Maya Mythology & Multimedia: Using Each to Teach the Other

Article excerpt

Multimedia software, digital imaging hardware and the Internet are new tools that enhance the learning and enjoyment of ancient Mayan mythology. Last year, I taught a seminar to 13 Stanford undergraduates that combined these subjects in an exciting way. For me, the seminar had lessons beyond the specific subject of the Maya. I began to think of multimedia applications for all my research and teaching interests.

The 13 sophomores in the seminar combined digital images, sound files and text to create an interactive graphical introduction to Maya mythology based on my translation-in-progress of the Maya mythological epic Popol Vuh (The Council Book). The project was stored on Stanford's computer network. Anyone in the class could access other students, parts of the project from their dorm or library computer. The students also used electronic mail to communicate with each other and me. My hope is that, when completed, the project can be accessed by anyone on the Internet's World Wide Web.

The class was part of a special program for sophomores to get them involved in research and discussion early in their career at Stanford. Many such sophomore seminars are offered.

* Mining Multimedia's Potential

The class could have been done without multimedia. I could have shown students my slides and books, and gotten them to appreciate the cormections between Maya art and this particular Maya myth. I've done courses like that before. But combining the Popol Vuh with multimedia presented a more engrossing curriculum with broader applications. When students enrolled, they understood the class would involve both topics.

The number of people in this country that can actually teach a course as specific as this is very small. The Popol Vuh deserves to be much more widely known. With the advent of multimedia, that is now possible. A teacher in any college or even a high school or grade school could introduce this set of materials to their students because it is very entertaining as well as educational. Technology now presents a way to extend this research to any other school.

The information could be packaged in such a way that a teacher anywhere in the country could include a module on the Popol Vuh in his or her course materials. Multimedia, originating either from the Internet or a CD-ROM, would provide a valuable teaching aid without requiring teachers to be experts themselves.

The technology can also be taken one step further. There are all kinds of people in the U.S. whose expertise might be extended in this same way. Their particular specialties could be taught from material they developed in their research, but presented in a more accessible multimedia format.

My students not only leamed about ancient Maya mythology, but also gained an understanding of how multimedia can be used to reach others with ideas and concepts they might otherwise never leam. What they've learned makes them more computer savvy and acquaints them with basic processes of digitizing different kinds of resources as well as how to put those resources together into a multimedia package. They're only sophomores. When they graduate, they'll be ready for the modem world in a very big way.

I should also point out that my students, in many cases, went far beyond the requirements, often coming up with ideas and methods that enriched my own understanding of both the technology and the mythology.

Basic Tools: Mosaic and Photo CD

I relied on two popular technologies to make the course a reality: NCSA Mosaic and Kodak Photo CD technology.

Mosaic, a graphical Web browser developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, allows users to wind their way through the Internet's World Wide Web without using complicated jargon. Instead, users access information (pictures, video, audio and text) by clicking on pictures and highlighted text. …