Saturday, April 30, 2005
Bible Podcast ::

For a while now I've been itching to find a way to Podcast, the big obstacle is time, but I think I've solved it... I'll podcast the Bible, probably a chapter a day and doing an OT book then a NT book, roughly. I can justify the time spent reading as preparation (at least for the OT bits) and as a spiritual exercise (all of it) so I am just left with the technical side to justify to myself!

The big question now is know which translation to use. I need one that is either out of copyright, Creative Commons or some such licensed, or that I can get permission to use in this way (eventually the whole Bible would be online...) without cost.

Any comments or suggestions?

I guess this list from Crosswire/Sword gives an idea of what would be possible translations:
The Apostles' Bible
A Conservative Version
American King James Version
Analytical-Literal Translation
American Standard Version (1901)
Bible in Basic English (1949/1964)
Bible in Worldwide English
The Common Edition: New Testament
Douay-Rheims American Edition (1899)
Douay-Rheims Bible, Challoner Revision
Darby Bible (1889)
English Majority Text Version
GOD'S WORD Translation
Hebrew Names Version of the World English Bible
International Standard Version
Jewish Publication Society Old Testament
English Jubilee 2000 Bible
King James Version (1769)
Green's Literal Translation
The Living Oracles NT
Green's Modern King James Version
Montgomery New Testament
The Orthodox Jewish Brit Chadasha
Revised King James New Testament
Restored Name King James Version
Revised Webster Version (1833)
The Emphasized Bible by J. B. Rotherham
Twentieth Century New Testament
William Tyndale Bible (1525/1530)
World English Bible
Webster Bible
Weymouth NT (1912)
Young's Literal Translation (1898)

Friday, April 29, 2005
The Worst War since 1945 ::

(This post is not about hypertext, or Hebrew Bible, or teaching. My excuse is that Michael Pahl mentioned it first...)

What do you think is the worst war since WWII? We'll use a simple definition of "worst": killing the most human beings. So, which conflict is the worst of the last fifty years? Vietnam, the Gulf War, or Gulf War II, the ethnic cleansing in Sudan....

The IRC did a "mortality survey" in Congo (it is their fourth survey since the "civil" war started) . The first conclusion is this:

The humanitarian crisis in DR Congo remains the world’s deadliest: More than 31,000 people die every month as a result of the conflict. Eighteen months after the signing of a formal peace agreement, people in DR Congo continue to die at a rate that is one third higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa.... Between January 2003 and April 2004 almost 500,000 deaths occurred beyond what would normally be expected during this period.
This is equivalent to over 31,000 lives lost every month and more than 1,000 people dying every day as a result of the conflict. Nearly half of them are children under five years of age. When analyzed in conjunction with the IRC’s previous mortality surveys, the findings indicate that from the beginning of the war in August 1998 to the end of April 2004, approximately 3.8 million people have died as a result of the crisis. The survey demonstrates that the Congolese conflict is by far the deadliest war in the world since World War II and the deadliest in Africa ever recorded.

IRC Mortality Survey (a PDF file)

You may think that though this is terribly sad only the people of Congo (my ex-students, colleagues and friends and their compatriots) can stop the shooting. The saddest part is that most of these deaths are preventable:

The majority of deaths are due to easily preventable and treatable diseases. While security problems continue in the eastern provinces, less than two percent of deaths over the past 16 months have been due to war-related violence. The most devastating byproducts of the conflict have been the disruption of the country’s health services and food supplies. As a result, the vast majority of deaths have been among civilians and have been due to easily preventable and treatable illnesses such as fever and malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malnutrition. Children under five years old are at particular risk from these diseases. They account for 45.4% of the 500,000 deaths documented in this last survey period, even though they represent less than 20% of the total population.

IRC Mortality Survey (a PDF file)

So, here's the story in a nutshell:
  • This war (paid for largely by the rich-world's desire for diamonds) is the most devastating for half a century.
  • Many of the deaths are among small children.
  • Many of these deaths could be prevented through a little humanitarian aid.
So, has the aid been flooding in, like it has to other war-ravaged parts of the world?

In Iraq, where Sadaam Hussein’s years of brutality, the effects of sanctions and three wars have led to far fewer casualties than DR Congo, the 2003 aid budget was $3.5 billion or $138 per person. Precise aid figures for 2004 were unavailable. The desperate situation in Darfur, Sudan, where an estimated 70,000 people have died and some two million have been displaced, has led to more than $530 million in foreign aid for 2004 or $89 for each person. In spite of DR Congo’s rank as the deadliest recorded conflict since World War II, the world’s humanitarian response in 2004 was a total of $188 million in aid or a scant $3.23 per person.

Press release "When Will the World Pay Attention?"

Thursday, April 28, 2005
Sex, love and anger ::

Careymedia are putting together another DVD of (15min) sermons with suggestions for use as a starter for homegroups. This year the topic will be "church", so bravely but (perhaps?) foolishly I volunteered to preach from Song of Songs. Now that I have begun preparing I'm becoming aware of the problems...

First the language, I'll be preaching in college chapel, with the camera behind the students, now I can just hear the laughter if I read (or get someone to read) a choice passage full of imagery that does not work for 21st century city-dwellers:
1:12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
... giggle, giggle, giggle!

Now, I suppose I can use the giggling, might even get the reader to ham it up deliberately, to allow a 10 second mention of how the culture, and so images, are different. But, how do I (briefly) explain how the text has two meanings:
  • plain vanilla erotic poetry
  • application to picturing the relationship of God/Israel or Christ/church
both at the same time, not "either/or"?

What will the point be? Well I'm thinking of using the image from 6:4-5:

4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love,
comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army with banners.
5Turn away your eyes from me,
for they overwhelm me!

That image of the lover being "terrible as an army with banners", however you translate, speaks of the awesome fear that love involves, as well as warm trust... So I'll talk about the wondrous truth that God loves us, and so we can hurt the Almighty, for love hurts!

Incidentally posting this was prompted by Jeff McCrory's post on "A Mad God", where he talks about Ps 90 (one of my favourites), and and talks about how:

Every Hebrew word for wrath I know appears here: ap =nose flaring (90:7); hemah = heat (90:7); evrah = overflow (90:9). By the way, I have noticed that Hebrew words don’t come across in my blogging program; thus any attempt on my part to be accurate is in vain. These wrath words show up in spades in this psalm. Why? Because these lamenting people experience the presence of God in their world as wrath.
This is where many people who read the Old Testament leave off. But don’t stop here. We have to ask, “Why is God angry?” Is God angry because God is angry, because his nose flares, his back heats up, or his temper overflows? Psalm 90 does not teach this. It teaches that God is angry as a function of his steadfast love (the Hebrew word hesed, which appears in 90:14) in relation to our sin and evil. Hesed is the stick to it love associated with the covenant God makes with Israel. God is angry because God loves us and doesn't want us to destroy ourselves. Because God loves us through his anger, we petition.
Thus anger, here, and I would claim elsewhere in the Bible is always a function of love. This is true in families, and it is true in the biblical family.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Performing the text (again) ::

Serendipity strikes again, no sooner had Michael Pahl blogged about my remark about my performing the text assignment (in the post about "Thinking Theologically" below), with an interesting degree of agreement, than listening to an old Mars Hill Audio tape in the car on the way back from the airport I heard Scott Cairns mention (in an interview about the oratoria "The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp") how he found setting a biblical text to music, or writing a poem based on the text, gave him a deeper understanding of that text than most "normal" Bible study.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
“Thinking theologically”, distance study and integration ::

We held the first intensive block of our “integrative seminar” at Carey last week. Apart from the core introductions, this is the only compulsory course in our Batchelor of Applied Theology degree. It is intended to be the “capstone”, and encourages students to display an ability to “think theologically” in ways that integrate biblical, theological, pastoral, missiological etc. approaches in dealing with real world topics.

Actually, being realistic, we have seldom really equipped students to achieve such integrated theological thinking. So, the course also tries to help them to further develop such skills. Using a mixture of self-study and intensive blocks, means it is available to both onsite and distant students.

Like most of the staff and students involved I can see a number of ways in which this approach fails. But, also (I think) like both, I believe there is something deeply “right” about what we are trying to do. Davide, in his reflections on study experiences as an “external” student, stimulated by C. Drew Smith’s piece on SBL Forum ("’Between Athens and Jerusalem’: Reading Liberal Books at Church-Based Universities") comments on similar issues.

In particular he highlights how traditional exam-based assessment rewards deliberate failure to seek integration or more complete understanding.
In our (U London, external studies) examinations for Church History to 461 CE (only 461 years to study, right?) one could probably focus on just the first 250 years or less, select 4 questions at the exam that only deal with, say, the Apostolic Fathers, Justin, Cyprian, and Tertullian, and be done with it (maybe with excellent marks). Does this mean that the student did well in exam? No. It really does not. But that is what we (students) are advised to do: in the study guides, it is often explicitly said that, if one wants to get good marks, it is probably better to focus on just a few topics: a selection of the selection
Students are rewarded for “focusing” on a few topics. This approach to assessment, though all too common, contrasts strikingly with almost all of the things we say we are aiming for in our teaching.

Incidentally the fault is not with exams per se, the final exam we had in Oxford on the Old Testament presented us with a selection of short passages from the Bible (without attribution) and we had to comment on them. This task does indeed test the breadth of the student’s knowledge and their ability to integrate. (Do they still use gobbits at Oxford I wonder?) However, such approaches, like our “Integrative Seminar”, can only work at the end of a full course of study. They are inherently unsuitable for assessing semester-long modules.

So, over the last few years I have been trying other forms of assessment. One that I really like – and that the students often appreciate too, once they “get their heads round” what it means - involves performing a biblical text. By “perform” I mean just that, the text can be read, dramatised, displayed on paper or computer screen… This performance should aim to help its audience understand the text. It is accompanied by a written “justification” (referenced and footnoted in the normal way). This justification “ties back” choices made in planning the performance to aspects of the biblical text that require or suggest them.

To prepare this assignment the student must first prepare an exegesis of the text in the usual ways, but they do not write this up, instead they plan and justify their performance on the basis of this underlying exegesis. This task is highly integrative, and because the justification (and not the performance itself) is marked it does not discriminate against those who lack skills to produce a technically good display. It does however reward those who produce a good “reading” of the text.

Thursday, April 21, 2005
דבר Hebrew Vocabularies Project: pt.1 Origins of the Project ::

I said that I would write more about the project, how it came about and what we have planned and achieved. So, I'll do bits in breaks between marking (as a reward!).

The School of Theology at the University of Auckland bid for and was offered assistance from the (then) new Centre for Flexible and Distance Learning to produce an electronic resource for a few learning hours in the introductory course in Biblical Hebrew. From the Theology side Lynne Wall and I were the initiators, and our initial hope was to produce a vocabulary resource that would:
  1. use multimedia (sound and pictures) to enrich vocabulary learning
  2. use the interactivity of the web
  3. provide models of speaking Hebrew that were less Anglophone (or rather Americanophone) than existing electronic resources (like Parson's Hebrew Tutor)

We also dreamed of a system that was extensible, so that once we had the 6 learning hours prepared it should be less work to produce a second batch. As we talked with the team from CFDL (especially Wayne Mackintosh, the director) we began to explore two directions:

  1. an open source tool called EXE that programmers at Auckland are developing for creating XHTML Learning resources
  2. the concept of an open project which other Biblical Hebrew teachers could use to create their own vocabularies, and to which they could contribute data

Such a project needs not only the software and interface that CFDL could provide, but the means to output particular collections of words "vocabularies" that suit the needs of different approaches and textbooks used in beginners Hebrew classes. As it has been adapted for the project EXE (with a clever front end) allows this to happen.

We are currently entering enough data to demonstrate the site and concept in a couple of months time at SBL International.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Cool Tool - Typing Unicode Hebrew (without changing keyboards) ::

Our Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies Project (about which I should write a post or six...), aims to offer the possibility of Hebrew teachers collaborating to build up a collection of words that will be displayed with a rich assortment of context. However, for the collaborative aspect to work teachers must be able to enter the data. I have discovered that since my colleagues have such a wealth of different "legacy" fonts and input systems for Hebrew this is a nightmare. The project is fixed on Unicode and this enables cool effects like watching the word appear character by character to reinforce the students' understanding that Hebrew is written right-to-left. But teachers still use RabbitWorks Bible FontsTM and other proprietary systems for writing and displaying ASCII code left-to-right as if it were r-t-l Hebrew...

At last a simple free tool to enable the most computer illiterate hebraist to enter text easily, it's the Am ha-Aretz Translit tool. A simple webpage with a box, and text typed in transliteration appears as Unicode Hebrew. Neat and simple, now all I need to do is to make up a keyboard template, so people can see more easily which letter to type. The simple (Hebrew alphabetized) onscreen table they have is fine, but I suspect that for typing much text people would like to also have a printout of a QWERTY organized version.

Monday, April 18, 2005
Duuude! Bible Dudes new blog and the cool Scripturizer tool ::

Well, not content with a fine blog about teaching the Bible, Michael Homan (aided and abetted by the whole Bible Dudes team) has added a Bible Dudes Blog, a worthy edition to the foreign language Biblioblogsphere.

Incidentally I found there mention of this cool tool, called Scripturizer. Sadly for me it seems only to work as a plugin for Wordpress, though it's based on this earlier Scripturizer (which in turn seems only to work for Movable Type. What I need is something that produces a plain vanilla [a href=] html or xhtml hyperlink... So, does anyone know of one of those?

Thursday, April 14, 2005
IM and distant students or distance teaching (more) ::

Both Davide (a distant distance student at an institution that I won't name) and Danny Zacharias (of Deinde) offered prompt and extensive comment on my piece on "Instant Messaging and the Distant Student", both contributions provoke further reflection - which is what blogging is all about for me... (I am only responding late like this because I am in the midst of a flood of marking, and have also a presentation, a videoed sermon and an article due over the next few weeks, as well as trying to finish version 1.0 of Amos!)

Davide starts his "Instant Messaging and distant degrees (or students) " with some comments on the deplorable lack of interaction between teachers and students in the old (20th century) "external degree" model. He characterises this as an "absolute lack of interaction with teachers" and he notes "This is fairly demotivating"! I am not at all surprised - there is nothing (even for a died in the wool shy introvert like me) like discussion for that "iron sharpens iron" effect that is vital to generating and developing new ideas and ways of thinking/acting that are at the heart of education.

Davide is right that few of us can aspire to the full richness described by Gregory in his eulogy to his teacher Origen, but I am not convinced that he was right to add "especially with external students" to my mind, a student is a student is a student, whether distant or in the same room they have similar needs and rights. The sort of regime that the old "external" model imposed which does indeed merit Davide's description: "'un esamificio' (a place where you go just to be examined, get your marks, and eventually your degree)".

But distant study ought not to be like that. Danny says he "giggle[s] with glee and awe at the things we can do nowadays" with technology. Computer mediated communication means that (at least text and picture) information can be exchanged almost with disregard to distance, and audio and video are easier and cheaper than ever and (if some time delays and one way communication are acceptable) can also enrich learning for most distant students. Danny's suggestion that:
A teacher can either sit down at his/her desk and tape their lecture or have their live classes taped, then have it available for digital download or web-streaming.
Would not quite work here, very few of my students have anything faster than 56K dialup connections, but when the student is likely to be time shifting anyway (as Danny notes, though he seems to feel teachers will disapprove of this! Why?) there are other slower but less demanding means of transmission (like DVD and VHS).

Danny goes on to describe an attempt to use such technology to allow a distant student to participate in an onsite class:
There is a student in a whole other province who is taking an OT class here at Acadia. Every Monday he sits at his computer and watches a live webcast of the class lectures and discussion. Not only does he get to watch a live webcast from his home, but he is also linked through MSN messenger to a volunteer student in the class, so that if he has any questions or comments, he can type them in and have his volunteer partner ask them on his behalf.
I cringe as I read this, and read on:
While I agree that just having the technology to do this is amazing I am somewhat put off by it, and other students are as well. Here are the reasons: 1) it takes an A/V technician every class to set up the camera and webcast, so the school is paying for this A/V person to be there. 2) It causes distraction on the rare occasion when the camera or computer malfunctions. 3) It is even more distracting when the teacher has to stop to change the batteries in his wireless microphone, etc. 4) when other students had something to say, they would have to speak really loudly for the camera to pick it up, or the teacher would have to repeat it. 5) The webcast has an 8 second delay, so whenever the distant student has a comment or question, it comes late. I can only imagine how much more frustrating it will be if the distant student is a slow typer or an opinionated and chatty person.
Because it echoes too closely my own experience trying to include a distant student (via Skype) orally into an onsite tutorial. My conclusion from that experience, and from what Danny writes, is that one should not usually try to mix distant and onsite like this, but rather get onsite students to behave like distant students, as they do already with discussion forums and the like... So, for me no more Skype additions to an onsite tutorial, but perhaps another go at the chat session, for students wherever they are situated.

And, on that Davide had some really good advice, such sessions need:

clear scope: that is, if it is used not just to voice one's mood;

there should be, if not a moderator, at least a commonly held view of what the goals are, and of the topic being discussed; this requires of course organization.

And there should also be some clarity on roles and pre-requisites

This sounds right, it fits (again all to well) what was wrong with my first attempt, and suggests ways for me to develop the idea before I try again!

So thank you both for some really useful and stimulating thoughts, I do envy Arcadia its technology, but I will continue to see what low-tech high-tech can do to enrich my, and my students', learning experiences over the coming weeks!

Monday, April 11, 2005
Instant Messaging and the Distant Student ::

A number of recent events have caused me to think about the potential for “chat” or “Instant Messaging” services in teaching a distance class. At Carey as well as on-site classes we also teach “by distance”. Students get a package of notes and readings to work through, and do tests and send in assignments just like students in a classroom do. We try to compensate for the lack of community in a classroom and the missing opportunity to ask the teacher questions through the use of online materials. The discussion forum software (for the last few years Discusware, now built in to Moodle our great Open Source LMS) has been quite useful in this respect, though often email or phone have been the students’ favoured ways to ask questions!

One of the biggest advantages of discussion forum software - for teacher and student - is that it is asynchronous (it allows both students and teachers to access it at different times, yet still communicate). Yet precisely this advantage is also a problem, you do not get the quick back and forth that allows correction and adaptation that promotes understanding through the exploration of differences and different views. Indeed, in my experience discussion forums – like email listserves – often risk seeming competitive. The medium encourages the robust exchange of views, but risks becoming an “event” with winners and losers. Not a good look in a substitute classroom!

To this end a few weeks ago, stimulated by an interesting discussion via Yahoo Messenger with someone else’s student (who had found me via an entry on “maximalists” in this blog and on Ralph), I set up a chat session for my distance class. Not a great success from my perspective, too flippant, too little that went beyond the purely social. This impression was reinforced by a session with Mark (NT Gateway) Goodacre, pleasant but not as useful as exchanges on our blogs have been…

So, do I write off the chat/IM route to more contact with distant students?

(Incidentally why does no one use Skype, is it because the sound is too poor over dialup? I’d have thought freedom from typing and from tpyign errors would have been worth some poor quality sound and a few bits that “drop out”…)

Well no, after a particularly difficult and at first unproductive exchange on the discussion forum (all my fault, the student was great, but I misread their tone) I am going to try chat or audio chat again during the second half of the semester… I’ll be keen to see how it works.

In the meanwhile I still have 20 assignments to mark, before I can get some more work done on finishing the Amos commentary, which together with an excess of meetings are the reasons this blog has been somewhat silent since Easter!

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