In designing Scriba to accompany the Oxford Latin Course,
the aims of the OLC and the needs of both students and teachers
alike have been kept in mind. Four principles govern the development of
exercises, feedback, and tutorial windows: that language learning is a
step-by-step process, that exercises need to be contextual, that students
need to be motivated, and that the program should be flexible for teachers.
The first principle is that language learning is an incremental process
that builds from the known to the unknown. Learners need to go through
a series of stages from recognition of a new piece of grammar to drills
that develop fluency with the new structure to exercises that practice
this new skill with other grammatical features. For example, in Chapter
7 the genitive case is introduced with an exercise asking students to
recognize the possessive in English, a second exercise to recognize it
in Latin, a third asking them to supply the genitive in each sentence,
a fourth asking them to respond to simple questions with short, complete
sentences, and a fifth asking them to read and understand a passage which
includes the genitive with the other cases they already know. In short,
students are able to understand new grammar and syntax through a gradual
step-by- step process.
Second, language learning needs to be contextual. The courseware asks
students to practice the grammar and vocabulary they have learned within
the context of complete sentences and paragraphs. Grammar, syntax, and
vocabulary, furthermore, are placed within the cultural context of Roman
culture, society, and history. For example, the culminating exercise in
Chapter 12 is based on Exercise 12.5, the story of two young boys seeing
the Roman army enter town. The task in the courseware, however, goes beyond
reading comprehension and translation. Students must actively use their
knowledge of Latin grammar and Roman culture and maintain the cohesion
of the passage by substituting pronouns in the correct case and type for
certain nouns. As a result, students learn not just about pronouns, but
also about reading, cohesion, and Roman culture.
Third, students need to be motivated. At the most basic level, the courseware
accepts a wide variety of possible correct answers. Helpful hints and
positive feedback direct students to discover the right answer for themselves.
Tutorial screens offer students on-line grammar explanations and paradigms.
Another feature is a 'spell-check' that compares student answers with
the correct answer and identifies any incorrect spellings. This feature
helps reduce student frustration and lets students focus on using the
language. Finally, some exercises are games or humorous situations. For
example, Scriba included exercises based on Quintus' dull-witted
schoolmate, Decimus. In Chapter 8, students are asked to unscramble his
sentences and put them into typical Latin word order, and in Chapter 9
to correct his Latin case endings.
Fourth, the program is an important resource for teachers of the Oxford
Latin Course. Teachers can use specific exercises in class to introduce
new material, or they may give further exercises for students to work
either individually or in pairs. Exercises can also be assigned to provide
review. Finally, if drills are assigned as homework, the teacher can spend
less time in class reviewing student homework and more time getting the
students to produce and use the language.