Experts in ancient Greek at St Andrews University are enlisting the help of a shape-shifting sea god to help teach their discipline through interactive learning.
They have won funding from the Learning and Teaching Support Network to develop software to help students read ancient Greek texts. The software will be called Proteus, after the god.
Many incoming students have no knowledge of classics or even of languages. Jonathan Hesk, of St Andrews' School of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, said computers could give the repetitive practice students needed to grasp the basic structures of the language.
"You can teach students how a verb declines, but unless they're encouraged to go away and practice, they won't learn it. Students have been put off because they don't want to do things repetitively. Computers enable you to get the practice done in a much more friendly and fun way by varying the exercises."
Existing resources available through the internet or on CD-Rom tended not to be flexible enough to address individual problems, Dr Hesk said. But teachers could adapt Proteus to meet the particular needs of their class. And staff need not be technological experts, he stressed.
"All you need to know is how to type the Greek on a keyboard. Then you can type in data, and the program will automatically load that new set of vocabulary on to existing exercises," he said.
"It should be as easy as changing your address with the gas company, where you change an existing list and it automatically changes what the student sees."
Dr Hesk said classicists had been at the forefront of information technology learning over the past decade because they were under pressure to keep up numbers and were more self-conscious about keeping up to date.
"We have to compensate for misconceptions, the stereotype of an old man in a tweed jacket beating people with a cricket bat if they don't know their verbs."