Project:  Grendel: A Web-Based Unit on Beowulf
Project web site:
Team members:  Richard Johnson, Kurt Neumann and Thomas Choice

We are pleased to report that over the past year we have made significant progress in the development and deployment of the Grendel Project. The project is an interactive, multi-media web site whose purpose is to enhance and supplement traditional instruction in the history, literature and art of the Middle Ages in introductory humanities and literature courses at William Rainey Harper College.

As originally proposed, the Grendel Project had three goals: (1) to increase students' exposure to and understanding of the history, art and literature of the Middle Ages; (2) to use web-based, multi-media technology to extend the conceptual and instructional scope of Internet technologies at Harper College; and (3) to extend that scope by using the technology to help students create individual heuristics for learning about the Middle Ages.

Similarly, the project had three primary objectives: (1) to use web-based technologies to expand and enhance student interaction with a traditional unit on the Middle Ages in an introductory humanities course; (2) to incorporate web-based technology as an interpretive tool and an integral aspect of an introductory humanities course; and (3) to use web-enhanced media to encourage students to follow individual paths of inquiry through time and cognitive associations according to each student's inspiration.

A secondary objective of this project was to examine the changing nature of text and reading in the context of Internet technologies. Writing technologies and their effects on reading are traditional areas of study for medievalists, literacy scholars and composition researchers (cf. Carruthers, 1992; Ong, 1982; Stock, 1983). In particular, several authors have begun to investigate the fundamental differences in reading and research protocols between print-based and electronic texts (cf. Haas, 1996; Aarseth, 1997; Kapel, 1999). The developers of the project look forward to using the Grendel web site and students' interactions with the site as data for further research into these differences.

As the last sentence suggests, development of the Grendel Project is ongoing in a number of important areas. For instance, Professors Johnson and Neumann have received a generous Harper Technology Grant from the Harper faculty to travel to England both to present the Grendel web site at the International Medieval Congress, 09-12 July, 2001, at the University of Leeds, and to collect digital audio, images and video of archival and archeological material related to the site. Similarly, at the aforementioned conference and at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, we will have an opportunity to discuss with other medievalists and humanities instructors the theoretical, historical and pedagogical intersections of technology and humanistic disciplines.

The final report would not be complete without remarking a serious challenge that we face as we continue to develop the Grendel Project, and without publicly expressing our deep gratitude for the support and encouragement of our project mentor, Dr. Diane Thompson. The most serious challenge that we face in the very near future is the provision of physical and technological resources by Harper College. As Harper has begun to shift priorities away from liberal arts and toward vocational-technical training, physical and technological resources and support increasingly are being allocated to projects that have a rather narrowly defined career orientation. Such an agenda is a threat to the maintenance of programs such as the humanities, which stress more far-reaching ambitions aimed at educating students to be active, expert, and lifelong learners. To those of us in the humanities, this threat is not new, yet it retains the sting of lessons unlearned. Nonetheless, our uncertainty regarding technological and physical resources at Harper has been mitigated by the unqualified support for our efforts by our colleagues at Harper, particularly those in the English and Humanities Departments and the Department of Instructional Technology, and the Dean of the Liberal Arts Division, Dr. Harley Chapman.

Likewise, the enthusiastic support of our project mentor, Dr. Diane Thompson, has been extraordinarily helpful. She has been our balm in Gilead on numerous occasions when, busy with our responsibilities and Harper, the Grendel Project seemed to be just too much extra work to handle. More importantly, we are grateful for Dr. Thompson's insight, perspicacity and commitment to quality humanities instruction.

For Harper students, the proposed project presents opportunities for enriching their educational experience on several levels. On one level, the outcome of this project would be a more fulfilling and more personal experience with the scholarship of Beowulf and the Middle Ages. On another level, the project would help students contextualize the Middle Ages as a period of interwoven experiences and accomplishments. On yet a third level, the project begins to contextualize technology as more than just a database of extant materials. Instead, the project seeks to use technology to enable students to fashion individual ways of studying medieval literature and thought, and encourages them to experiment by combining areas of interest.

On a strictly practical level, we envision that students might use the Grendel web site to engage in activities such as writing research essays, developing multi-media and hypermedia presentations, building scholarly web sites and the like. Further, we would use the site as an opportunity to assess both the usefulness of the site itself and the effectiveness of web-based instruction in general by asking students to keep a journal of their experiences throughout the course of this unit on the Middle Ages.

In a broader sense, the project offers the opportunity to expand the scope of the web site to include more medieval texts and resources, and to increase the level of interaction with the site. Such a site would also be attractive to the Harper College library, which could index the site in its online catalogue.

The Grendel Project has led to several opportunities for expanding the awareness among the Harper community of humanities curricula that are enhanced by the use of information technology and for continued development of the Grendel web site. For instance, in April 2000, the Grendel project was used to justify co-sponsorship with the History Department of a one-day seminar by Dr. Stanley Schultz, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has developed web-based and CD-ROM-based materials for the study of the Civil War. Similarly, in November 2000, the Grendel project provided the context in which Dr. Christopher Fee, a medievalist from Gettysburg College, was invited to Harper to present two days' worth of seminars in using instructional technology in the humanities.

In March 2001, the project developers were awarded a Harper Technology Grant to travel to an international conference of medievalists and Anglo-Saxonists at the University of Leeds. In addition to a scholarly presentation related to the project, we will use the trip to Leeds to collect digital images, video and audio of archival and archeological materials related to the Grendel Project. The activities funded by the grant will substantially enhance the long-range goals of the project.

The developers of the Grendel project received exceptional support from the project mentor, Dr. Diane Thompson (Northern Virginia Community College). Throughout the development of the project, Dr. Thompson not only consulted on the content and direction of the site, but also provided continual feedback and encouragement. Perhaps most important, though, was Dr. Thompson's site visit. During that visit, she quite successfully forged a base of support among Harper administrators and the co-chairs of the English Department for further development of the Grendel Project. Without the efforts of Dr. Thompson during her site visit, it is unlikely that we would have received such a substantial grant from Harper. Further, she helped raise the profile of the humanities at Harper among administrators, especially the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, and among the faculty of the English Department, many of whom have acquired a renewed sense of how technology can be used to advance all humanistic disciplines.

Institutionally, the developers of the project continue to receive technical support from faculty and staff in the Department of Instructional Technology.

The Grendel project was demonstrated at several venues dealing with both the use of instructional technology in general and the use of technology in medieval studies in particular. In the case of the former, the Grendel web site was part of a showcase of instructional technology held at Harper during Orientation Week, 2001. In November 2001, the Grendel Project was presented at the Southwest Regional Conference of the CCHA in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Most recently, the Grendel web site has been scheduled as part of panel presentations at two medieval studies conferences: the International Congress on Medieval Studies conference, 03-06 May, 2001, at Western Michigan University; and the International Medieval Congress, 09-12 July, 2001, at the University of Leeds.

Lessons Learned
Our experiences with the Grendel Project have been very productive. We have successfully negotiated several difficulties, such as delays in our abilities to access certain computer applications. By far the biggest lesson learned has been the amount of time it takes to develop an ambitious web site. As Dr. Thompson has always maintained, faculty must convince their administrators to provide compensation in terms of release time and funding that is commensurate with the scope of such projects. Dr. Thompson speaks from first-hand knowledge; our experiences confirm her conclusions.

Kurt Neumann,
William Rainey Harper College

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