Old English Online Coursepack

E-Learning, Old English literature

 Brief Descriptionoldeng_coursepack

The Old English Coursepack project created a set of web-based editions for the teaching of Old English based around a series of commonly set texts. It based its design on the usual interface for online editions.

The coursepack was used by first year students at Oxford University (January-March 2006) but is freely available to all. These students were surveyed to discover their attitudes towards the site and how, if at all, it had helped them in their study. Second and third year students were also surveyed to get their reflections on the potential of such a site.

The response was positive and indicated that such a site was particularly useful for assisting in translating (for first-year students). However, for those more familiar with the language it opened up avenues of exploration in terms of the historical context for the literature. The coursepack indicated that this may be a useful means of providing students with contextual information for other chronological periods also.


The use of hypertext for teaching medieval literature has a long history going back to Professor Patrick Conner’s Beowulf Workstation. In this programme, written in the early 1990s using Apple’s HyperCard, the students were presented with an edition of the poem, with direct clickable links to a glossary, notes, images, translations, supporting essays, and so on. Conner was not alone, though he may well have been the first to effectively use such technology in medieval literature. In that period (pre-web) many of the products that emerged in literary studies performed similar tasks using the hypertext medium to present texts in context. Notably these were often in areas where the contextual information had always been considered crucial to the discussions of the text (e.g. medieval literature and classical literature).

For a modern example, the Beowulf workstation was actually adapted to include Isaac Rosenberg’s First World War poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ – again a period of literature very dependent upon its historical and social context (see Lee, 1996).

Learning outcomes

The overwhelming feedback from the students was that the presentation of online hypertexts for the study of Old English (and by extension Medieval Literature perhaps) was extremely useful, particularly in assisting with translations and commentaries.

The main disappointment was in the lack of engagement in the discussion areas. The hope that lecturers at institutions other than Oxford would partake in this, adding notes to allow for a growing resource, was unfulfilled.

Report & Related Links

Project Leader

Professor Vincent Gillespie
English Faculty
University of Oxford

Project partners

  • Professor Malcolm Godden, University of Oxford
  • Dr Stuart Lee, University of Oxford


Completed June 2006