Teaching & Learning

Lessons from Vegas: The Digital Florilegium 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Florilegium is a medieval Latin word that is a combination of flor (flowers) + legere (to gather). The term is first seen in print as a title of a book from 1590. The book was a collection of engraved pictures of flowers. That tradition continued through the 1600s and even today through printed books or curated collections. However, that’s not really where florilegium gets its roots. 

“Jared, that was a horrible pun. Also I’m lost.” I know. I’m getting there. 

Florilegium is a reading practice used by medieval scribes as early as the 5th century. It referred to the reading of a manuscript and gathering (legre) passages, sentences, phrases, and even words that stick out or resonate to the reader. Then, after finishing reading, the scribe could look back at their collection (like flor) and see what new text develops. 

This was the topic of another session I attended led by Dave Mulder, professor of education and department chair, from Dordt University. He saw a problem in his teaching and learning with technology course – his students weren’t engaging deeply with the readings. He tried different, research-proven strategies like quizzing, guided notes, small group discussion, and in-class participation to get them reading. But nothing was sticking. Then, he heard about the florilegium. He decided to try it out but with an updated twist and with a focus on making it a communal reading practice. 

Here was his process. This took place over a two-week module: 

Week 1: 

  1. Create a video introduction explaining what a florilegium is and how it was used by medieval scribes. Emphasize reading the text closely and copying passages/sentences/phrases/words that really stick out. 
  2. Create a collaborative Google form for students to use to copy/paste 2-4 flor.

Week 2: 

  1. Share the spreadsheet (created from the Google form) of all the flor from the previous week.  
  2. Create another video explaining the process of arranging the flor including ways to play with the text. He also gave them some options. 
    1. Choose flor at random and see what emerges 
    2. Look for repeated or unique flor 
    3. Create a word cloud of the flor
  3. Create a discussion forum (this was an online course) to have students share their findings and reflections on the florilegium process 

He found that this practice was rewarding for the students, and students were highly engaged with the text. They found some new connections that they probably would not have found without this method. He did have a few caveats though: He practiced this later in the course after some foundation had already been set. In other words, do not throw this at students week one. Maybe do it in the back half of your course when they are approaching mastery of the content. He also used a challenging text – one that they really had to wrestle with. 

What do you think? Can you see this being used in one your courses? Let me know! 

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