Parallel Texts #1 – Rethinking education through the lens of parallel texts

This blog has been co-written by Jess Shaw (@JessShawExpArc) and Charlie Berry @charliefoy, the two student Project Coordinators working on the Parallel Texts project (@parallel_texts). In this short blog, Jess and Charlie explain what inspired the project and how the project team seek to use parallel text software to innovate the educational experience for Exeter students.

Much of what we do in education can be thought of as a parallel text. Some examples include:

  1. Students’ notes taken in class are parallel texts or commentaries on the course materials; 
  2. The processes of first and second marking and moderation of essays and assignments create parallel texts or commentaries on the student submission; 
  3. Video lectures and printed notes are parallel resources that can be appropriately referenced and linked. 

These and other texts are created in parallel to or as commentaries on source material. If properly collected and curated, this corpus of parallel texts could become a rich new learning tool. For example, notes can vary between students as they pick out and record different aspects of the course, adding their knowledge and interpretation. Through layering these perspectives, a curated resource could be created that would improve the experience of education for both academic staff and students. This project aims to initiate conversations and make recommendations on the tools and protocols that are necessary to implement a “parallel texts” approach to education.

One research aspect of this project involves looking at what already exists and considering how these could be used or modified for use as an educational tool, drawing on the expertise of many disciplines. For example, Humanities often work with parallel texts and have developed tools to analyse them, such as looking at and comparing different translations of the bible. Another exciting use of this comparison software is for literary analysis, with it being used to compare and track changes in the fifteen versions of the poem ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’ by Charles Harpur. The project aims to use these types of examples alongside further research to uncover the key benefits of approaching education in this parallel way.

The project is headed by Prof Barrie Cooper who has previously led many educational projects, including ‘Embedding student-led change in the curriculum as well as others within the Education Incubator. Alongside Barrie is Dr Layal Hakim, who works to combine pedagogy in higher education mathematics and co-led Education Incubator project with Barrie called the ‘The Exeter Spectrum Project.’ The final key member of the project team is Dr Leif Isaksen, who co-led the ‘Locating Imagined Spaces’ Education Incubator project and helped develop two award-winning pieces of software: Recogito, an online platform for Semantic Annotation of texts, images and data tables (‘Best Tool or Suite of Tools’, DH Awards 2018), and Peripleo, a demonstrator semantic search engine (‘Best Data Visualisation’, DH Awards 2016).

The Parallel Texts project is part of the Education Incubator. It is currently recruiting staff and students from across disciplines, to see how parallel text software can be adapted to fit various methods of learning and teaching across the University of Exeter.

If you have any questions or wish to take part, please email Project Coordinators Jess Shaw and Charlie Berry 


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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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