The SCARLET Focus Groups: 2nd and 3rd Year Undergraduates

On the 3rd of May, Matt Ramirez and I conducted our latest series of focus groups with two different courses, whose delivery will involve the oldest fragment of the Gospel of John, which dates back to the 2nd half of the second century, C.E.  These focus groups are part of our continuing process of evaluating the SCARLET project, as we move toward its completion, as well as our development of the toolkit.

The two courses are CLAH 30320, “Advanced Greek 3” and RELT 20232, “The Body and Society: Christianity and the West.”  As with the focus group on 1st years studying Italian, these two groups were of great importance to us, precisely because they had not yet encountered the element of the course which used Augmented Reality to approach the study of the physical object.   In that sense, again we had a valuable resource at our finger-tips, rife with useful information from students who could directly relate to us what they thought would work well, what they thought was promising, and what they felt was or might be frustrating.  To get such qualitative data, ostensibly the stories behind why a particular group responded to something like the SCARLET app, it is important to have them involved before they begin working with the app and Special Collections.

These two groups were particularly positive, right from the outset, both during the initial explanation and demonstration of what the app could do, and then even more so during the time set aside for them to use the iPads, or indeed their own iPhones or Android Smartphones, with the app.

Advanced Greek 3:

Regarding the students from “Advanced Greek 3”, there were two noticeable characteristics: the first was that they were quite eager to start using the app, and they immediately recognised that it wasn’t simply something for the iPads.  Secondly, when there were a couple of technical glitches, they took responsibility, assuming that they had hit a wrong tab.  The result was that Matt and I were able to remain largely hands-off, unless they wanted to show us something.

They also immediately saw the potential for the app facilitating deeper learning, with comments such as:

  • It’s a good starting point, but it can help you go more in-depth, too.
  • It’s better than passing a book around, where you can’t actually spend too much time actually looking at the book because you have to quickly give it to someone else.
  • It can give us the ability to move forward and enhance active learning, i.e., as with Enquiry-Based Learning – it can help you to approach the content more in-depth.
  • This would even be great with 13/14 year olds – bring in audio translations of the Greek.

Most thought the SCARLET app would be a good thing to have for group work, as well, where they could start at some fixed point and then work out from a communal learning activity.  Since the fragment  is also on display at the Library, students also said the potential for using AR to augment the visitor experience since “there is so little actually in the display case [with the fragment]”.


The Body and Society:

The second group from “The Body and Society: Christianity and the West” was quieter, but as one student expressed, “We really like it; we’re just not a chatty bunch.”  Despite that, they did relay some very interesting ideas regarding what we could do to continue SCARLET’s development.

Nearly all of them focused on the importance of the bibliography to the introduction of the course, which is one of the important resources featured in the content provided by Dr. Mazza.  In addition, most expressed that they saw that the app added value to the experience with the object:

  • It’s good – it goes for the physical stuff and background, but it’s more than just a book!
  • It makes it fun … going around to see what’s available with the app.
  • It’s good to see that all this great stuff is gathered together; we can get a sense of the bigger picture.
  • This would be very good in the study of literature, such as with the study of The Aeneid

In terms of suggestions for improvements, they had some very interesting ideas, as well, including additional audio and visual translations, as the other group suggested, and they pointed that offering different interpretations of the translations would underscore the robustness of the academic enterprise, namely that it is about the scholarly encounter with a wide array of resources.

Overall, these two groups offered some of the most direct commentary back on what we have done so far, and we feel that their comments confirm how well the project has done.  Dr. Mazza floated the idea of students participating in the creation of future content, which got a great deal of enthused interest from the students.  Again, the idea of students empowered to learn and explore for themselves was key in the ethos and design of the SCARLET project, and that comment quoted above, namely “it adds value to the experience with the object” tells us that we have achieved one of the most significant goals with the project.

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