Faculty Experiences - Ronald Mellor

Ron Mellor -photoRONALD MELLOR


Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?


Show what you're talking about
Student motivation


Class web site
Digital archive
Internet resources
Photoshop (software)
PowerPoint (software)

Getting Students Intellectually Involved

The most important goal in a large lecture course is to get students as intellectually involved as possible and as emotionally connected as possible. I teach the Ancient World, Western Civilization, and World History. My specialty is Ancient Rome. All of those places are pretty far from Los Angeles. I think many students who come to UCLA are geographically challenged. What gives me tremendous pleasure is when students send me postcards from Italy or Greece. They really got interested in learning about Italy and Greece in their course work and decided to see it for themselves.

Obviously there are other very important things we do in teaching. We may do them or our TAs may as well. We must have students read a text carefully and have them write cogently. My chief function at this point in my career, however, is to get them excited, eliciting the energy in their reading and writing of these foreign places. The point is to try to show students how to construct history. There is no history until people write it down or report on it.

This year I have had two large classes to teach. The upper division History of the Roman Empire had about 190 students and lower division Western Civilization part I had about 275. These are very large classes. I was trained as a Classicist and also studied Archaeology as well as History. Even when I started teaching in 1965, I used a lot of slides. I have always used slides. I have always used lecture outlines. The idea of using lecture outlines and using visual materials is something I have been doing throughout my career. What I have now learned to do is integrate the slides and lecture outlines through the use of a computer.

I think one of the big things that PowerPoint allows me to do--and I've only been using it for one year--is to bring geography into the classroom much more effectively. We used to have these little maps that we would hand out in class. Now, we can take that map and put it in Photoshop to show where these groups of Egyptians were and where the other group of Egyptians were, where the Athenians were in control and where the Spartans were in control, etc. I can speak to the class as these images or maps are displayed right behind me. We use other materials as well. I use outlines, quotations, and other images. For example, I am lucky in that entities like the British Museum have a fabulous web site to borrow from. You can download large numbers of images from great sources.

Getting materials to show to the class has not been a problem for me. I have a $99 scanner at home. If I can think far enough ahead, we have staff in the History Department where technology assistants will scan images for me. One of the biggest problems is for those of us who already have slides and who are trying to convert them to digital media, it is somewhat difficult. We have to go to Social Science Computing. We have some services in our history department, but the process is slow. Some of us have been collecting slides for 40 years. So trying to transfer those over to electronic form is a little bit more complicated.

There was a man named Albert Hoxie who taught at UCLA for 40 years. In the course of that time he began to take pictures. He took about 180,000 slides. For example, he took slides of objects in the Kabul Museum that doesn't exist anymore. At his death a few years ago, he left those slides to the History Department with a small endowment for a curator. And so several of us got together a few years ago and decided that we should digitize them. We have posted about 6,000 of them. We have scanned and catalogued them in a way that if one wanted to look for "Roman ship", for example, the computer would find that image and one would be able to download it. Since I have been the person directing this process, we have been concentrating on the Ancient World slides. We keep plugging along, and I hope that the database becomes bigger, and more organized so that colleagues can help contribute to its growth for the benefit of others. We have a big visual arts collection in Art History but those slides are organized by artist .We want to organize the Hoxie material and make it accessible to all through a comprehensive digital archive. I encourage you to take a look at www.hoxie.ucla.edu.

I post my PowerPoint presentations on the class web site after the class. I have found that class attendance dropped off. I don't know if this is the result of me being more boring or if students feel that they can get by and get the lectures online. The question becomes am I delivering a better education to the 25%-30% students who are really interested and attending--feeding my ego--or I am benefiting the mass of students who are not attending but comprehending the material because of the online availability. It's difficult to say.

The evaluations have been better and the students are more enthusiastic. It's actually very flattering when the class applauds after a lecture. One of the problems for me is that students are so attuned to the PowerPoint lecture that I may become the auxillary. They will say things like "Professor, can you post the PowerPoint lecture a week ahead of time? It will allow me time to prepare for the class." They don't realize that these lectures do not exist until I design them and that may be done the night before. They seem to detach me from the presentation as if it's a textbook from some other author and I am merely reading it.

I don't know what I'm going to change enormously. In the short term, I need to get my basic four lecture courses organized in PowerPoint. Changes will be more in terms of refinement. I have not incorporated videos yet. Videos are not as readily available for the Ancient World. I would like to incorporate more sound.

Oral Interview, May 29, 2003