New View of an Old Tradition

New View of an Old Tradition

Internet offers BC students way to explore history of rhetoric

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

What could the Roman orator Cicero ever have in common with the famously pessimistic cartoon character Charlie Brown?

For starters, both are part of the lesson plan in the Rhetorical Tradition class taught by Adj. Asst. Prof. Bonnie Jefferson (Communication).

Adj. Asst. Prof. Bonnie Jefferson (Communication) developed a helpful Web site for students in her Rhetorical Tradition class. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Furthermore, the speeches of both Cicero - a major player in the political intrigue of the Roman Empire's declining years - and Brown, the philosophical career elementary school student, are included on a new Web site Jefferson developed to help her students grasp the many pieces of historical and cultural information vital to the course.

"I don't know how I ever taught this course before," said Jefferson, with a laugh, describing the Web site and its function. "It's been a great tool and I really feel the students get a better handle on the lessons."

A foundation course for communication majors, Rhetorical Tradition explores major theories and concepts of oratory developed over the past 2,500 years, presenting an overview of discourse and its impact on the self and society. Jefferson, using state-of-the-art Internet technology, is able to offer the 261 undergraduates enrolled in her course a new perspective on an old, and sometimes esoteric, discipline.

Some of the more complex concepts in the course are best taught using a wide body of outside materials, says Jefferson, and her Web site gives students a convenient and well-organized source. Along with basic course information, the site features video and audio files, as well as the texts of speeches, and biographical documents.

"In the past there were some materials I would have to forgo out of the sheer burden it would place on the student in trying to track them down," said Jefferson.

Thanks to the help of Academic Technology Services, Jefferson was able to collect most of the materials she sought for her students. Some items were easy to place on the site, while others needed to be converted into formats that would work on a standard personal computer.

The ATS team made use of WebCT, an increasingly popular application for developing and hosting Web sites that supplement or expand on course work. The site, password-protected to prevent content theft, features attractive graphic elements and its pages are organized based on eras of rhetoric, including Greek, Roman, Renaissance and Enlightenment and Contemporary.

In each section Jefferson has arranged examples from ancient and modern history to show recurring themes.

For example, in the section on Roman rhetoric Jefferson juxtaposes examples of Cicero's oratory with video clips of Super Bowl Sunday commercials and the speeches of Secretary of State Colin Powell. The section on contemporary rhetoric features video from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" along with the recording of a Monica Lewinsky interview and President George W. Bush's speeches given after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The use of the WebCT site has also made the presentation of the Rhetorical Tradition course more manageable for Jefferson's teaching assistants. A key feature of the site, says teaching assistant Jaclyn O'Leary '04, is the use of the site for on-line discussion groups. She said each student is required to post a message based on a weekly topic.

"When you're managing a class of 261 students, it's a really good way to be sure everyone can participate," said O'Leary.

Each of the four teaching assistants leads three on-line discussion groups of about 20 students, which O'Leary said benefits those who might feel intimidated at raising a point or asking a question in class.

Added Josefina Mendez '04, who also serves as a teaching assistant, "I think the site really enforces what's going on in class and builds on the lesson."

Both Mendez and O'Leary took the class before the WebCT site was added, when students would have to arrange a viewing of video clips in the Academic Development Center or obtain them on their own.

"This is a lot easier," said Mendez, "but there's also a lot more to learn, so it's a trade-off."


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