Thursday, March 04, 2010
  What's in a name?
Over the last few weeks I have been tormentedby Windows Vista, the opperating system from Hell has:
  • destroyed by diary, to the extent that I wonder if I can justify the purchase of a Google Calendar compatible phone as an alternative to formatting the harddrive to start fresh,
  • refused to permit me to use my memory stick, making me late for church as I emailed the file to myself on another computer, to put it on the USB stick,
  • intermittently synched my email so that I have lost really important messages (don't ask, somehow it overwrote to good copy with the difficient one),
  • and generally consumed hours every day to no productive purpose
Yes, you are right I should have 7, but the pringt on the sticker on the base of my laptop giving the reference number of the OS has worn off (because I dare to use it on my lap - how could ANYONE use a laptop anywhere but on a desk?!?) and Acer will not accept the number the software divulges. I would rather learn a new OS (and install Linux) than pay Microsoft to save me from Microsoft!

But, I noticed a pattern. OSs with stupid twee names, like "Vista" or "Me" don't work. Or like "Windows" itself they only work when they reach a later itteration (in that case 3.1 for XP a mere service pack did the trick). The reason is obvious, if the OS sucks then give it a stupid name in the homes no one will notice... and then I read Judy's post on things she hates about abstracts and other aspects of academic publishing... scholars do it too! Got a paper whose arguments don't stack up? Give it a stupid title, and hope no one will notice. If Judy is right we probably won't, because none of us will actually read the thing ;)

Shame we can't just ignore OSs with stupid names... but manufacturers install them for us, so we can't. Though we can go Open Source :) So should I install Karmic Koala, or wait for the more sensible sounding Lucid Lynx?

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Sunday, February 28, 2010
  The future of intellectual work
Geoff Pound has pointed me to a couple of really interesting resources recently (on Facebook rather than in Blogworld - How come these parts of the digital sphere are so separate? Except where we drag one into the other, as I will with this post ;)
Poster for Kubrik's film of Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey from túaw
First he remarked that Brian McLaren suggested that those of the emergent tribe who are interested in the future of seminaries should read the Life is a Mystery post "Wherein I figure out the iPad". Then he pointed me to Mark Coker's Huffington Post piece "Exploring the Future of Book Publishing at Tools of Change Conference" in which he highlights, from outside the sphere of Bible specialists, the significance of what Logos are doing to create networked books.

Unless I missed something important, (and I might well have as I was thinking about today's interactive sermon when I read it) despite the entertaining reference to Arthur C Clarke's 2001, the iPad post is not so much about the iPad, so don't yawn yet, as about how networked information (think ebooks on steroids, where everything is hyerlinked as in Logos Bible Software or imagine a hybrid of Google books and Wikipedia) together with changing approaches to imagining education may change the way we live our intellectual lives. (For my take on the broader educational context see my article: "Back to the Future: Virtual theologising as recapitulation" from Colloquium 37:2 in 2005.)
illustration from Victor Appleton's Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope Illustrator: James Gary
Interesting times! Networked books and digital libraries are making the activities of scholarship so much quicker, combine these with wider access to publication (and the economic "publish or perish" culture) and information overload becomes extreme, and mere information is again seen as worthless and human interaction more and more significant. Though paradoxically at the same time human interaction becomes (in such media environments) less and less deep or wide. Intense and casual rather than sustained or profound.

Something has to give?!

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Friday, February 26, 2010
  Funding the volunteer web
Photo by Jemal made available freely under a CC licence :)
The web has become a funny place. Despite its ethos of volunteerism and culture of free, increasingly volunteer effort and time are not enough for worthwhile projects. Meanwhile borrowed money, cosmetic surgery, pornography, and other essentials of modern life can finance themselves, and even enable others to make a modest income from blogging.

The latest illustration of this strange situation is Librivox. LV is a huge volunteer effort that In a mere four-and-a-half years, has made thousands of free audiobooks for anyone to enjoy. The site gets 400,000 visitors every month.One recording I did has already passed 10,000 downloads. Yet LV is appealing to its volunteers to donate money as well to pay for the system that enables all this. LV is deeply committed to the dream of free culture, so all its recordings are placed in the public domain. This ethos sits uneasily with advertising, otherwise a combination of Amazon links and/or Google Adwords would ensure an annual income of far more than the $20,000 that they are seeking (in the hopes it will cover the next few years of opperation).

There is a strange logic here, even a tiny payment from a few of the users who download and enjoy the books would cover the cost. Yet LV asks the producers of the content (well at least one group of them, the authors and original publishers are mostly dead, so they are not contacted by the appeal). So it is the readers, prooflisteners and project coordinators who must pay.

Perhaps in the gift economy and the culture of free this is the way it should be, with people covering the cost of publishing their work. But how does this fit with academic publishing? Academics (with a few, over the 20th Century a dwindling few, amateur scholars as exceptions to the rule) are mercenaries, we undertake our scholarship for pay. Yet even in this realm of "workers worthyof their hire" (we hope) publication has usually been free!

No, books and journals have not been free, but authors have most often given them away, it is usually only the commercial publisher of the work who makes any significant money (and then often barely enough to meet their costs) royalties on the average book (or even well above average like your latest one) are barely cover the coffee consumed in its writing.

There's the real paradox of digital publishing, a sector (somehow in this over-managed world we are always part of a "sector") that traditionally gave away its (or at least this) product is wary of the new culture of free and hides its work behind the firewalls of commercial publishers. Apart from hidebound inertia and fear of the new what explains this strange reality?

[See also this old post by Mark Goodacre.]

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Monday, February 08, 2010
  Visualising Biblical Data
Exhibit is claimed to be a "simple widgets tool" enabling mere mortals to make useful, interactive web-based visualisations of data sets easily. It is open source :) with samples like these:
There have to be ways to use this in teaching our disciplines, but I wish I had some immediate ideas, so I could try it ;) Just looking at it though suggests a fine playroom where pericopae were listed by size, genre, location etc... and one could see various cuts of this information...

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010
  Poetry 2.0 ?

NZ Book Council - Going West

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Saturday, January 16, 2010
  Internet fast: The degradation of predictability - and knowledge
Interdependence Tree photo by House Of Sims
Nassim N. Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, NYU-Poly, for his contribution [to the online symposium see also my summary of Hillis' post for context] has argued that greater information produces greater confidence, and in this post adds that since the Internet does not merely increase our access to information but also our interdependence (see the previous post). Interdependence increases fads (he uses both Harry Potter and the globalisation of runs on banks as examples). "Such world", he writes, "is more "complex", more moody, much less predictable."

His conclusion is practical and personal, in an attempt to regain wisdom like that shown by the ancients and people from the pre-Internet past, he is enjoying an Internet fast:
I am not entirely deprived of the Internet; this is just a severe diet, with strict rationing. True, technologies are the greatest things in the world, but they have way too monstrous side effects — and ones rarely seen ahead of time. And since spending time in the silence of my library, with little informational pollution, I can feel harmony with my genes; I feel I am growing again.

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  Snippets on how the Internet is changing us
There is a brilliant collection of short essays at Edge, edited by Jonn Brockman in which several digerati reflect on how "the Internet" [a term the first contributor, computer scientist, W. Daniel Hillis notes is not unproblematic] is changing us. They are all good, but here are my highlighted snippets.

Hillis suggests print enabled "the enlightenment" the Internet enables the "entanglement". In the enlightenment we became independent, in the entanglement we are becoming interdependent:
In an Internet-connected world, it is almost impossible to keep track of how systems actually function. Your telephone conversation may be delivered over analog lines one day and by the Internet the next. Your airplane route may be chosen by a computer or a human being, or (most likely) some combination of both. Don't bother asking, because any answer you get is likely to be wrong.

Soon, no human will know the answer. More and more decisions are made by the emergent interaction of multiple communicating systems, and these component systems themselves are constantly adapting, changing the way they work. This is the real impact of the Internet: by allowing adaptive complex systems to interoperate, the Internet has changed the way we make decisions. More and more, it is not individual humans who decide, but an entangled, adaptive network of humans and machines.

He illustrates this discussing Internet Time Protocol the system that allows software to know what time/date it is now, so saving humans from needing to enter the time and date on bootup. The system depends on multiple networked devices, and few if any programmers understand it, we all use it. We are interconnecting not only when we are aware of it, but also and particularly when we are not.

One item only from Hans Ulrich Obrist's (Curator, Serpentine Gallery, London) partial and multiple alphabet of an answer:
D is for Doubt
A certain unreliability of technical and material information on the Internet brings us to the notion of doubt. I feel that doubt has become more pervasive. The artist Carsten Höller has invented the Laboratory of Doubt, which is opposed to mere representation. As he has told me, 'Doubt and perplexity ... are unsightly states of mind we'd rather keep under lock and key because we associate them with uneasiness, with a failure of values'. Höller's credo is not to do; not to intervene. To exist is to do and not to do is a way of doing. 'Doubt is alive; it paralyzes certainty.' (Carsten Höller)
Yes! Now, can we encourage students to begin to understand this?

The ever stimulating Clay Shirky, Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher, provoked me most with this Contrarian gem:
Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba (photo by goldberg)
It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.
This is the lesson Big Music is beginning to learn, the moving image industry has begun to face, that is freaking the publishers, but will change higher education beyond belief (one day, soon?). [See my Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation especially the first section "Return of the Rabbi" 115-121.]

And, I am only about half-way through the articles :) What a cornucopia of stimulating thinking!

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Sunday, November 29, 2009
  Is it is the last word that matters: Jim W on Google Wave
Jim W has experienced Google Wave, unlike the rest of us he has had time to explore (how does the man ever find the time?) and decided it's OK, but not too special...

I wonder, Jim may be right:
It’s an excellent tool for collaborative work among groups... Other than that, though, I am not quite convinced that it’s all that revolutionary or useful.
Photo by brewbooks
But then he admits that as more people use it its usefulness may change. His final word on the subject (in this post ;) was "yet". That may well be the key, when/if Wave becomes as ubiquitous as email was in the 90s it may take off as email has, and reach a whole new level of importance. Before that, email was useful, but no one regarded it as vital. Now, imagine life without email!

My take on Wave? I still don't know I've had too little time to look and feel, but I suspect it may be the killer app, the thing that takes us to a new level and enters our lives like email has, but not yet!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009
  Degrees of presence V: Works I should have cited and didn't
AKMA in his comment drew my attention to his reflections on presence I should have Googled his blog earlier, there's at least a really interesting reflection from Saturday, February 09, 2002, and the piece from 2006 Plus Ça Change that ended with a facscinating paragraph:
Of course, the church has been trying to think through the importance of non-spatial identities for centuries, which helps explain my confidence that a theologian’s perspective can contribute to the discussion. All along, people’s identities have been constituted by the memories, links, knowledge, and patterns that they share (or not) with the rest of the world; in our digital environment, those aspects of identity come to the fore. Let’s not shackle them to simulated spatiality, but instead let’s seek out a way to work with identity in ways indigenous to a non-spatial identity ecology.
Photo from Brownblog
Forgetting simulated spatiality, which is only an issue in distance education for the goofs who are using second life to mimic classrooms, ARE there ways in which non-spatial identity or presence have a distinctly different ecology? or Are we merely talking about different media of communication? Does the absence of smell (to take the most evident example of a difference in mediation between physical and distance modes) REALLY make a qualitative difference?

Then (not temporarily since I am mentioning the items out of order, or rfather in my own chosen order), when having talked about the AKMAs his physical presence might with varying degrees of falsity bring to mind in someone experiencing his presence:
a tweedy academic in a town overrun with tweedy academics or a visibly-identifiable priest (at a cultural moment when any given (male) priest bears the suspicion that he has done horrible things to children)
He concluded talking about:
[a] new, freshly ambiguated zone between full physical presence (and I've learned enough from my postmodern studies to doubt the obviousness of "presence") on one hand and merely-verbal communicative absence (on the other) that we wrestle with the messages that come to us from we-know-not-exactly-where. As we learn how to live appropriately, I might say "authentically" to bring us back around to the topic we were talking about when I first met many of you, under these unfamiliar conditions, we will find neither that "religion" is passé, nor that we are truly immaterial beings trapped in decaying flesh, but that there's more to cyberplace than just immaterial or physical existence, more even than we have dreamed of.
I am again left wondering if the different mediation of "cyberspace" is not more significant than the "cyberspace" idea suggests, and therefore the difference in "presence" less significant...

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Friday, November 27, 2009
  Degrees of Presence IV: My experience
I have already mentioned the striking presence some students presented to each other in the blog assignment. This kind of experience has been often repeated, though not with quite that dramatic intensity. Such assignments which force students to interact with each other's thought, and not merely with that of unknown "scholars" who (despite being named in the heading, and sometimes being easily Googleable) remain somehow "anonymous", impersonal, to most students, who do not read enough to pick up the peculiar tone and voice of individual scholars. (Is it just good-old-days-ism or did we really read more and more intensely?)

I have also repeatedly (though sadly only in private communication not often in the more public forum of "Student Evaluations" of courses and teaching :( noted with pleasure the positive comments students make about my quick response to emails, and discussion forum posts. Several of these comments have been phrased in ways that make it clear that a greater sense of "presence" is generated and supported by this promptitude. Interestingly the student's own presence in the class seems reinforced in this way as well as the presence of a teacher in the class.
Photo by Ed Yourdon
Then this semester I used Adobe Connect to provide a "meeting room" in which I could conduct "distant tutorials". The software allows two way (or indeed multi-way) audio communication, live text messaging either to the group or privately to a selected individual, sharing of screens and programs as well as computerised whiteboard. The idea was to mimic the face to face tutorials in which we led on-site students through the practice of biblical interpretation.

The weekly Connect tutorials were supplemented and supported by other (asynchronous) online interaction: forums, exercises, online tests etc... This is an element of the course that needs more work and to be better done next year. But apart from that, with respect to distant tutorials what did I learn about  generating and nurturing "presence" at a distance?

Microphones: it makes a huge difference when most students have mics that work. Comparing a class where most have the ability to talk aloud with one were only a few have this capacity the difference is huge. (At least for me as teacher, I'd need to do some research to discover if the students' perceptions match mine.) Text messaging, in this multi-medium environment, is great as a back channel, but acts as an inhibitor of "presence" when used instead of voice as the main communication medium.

Multitasking: the multiple channels (voice, screen, whiteboard and text) combined with all the technical issues that need to be resolved, on top of the pedagogical responsiveness needed mean that having one "presenter" is not ideal. Often I was less present, or less effectively present (again targeted research would be needed to be sure which), than was optimally possible.

Task oriented: because it was the first time (apart from a couple of "practice" sessions) I had used the medium, and because I was aware that colleagues would be judging the utility of "virtual meeting" tools like connect to a significant degree based on how students performed in this class, I was too focused on the task. When the speaker is thinking more about the "content" than the communication presence suffers, and the interactive medium becomes more like a video lecture :( Fear of failure has much the same effect on many presenters at academic conferences, as I discovered afresh in a few gabbled sessions at SBL over the last few days - though in the room those presenters were hardly present for me, and I wish I had not been present for them ;)
Failure to encourage “social” contact: (probably one to file under Duh!) related to the above task orientation, I failed to realise that I should make more effort (in a relatively - at least compared with a face to face tutorial) impoverished media environment to generate mutual presence. We should have "wasted" more time on chitchat. By the end of the semester we did at least use the minutes while everyone collected in that way (at the start I am ashamed to note I was too busy with the technology to make small talk).

Despite these teething problems several students have already (without being asked) commented on the richer experience this richer medium permitted, and among these comments some already have chosen particularly to mention terms that relate to "presence" to describe the benefits they experienced compared with a "standard" distance course.

PS: I have not looked at the issues or research around "communities of inquiry" in this series because my goal is not to change the pedagogy we use radically - even if I am convinced such a change is desirable - but to explore the concept of "presence" and how it is experienced in teaching and learning at a distance.

List of works cited in this series so far

Garrison, D. Randy. 1997. Computer conferencing and distance education: cognitive and social presence issues. In , ed. International Council for Distance Education . Pennsylvania State University.

Richardson, Jennifer C., and Karen Swan. 2003. Examining Social Presence in Online Courses in Relation to Students' Percieved Learning and Satisfaction. Sloan Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7, no. 1: 74.

Shatzer, Milton J., and Thomas R. Lindlof. 1998. Media Ethnography in Virtual Space: Strategies, Limits, and Possibilities. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 42, no. 2: 170-89.

Short, John, Ederyn Williams, and Bruce Christie. 1976. The social psychology of telecommunications. London u.a: Wiley.

Short, John. 1972. Medium of communication and consensus. Lond.: Long Range Intelligence Division of Post Office Telecommunications Headquarters.

Short, John., Joint Unit for Planning Research. Communications Studies Group., and Great Britain. Post Office. Long Range Intelligence Division. 1973. The effects of medium of communication on persuasion, bargaining and perceptions of the other. Long range research paper, 50. London: British Post Office.

Stacey, Elizabeth. 2002. Social Presence Online: Networking Learners at a Distance. In , ed. Deryn Watson and Jane Andersen, 39-48. Springer, August 31.

Wheeler, Steve. 2005. Creating Social Presence in Digital Learning Environments: A Presence of Mind? In Learning Technologies 2005 Conference: Combined Presence. Queensland.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
  Degrees of presence III: Research findings
Frustration! by basykes
Duh! That's what I should have done first (if you don't know what "that" is you could read the previous post Degrees of Presence II: the backstory) after working some while on my circular rotating device for easier locomotion I consulted the literature and found a body of research on the topic of "social presence". (I am unclear still why the qualification "social" is needed, surely presence that is non-social is what I'd mean by non-presence!?) The key canonical text is Short, Williams and Christie (1976).

They defined social presence as a communicator’s sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner. This seminal work came out of research sponsored by the British Post Office in the 1970s (John. Short 1972; John. Short, Joint Unit for Planning Research. Communications Studies Group., and Great Britain. Post Office. Long Range Intelligence Division. 1973)⁠ If this sponsorship puzzles you think of the then growing ubiquity and use of telephones - yes, landlines mobiles were not yet invented, except on Get Smart ;) As well as providing the dominant definition they also noted that the social effects of a medium are principally caused by the degree of social presence it affords. ⁠

This concept of "social presence" is significant for the processes by which we come to know and relate to others (John Short, Williams, and Christie 1976)⁠. So better person perception and more meaningful interactions are a result of increases SP. If SP is low group members feel disconnected, but when it is high they are more engaged and involved. Stacey emphasises the role of the teacher in distance education as facilitator of such presence. (Stacey 2002)⁠

[Another influential strand in this involved a redefining of Social presence as “the degree to which participants are able to project themselves affectively within the medium.”, thereby presenting themselves as 'real people.' (Garrison 1997)⁠ But I have not yet worked through whether I find this shift a helpful one.]

The cues we use to build our sense of the social presence of another, or to consciously or unconsciously project our own vary dramatically in different communications media.

  • text-based media like email and discussion forums - use “tone”, emoticons, self disclosing narratives
  • audio adds inflection, ambient sound, paraverbal utterances ("Uh huh" in various inflections, or the sound of a students toddler playing as she attends class - the single mother not the toddler ;)
  • video – adds visual cues
This list (or one like it) has been argued to be a hierarchy, which given its additive nature has face validity (Shatzer and Lindlof 1998)⁠

Yet before we rush to assume higher in the hierarchy (or lower in my listing ;) means better we should pause to consider more anecdotal and research evidence, that suggests different students respond very differently to different media. Some students love email, others require a phone call to really feel they have been in contact with the teacher (social presence).

Wheeler studied how different styles of being a student interact differently with different media. (Wheeler 2005) Using Entwistle's Approaches to Study Inventory he distinguished students into three groups. Like but perhaps distinguishable from Entwistle's three learning styles: autonomy, surface and tenacity. (p.6)

For my presentation I'll ignore the surface learners. They are the ones I try to convert to one of the other types ;)

In a natural co-present learning space (face to face) his autonomous students,
(due to their independence?), neither need nor experience a great deal of
social presence. Tenacious students, conversely, tend to experience high levels
of social presence. But when telephone is the medium of communication the effect is reversed, autonomous students perceive higher levels of connectedness. Using e-mail too students scoring higher on autonomy perceive less social presence (perhaps because “not in control”?), whilst more tenacious students experience higher perceptions of connectedness. He notes the special affordances of e-mail as a less immediate, but more permanent medium. These may fit also with the known liking for e-mail of the introverted, and an often expressed frustration with e-mail among more extroverted colleagues ;)

Mark N added in a comment on the previous post that there is also a literature around "transactional distance" that I must explore too. Second "duh" moment, I should have picked his brains first, still I will now have two wheels, and they do say that we only really learn what we discover for ourselves ;)

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  Degrees of Presence II: the backstory
Begging Boy - Agra, India by gregor_y
Discussions on "distance education" (the term is often a misnomer since I have had students living or working closer to the on-site classroom than my home is ;) often get bogged down in primitive notions of "presence". The idea of distance skeptics seems to be that we are only "really" present to each other when in the same room. This is evident nonsense. If Barbara and I are in the same room but she is playing Facebook Scrabble I will be lucky to get a sensible reply to any question I ask. If I am reading a book she will get one of those male grunts that merely means "I think I heard that you said something - but I have no idea what." We are virtually non-present to each other, though in the same room. By contrast if we are talking on the phione about some concern over one of the children, even though in different cities we are highly mutually present.

So, I got thinking about degrees and sorts of "presence" in online education. I remember vividly a long "conversation" between two students in the first class in which I used a blog assignment. Student A began from the position that anyone who was poor was poor because they were lazy, shiftless or anti-social. Student B was living in Thailand. B wrote about his family, a young son who saw a boy his own age "selling" flowers as a sort of respectable begging, and his boy's sympathetic response on learning more about the situation. Gradually over a couple of weeks A's attitudes changed and mellowed. He'll never be a bleeding-heart liberal, but the two students impacted each others' lives and were evidently and richly mutually present.

That got me exploring the research literature on the subject... (which will come in part III: Research findings).

Karyn Traphagen has posted about her presentation Taking the Distance Out of Distance Education to the SBL session: 22-201 Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies: Distance Learning: How to teach traditional topics in a non-traditional format. Here is a link to my notes.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
  Twitter a survey
Lifehacker recently ran a survey on Twitter. Interestingly, for a fairly techie blog full of early and enthusiastic adopters, especially given Twitter's apparent cult status among the trendy Digerati. About half (47%) of respondants to the poll have no inclination to twit.
Twitter is
a waste of time
less than passionately interesting
mildly interesting
really significant
the best thing since the previous best thing
my life, my soul, my all free polls

This fits my reaction, unlike other trendy tools I have found potentially interesting and explored (for a recent example take Google's Wave) or tried to explore but given up on (like Second Life), I have never been able to imagine the point of Twitter!

I would be interested to know though whether my readers and their readers have a similarly large number of Twitagnostics, or whether "we" have more Twitter-gnostics ;)

So please vote in the poll here, and/or link to it ( so your readers (at least if they are in the biblical studies and related disciplines whether as professionals or amateurs ;) can vote.

You will see from the questions that this is not entirely serious and scientific, but either by polling or by comments I really would be interested to hear what you all think :)

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Friday, September 25, 2009
  Shame on Bible Societies
David Ker has posted an impassioned plea for the Bible Societies responsible for the commonly used Portuguese translations to be more open in their licencing of the translations they control. It seems to me he is right to call this "The sad story of downloadable Portuguese Bibles". Bible Societies ask for, and receive, donations from Christians so that they can make the Bible available. In the 21st century to refuse permission for other people (unless you are already doing it yourselves) to make digital text and audio Bibles available freely online is to turn Bible translation into a profit-making business.

David, start a petition begging these ostriches to set the word of God free, between blogs and Facebook etc. we should be able to swamp them with emails. But in case they are so steeped in tradition and fear that they still refuse, why not start an online translation project and produce an open source Portuguese Bible. Start from one of the poor quality e-texts of the old (so - I assume - out of copyright) version and adapt it keeping the text licenced under the appropriate Creative Commons licence...

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009
  Citing Internet Ephemera
By its nature the Internet is an ephemeral medium, how many of the Biblioblog 500 still have the same URL as when they started (incidentally the site itself has moved so recently Google still lists the old URL alongside the new one ;) Why, even the venerable NT Gateway used to have a different URL just a few years back.

This makes scholars nervous of citing digital media. This is bad for scholarship, but good for nostalgia buffs who want to be scholars. They can go on advocating paper for preference.

Enter WebCite...
WebCite®, a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium, is an on-demand archiving system for webreferences (cited webpages and websites, or other kinds of Internet-accessible digital objects), which can be used by authors, editors, and publishers of scholarly papers and books, to ensure that cited webmaterial will remain available to readers in the future. If cited webreferences in journal articles, books etc. are not archived, future readers may encounter a "404 File Not Found" error when clicking on a cited URL. Try it! Archive a URL here. It's free and takes only 30 seconds.
This needs to be better known, so please pass it on... HT to Suzanne McCarthy

NB: in case you think I should have referenced the Biblioblog Top 50 above I've done it here (so please don't complain ;)

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Saturday, September 05, 2009
  Digital audio and 'reading' the Bible
This morning I did my talk at the Digital Faith session at the University of Auckland, I've prepared short summaries of the two sections of my talk. The first is the introduction, which sets the scene, and introduces the PodBible project:

The second is a summary of the ideas behind the vernacular resourcing through approximate oral translation (that I have presented before here - but cannot resist

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Monday, August 31, 2009
  Digital Faith @ The University of Auckland
On Saturday I'm sharing in a morning of talk and discussion titled Digital Faith, hosted by the University of Auckland's School of Theology, the other speakers will be interesting and challenging all have blogs worth subscribing to:
  • Mark Brown @ Brown Blog
    CEO Bible Society New Zealand & founder Anglican Cathedral in Second Life
  • Stephen Garner @ Greenflame
    Lecturer in Theology and Popular Culture, School of Theology, University of Auckland
  • Heidi Campbell @ When religion meets new media
    Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication, Texas A&M University & author of Exploring Religious Community Online.
But as well as tuning in to their blogs, if you are near Auckland do come to the session:
OGGB4 Lecture Theatre, Level 0, Owen G Glenn Building, Grafton Road, The University of Auckland
Saturday 5th September 9am-12pm
$5.00 morning tea provided

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009
  Open Office, Spellcheckers and National Pride
My daughter Sarah and I have been using Open Office, and finding it a great replacement for the Wordprocessor, Presentation program and Spreadsheet offered by the Great Satan.

Except... since the upgrade to 3.1 we have had strange spellings accepted instantly by the spell chekker ("chekker" is an example - this is not normal NZ English spelling ;)

I have solved the problem, OO (like many citizens of the Imperial Homeland) is unaware that NZ is not part of Australia. I needed to tell OO that I wrote Australian English and now the spell checker works fine - though God help us if it ever starts to check pronunciation ;)

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Friday, June 26, 2009
  Virtual sacraments or real sacraments at a distance?
Communion To Go by jasoneppink
Talk about "virtual church" becomes really focused when the Eucharist becomes the focus of discussion. What is a eucharist celebrated in a virtual environment (for example Second Life)?

In a short essay, reproduced on Mark Brown's blog, Paul Fiddes provides a typically ellegant and thought provoking answer, summarised like this:
An avatar can receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist within the logic of the virtual world and it will still be a means of grace, since God is present in a virtual world in a way that is suitable for its inhabitants. We may expect that the grace received by the avatar will be shared in some way by the person behind the avatar, because the person in our everyday world has a complex relationship with his or her persona.
The discussion of this radical proposal by Second Lifers in the comments is as fascinating as Paul's neat "solution" to the theological issues. Wilfried for example was quick to object to the reification of the avatars that Paul seems to suggest. Rather, "We do not pray indirectly, through the avatars; the avatars are simply useful in providing an enhanced feeling of proximity..." In short Second Life is not a "virtual world" but a communications medium, presumably like any other. So, the question ceases to be: Is "virtual communion" a real communion? But becomes: Can communion opperate at a distance? Just like the question of whether a pastor can celebrate communion with congregants over a telephone or radio link - e.g. when the recipient is serving in the International Space Station.

For Wilifried Second Life is NOT a virtual world. I agree. It is a means to make virtual presence richer, but the presence is a phenomenon of the "real world". Such presence can be local, when two or more people are present to each other in the same room. It can also be more distant, as when one of the persons is on a raised platform at some distance from the others, as in a typical church. Or more distant still, as mediated by a telephone rather than by direct sight and sound (or in the case of the church building direct sight and an electronic sound system). Other cases can easily be imagined on this spectrum. At what point does presence cease to be real and become virtual?

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Friday, May 29, 2009
  Screencasting for free
Any excuse to avoid marking ;) I'll tell you about screencasting for free. I've been using the brilliant Camtasia for a couple of years, and it does everything I want brilliantly, but some of my colleagues want to start, and a site licence would cost an arm and a leg [Just joking, but it will cost more than this year's budget would allow.] No worries two downloads and they can be screencasting, if not like professionals, at least easily and effectively!

Here's one I prepared earlier:

The two tools I used to make it are (excluding Firefox):
  • Capture Fox the screencasting add on for Firefox
  • Miksoft's Mobile Media Converter "free fast and easy" it converts most audio formats and many video formats into many others, for this job it will render the big fat AVI file Capture Fox produces as small lean MP4 or WMV video
My more usual use for the brilliant little converter is to code MP3 files of classes into AMR files that are only 20% of the size so that students on dialup can download a whole hour's class. Incidentally the video above (uploaded to one of the best video sharing sites and one which does not claim unnecessary rights to your work - as YouTube does) was under 2MB for 1.5 minutes!

PS: As anonymous comments below there is a Beta version available here which compresses the AVI file better. Using Miksoft's converter will still give much smaller file sizes, but for people who don't like technology the new version would make it a one step process instead of two. And probably many of you have less students on dialup still or poor "broadband" than we have in NZ ;) So a great tool is getting better.

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  Making it (electronic publication) count
As a follow up to my previous post, and an indication that I am not really the angry old man presented in that post ;) I'll draw the attention of biblical scholars who blog to the excellent set of guidelines for evaluating digital work being produced by the Modern Languages Association in the USA.

"Being produced" because the material is a wiki, being refined continually by members of the MLA's Committee on Information Technology, though the guidelines are already very useful.

Note to Jim: Wiki technology, far from being the necessary haunt of flagrant dilletants, can be a really easy way for a group like this to publish ongoing work - Judge the product not the technology (a useful motto for this conversation ;) :End note to Jim

The site: The Evaluation of Digital Work contains a very useful annotated listing of Types of Digital Work, and a Short Guide to Evaluation of Digital Work that would be really useful to members of committees called upon to evaluate digital scholarship, as well as illustrative material and an (unfinished) section assisting applicants with Documenting a New Media Case.

NB. This post follows on from the following earlier discussion:
Stephen's Academic Blogging: Publication or Service?
Mark's Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching
My rant Should blogging count for academics?
(see also Jim's Blogging: To What End? and Mark's Why blog? and - though you may need to scroll to see the connection - Media Literacy: Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media by George Siemens - Apr 25 09

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Friday, April 10, 2009
  Email attachment woes: a cure
When I upgraded from Pegasus to Thunderbird as my email client the one thing I really really missed was the neat way Pegasus would look for words or parts of words like "attach", "enclose", "file" and ask me "Did you mean to have an attachment?" if there was no attached file.

Now Lifehacker mentioned an addin for Outlook users to achieve the same thing. In the comments I found that there is one for Thunderbird.

So, missing attachments should no be (almost) a thing of the past, again, here in the future! I've seen the future and at last it works - as well as the past ;)

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Monday, March 30, 2009
  The story and the narratives
I'm teaching biblical narrative this semester, so I was interested in the post by Nick Montfort to narrations of "Little Red Riding Hood":
to which we can add Mary Hess' link to Little Red Riding Hood as infographic.

So, tell me please gentle reader, was/were the one(s) you consumed "same" story, or a new story? And why?

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Friday, March 20, 2009
  iPod for reading or reading for iPods
There's a fascinating, if slightly wandering post, both on the eponymous sebastianmary and on if::book about how an "iPod for reading" might impact our reading culture.

In it one of the great falacies of most discussion of e-books is exposed. The (probably unconscious, or maybe wishful) assumption is almost ubiquitous that when e-books finally arrive (or if they have with Kindle II, now that they have at last finally arrived ;) they will be just like traditional codex books.

But as the post points out, our idea of a "normal book" is a construct, not of literary decisions but economics:
Length is determined as well, by manufacturing constraints at the top end, and the fixed overheads of printing at the bottom. Bookshops are crammed with full-length books whose contents could just as well be communicated in a short essay, or even in the title alone: I’m thinking of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, but a glance at the self-help or business shelves of your local bookshop will show you plenty more. And yet to make economic sense they have to be padded out for publication  in ‘proper’ book size.
And since we are thinking iPod for reading, think also of what iPods have done to music. Almost no one buys "albums" for iPods, what people buy is tracks. E-books have no economic constraints on size - in either direction. Yet our electronic reading favours short focused writing.
So, extrapolating from this to an iPod for reading, what is the written equivalent of a single song? In a word (or 300), belles lettres.
Add to this renaissance of belles lettres and essays the electronic capacity for intereaction between writer and reader leads to the dream:
Armed with such a device, creating playlists, mashups, collages of our favourite short works, we might become a generation of digital Montaignes, annotating and expanding our collective discourse. Blogging is already, in effect, the re-emergence of belles lettres; and while blog posts are typically written for the moment, a device that could earn the blogger a small sum (and the cachet of being considered worthy of archiving) for every essay downloaded might well inspire a renaissance in short work written for a longer lifespan.
Sadly this is just the point at which I begin to doubt... I've heard before once or thrice that micro-payments are the salvation of serious culture on the web. See a couple of my old posts and the links there:
PS: do read sebastian mary's article, my summary and sour critique do not do it justice!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009
  Loss of library privileges
Angkor Library Sunset by Stuck in Customs on Flickr
Sven Birkerts, author of the classic Guttenberg Elergies, has written a thoughtful and interesting piece "Resisting the Kindle". There he argues that Kindles represent a move to electronic reading. The convenience and effectiveness of such reading devices hasten (I am not writing from experience, Kindles are not available or usable down here!) is killing something significant in human culture.

Birkets is still a fine writer. He still has a gift for perceiving significant changes beneath the surface of culture. So I have tried to read his piece sympathetically. But, its wrong headed.

Birkets argument (as I understand it) is that the physical manifestation of culture in "books" (by book he means a paper codex) and libraries is important, not just as an organisation of information, knowledge and ideas but somehow for that very physicality. Asa Christian this idea is appealing. Birkets is claiming that the cultural "soul" cannot be split off from its "body".

He argues persuasively that knowledge is contextual, and that a fact retrieved on a handheld electronic device (his example is a Blackberry accessing a service like Wikipedia) decontextualises information. He is right. And this decontextualisation is a major problem with current electronic information systems.

And yet... When he writes:
Turning up a quote by tapping a keyboard is not the same as, say, going to Bartlett’s—it short-circuits all contact with the contextual order that books represent. As I see it, the Kindle ethos—offering print by subscription, arriving from a vast, undifferentiated cyber-emporium out there—abets the decimation of context.
He suggests a weakness in his argument. For surely a dictionary of quotations is itself a decontextualisation of information. Its convenience and its predigestion of knowledge are bookish forerunners of the very electronic systems Birkets bemoans.

For Birkets, like an anti-technophile who deeply loves his favourite technology (the codex and the library) concludes that the medium is the message in a deep and irreplaceable way:
So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators. We may gain an extraordinary dots-per-square-inch level of access to detail, but in the process we will lose much of our sense of the woven narrative consistency of the story. That is the trade-off. Access versus context. As for Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s words will reach the reader’s eye in the same sequence they always have. What will change is the receiving sensibility, the background understanding of what this text was – how it emerged and took its place in the context of other texts—and how it moved through the culture.
Think about this claim. It is another example of the fetishisation of the "book". Somehow for Birkets finding a novel shelved just so in a library evokes the historico-cultural context of the novel that Birkets learned through his education. Finding the same text through an electronic process (even though the contextual information might be presented in more convenient form - accessible even by poor plebs who lack a refined education) will fail. Because it fails to evoke the mystique Birkets desires.

Don't cry for lost manuscript editions, learn to use print effectively. Don't bemoan the supercession of books, learn to recontextualise text in the electronic medium!

Such recontextualisation is precisely what Blackberrying a quote on Wikipedia permits, in a setting where books and libraries are inaccessible. This is potentially a democraisation of knowledge as well as information. Instead of weeping for lost privilege (an expensive education and a library card for the best institutional libraries) learn to assist the masses as we adopt the new technology!

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  What made blogs significant?
Jenna, who commented on the post below, linked to a post of hers that that opens presenting Rheingold's distinction between "audience" and "public" - basically an "audience" is composed of passive receivers, while a "public" engages with and/or acts on the material. The distinction is useful, though I've never liked Rheingold's language for it. Many audiences used to be very engaged etc. though perhaps they have become culturally less so with the advent of TV.

I am thinking of a 1960s political meeting, with hecklers - with whom the speaker, Harold Wilson, "speaking" from an upper floor window of a terraced house in a less wealthy part of Leicester, engaged vigorously ;) There were also a whole cast of audience "types" as well as hecklers there were protestors and the bouncers who removed them, the true believers who rose for a standing ovation at the close of the speech, and many participants who then went out to canvas in an election. If I compare that scene with a TV audience, participation has been numbed into merely shouting at the referee, or offering unheard advice to the character in a soap; or dumbed and commercialised into TXT us and we'll either charge you $1 to vote in our poll, or (in the most generous case) put you into a draw to get one of our sponsors products free.

The distinction is also always a spectrum, particular audiences (and indeed individual members) are more or less involved and active, "public", but still it is a helpful distinction to consider.

Jenna turns from introducing Rheingold's classification to discussing blogs whose "authors leverage 2.0 practices" and briefly touches on the history of blogs. This is where I think it gets interesting. As Jenna reminds us, blogs began as "Weblogs" - online diaries. As weblogs, the genre was of minority interest and only a few were read by more than the writer and their second cousin who found it via a Google (or perhaps, in those far off times, some other search engine) search for the person's name. Then weblogs evolved, they added features permitting "comments" and other arcane interactions like trackbacks and blogrolls... in short, as well as shortening their name, blogs added "community". The blog bubble was born.

[I have a post in my head, that I WILL write "one day soon", on the recent discussion of "the death of blogging" - basically I'll claim that reports of this "death" are somewhat exaggerated but seek to outline some of the live areas amid the dead wood...]

[I also have a post that bemoans the way in which Christian organisations online simply do not "get" the culture but persist in seeking to address what Rheingold would call "audiences", that also will get written "some day after or before"...]

For now, notice the salient fact, blogging took off when it added interactivity and community. The resources that threaten the "death of blogging" are all offer more affordances for community. It is no accident that in 2008 Facebook killed the blog, or that (perhaps) in 2009 Twitter will kill Facebook. Community rules, OK?

[One question remains... can I bear to become a Twit?]

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Thursday, January 08, 2009
  Participatory pedagogy and cultural literacy
Dubbed "the explainer" by Wired magazine, Michael Wesch is a cultural anthropologist exploring the impact of new media on society and culture. After two years studying the impact of writing on a remote indigenous culture in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, he has turned his attention to the effects of social media and digital technology on global society. His videos on technology, education, and information have been viewed by millions, translated in over ten languages, and are frequently featured at international film festivals and major academic conferences worldwide.

Prof Wesch has a stimulating post on Participatory Media Literacy: Why it matters, he draws heavily on a fine essay Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies, by Howard Rheingold. With one of the longest running stimulating gurus of digital collaboration (Rheingold) and one of the hottest - recently voted Prof of the Year - US tertiary teachers around (Wesch) there are plenty of stimulating ideas to reflect on.
Howard Rheingold is a critic and writer; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing). He is the author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs. website: vlog:

Reading the two underlines WHY teaching about digital literacy (beyond the standard "how to use the library catalogue, online databases and Zotero to research and write an essay in a Wordprocessor") is vital whether one is teaching Chemistry, Anthropology or Old Testament.

Just as it was not merely the technology of moveable type that changed the economics of literature in early modern Europe, but even more the ways that technology was adopted and used that revolutionised the culture and the thought that changed "everything". If Luther and others had not adopted the technology and used it to undermine the old power structures in politics, theology and the academy the technology alone might have enabled a very different world, where Rome and the aristocratic families of Europe licenced print and censored its contents...

In 2009 the failure of banks and auto manufacturers demonstrates that the notion of a "free market" that can adjust itself successfully is evidently false. Yet if the new(ish) communications technologies are to have a liberating effect (like that of print) we have a greater need of an open market than ever. To achieve this we need literate users using the technologies, so that those who would harness them for their own benefit alone can be hampered as Luther's rude and crude cartoons scandalised those in power in late medieval Europe.
Digital literacy - as the ability to make use of the developing digital communications technologies - must be as widespread as possible. Yet the capacity to use the media alone is not enough, most students already Twitter and Facebook each other. They need also to think critically (surely a fundamental educational goal) about these media and the social and economic structures they inhabit and create.

As Rheingold tries to demonstrate only a participative pedagogy is up to this task. So, the deep questions are:
  • Can teachers learn fast enough? or
  • Will the volunteerism of "Web 2.0" be enough to open the doors?

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Thursday, December 18, 2008
  NT Greek music videos and publication
Danny has published another NT Greek music video this time the catchy title is "Present Active Indicative Song". I don't teach Greek, heck I don't even get to teach Hebrew any more, though I still have an interest in Hebrew teaching, but such resources are really useful.

After making this video available to the world and her uncle (if she lets her uncle share her Internet connection, as most of the world [outside Western culture] does [and even inside Western culture close family are usually allowed the odd share]), Danny then ponders the future: "as I am trying to ultimately get them published, I’m not sure how many more to share freely online :-)".
So, let's get this clear, in 21st century biblical studies making something available to almost anyone who wants it is NOT publication. Publication involves somehow controlling access to the resource so only people who pay can use it. That is a necessary, unavoidable (in the current situation) step to getting paid for your work, but what we habitually call publication is really privatization - making a work LESS public.

It is time we stopped calling a spade a "magic wand" and started calling it by the job it does - in this case the job "publishers" would perform for Danny is selling, not publishing.
Photo by teachandlearn
Now, selling is fine and necessary. Without some way to pay for work the "works" do not get produced - except in various amateur (for even when produced by highly trained people and even when those people are employed in the field unpaid work is "amateur") ways. But, "to sell" and "to publish" are two different terms with different meanings. It is high time we had a model for getting people payment for work consumed that allows them to really publish because currently all we have is a model that allows people to get paid for their work by rationning publication.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008
  Making a church website
Usually I agree with Mark's technological recommendations, and while sagely agreeing I envy his ability to play with so much cool technology ;)

But not today. In his post Tools for creating your own web site he assumes that "you" will learn to use an HTML editor to make your site. A dozen years ago that was necessary, not long before that we had to hand craft our code in a text editor, five or six years ago using Dreamweaver or a free HTML editor was still the norm. But not today. To make a church website, or a personal site, today just use Wordpress (or if you want to host it on your own domain use Wordpress). It is (fairly) easy to adapt, anyone can edit and update, and it is free. With widgets and such it is fairly easy to do pretty much anything...

I created a simple site for our small church and in just a month or two people are already beginning to write it themselves - and longer term it will facilitate discussion, something a static site will not achieve. The Wordpress "Sermon Plugin" enables complex sermon audio recording archiving, you can even use Wordpress as a mini-social networking site (your very own local Facebook ;)

So, sorry, don't use Kompozer it is so 90s, do the 21st century thing and make the site in Wordpress, or if you need something more complex a full blown CMS... If WP is too techie for you there are loads of online build it yourself sites there is no need for a time machine, really ;) there's even a design-your-own-Wordpress-theme tool for total beginners!

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Monday, November 17, 2008
  Telling tales in the clouds
How do we communicate serious stuff in the small disjointed fragments that media are becoming?

Mark Brown is promising a blockbuster paper The Digital Revolution and the Church though as yet there's little to suggest what aspects of the huge topic he'll try to tackle... but maybe the issue of whether churchy media are becoming "disjointed fragments" will feature. Meanwhile, from where I type and read, units of communication seem to have been shrinking by the decade. All thanks to digital media. In the seventies TV turned politics into soundbites, in the nineties webpages turned monographs into scan and click mind food, now in the naughties YouTube, TXT and "social networking sites" are turning conversations into an exchange of soundbites and essays into five minute videos.

A significant conversation partner for Mark, and for those like David who are beginning to think of the mobile phone as the major channel, popped into my feed box this morning. With the unlikely name of Catskill Cottage Seed the eponymous CCSeed has a post on Storytelling in Social Media which is full of smart remarks and fine suggestions - interpret both "storytelling" and "social media" widely (and you should!) - and we are all able to learn something, or better still recognise something we already knew, but too often forget!

For me one paragraph stood out, on Hooks:
You never know when or where someone will come across your stream, where or when they will break into the narrative. In a novel, once your (sic.) hooked, other things can develop; character, plot, metaphor; that elusive moment of truth. Even when providing these aspects in social media space, each content packet needs a hook that allows someone stumbling upon it immediate access. Nothing, from a tweet to a e-book, should be floated without a hook.
Much of the rest I'll want to reflect on and mull over, but for now I must not forget:
Scale the content down to the snippet, but not the quality of the content.
But, you my gentle readers, what are your tips and insights into connumication in this brave new world? Do drop us a mention of your favourite recognitions or insights...

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008
  Vernacular resources for local communities
The idea for producing resources in local (tribal) languages by approximate oral translation, and for distributing these by mobile phone and/or cheap MP3 players is explained in a post below: Watering the "Desert of Books" and with some followup ideas and replies to objections in Vernacular resources: watering the desert of books II. For those who prefer to see and hear there is a short presentation available either in Flash format (which most people can watch) or a Quicktime movie (which is much smaller, 2.5MB instead of 9MB for Flash).
Photo by
If you can see problems or fishhooks that I have missed, I'd like to hear from you...

If not, and if you know of someone working or interested in the area of resourcing local churches in languages please point them to this post as I'd REALLY love to hear from them!

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Thursday, October 30, 2008
  New Testament help needed
For a paper I am writing I need some expert help from someone who has studied the NT more recently than I. Perhaps one of you can assist me. I need to do a lexeme search of the Greek NT text restricting my search to:
  • Material common to Matthew and Luke
  • Material special to Luke
  • Material special to Matthew
I have access to Bibleworks and Logos. Is there any way to do this, or does Z Hubert or someone else facilitate such a search online?

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Monday, October 27, 2008
  Vernacular resources: watering the desert of books II
I'm just back from a long weekend away, and teaching tomorrow, so before I respond specifically to comments on the post below, I'll respond to some of the frequently asked questions in other conversations about the idea.

Won't the translations be inaccurate?

Oh yes! But this is part of the attraction of the project, as well as being rendered in the mother tongue the out of copyright texts are also adapted (a little more than is usual in a translation – for all translations are also to some extent cultural adaptations) this makes them more useful. But it may mean that some sort of peer review process should be built in, to ensure that undesirable errors do not creep in. I doubt this needs to be formalised. Since the new “text” is semi-oral and since semi-oral cultures have a flexibility to adapt their texts, the pastor would rework and improve any chapter that their colleagues question.

How will we ensure that busy senior pastors actually find time to do the translating?

First, not a lot of time is needed, just read a chapter, then reread it a paragraph at a time and speak it in their mother tongue. Say two hours for a chapter, once they have done a couple during a training day, and done the first few more slowly on their own. Second, the laptop itself is a carrot. It stays under their authority as long as they produce an agreed number of chapters – becoming their possession after an agreed period. Third, the fact that they are producing this resource is a source of honour (mana etc.) and the fact that it is in their voice will also add to their authority in other things.

Senior pastors won't be able to master the unfamiliar technology!

How many senior pastors do you know who do not have children (and/or grandchildren, nieces, nephews...) in their household. How much training do you think those guys will need? But it is true not all will be able or willing to support the project. Many useful medicines cannot be tolerated by some patients, Penicillin is a well-known example, this does not stop their use among the rest of the population!

Sometimes you have to really hunt for that mobile phone signal.
Photo by MikeBlyth

There will be a lot of new technology to break down and support!

Not a lot. Most of the distribution can be to existing mobile phones or MP3 players. So, for each district you are looking at one laptop (the OLPCs are designed to be rugged and if they are becoming the possession of the families there is an interest in protecting them) and perhaps several MP3 players (they are also very rugged and now quite cheap <$20 retail). You would naturally use the laptop model that is that is chosen for the national education system, or one for which support should be available. And anyway, how much does it cost under the old print system to get books to pastors? And they are culturally inappropriate books, in foreign languages!

This scheme gives the power to the local church!

Yes! Great isn't it :) Print allowed foreign missions, missionaries and ministries to produce “great” resources for the poor people people of the land. This way they get assisted to produce resources for themselves. If they start out doing Matthew Henry in Kisangali, how long do you think it will take before some pastors also produce their own “texts” dealing with locally raised issues? Where has print ever achieved that degree of localisation?

This scheme will reduce the motivation for literacy in places with low literacy rates :(

First, get your priorities right! What are you about? Helping people become clones of the West? Or deepening their understanding? Second, if you think this little project will have a bigger impact than radio, TV and mobile phones you have a higher view of its potential than I have ;) Literacy as we have known it for 500 years is under threat, but this project will not contribute much to the change, though it does work with it rather than resist... “Literacy” and “books” are not idols to be worshiped but a technology and skill that are no longer as dominant as they once were – do not make the dominant technology of the past a fetish object!

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Friday, October 24, 2008
  Watering the "Desert of Books"
Following on from my previous post The "book" of the future Theologians Without Borders has converted a comment to a stimulating post in Transferring Knowledge in a Desert of Books Jennifer Turner puts the experience of teaching in Africa where "libraries were very sparse, due both to shortage of funds and lack of materials in the local language" with the sight of an OLPC laptop, to generate the dream that we might "skip to the next generation of knowledge transfer" by putting a library on such a machine for village pastors.

How about we put these two posts together, and then tweak the results a bit?

At selected centres (like theological colleges) someone provides a laptop stacked with out of copyright or e-texts for which permission had been given. Senior pastors with a good command of the "imperial" language (English, French or whatever) then read selected works a paragraph at a time into the built-in microphone, translating into their mother tongue as they go. It would not be an accurate translation, and it might well include explanation, but that would just make it more useful!

It is in the senior pastors' interest to help, because they get to base a laptop at their home (their kids will nag them into it) and the churches they are responsible for will respect them even more.

These audio books get loaded onto mobile phones (or MP3 players) for village pastors and others. The result semi-literate (and lets face it in much of the world village pastors are often either semi-literate or less than fluently literate) pastors get real solid stimulus and information for a fraction of the cost of print.

It is in the village pastors' interest to listen because they will seem better educated, without all the hassle and risk to their status involved in moving from partial to full literacy.

Do the maths! For a district with say 20 local churches:
  • cost of one laptop, loaded with "books" $250
  • plus 20 MP3 players @ $30 = $600
Round it up to allow for labour $1,000. This provides all the pastoral workers and anyone else who is interested with all you can eat access to all the "books" on the laptop for (say, on average) five years. Compare this with printing "real" books, the same money probably buys 100 paper books!

All we need are:
  • enough people to catch the vision
  • publishers of texts like the Africa Bible Commentary to be willing to see their print editions reach extended twenty-fold
  • people to "sell" the idea to senior pastors
  • a bunch of Western agencies to give up their fetish for print!
Which of the above bottlenecks do you think will scupper this vision? Or can you see other problems with it?

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