PARADISE LOSTFaculty: Olin Bjork
Team Member(s): Olin Bjork, John Rumrich
Second-year Brittain Fellow Olin Bjork introduces the Paradise Lost project.
Please briefly explain the project. What is it about?
Paradise Lost is an "audiotext" that is based on the epic poem written by the 17th-century English poet, John Milton. I call it "audiotext" because it integrates an audio recording and an electronic text of the poem within a single interface designed to resemble an open-book.
The audiotext, however, does not reproduce the constraints of print technology. During playback, a karaoke-style highlight moves over each line as it is voiced, and pages turn automatically. The user can choose between four different viewing modes. Whereas the default text-only mode displays a modernized text on both sides, the annotation, comparison, and your notes modes juxtapose the text with explanatory notes, a transcript of the original 1674 text in a 17th-century font, and a place for readers to record and save their own notes, respectively.
Unlike most electronic editions, the audiotext uses Adobe Flash rather than hypertext. Some developers don`t think to use Flash for literary works because they associate it with movies and animation. Others don`t like to use it because it is not open source. But either way, it is free to the end user. And this way the audiotext runs offline as well as online. So the audiotext is truly a classroom edition, even if the classroom in question lacks an Internet connection.
Who are the team members?
Since the beginning of this project, I have been working with my dissertation advisor at the University of Texas, Professor John Rumrich.
How long have you been working on this project?
In 2004, Dr. Rumrich and I remarked that we wished students could spend more class time reading the poem aloud, as this practice seemed to help students untangle Milton`s intricate syntax and decipher his archaic expressions. We considered asking students to buy an audio book in addition to the textbook, but this approach seemed expensive and impracticable. What was needed, we decided, was a free Web site that would allow students to read and hear the poem simultaneously. The project started with this idea.
What is the importance of this project?
I read a book by the psychologist Richard E. Mayer about on multimedia learning and discovered that the human perceptual apparatus has distinct channels for auditory and visual information. Experiments have shown that reading and listening to the same text improves understanding and recall. Auditory input is especially crucial in the case of Paradise Lost, since the blind Milton never wrote the poem down but rather dictated it to scribes. Like other classical epics, therefore, it was initially an oral performance and its style and diction registers this origin.
Did you receive any grants for this project?
We have received the initial financial and technical support from LAITS, the University of Texas at Austin`s Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services.
If we continue to receive financial support for the project, we would like to develop audiotexts for the nine remaining books. When and if we finish the edition, Flash may be obsolete. But Paradise Lost will never be outdated, and we will adapt our content to whatever technology replaces Flash.
Why do you like working for this project?
Teaching the 17th-century British author John Milton`s classic poem, Paradise Lost, at the Georgia Institute of Technology is unlike teaching it at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin), not only for institutional and curricular reasons, but also for technological ones.
The first-year composition courses I taught during the 2007-2008 school year at Georgia Tech presented me the opportunity to test on my own students the prototype for a digital classroom edition of Paradise Lost that I have been developing with John Rumrich, my dissertation advisor at UT-Austin.
I like working on the Paradise Lost project, it is really encouraging that my students found the Book Nine prototype more immersive and comprehensible than the print edition in which they read the other books.
Prepared by Tanla Bilir