When Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote his masterpiece “The
Divine Comedy” in the early 1300s, the most advanced technology
for getting the 14,233-line poem down was with pen and paper.
he were alive today, perhaps Dante would have chosen his writing
tools differently. Given a Mac and Internet access, the epic poet
might have designed a Web site instead to chronicle his allegorical
journey from Hell to Paradise.
Fortunately for students at The University
of Texas at Austin taking Dr. Guy Raffa’s course on Dante,
that Web site already exists.
“In teaching the ‘Divine Comedy,’ you learn quickly
that students need to visualize what’s happening,” said
Raffa, associate professor of Italian in the College of Liberal
developed concepts over several
years for the Web site that ultimately became
“The user of Danteworlds needs to be able to see what Dante
sees, as he journeys through Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory and
through the spheres of Paradise. I was already thinking about how
I was teaching the class and how this project would complement
and enrich aspects of the teaching.”
Winner of a Silver award in the Teaching
with Technology category in the 2003 Innovative Use of Instructional Technology
Program (IITAP) competition, Raffa developed the Danteworlds
Web site specifically
for use in teaching his course on Dante.
The Web site is structured
around a visual representation of Dante’s
Inferno. Each section or circle of hell shows and discusses
the main characters that the fictional Dante meets on his journey—from
Dante’s guide, the classical poet Virgil, to Cerberus,
the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the mythical
the beginning of the poem, Dante finds himself in the Dark
Although there are other Web resources available
about Dante, most are text-based. These are good for scholars,
resource he could use with undergraduate students.
site is distinctive with its original artwork by Suloni Robertson,
graphic designer in the College of Liberal
Instructional Technology Services (LAITS). The illustrations
depict scenes from the text and audio recordings of passages
in the original
Students in several other University of Texas at
Austin courses have also used this eye-catching and informative
way to present
Inferno. A humanities lecture class of 300 students at
Stanford University has already included use of the Web
site in the course, and Raffa
receives inquiries and comments from other universities.
for Raffa’s visions of the site came through a
College of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Grant
in 2001, and another
in 2003. Working with a team, including Robertson and
technology specialists from LAITS, Raffa developed his
ideas of how images of
Dante’s Inferno could help his students better
understand and interpret the text.
One of the goals for
the project was to make it accessible not only to his
students, but to anyone, anywhere, teaching
Raffa needed programming and technical assistance, support
from his department, college and university resources such as the
Center for Instructional Technologies, and student feedback.
Raffa believes that instructional technology is a good way to bring
together the different components of a faculty
and research. The commentary and notes Raffa wrote
for the project are a result of his Dante scholarship, as well
as his teaching.
for the site has even spawned new ideas for his research.
a three-headed dog, guards Circle 3 of hell, the circle of
More and more,
technological advances are being introduced into the classroom,
changing the way faculty teach
and students learn.
technology can be a critical component to the educational
experience, its use is not a shortcut to good teaching,
“The good technology we have now must go hand-in-hand with
good pedagogy,” Raffa
said. “Faculty members need to think long and
hard about how they’re teaching their classes,
and then how technology can help them to, maybe,
do it a little differently.”
from course evaluations show that students appreciate
the multimedia approach the Danteworlds
“The Web site was invaluable to my understanding of the Inferno,” said
one student. “The pictures, both old and new,
added a new dimension to the reading—as did
the audio recordings.”
Raffa found that students
are improving by several measures. Quiz scores are
better than before he used
the Web site
in his course.
Students use the site to prepare for class or to
review and enhance what they’ve learned from
the class discussions.
In class, discussion can get
to a higher level more quickly. Raffa can spend less
time on some of the
and talk about other things in the course related
to the poem. That’s
one of the pedagogical advantages of this project,
the way the classroom teaching occurs and enriching
the students’ experiences.
an image of fraud, is one of Dante’s most complex creatures.
Comedy” has three parts. Raffa
now is working on the second and third parts of the
“We’ve been in Hell so far; now it’s time to move
on, to Purgatory and then Heaven,” he said.
the Inferno project has helped. Raffa is in the process of writing
the commentary, notes
for the next
parts, and collaboration with the Liberal Arts
technology group is already in progress.
Raffa advises other faculty
who are interested in developing instructional technology projects
early about how they are
teaching their classes, how the technology will
help that, and then to talk
to as many people as possible who have technological
For Raffa, it has been a wonderful
combination of factors coming together to develop the Danteworlds
and he acknowledges
the help he’s received. Raffa said he
is fortunate because of the proliferation of
at The University of Texas at Austin
for faculty using instructional technology
in their courses.
Raffa’s teaching and scholarship
have been energized
through working on this Web project, and he’s
eager to continue the journey.
Photo of Dr. Raffa: Marsha
Illustrations from Danteworlds: Suloni