Throughout the fall 2010 semester, Calvin students will be chanting “amo, amas, amat” under the direction of various professors of classical languages in various classrooms in Heimenga Hall. In the fall of 2010, another group of students will be getting their basic Latin vocab classroom under the direction of classic languages professor David Noe—via the Web.

This fall, for the first time, Calvin will be offering Latin classes online.

”We as a department want to extend our reach,” Noe said of the online curriculum, which he developed with help from students in Calvin’s Digital Studio. Calvin is offering cyber-Latin, in part, because many Christian high schools that formerly taught Latin have eliminated it from their programs. The ancient language is not perceived as a big career-builder, Noe said: “It doesn’t seem very pragmatic and useful.”

Non-traditionals need apply

With high school Latin programs shutting down, some students are stranded in their study of the language, Noe said. He hopes to attract those students to Calvin’s online classroom. “It will appeal, hopefully, to 17-and 18-year-olds who want to take some Latin before they enroll in college.” Noe also hopes that non-traditional students wanting to study a romance language—such as home-school moms and retirees—will also show up in his cyber-classroom.

The online offering—considered a pilot program—will follow the pattern of Noe’s traditional Latin classes. Students in all of his classes will study the same text, Wheelock’s Latin. They will complete the same assignments.

The online class will enjoy a few detours from conventional pedagogy, however, one of which is the flexibility of the schedule. Though they must complete the coursework on the same schedule as their real-time counterparts, online Latin students will download their assignments at their convenience instead of whenever the professor is available. (Noe will keep “online office hours” to answer questions and otherwise help out with the language.)

Homework's in the mail

The online students will also enjoy Noe’s lectures through pre-recorded videos, and they will be able to submit their homework through the U.S. Postal Service.

Noe hopes that online Latin will catch on, and he believes the ancient language is as relevant today as it was in ancient Rome. “It’s the basis of western civilization. To the extent that western civilization is important, Latin is important,” he said.

In another era, Noe added, Latin was also foundational to education: “Our culture is a lot more pragmatic and utilitarian than it used to be. A hundred years ago, if you said you were an educated person, it meant you studied Latin and read history. If you said today that you were an educated person, it would mean something quite different … . Studying Latin makes a person think more clearly, and studying Latin gives you access to some of the most beautiful poetry and compelling prose in all of history.”

One of Noe’s former students was eager to expound upon the benefits of Latin: “If you love language and want to learn the roots of our language, then you should learn Latin,” said Quin Harr, a classical languages major who graduated in May. “If you want to learn Spanish or French or Italian, then the best source is Latin. Plus,” Harr added, “it’s just fun to learn another language.”