of the material as we asked ourselves, “How does the choice between two separate assignment paths, a Test Path and a Research & Writing Path, affect the students’ experiences in a 400-level, distance-learning (DL) course in Classics?”


The DL version of CLAS 430 redesigned the lecture-hall course and serves 200+ non-major, undergraduate students. Offered asynchronously online, and with the goal to create an empowering course experience, it was developed using an open pedagogy framework where students determine their own assignment path and are co-creators of those assignments. Open pedagogy refers to practices that engage students in the creation of information, rather than simply the consumption of it.


To actively engage students in the process of knowledge creation, we designed the course assignments through the framework of open pedagogy. We increased student agency in the course by using the Canvas feature Mastery Paths to allow students to choose between two course “paths,” a Test Path and a Research & Writing Path. Students who select the Test Path complete the multiple-choice composition assignments and take multiple-choice tests, and students who select the Research & Writing Path complete forum post assignments and the group virtual museum project on Manifold, an ebook platform hosted by the UW Libraries.


The “two-paths” version of CLAS 430 has now been implemented twice, in Winter 2022 and Summer 2022, and both quarters the student retention rate was significantly higher than the pilot (Winter ‘22: course limit set at 280; 275 students at end of quarter [0.7% fail rate]; Summer ‘22: course limit set at 200; 189 students at end of quarter [1.6% fail rate]), and the course continues to receive positive responses from students in course evaluations. In particular, students reported in course surveys that the choice of assignment path increased motivation and decreased stress and anxiety, and they appreciated how the course design took into account their different learning styles.

Ultimately, the collaborative multiple-choice question building cedes agency to the students and puts them at the center of course content creation. Similarly, the virtual museum assignment puts students squarely in the position of new knowledge creators, where they learn the valuable skill of writing for wider publics and gain experience navigating an easy-to-use digital tool. Students gain a strong sense of ownership of their museum and experience using a digital publishing platform, and the impressive, finished product is something students could include on a résumé, LinkedIn, or their personal website. Finally, this course has resulted in students asking what other Classics courses to take and thus contributes to the larger goal of drawing more students to Classics.


The DL version of CLAS 430 demonstrates how relatively simple, accessible technologies can be engaging and empowering tools for instructors across disciplines within an open pedagogy framework. Also, CLAS 430 is a testament to how collaborations between faculty, the UW Libraries, and instructional staff can enrich not only the learner experience, but also the UW Teaching Community. The technology used to implement the question composition assignments is simple and effective for students and instructors alike: we embed a shared Google Sheet into a Canvas page and have students submit the questions they compose in rows labeled with their names. The Google Sheet allows students to all view each other’s work, and it doubles as review to help students prepare for tests.

For the virtual museum assignment, working in small groups, students select a divine or mortal figure from Greco-Roman myth to focus on, then they find a piece of media that expresses or engages with that figure, and each student writes a very short essay that serves as a “museum curator’s remark” – a museum visitor’s guide to the piece and its connection to myth. Finally, students become the first visitors to their own museum and leave a comment on a peer’s essay. The virtual museum assignment resides on the UW Manifold homepage and serves as an example of what is possible using that ebook platform with a large-size class, engaging in a larger-scale, student-authored digital project.

Additional Resources

At the end of the quarter students from both assignment paths have the opportunity to engage with the work of peers in the opposite path: Test Path students become visitors to the virtual museum and post a comment on an exhibit or essay, while Research & Writing Path students can take a wholly student-authored mini quiz. These optional assignments demonstrate to students the creative achievements of classmates who reached the same learning objectives by different means.

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