Digital Humanities Abstracts

“A Project Demonstration of `Peripeteia': CAI Software for Teaching Literary and Rhetorical Terms”
Anthony Flinn Department of English, Eastern Washington University

My CAI software, called "Peripeteia," is an interactive database of literary and rhetorical terms, their definitions, and sample text passages that exemplify them. I've designed this software as a supplementary learning tool for the literary studies and rhetoric programs in the EWU English department. This software can be useful for virtually all literature and rhetoric students, from the freshman to the graduate level. Faculty, too, can use it for quick reference as well as course preparation. Central to the program's design is its pedagogical flexibility. Peripeteia provides a multitude of access points, thereby addressing a range of learning styles, levels of sophistication, and information requirements at the time of access. This flexibility allows students a multitude of opportunities to think inductively and deductively, moving from a series of examples to the literary or rhetorical concept, or, conversely, moving from the concept to examples, if desired. Students can run Peripeteia in three learning modes: quick reference, deductive learning / testing, and inductive learning / testing. In each mode the software displays iconic representations of the literary and rhetorical terms. These icons serve primarily as mnemonic devices, but their designs also help clarify the concepts for visual learners, who are typically exposed to terminology only in verbal descriptions. Peripeteia is a highly interactive program, for each of the three modes requires and responds to student actions. In the quick reference mode, students can choose from among categories of terminology to terms within a particular category to particular sample passages for each term. They can also display the source of a currently displayed passage. In the deductive learning mode, in which students must match terms to randomly displayed sample passages, they can elect to skip particular terms and return to them later. Peripeteia permits two attempts per term, and each attempt displays feedback that assesses the attempt, prompts the next action, and, as necessary, provides hints. In the inductive learning mode, students first select from a palette of icons the one representing the concept suggested by the currently displayed set of sample passages. After as many as two attempts, after which feedback alerts them to their success or failure and identifies the correct term, students are then prompted to type in their own definition for that term. Peripeteia's reporting and record keeping functions allow both the students and their professors to monitor their progress. When students log in, they type their name, social security number, and the class or classes in which they are currently enrolled. A text file is then automatically created for each student user. Each file is updated as the student proceeds through the two learning / testing modes, recording the student's answers and success rate. In addition, the student's attempted definitions in the deductive learning mode are automatically added to his or her text file, along with the Peripeteia's "correct" definitions for comparison and evaluation purposes. In its current design, Peripeteia functions by reading in the terms, definitions, and samples from a text file and the iconic representations from a graphics library file. Because the software is thus distinct from the database it draws upon, Peripeteia can be adapted to serve virtually any other subject area freighted with a range of discipline-specific terms or concepts. Peripeteia runs most effectively on a Macintosh Quadra or Power PC. It requires at least a 13-inch screen and eight megabytes of RAM.