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Studying Classics in the Digital Age

Classical Studies professor Valentina DeNardis, PhD, conducts a hybrid in-person, online class.

Classical Studies Director Valentina DeNardis’ embrace of educational technology has transformed how Villanova students learn Latin, Greek and classical culture.


Villanova's embrace of educational technology has transformed how students learn Latin, Greek and classical culture.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – “I teach dead languages online.”

Villanova University Classical Studies Director Valentina DeNardis, PhD, often works this quip into her lectures, to the delight of her knowing audiences. Since 2015, she has given more than 40 presentations related to educational technology. Dr. DeNardis is a certified Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and has written articles about the use of tech tools in higher ed for both Microsoft and EdTech Magazine. She was named one of the top 30 Higher Education IT bloggers by EdTech Magazine for her blog, Cyber Antiquity.

Her embrace of educational technology has transformed how the classics are taught at Villanova and brought the classical world to life in ways not dreamed of just a few years ago. For example, Dr. DeNardis’ students created a website to highlight Greco-Roman illustrations from Villanova Falvey Library’s Special Collections. Another group of students designed a virtual reality tour of a digitized 3D model of the Athenian acropolis. This project was presented in Villanova’s Immersive Studies CAVE as part of the University’s Virtual Reality Competition.

Villanova’s Classical Studies program has also embraced online education and began offering a fully online master’s program in the fall of 2016. This development made an almost immediate impact on both the size and diversity of the incoming cohorts of students. The program enrolled four new students in 2017, then jumped to 15 new students in 2018 and 17 in 2019—a significant increase and evidence that studying classics is still relevant in today’s world.

Dr. DeNardis now hears from Latin teachers all over the country who want to earn a master’s degree in classical studies, as well as people who simply want to deepen their appreciation for the classical world.

“In our program, we now have a Latin teacher from Maine; we have local teachers whose schedules fit better with the online program; we have a lawyer from Boston who enrolled in the program because he missed the Latin courses he took as an undergraduate; we had an electrical engineer who loves the classics and took courses online because he often traveled for work—and now he is in a MPhil/DPhil in Theology at Oxford University,” Dr. DeNardis says

For Emory Woodard, PhD, Dean of CLAS Graduate Studies, Dr. DeNardis stands as a leader in educational innovation throughout the College. “Dr. DeNardis has situated Classical Studies in a space that is almost the antithesis of antiquity, through her sheer will and determination to make her research and pedagogy accessible to broader audiences through the use of the latest technologies,” he says.

The unique component of Villanova’s program is that students do not have to choose to be either online or on campus. Many classes are a hybrid of in-person and online, in which the professor will teach at the same time to on-campus students in person, and to online students using video conferencing tools during the class.

“Our instructors take great care to ensure everyone receives equal attention, both on-campus and online students,” Dr. DeNardis says.

Current master’s student Maria Seykora takes both in-person and hybrid courses. “I personally prefer going in person for the more direct personal contact, learning and conversation,” she says, “but the online classes are great in that they allow students to conference in from all over the country and world, bringing with them diverse perspectives to class.”

The fully online option is ideal for current master’s student Kinsey Knaub, who lives in Lake Stevens, Washington. She was looking for a rigorous master’s degree program in classical studies and also wanted to continue her part-time jobs as a substitute teacher and receptionist. Villanova offered her the chance to earn her degree and continue to work toward her goal of teaching in secondary schools.

“Villanova’s online program allows me to participate from Washington state while also feeling connected with my professors and fellow students,” she says. “Villanova is a welcoming, diverse and encouraging community. Students are always open to hear dialogue and respond in an appropriate way that includes everyone. I've learned new perspectives from other students that I've never thought of before.”

Dean Woodard sees the pedagogical advances in the Classical Studies program as emblematic of the thinking that more graduate programs in the college should embrace in the ever-changing educational landscape.

“Thanks in part to Dr. DeNardis’ leadership, we have encouraged other programs to consider how to use the range of teaching technologies available to them to better engage graduate students and continue to pioneer effective teaching and learning strategies online and in the traditional classroom,” he says. “Our innovations are not pursued merely to follow current fads in pedagogy. At Villanova, we champion technology that enhances, but does not disrupt, faculty engagement with students.”

Whether students take classes on campus or online, one constant remains. They learn collaboratively with passionate peers and faculty who embrace and nurture a diversity of perspectives.

Says current master’s student and local Latin teacher Meghan Quinn, “Dr. DeNardis has made the master’s program a pioneer in the online/hybrid format, and she has done a superb job in incorporating the most modern technology in such an ancient field of study. I have translated ancient texts with students tuning in from states as far away as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas. At Villanova, I study with the most outstanding professors and students with a passion for the classics.

- Sarah Moxham ’19 CLAS, a current master’s student in Classical Studies, contributed to this article.

Classical Studies director Valentina DeNardis uses the latest in educational technology to teach her classes.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.