Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ferdinand Poswick AIBI’s founder gave an interesting and insightful review of 25 years of Bible and computers: “The Bible in the civilisation of the electronic writing: an evaluation (1985-2004)

Dean Forbes presented his ongoing collaboration with Francis Andersen under the title “Hebrew Grammar Visualised: Syntax and Discourse” which gave an insight into their current thinking.

The Spanish group were presented on “Prefix Conjugation and Discourse” With presentations by:

Guadalupe Seijas “Prefix conjugation and Discourse on Isaiah”
F.J. del Barco “Prefix conjugation and Discourse on the Minor Prophets”
L. Vegas Montaner: “Prefix conjugation and Discourse on Psalms”
J. Kroeze, "Processing Hebrew clauses using three-dimensional arrays"

The second day was more mixed and as well as our session included an interesting paper (in French) which suggested some novel ways to use computer generated statistics to get students thinking about the working of biblical texts: D. Noel, “Literary Approach with Statistical methods”

Monday, July 26, 2004
Association Internationale Bible et Informatique ::
(International Association for Bible and Information Technology)

I'm sitting in Brussels airport on my way to the UK after the 7th congress. Actually congress is a rather grand word, the meeting is better described as a colloquium.

Unlike the last one in Stellenbosch in 2000 this was a small select gathering, 20-30 scholars mainly from Europe. The main focus was on "hard computing" using specially marked-up texts to produce statistical analysis. Then there were those for our session on the cultural impact of digital technology on Biblical Studies, we came from NZ, USA and UK (though two were Canadians). Does this mean that European scholars are not interested in the cultural impact, or that they can't see it a s scholarship, or that the AIBI is simply not the place for this sort of question?

Certainly Ferdinand seems to feel it is important and worth discussing...

I'll write more about "our" session later when I am less jetlagged and more tranquil!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Gatekeepers, Open Courseware and the future of the University ::

Several posts, on education blogs I follow, have combined to get me thinking about this again.

The move by MIT to make their course materials freely available caused some stir a couple of years ago, but seemed to affect little after that initial stir. However, now they are no longer alone, Carnegie Mellon seems to be taking the idea a step further with its Open Learning Initiative.They describe the key difference in the phrase "Building a Community of Use":
A primary objective of the project is to build a community of use for the courses that will play an important role in ongoing course development and improvement. The courses are developed in a modular fashion to allow faculty at a variety of institutions to either deliver the courses as designed or to modify the content and sequence to fit the needs of their students and/or their curricular and course goals. These courses will be broadly disseminated at no cost to individual students and at low cost to institutions.
This suggests a more radical possibility underlying their initiative, yet since the project uses proprietary standards another institution wanting to make use of the material would have to buy in to the whole package for a particular course, there would be little scope for "localization".

A few phrases from the interview with Stephen Downes sparked a related train of thought:
It is important to recall how much of our culture - including political culture, economic culture, educational culture — has been shaped by 'gatekeepers', elites who, because of their knowledge and position, are the sole arbiters of what we will read, buy or learn. This gatekeeping function has already been disintermediated...
This reflects exactly the conclusion reached by a group of University teachers I was part of a few years ago. Some of the social trends that the Internet illustrates and enhances, notably : information is easily and speedily available; "information tends to be free"... render the traditional role of Universities as doorways to authenticated knowledge void of meaning. To put the feeling of that group crudely "why should anyone study at the University of Auckland once they can follow courses online with streaming video etc. by the best profs. from Harvard and Oxford...?

Then I read Finker's latest postings, discover that maybe spring has started in Theology, which I'd though was set to be the last bastion of the selfish-hoarder school of pedagogy - Regent Radio, it'll be interesting to see who they put on over the next wee while...

If course material becomes a cheap (free!?) commodity, what is the role of teachers? Driven from the stage by better known, more skillful or simply better publicized sages perhaps we can be freed to become partners in a wisdom community.

Now that could be fun!

Monday, July 12, 2004
Wisdom Communities ::

Serendipity strikes again, just as I was wondering how to push further with the conversation about ministerial formation in a local church context, the new copy of Teaching Theology and Religion arrives, with an article by Thomas Esselman, of Aquinas Institute of Theology "The Pedagogy of the Online Wisdom Community: Forming Church Ministers in a Digital Age".

That's what I mean, wisdom communities!

Wisdom is critical thinking in a faithful context. The biblical wisdom tradition submitted current theology and practice to the test, but it also kept firm hold on faith and even on the tradition it was examining. Wisdom is never an individual property, it grows in and through community. Biblical Wisdom reflected the understanding, experience and knowledge of the clan as well as exploring the critical ideas of great minds...

That's what ministry formation needs. It's what seminaries have been trying to create. It's just that the attempt is somewhat wrongheaded. (Despite the great achievements of many seminaries and the wonderfully wise people they have [sometimes/quite often?] trained.) It's wrongheaded because by being cut off from the local church setting - and seminaries are cut off, even though all their members are individually part of local congregations. What happens is that the critical side of wisdom gets privileged over the faithful. (Except where the reverse happens and the seminary gives up on it's role as conscience and critic...)

Now I know Thomas Esselman didn't invent the term, it seems to have been first used by Bridget Puzon back in 1997, though even that may be wrong, it may (for all I know at this point) be a traditional term in Catholic androgogy... The point (for this blog) is that I discovered it through Thomas' article, and the concept just fits what I have been thinking...

Thursday, July 08, 2004
PXT where you'd rather be (again)::

Following Finker's post a while back, I still think it'd be fun for lots of people to post PXTs of places they'd rather be. Since by the time you read this I expect to really be where-I'd-rather-be, away for a couple of days writing break, with Barbara who will probably work on her PhD while I prepare two conference papers.

Here's where we'll be:

I'll be back with an Internet connection on Sunday!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Maxnet and Spamcop ::

Our College email is handled now by the ISP (Maxnet) sadly two of Maxnet's SMTP servers have been blacklisted by Spamcop. As a result mail from the College (and from everyone else using Maxnet to send email) is being blocked by other ISPs who use Spamcop. Spam is an atrocious plague on email, but are Spamcop being w bit too harsh, here are their claims about Maxnet:
Causes of listing
System has sent mail to SpamCop spam traps in the past week (spam traps are secret, no reports or evidence are provided by SpamCop)
Additional potential problems
(these factors do not directly result in spamcop listing)
Listing History
In the past 77.2 days, it has been listed 2 times for a total of 3.4 days

For this emails from a large number of individuals and institutions is getting blocked, perhaps one can take eternal vigilance too far as the price of freedom!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Theses about pastoral formation ::

Out of the comments on my posts below “Face-time and ministerial formation” and “Online Seminary: is virtual formation possible?” and other blogging sources I am beginning to develop some ideas more firmly. I will try to begin presenting these as a series of theses.

The comments on the locus of formation were particularly stimulating both Andrew and Finker highlight a duality. To be real formation needs local grounding - as Rubén and I were stressing - but to be honest effective and challenging it needs a wider dimension too, opening the student to new truth. Andrew sees this opening as happening better with the onsite Seminary experience, rather than the conservatism natural to local churches:
I have a suspicion that one is forced to engage much more with the theological issues when on site. It is much easier to simply write essays and disregard things you don't agree with when you study by distance…. I have some of the "typical" issues that are associated with fundamentalism and strong conservative theology in mind like creationism, inerrancy etc...When you're on site you engage in these issues/debates not only with the lecturers but also over coffee with classmates.” (Andrew)
As Finker stresses too that students need the discussion over coffee with their peers, and the challenges we teachers try to present. Yet Andrew’s point about the difficulty of raising hard questions in a local setting reminds me of my deepest dissatisfaction with the onsite seminary. Seminaries are good at presenting students with critical thinking. We can help students understand complex issues around the nature and interpretation of the Bible. And a couple of hundred years of intense academic study has certainly raised such issues. We can also help them to ask awkward questions about the latest fads and quick-fix solutions for church life (questions that often get overlooked by busy pastors of expectant churches). The grounding in classic theology hammered out over centuries through often bitter controversy is also more likely to be taught from a seminary context.

However, as Andrew points out in the pews of many churches such questions and nuancing are seen simply as wrong, unchristian and untrue. Yet, students who have their minds changed while “away at seminary”, do not learn how to preach the new (critical) ideas they are learning. The result is that when they return to a local church – as pastor. They cannot reconcile what they are convinced intellectually is true with what their hearers believe. They risk living in two worlds, “knowing” critically yet preaching like unthinking fundamentalists. Such schizophrenic pasturing cannot be good. Or as Finker says:
You would be amazed at how many of my fellow students (and myself to some extent) end up being dislocated from a full and absorbing church community for their whole period of training. Unhealthy for sure.
If the “head stuff” is true – it needs to be heard. Indeed like AKMA I’m convinced that theological education is all about truth!

But truth (as “head stuff”) needs to be integrated into the “heart and hands” stuff of the life of the church. Not some elitist add-on.

This integration is only likely to occur in a local setting.

So, the first two theses:

#1 The formation of pastors to serve local communities of Christians needs to occur within a framework of long-term relationships of accountability and love in a local worshipping community – warts and all!

#2 Theological education MUST be about truth, even where the search for truth is not comfortable. True formation therefore also needs the seminary effect.

Where #1 is stressed to the detriment of #2 (as it naturally is in distance and internship models) the result is wineskins empty of all but old wine.

Where #2 is stressed to the detriment of #1 (as it almost inevitably is for most onsite “seminary students”) truth becomes arrogant or impractical – it’s not preachable in Andrew’s terms.

Monday, July 05, 2004
Into the Blogsphere: an online peer-reviewed collection of essays blog ::

I've just discovered this fascinating project (I think it was only published a few days ago, I'll write more about it for sure when I have time!)

Table of Contents

Power Surge: Writing-Rhetoric Studies, Blogs, and Embedded Whiteness
Kathleen Ethel Welch, University of Oklahoma

Introduction: Weblogs, Rhetoric, Community, and Culture
Laura Gurak, Smiljana Antonijevic, Laurie Johnson, Clancy Ratliff, and Jessica Reyman, University of Minnesota

Visual Blogs
Meredith Badger, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying a Sense of Community in the Julie/Julia Project
Anita Blanchard, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution
Christine Boese, Independent researcher

Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs
Kevin Brooks, Cindy Nichols, and Sybil Priebe, North Dakota State University

Culture Clash: Journalism and the Communal Ethos of the Blogosphere
Brian Carroll, Berry College

Promiscuous Fictions
Tyler Curtain, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Weblog Journalism: Between Infiltration and Integration
Jason Gallo, Northwestern University

Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs
Susan C. Herring, Inna Kouper, Lois Ann Scheidt, and Elijah L. Wright, Indiana University at Bloomington

The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature
Steve Himmer, Emerson College

Battlecat Then, Battlecat Now: Temporal Shifts, Hyperlinking and Database Subjectivities
Kylie Jarrett, University of South Australia

Imagining the Blogosphere: An Introduction to the Imagined Community of Instant Publishing
Graham Lampa, Hamline University

Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom
Charles Lowe, Purdue University, and Terra Williams, Arizona State University

Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog
Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd, North Carolina State University

Personal Publication and Public Attention
Torill Elvira Mortensen, Volda College

Weblogs and the Public Sphere
Andrew Ó Baoill, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Parody Blogging and the Call of the Real
Trish Roberts-Miller, University of Texas at Austin

Links, Lives, Logs: Presentation in the Dutch Blogosphere
Frank Schaap, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam School of Communications Research

Common Visual Design Elements of Weblogs
Lois Ann Scheidt and Elijah Wright, Indiana University at Bloomington

Formation of Norms in a Blog Community
Carolyn Wei, University of Washington

Sunday, July 04, 2004
Finker and the F word ::

Finker has an amusing, but all too real take on "the F word". I have a love/hate relationship with this word "formation". With its overtones of shaping it can all too easily - at least in us skeptics - conjure up images of sausage machines and uniform "products".

Yet what are we doing? "Education" is good, with its overtones of leading horses to water... But do we really want to claim teachers are leaders and students followers. Engari mo tēnā!

"Teach" is fine, till it produces images of cramming "facts" into skulls...

Overall, I'll accept the F word, I think, sharing in a process that shapes people. The job is God's, formation is the work of the Holy Spirit, but we get to share in it... People like me get to teach, or educate, because ideas and skills are important (see AKMA's great welcome letter to get a feel for this), others get to share in and encourage the student's praxis, the whole is used by the Spirit to shape/form....

PS, Andrew et al. I will return to the face-to-face thing...

Saturday, July 03, 2004
Face-time and ministerial formation ::

Two interesting responses to my post about virtual formation appeared very quickly. I’m responding to them in order.
Finker (whose own blog regularly has good thoughts - and now a post on "the F word that I really want to explore more") in his comment to the post below suggests a radical approach, asking if “residential training” is indeed “the best form of training either academically or formatively”. He also wonders if “it is sustainable”.

Both are good questions, the second has been often raised in discussions in the college staff room here. More and more students find it difficult to displace their families for three years or more; their spouses have careers and their children schools… Yet it seems to me less interesting. Time will tell. Perhaps in ten years our Internship program will be full and the onsite Pastoral Leadership program struggling, either way the facts will out and we just need to wait.

But the first challenge is seldom faced. Teachers usually assume that onsite face-to-face must be best. The only sound theological or indeed androgogical argument for this rests on the incarnate/real nature of such a process. Is this dichotomy - onsite=real/incarnate vs. distance=virtual/disembodied - true? Clearly some distance programs are disembodied, just a package of “notes”, and assignments, but equally even our basic BAppTheol by distance includes contact through online discussion, e-mail, telephone and a staff member on the road visiting students, so already the distinction begins to break down. (A few students exist who manage to sit in onsite classes, and jump all the assignment hoops, without ever seeming to really engage with me or even the ideas in the course!)

However, the more interesting comparison is with the Internship option combined with distance teaching that our Christian Ministry Training (CMT) programme aims to offer. (This also seems true of the initiative I mentioned in the **previous post**.) Here the face-to-face component of formation is squarely the responsibility of the local congregation and its leaders.

Rubén Gómez was stressing the importance of this for both onsite and distance programmes. (If I read him right.)
First of all, no matter what route you take, it seems to me that real formation can only take place within the context of a local church.
As a fellow Baptist I have to agree. Real church is a local community of Jesus’ people, anchored in real lives, so that is where real formation takes place. Seminaries are a sort of “virtual church” most of whose members are temporarily members of the community, whose real lives were/are/will be elsewhere. Such virtual churches can not be all (or even the main part) of formation!

Residential training (the model Finker’s college sems to follow), or even onsite training (our Carey model, with students living offsite, but studying onsite) of course provides some real church alongside the virtual. Students do “placements”. See how artificial it sounds!

With Internship, whether the classroom is a real one (onsite) or virtual (distance or online), the formation is conducted primarily in a real local church community of which the candidate is a real (not a virtual) member.

I mentioned that Rubén is a fellow-Baptist, no wonder he stresses the local. But how strange that even Baptist Seminaries - who lost touch with the notion that theological formation is local during the period when communications technologies required central repositories of theological teaching – still think centralized in the age of electronic media!

Rubén closes saying:
One final caveat: my comments will probably make sense only to "Westerners". Unfortunately, most of the world's population cannot take advantage of these trends in education. But they do have churches, you see...
Actually similar issues can arise, in Congo in the 80s there was a scheme they called something like the “Travelling Seminary”. Teachers travelled to students and would meet them in groups where they were, it was just a low-tech way of doing “distance” training… (After all such brief encounters would mean that the bulk of the personal formation would occur in the local church!)

Friday, July 02, 2004
Online Seminary: is virtual formation possible? ::

A post on the Online Learning Update alerted me to "Rockbridge University" which seems to be an initiative of Saddleback Community Church, since purpose-driven is flavour of the month round here, I looked further:
Rockbridge University is a new concept in ministry training. Rockbridge is a fully online program designed around the five purposes of the church: fellowship, spiritual growth, ministry, mission, and worship. The program allows students to acquire ministry skills while remaining in their ministry. This is not a correspondence school. Rockbridge courses are designed by notable authors and educators and taught by qualified practitioners. Students participate in a learning community that encourages its members to develop personal leadership and ministry skills.

At RU, students are part of a virtual classroom. You will read current books, dialogue with professors and guest practitioners, interact with students, work on learning projects in a group setting, and apply your learning through practical assignments. This learning process may include media instruction, threaded discussion, chat, PowerPoint®, streaming audio and video, CD-ROM, and/or DVD.

We believe in the power of relationships and community. In your first course, you will be expected to enlist a mentor/spiritual friend who will walk with you on this journey. This mentor will help you apply what you are learning to your ministry context.

(From the President's Message)
Like our own package of Internship with a Distance degree in Applied Theology this raises questions about the nature of formation for ministry:
  • How far can one really achieve formation without incarnate contact?

  • Can "virtual" contact be real incarnate contact? (Which senses can be dispensed with? After all we would not shut out a blind candidate for ministry formation...)

  • Distance learning can be great for the "head stuff", how do we insure that the extras we add to a distance or online package really provide the feeling, doing and being formation that is also vital?

Thursday, July 01, 2004
PXT where you'd be ::

Finker has a post with a PXT and asks where his readers would rather be, I can't resist, last year we enjoyed fulfilling a lifetime dream and went balooning one early morning over the Atherton Tableland in Australia, that's where I'd be!

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