Operation LAPIS: the CODEX

Apr 07, 11 Operation LAPIS: the CODEX

In past posts, I’ve taken Play the Past’s readers through an overview of Operation LAPIS, a look at the collaborative immersion element, and an extensive explanation of the collection mechanic. This week I’m going to walk you through another key component of Operation LAPIS: the CODEX.


The superlatively engaging RPG’s of Bioware and Bethesda have shown emphatically just how powerful and immersive an effect what we might call “ancillary information resources” can have on a player’s performance of those games. What player of Mass Effect hasn’t at least dabbled in Quarian or Krogan history? Trevor Owens, in a great post here on Play the Past, showed how rich the experience of such codices (yes, that’s the plural; you can trust a Latin teacher) can be in reconstructing the past in games Fallout 3.


From a purely practical, school-boots-on-the-ground perspective, the CODEX represents our attempt at a replacement for the traditional textbook system. It contains six vital components: KEY-TEXTs, GRAMMATICA, VERBA, CULTURALIA, ATTUNEMENT, and NAVIGATION. Each of these areas factors into the students’ active learning in distinct and deliberate ways.


The two areas of greatest immediate need for the students while they are taking part in their collaborative discussions are the VERBA and CULTURALIA sections. The VERBA section contains glosses for new and challenging words that appear in their immersion prompts. With the ability to have multiple tabs open in a browser, it becomes very easy and convenient (and thus more accessible) for students to quickly look up Latin vocabulary.

This accessibility is important because far too often students will readily admit that the reason they didn’t complete a reading assignment was that they spent too much time looking up words in a traditional dictionary. Cutting that time down means that they stay engaged with the text for a greater length of time.



The CULTURALIA section of the CODEX provides relevant and important information about the cultural or historical issues at play in their current immersion episode. This is a fantastic resource that gives them a brief introduction to the cultural significance and then allows for intellectual curiosity to take over. Embedded in the CULTURALIA are hyperlinks to various other sources around the internet. These provide a link trail for the students to continue to dig deeper about a particular issue. A lot of the time, while students don’t need to do the extra reading and research to effectively respond to the immersion, they want to do the extra reading in order to respond better. This is an amazing affordance that can only occur in a setting that allows them to click on the links they want to explore because they are interested, not because it was assigned for them to do so. This mimics my own experience (and quite possibly that of a large number of readers here) of getting lost in any number of codices in the Mass Effect universe.



Beyond the VERBA and CULTURALIA, the GRAMMATICA section also provides the students with important aid in their immersion prompts. Each GRAMMATICA section corresponds to new grammatical concepts introduced in the mission. These sections are aligned with the sequence found in the Cambridge Latin Course textbook series. While I thoroughly introduce and explain new topics in class, having this section available as a part of the their CODEX allows the students to go back over new topics. Also, access to these digital explanations allow the students to focus on listening and viewing in class, rather than scrambling to copy down notes at a frantic pace. And, just like the help files in the codices of various games, this becomes a permanent journal-like device that allows the students to revisit any section as a refresher to formally introduced grammatical topics.



The KEY-TEXT and ATTUNEMENT sections also go hand in hand with the immersion prompts, but in slightly different ways. The KEY-TEXTs are designed to reinforce the students Latin reading ability and they are composed entirely in Latin, as opposed to the mix of English and Latin found in the immersion prompts. The other great thing about the KEY-TEXTs from an accessibility point of view is the ability to build roll-over tooltips on any of the Latin words or phrases. What traditionally was found in the notes or commentary (and thus a separate location) can now be embedded right into the reading passage itself and accessed by simply hovering the mouse pointer (or, the student’s finger if on a touch device) over the word. Also, the tooltips can provide quick glosses to words that also increase the accessibility just like the VERBA section does for the immersion prompts.



In a separate way, the ATTUNEMENT entries in the CODEX also provide a unique aid for increased participation in the immersion prompts. This resource is designed to reinforce grammar and vocabulary like the traditional exercises to be found in any textbook. These exercises, though, are set up specifically to model and to scaffold the learning objectives of the immersion prompts. Since one of our goals is that the students respond in the immersion with as much Latin as possible, the ATTUNEMENT exercises provide structure for formulating their response. For example, if part of their task is to search through a house looking for an important scroll, the ATTUNEMENT section will contain different forms of the verb ‘quaero – to search’, vocabulary for various rooms in a typical Roman villa and vocabulary for different items that they may discover in those rooms. The end result of taking part in these ATTUNEMENT exercises is that the students have a starting point for forming original Latin of their own. Many students respond very positively to this particular aid because they often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of starting original composition in Latin.



The last part of the CODEX is the navigational (or NAV) section. Each mission provides a custom Google Map embedded into the CODEX. Because it is a Google Map, it isn’t static or stationary and the students can move around, zoom in and out, and perform any interactions as if they were visiting Google Maps itself; for example to look for directions to a friend’s house. In LAPIS, though, each custom map is populated with markers, points of interest and routes to show what the characters are doing and where they are in the larger narrative. This added layer creates a great sense of space in the immersion and connects the students to the locations that they are reading about. In some instances, students are able to zoom all the way to the street view and, in the case of Pompeiī, navigate around the ancient city in a first person view. The result is a level of interactivity with the physical space in a way that no static map in a textbook could ever accomplish.

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