Authentic Application for "Cathedral Architecture"


When I (and many others) are designing instructional materials (e.g. algebra, nutrition, Spanish) I normally focus on finding "authentic uses" for the material. For instance, a Spanish instructor might focus on how to ask for directions or a nutritionist might focus on being able to accurately interpret food labels.

But a recent project was a quiz to help students in an intro Western Civilization course memorize architecture terms. I love cathedrals, but even I was stumped here.

This is a harder question for the art history because most instructors are NOT in the field for practical purposes (i.e. they do it for the love, not the money). Many instructors may feel their topic is interesting enough for everyone to pay attention. Of course, if that were true, I would be in hot demand for my expertise in Distributed Morphology.

Yet I wasn't ready to give up on the "relevance" angle so for the audience desiring "authentic application" (or the "Why is this relevant?") I give you:

The cocktail party conversation

You may not be interested, but if you enter corporate America, you will encounter someone who has been to France/Spain/Germany/Britain and has absolutely fallen in love with the cathedral. And why not...they are beautiful buildings. Isn't it nice to have something to share in a conversation emergency?

This may sound silly, but this is exactly why my grandmother taught her daughters to watch they could talk with the menfolk in their lives. In this case, it actually means I get to enjoy Penn State Bowl games, and yes it has been a conversation helper in some cases.

Instructional Tip: Provide amusing stories for your students to relay!

Appreciate Western Cultural History

There was a time in Western History when most of the populace were practicing Christians and the cathedral was a key social institution. Understanding the usage for the parts of cathedral helps you understand how Western societies were structured in that time period. For students from rural Pennsylvania, there are likely to be differences from how a cathedral operated to how a small-town church (often Protestant) now operates.

On a related note, the innovation of the cathedral is a reminder that the Middle Ages weren't just a "dark and grungy" period before the Renaissance. The medieval era was a time when major Western social and technological innovations occurred which are still in place today.

Of course this assumes you explain these mechanisms and don't just provide a list of words to memorize.

You may visit a Cathedral...Someday

We associate cathedrals with Europe, but they do exist in many U.S. cities on the East Coast (although some may have slight differences in form). And you may actually get to go to Europe!

Instructional Tip: Maybe it's worth examining local cathedrals as "later innovations".

Building Your Own

In an ideal world of Problem Based (PBL) learning, you would probably get a chance to build or design your cathedral, maybe within a few specific parameters. I know this would probably get the most attention from me. You probably would be learning your parts that way.

However, instructional technologists still haven't solved the ways to build interactive applications quickly or to convince all instructors of their effectiveness. And it certainly is a more time consuming process.

Interestingly, this isn't "authentic" per se (unless we admit that many of us do build shrines of some sort at home), but it is kinesthetic and "active". Sometimes learning should just be fun I think!

What About Beauty?

This is interesting because if you think an item in beautiful, you may be more interested in learning more about it. It does enhance intrinsic motivation. However, there are times when judgments on "beauty" differ.

I do love the cathedral, but I'm not necessarily a fan of other art forms others consider "classics." Saying "It's beautiful" won't motivate me to learn about the "ugly" art forms. However, I do find that learning about the culture behind the art may make it more "tolerabe" and "interesting" "relevance" may actually enhance "beauty" in this case.