TAMING TALOS:

CYBERFEMINIST PEDAGOGY IN CLASSICAL STUDIES

Barbette Stanley Spaeth, Tulane University

 

In a famous passage from the Argonautica (4.1638-1692), the witch Medea with her magical powers slays the bronze giant Talos, who guards the coast of Crete, thereby enabling the Argonauts to take what they need from the island. I would like to view this myth as a metaphor for women's power over technology, represented in the robot-like creature Talos. This ancient story is thus the obverse of the modern myth in which women are terrorized by the creations of man, as Elizabeth Frankenstein is murdered by her husband's creature, the monster. The modern myth feeds into the technophobia that is all too often deemed characteristic of women in general and feminists in particular. The ancient myth of Medea and Talos provides a useful counter-paradigm, showing how a woman can dominate and control technology to serve her own needs. I contend that rather than killing Talos, the feminist instructor can tame him, putting technology to use in the Classics classroom in service of feminist values, utilizing feminist techniques in a new technological mode to further the feminist goal of liberating and empowering students.

Feminist pedagogy emphasizes the value of a classroom environment that is relational (emphasizing relationships between teacher and students and among students themselves), experiential (focused on personal experience rather than abstract knowledge), and non-hierarchical (centered on students rather than the teacher). It is precisely these characteristics that the informed use of instructional technology can promote in the classroom. Instructional technology can be employed to facilitate the feminist techniques of collaborative and active learning, and hence "de-center" the classroom in a very productive manner. I propose to highlight one particular form of instructional technology that I have found particularly exciting to illustrate these contentions.

The Multi-User Object-Oriented Domain (MOO) is a virtual environment that allows students and instructors to communicate with one another and with those at other institutions both synchronously and asynchronously. Moreover, the environment itself can be constructed and changed by its users to shape the experience that they have inside this virtual space. The MOO environment encourages its users to interact with one another in a non-hierarchical manner and to experience through simulation an environment that they may not be able to enter in reality. VROMA, a project funded by the NEH, is a MOO designed to facilitate the building of a virtual community among Classics instructors and their students. It includes a set of Web-based resources for teaching Classics, including images, maps, texts and commentaries, and a MOO-space modeled in part on Rome in 150 C.E. Both of these elements of VROMA can be extended and customized by the members of the virtual community for various pedagogical purposes. I have used VROMA in my course on Roman civilization to enable my students to experience the environment of ancient Rome and to collaborate with one another in "building" Roman houses. Others in the VROMA community have used the MOO to create collaborative texts and commentaries and have even held cross-institutional classes inside this virtual space. The VROMA MOO thus encourages relationships among classicists and their students, fosters a sense of personal investment through experiential contact with the ancient world, and focuses the classroom experience on the gathering of knowledge by all parties, rather than on its dissemination by a controlling instructor. VROMA is an important tool in the kit of the feminist instructor in Classics, a form of instructional technology that can be used to further the goals and values of feminist pedagogy or, to coin a term, of cyberfeminist pedagogy.