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...

HT Jane Hart

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Thursday, December 31, 2009
  The importance of terracing
I've taught students about the importance of terracing to cultivation, and so the possible population density of the hill country of Palestine. I think I saw a reverse illustrative example today. Above us on the hill (here at the Akha Hill House in northern Thailand) there are cultivated bushes. In the photo you can see what I saw, the bushes higher on the slope are consistently smaller and those lower down larger. I assume it is greater availability of water and nutrients lower on the slope as they (and also topsoil) are washed down in the rainy season.

If anybody with greater knowledge of horticulture or geology can comment to confirm or deny this I'd be pleased. Otherwise I'll probably use this photo next time I'm talking about terracing...

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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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Sunday, November 22, 2009
  David Clines' SBL Presidential Address
It's almost the first time I've attended an SBL presidential address. I know I'm (getting) old, it's the first time I've known and respected an SBL president as more than a name on some papers and books (usually ones I have not read).

DJA Clines is an iconoclast, I vividly remember the time I met him, SBL International in Jerusalem in '86. He was sharing a room with Robert Carroll, one of my few friends from Glasgow, and a guru I admired, but never tried to follow. I had the room next door. (The rich occupied the flash SBL hotels in town, the creative, the European and waifs like me occupied student accommodation at the Hebrew University.)

It was at that SBL International (or at the IOSOTS that accompanied it) that David met Heather, but I remember it more for one phrase. I think it was Clines' but it could have been Carroll's. I've Googled it, but could find no attribution (if you try that NOW, Google leads to me, but I know I did not invent the phrase - I just wish I had). That phrase, picked up from whichever intellectual nomad from the neighbouring room actually coined it, has guided, or at least served as Leitmotiv for two decades of (my) biblical study.

But back, from senescent ramblings about times past, to David's presidential address, David is an iconoclast, and his address topples many cherished icons of the academic world: the dichotomy of teaching and research, and the primacy of the latter, the modes of teaching, the hierachy of teacher and student... David is an entertaining speaker, and most of us chuckled and a few even dared to laugh... David is a prophet, and his address may even (like Muillenberg's in 1968, an SBL even I am too old to have attended) provide a stimulus for years to come... But is was not NEW. And there's the tragedy, Biblical Scholars are still not listening to other disciplines, we "borrow", occasionally, an unfamiliar notion torn from its context (preferably non-Anglophone) in Psychology (especially the esoteric and academically dubious fringes of Psychology) or Literary Studies for these can provide the dillettant biblical scholar with a neat paper for many sections in the SBL program guide, but we systematically turn our backs on the professionals. Professionals in teaching above all ;)

And that may be the truly iconoclastic element in DJA Clines' SBL presidential addesss in 2009. If he stimulates a few younger scholars to toy with the ideas of teaching theorists and researchers as he once stimulated me to toy with ideas of the unnecessary "hypothesis of the idiot redactor" then thank God for SBL Presidents!

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Monday, July 13, 2009
  Hebrew Bible (plus Appendix ;) podcasts
Chris Heard has a post in which he asks what sort of things people would be interested in hearing in a series of short podcasts on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. My answer would sound something like this "short (5 mins only) somewhat scholarly, but accessible to all, material that helps make sense of the Bible". This is what I try to offer at 5 Minute Bible. Do let me know, or drop a comment on Chris's post, if you think I should focus the material differently.

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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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Thursday, May 28, 2009
  Should blogging count for academics?
Many academics now blog. [Cue crusty elderly mumbles about how back in 2006, 5, 4... there were merely a handful of us...] So, the issue of whether, and if so how, blogging should "count" among academics is a live one. There is, certainly nothing like a clear common answer. Even among blogging-academics the topic has been hashed and rehashed, but little light as emerged.

Evaluations of academics' performance are traditionally, and probably globally, thought of under three headings:
  • teaching: fairly obvious, includes preparing, marking, talking to students...
  • research: usually requires publication in a peer-reviewed form of actual research, so writing a Bible Dictionary article usually counts as service or teaching not research
  • service: a rag bag for anything else the academic and their evaluators think of as "work", committees, consulting, speaking to non-professional groups etc.
The current posts among biblical studies bloggers, opened the conversation with Stephen's Academic Blogging: Publication or Service? and also Mark's response Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching posing the question in terms Marx would have approved. Does blogging "count" as work, and if so of what sort? In other words the question is economic, should I/we be paid to blog?

Jim in a typically forthright reply poses the question differently in Blogging: To What End? and Mark offered a typically reflective answer in Why blog? I'll answer Jim's question briefly, and then return to the original one. I blog because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of reading other people's posts, and I hope that (by blogging myself) I can add a different voice and perspective to the mix. In short I blog for the same reason that I do not (despite being a raving introvert) sit silent in a corner during conversations in the Carey staffroom, or the church coffee room after the service, because I feel part of the community.

So, back to the question should blogging count as work for academics?

Professional scholars have long enjoyed a privileged elite status in society, not least in the freedom to choose how to spend time. As long as certain requirements of teaching and committees are fulfilled, we get to select which interests to research. To a large extent too we get to choose when to work, late into the evening for some, early mornings for others... and if the plumber can only call on Tuesday afternoon there is a good chance that the family academic can arrange to be home at that time :)

And yet, these freedoms, and especially the freedom to research, have been restricted over the years.

When I began at Carey in 1993 we taught typically 4-5 courses a year, 2 larger courses (maybe 25-35 students) in one semester and 3 smaller ones with 7-20 students in the other. This left plenty of time for research and service, and these activities were not rigorously assessed. If my research produced no publications some years, but I wrote a series for the denominational paper, that was fine.

Now we teach 5 courses a year, and few of them have less than 30 students while the largest have 70-80. About a third of these are distance students, so a whole extra layer of preparation and interactivity online has been added. My guess is that overall these changes double the time taken each year by teaching, take out committee meetings and the like... research and service become spare time activities. Yet research is now subject to a government sponsored evaluation process, it is not enough to produce an article for a local (= Australasian) journal, at least some of my publications must be in top international journals...

Should blogging "count"? I do hope not, because if it does, I'll need to produce "n" posts a year, and remove from Sansblogue any posts I fear will not meet the approval of some committee. If blogging starts to "count" then the biblical blogsphere will become a mass of turgid, safely academic, posts full of language designed to impress rather than to communicate, relieved only by the amateurs - used in it's deep sense of someone who undertakes an activity for love rather than payment - and the outsiders.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009
Mary pointed me to this inspiring video:

It reminds me why Illich is so important, still. We (meaning teachers) get so caught up in the technology of teaching (meaning not equipment, but learning outcomes, clear syllabuses, marking criteria and the rest of the techniques which we are told will make or teaching better - or at least better fitted to the educational system of which we are a part).

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Monday, February 16, 2009
  Biblical narrative: trying out Prezi
Prezi seemed a brilliant real alternative to Powerpoint. By real alternative I mean, not software from an alternative supplier that does much the same as Powerpoint but perhaps with more subtle transitions and animations, but software that reenvisages a presentation as something more than a collection of slides.

It is!

Prezi lets me create something like a mindmap, and then share it with others, or use it to illustrate my talk. Click on the image below to explore my Prezi on biblical narrative it's my first try, it has no pictures, but already I can see this is a new and often better way to present ideas than the old slideshow was. An audience can zoom in and out (just click on something to zoom in there, click on the magnifying glass icon to zoom in, or the full screen icon to see the whole "page") or step forward or back through the presentation with the arrows.


Stephen asks (in the comments below) for a standalone file to run the presentation on a PC (without the need for an Internet connection) here it is. It is nearly a 10MB download as it includes the files for Prezi as well as the data for the presentation. Apparently it works on Windows and Mac (but not yet on Linux) so pretty portable!

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Thursday, February 05, 2009
  Prezi: Powerpoint killer
Prezi looks like it could (at last ;) be a Powerpoint killer or at least real alternative. Open Office offers Powerpoint-like presentations for free, but Prezi (to judge from their demo) offers ways to make different more intuitive and visually interesting presentations. It is based round the metaphor of doodling on a tablecloth to explain something to friends. This could be a MUCH bigger breakthrough in presentations for teaching than it sounds. It could be enough to get me actually using the projector for more than photos and videos!

Being in Flash it is all done with vectors, so you can swoop in very very close to the detail that's invisible on this screenshot, can include pictures and stuff as well as shapes and words... great for explaining ideas and their relationship in ways that let your students pan out to see the "big picture" and fit things in context.

But it is in private beta and I don't have a login :( If anyone knows how to get inside the magic castle please let me know - they say they will only let the filthy rich and venture capitalists inside, but surely they want potential users (especially those in the top 50 bibliobloggers) to try, demonstrate and generally rave about how wonderful their tool is? Don't they? Haven't they heard of Web 2.0???

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009
  Screencasting without an install
I'm delighted with Camtasia, it is easy to use, and gives me loads of control. Brilliant for making screencasts and online presentations. BUT, I'm a geek, I like playing with computers and tweeking settings... most of my colleagues don't :( That's where Screentoaster (HT Jane Hart again) seems ideal, it runs from your browser, no FTP uploads, just use the "embed" code to add the 'cast to a blog or course... Has anyone tried it?

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  What makes Biblical Studies anti-social?
Jane Hart's weekly list of interesting educational links mentioned Academic Earth an organization founded to give everyone on earth access to a world class education.  It has thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars. It looks a brilliant resource. The front page includes lecture series from Princetown, MIT and Yale (OK so it is Americano-centric) cool!

The "Subjects" tab lists: Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, English, Entrepreneurship, History, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology and Religion so there's something for everyone!


The only entry under "Religion" is Christine Hayes fine series Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). And we already know about those lectures... where are all the other Biblical Scholars? What makes Biblical Studies so ungenerous, so unwilling to share?

If your institution has a less "dog in the manger" attitude to teaching about the Bible than my employers do please go to the page about partnering with Academic Earth, you may earn no cash, but you might raise your reputation and assist people with fewer resources...

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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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  Textbook purchases
Amazon have what look like great deals on textbooks, any purchased from this link will not only get you their best prices, but also make a small contribution to the costs of the Hypertext Bible Dictionary and Commentary project.

NB: The link and the offers vanish like Cinderella's coach at midnight in the Amazon on St Valentine's Day (Feb 14th). So use it now!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
  Gen 6:1ff. yet again
Several bloggers have spotted and amended (maybe an amended version of the amendment will return one day) Scott Bailey's Genesis 6:1-6 (SBV) in the light of the interest this passage is eliciting, and to return the discussion to the biblical text, do please listen to this MP3 reading of the passage. I think this reading has been very well planned and executed to capture the meaning (or at least what seems to many the most likely meaning) of this notoriously difficult passage.
What do you make of it?

[The MP3 was produced by a husband and wife team, and together with a very good essay explaining and justifying the performance it was submitted for the last assignment in the Genesis class I taught recently. I shared some of the thinking behind this assessment on Theologians without borders.]

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008
  Bible "Style Guide"
Huge thanks to Stephen for the tip off (via email) to this brilliant resource:

The Bible Style Guide may be "a reference text designed specifically for those working within the media industry." But the "crash course in the Bible" it offers is good for far more than just "busy journalists, broadcasters and bloggers." It combines a very brief, down to earth, and wise glossary of key terms that people use when talking about the Bible. With a crash course in the nature of biblical literature, translation and the Bible in today's world. There is probably no one who can not learn something from this free 70+ page book!

Students, do you:
  • think Ebionite is a sort of ancient plastic?
  • a Codex is used to decode secret messages?
  • that a canon goes "bang"?
Just get The Bible Style Guide and look it up! The answers are neat, quick and sensible.

Kids, do you think the Bible is old fashioned but confused because you were brought up to think it a Holy Book?
Just get The Bible Style Guide and browse through it like a magazine.

Mature Christians (that's code for "not longer young" and somewhat stuck in a rut) just get the (totally free)
Bible Style Guide and discover something new and inspiring - before breakfast.

Teachers, fed up with people who do your Intro class yet still think the Catholic Epistles were written by Pope Benedict? Point all your classes to The Bible Style Guide and then warn them you'll get tough on people who have not at least mastered its under 80 pages!

Quite seriously this is the most compact, useful and easy to use Bible Handbook I have ever seen...

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Sunday, August 31, 2008
  Hebrew vocabulary learning
Alan Lenzi has posted about his approach to teaching vocabulary to beginning Hebrew students. "The idea is rather simple: provide a simple or familiar context for each vocabulary word and one will more easily remember the word."

This approach is one we valued in developing דָּבָר Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies project. Along with the other contextual material: sound, picture, other forms, semantic field... we included a phrase from the Bible that uses the word to be learned. In our version the student can also hear n0t only the lemma, but also the example phrase.

Allan has prepared lists for about 1200 words. We only have about half that "done" so far. But if you notice that "vocabularies" is plural in the name we chose you may also spot that with our system you can produce the vocabulary you need for whichever grammar book or course you are using. If you need a word we have not yet done you can become a "contributor" and get a login to add data to the collection to fill in the gap.

Here is what one word would look like to the student.

BTW if you want Greek flashcards Danny has a system to offer. Which allows me to mention that דָּבָר Biblical Hebrew Vocabularies project also allows you to output your vocabularies for printing to use as flashcards. (Actually flash two sheets of paper that slide but that will save trees too!)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008
  Will Jim rejoice? Can "knol" become trendy? Will the wicked Wiki die?
Closeup from photo of Pottsville Conglomerate from Wikipedia
Google's latest toy is available. It's a "proper" encyclopedia, one that looks for "authoritative" individuals, so I expect Jim and other Wikipedia bashers to get in boots and all!

Mind you they need to. At present the front page of Googlepedia features clogged toilets and how to backpack. Ah, the joys of a fully "authoritative" and commercial encyclopedia, so much better than Wikipedia - NOT! Yesterday to illustrate the genre of the Torah I needed a photo of conglomerate, I found this on Wikipedia. I wonder if the googleplex will ever match that? For now - until the authorities get busier - don't bother looking for biblical material on Google, "Isaiah", and the like are blank, though there is an article on "David". Jim won't like it though ;) But for the rest of us it even has a photo!

Photo of "David" from the Googleplex

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Sunday, July 20, 2008
  Israel: a virtual study tour
I had an interesting email the other day, a parent wants to take their son on a virtual study tour to Israel. I was asked to suggest ten places to "visit", selected because of their "historical importance, but also of picturesque value". I had to admit that I am biased, I teach only Old Testament and so when in Israel I never visited the
places that mattered to Jesus!

A task for you

So, I thought I'd make a start and ask you all to join in. I'll post my fragmentary list, with some reasons, either in comments here or on your blog (in which case please place a comment with a link to the post here, so that I can gather the posts into a full listing in a future post. Nominate places giving a short description of your reasons.

First some ground rules:
  1. though we must end up with a list of ten we can discuss more places before we narrow the list
  2. the list is fosused on enriching understanding of the Bible
  3. places should be either of great historical or geographical significance
  4. we will need a balance of places of significance for the Jewish/ChristianHebrew Bible, and also the Christian New Testament, as well as those that illustrate the geography of the land
  5. the surrounding geography will form part of the virtual visit, so below I suggest Megiddo in part because of its location.
Notice that the list is intended to be of use for understanding of the Bible story - so e.g. Tel Azekah and the Elah Valley might get in, regardless of one's estimation of the historicity or otherwise of the characters David and Goliath, since a visit to a Shephellah valley would assist understanding the stories of Judges-Kings.
Photo from Wikipedia
My first suggestion
  • Megiddo: (a) geographically significant to explain the Plain of Jezreel (b) significance of trade routes (c) site of battles including (?) the one talked about in Revelation in the NT (d) Iron Age administrative centre (e) importance of water supply (f) gate complex and (g) Bronze Age cultic site.
Note that this makes it less likely that Hazor (trade routes, gates and Bronze Age cult) or Beersheba (gates, administrative centre, water supply) will make the final cut - places like this that serve multiple functions are especially useful!

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Saturday, June 28, 2008
  Dogs and Cats, followup...
In response to the question I posed in

Teaching like Cats & Dogs
Carl Sweatman (sporadic at best) offered - via Facebook, which I have only just yesterday joined - this brilliantly simple answer to the question:
Throw them some mice!
Like I said, brilliant and simple ;-) So, a supplementary question for you all: What sort of wisdom-related "mice" might get a class of students going as cats?

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Friday, June 27, 2008
  Teaching like Cats & Dogs
Thanks to Problem Attic I discovered a fun site with yet another "personality theory". I am a sucker for personality theories, anything that makes some sense of the confusing jumble of human relationships has to be good - as long as you don't take it too seriously ;-)

This one claims that we are all either "Cats" or "Dogs". The description is fun, and I'm sure you can guess which you are!
Cat: Scratch my ear. Ex-cellent. May I use your leg as a scratching post? No? Hmm, how about I sit on you instead.
Do not move. ... Well done. Now feed me.
Dog: Hello, let's do something. What should we do? ...
Yes, the stick fetching game would be acceptable.
... However I find that stick you are holding uninteresting. Try again. ... Ah, yes, yes! That stick I find quite exciting! Ok, I will fetch the stick. ... That was fun!
You see, recognisably Dog and Cat, as we meet them in everyday life, but also recognisably roles we play in social contexts. Not necessarily actually as built-in personality, but at least roles we adopt in particular situations, and probably as preferences too?

Paul Harrison links it to a more complex discussion of "dominance" about which I am less convinced, but he gets really interesting again when he talks about Dogs and Cats in education:
When teaching a class, the teacher naturally takes the cat role. Therefore, the students are in the dog role, and adopt the dog cognitive style.
Brian: "You are all individuals."
Crowd: "Yes, we are all individuals."
Most of the time, this assignment of roles is correct. However when teaching a creative or assertive skill (for example, programming or feminism), it may be important for students to practice using the cat cognitive style: they will need to use this style when applying what you teach.

Simply asking questions of your students will not put them in the cat role, as it is still you that initiates action. Thus, asking questions is not a good strategy for waking students up and getting them engaged, something that causes much frustration to teachers.
I know that frustration! The answer is to be sneakier in avoiding the Cat role:
I once had a lecturer called Damian Conway (yes, that Damian Conway) who avoided taking the cat role by making his students set the agenda. At the start of the lecture, he would ask for questions, which he would then write on the blackboard. This took a little coaxing, usually when you go to a lecture your brain has switched to idle before your bum hits the seat. He then ad-libbed the lecture from these questions. (It's no good to ask for questions at the end of the lecture, by then everyone is comfortably in dog mode.)

Another way to flip roles is to do something blatantly and obviously stupid, and hope someone points it out.
Performer: "Where has it gone? Where-ever can it be?"
Audience: "Behind you! Behind you!"
I can't see me adopting the "act stupid" idea much - I guess I'm afraid they might not catch the irony ;-) but I've always been tempted by the idea of getting the students to design the class...

Do any of you have ideas for making encouraging a class to act more "catlike" during parts of a session?


Thursday, June 26, 2008
  Help, I need someone to suggest a film
I am teaching Genesis again this year, after several years break. I want to start by explaining why Genesis matters, and would really like a short film clip that illustrates how knowing the beginning of a story helps us to understand the rest. So I'm thinking a film where some vital item of information is shown right at the start, and if you "came in late" and missed it you would also miss much of what is going on in the film...

Do you have any suggestions?


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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
  Oh, use your Moodle!
Geoff (at Theologians Without Borders) has been asking to hear about creativity in theological education, in an off blog email "conversation" he has asked about how we use our use of the Moodle CMS in Carey's distance program. I also agreed to do some guest posts with the theme "What if..." dreaming of things that could be done to enrich distance teaching of theology. Here's what I am thinking as a "What if..." post about Moodle. Please tell me what I've missed, or missed explaining - before I send it in to Geoff!

What if... we really used Moodle to the full

Some years ago at Carey we began to "move our distance teaching to the next level". Part of the plan was to install, and make good use of, an open source (means free) online "Course Management System" called Moodle.

Moodle allows:
  • a central store of documentation for a course, which can be updated as soon as something changes
  • students to be reminded of assignments that are due soon and other important dates
  • one central place to email a whole class
  • a place to store and deliver marked assignments
  • a place to provide course related material like pictures, videos, links, PDF files of readings that did not get into the course anthology...
  • teachers to set simple "quizzes" (with questions in various formats like multiple choice, short answer etc.) that can either count towards the course marks or simply provide feedback to students or check that they have done required reading
Moodle is:
  • cheap - no software costs, and even a professionally hosted option is not expensive
  • easy - it takes very little time and instruction for even our less techie colleagues to work the basics, and usually not too long for someone to show you how achieve the less obvious goals
  • scalable - anything from one course with one teacher to the whole British Open University (which with over 150,000 students is a but bigger than the average theological seminary ;-)
  • fairly easy to manage, and there are plenty of people around with experience who can help.
In short Moodle is great, and even better value, and it will allow a Seminary to really support Internet connected distance students, and through discussion forums and emails integrate them into a "class".

Some courses at Carey really quickly began to make real use of the system. Brian Smith (our retired principal who had not used a computer before retirement) clocked up the most student contributions to a discussion simply by asking really thought -provoking leading questions. I used the tests to reward students with up to 10% simply by doing the "required reading" and as a result turned what I think before was 80% of the class in real life do about 20% of the reading, to 80% of the class do at least 80% of the reading.

But there are gaps. Some teachers hardly use Moodle - though not difficult it is one more thing to learn in a life that is too busy. Few of us actually get organised to post pictures and links relevant to our courses... So, implementation and take up of the possibilities are a bit hit and miss...

What if...
  1. We had a "Moodle consultant" (alias a technically minded senior student) who could spend an hour or two each week helping us to use Moodle more or better - guess how much more most teachers would achieve!
  2. We had a policy that all teachers and students in every class promised to take a serious look at the discussion forums for that class at least twice each week (maybe one or two hours of work to timetable in each week, but think of the greater communication with distance students and how much more time effective than individual emails replying one-on-one to questions)
  3. One of the Moodle consultant's jobs was to check what pictures and other resources we used in teaching the class onsite, and helped us make them available to distance students.
  4. A scattering of our courses set as an assignment to present readings online and then interact with other students presentations - I have seen such an assignment put a student in South-East Asia in contact with one in the South Island of NZ and "watched" the experience open the student's eyes to a wider world producing real formative change.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008
  Performance as assessment: synthesis and Biblical exegesis
Geoff at Theologians without Borders asked for examples of Creativity in Theological Education for my contribution I've presented an assignment I regularly use which asks students to "perform" the text, they are then marked on a "justification" they write which explains the performance's origin in the biblical text, i.e. what about the text caused them to perform it this way and how their performance communicates important features of the text to their audience. You can read the write up here. Or just enjoy the two sample performances (because of a technical hitch I don't have time to fix before going away for a long weekend (thank you Mrs Queen for having a birthday ;) one is displayed here the other requires you to click a link:

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
  Omnisio or nomnisio?
I took a look at Omnisio today. It is a tool that allows one to associate video clips with slide presentations, and then allows users to comment directly on the video. It sounded cool and useful.

I chose to watch Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero talk. Watching him speak, as well as hearing the talk with slides should be so much richer, I thought. And some intelligent comments from other previous watchers would be added value. In fact it is the worst of multimedia meets the worst of "Web 2.0". Since you have good sized video and good sized slides, with OK sound the presentation did not so much stream and trickle with frequent annoying hiccups. Make the video smaller, maybe compress the sound a little more and that combination would be great though (or deliver it from a DVD for real quality). The comments, of course are not intelligent, they are anonymous and crowd out the video with such gems as "Great!!!" repeated 16 times at various apparently arbitrary points. It might have been interesting to know that the chair (that almost appeared in the video) was Ikea, but it was irrelevant and so just another blot on the video. All in all a big disappointment.

Now before you think I am a multimedia Luddite, or a Web 2.0 sceptic, hear me out...

The multimedia aspect is brilliant, the combination of video and slides has the potential to offer so much more than slides and audio alone. Except in this implementation it does not work. Both slides and video are smallish (about 480px wide each) which is unavoidable for web delivery, but they are not small enough (at least on NZ's rather narrow "broadband"). Bigger slides with smaller video in one corner (think Camtasia with a webcam) would download faster and give a fullscreen experience.

Or, deliver it on DVD...

Web 2.0 is great, when users contribute usefully. The "wisdom of crowds" works (at least often) and applications like Google Earth and sites like Flickr use publicly contributed resources brilliantly to provide a growing and useful body of material. But do not give me the folly of "Anonymous" once humans are sure they will not be identified we tend to give reign to our baser instincts - in this case a plethora of useless, annoying and occasionally rude comments. Which proliferate like rabbits, at times almost hiding the presenter behind a barrage of meaningless verbiage.
Microsoft's chief, estimated worth $46bn, is the US' richest man
Make users login, identify them and provide their email address so that particularly crass and stupid "comments" can get the feedback they deserve, and you'd have a brilliant opportunity to interact with the video. (Probably you'd need to put most comments outside the video and only put those which like the "Ikea chair" comment relate directly to some visual element on the video itself.) But you can't do that, because of spam, once again spam ruins a potentially useful tool.
Do you remember back in 2004 when Bill Gates multi-billionaire philanthropist and founder of the world's biggest software company proclaimed that the spam problem would soon fixed? Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time, Microsoft boss Bill Gates has promised. Nice one Bill!

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Thursday, April 24, 2008
  Bible Mapper Help
Mark has set up a wiki to provide help for the free Bible mapping tool Bible Mapper. The idea is that (since BM comes free but with no support or help files) the community of users could help each other. I noticed exploring his wiki that David Barrett the creator of Bible Mapper has already chipped in with an answer - this seems a good way for David to be able to provide assistance for users, but without being committed to offering organised regular help, for which surely he'd have to charge!

There is an RSS feed, for compulsive Bible Mappers (like me) to keep up with all the questions and answers or new maps that people upload.

I have only one problem with the system, since I was already a PBWiki user I cannot seem to get added to the BibleMapper Wiki to actually write anything, even a plea for help! And I have one... Somehow, even though I have un- and re-installed the program I cannot select things like rivers, I just get an hour glass and the program hangs for a few moments before continuing as if I had never tried to use the select tool. I wanted to use it to (a) try out David's helpful answer and (b) once I had mastered it document it with screenshots to make it easier for beginniers... Now I'll just have to ask the question here, and email Mark to see if he has a magic key to let me in to the Bible Mapper Wiki ;-)

< wicked > I wonder if Jim will overcome his Wiki phobia enough to use this one? < /wicked thought >

BTW if you do not subscribe to David Instone-Brewer's superb Tyndale Tech Briefings - DO! This time he covers Bible maps and mapping with a really useful summary of much of (the best of) what is available.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008
  When NOT to read the Bible
Kevin Wilson has been reflecting on the difficulties of cramming too much into introductory courses. In particular the conundrum that if you ask students to read the Bible (in an Intro to the Bible course) there is no time to read a textbook too.
Photo by fitaloon
Duane Smith demonstrated that this was equally an impossibility in ancient times, after having claimed that "we read most of the Hebrew Bible (in English)" he then admits: "1 and 2 Chronicles and Esther were not assigned and we only read about half of the minor prophets and just selections from Leviticus, Numbers,
Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Job. Only a few of the Psalms and parts of Proverbs were assigned
." so even back in the "good old days" when men were men and everyone a speedreader with no TV to watch or Internet to play with they only actually managed to read some good chunks of the Bible, and I bet less good students (even back then) managed to scrape by reading only bits of the books actually assigned ;)

Charles Halton also chipped in, admitting: "I don’t have good resolution yet." to the problem of "the ratio of primary and secondary readings".

I do!

Do not set the Bible as required reading. If your students do not read the Bible for themselves, or at least listen to the podcasts, then they really have little interest in the subject, so leave those students to flounder!

Actually seriously, there is no way to set reading the whole Bible as required reading, so set and use only small chunks, and make talking about them so interesting that students will want to read more... as always in teaching we need to remind ourselves that "sugar catches more flies than vinegar."

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
  Dialogue in biblical narrative
I have been working on completing my notes on biblical narrative, in preparation for teaching the course in Sri Lanka (BTW for news of my trip, with I hope photos and videos from both CTS and the refugee camp please subscribe I do NOT expect to be posting here much while we are away). I have just completed the page on "Dialogue" only about 1500 words (not counting the linked pages or notes) and it probably doesn't count for International Biblical Studies Writing Month anyway - but it is another writing task (partially) achieved. Only narrative speed, prose and poetry, omission &, ambiguity to go.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
  Zotero is brilliant, and integrates nicely
In the comments discussion on my post below about Zotero - the free open bibliography and citations manager - I may have helped mislead people. I had not then been using the wordprocessor integration feature. I now have, it is great. And works just as well in MS Word as it does in Open Office on my PC (I assume that the Mac and Linux versions are as superb).

Here are two quick and dirty screencasts to demonstrate:

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Monday, January 07, 2008
  Technology makes you dumb!
Or maybe not! Way back in 2007 Nichthus posted in The new illiteracy a few extracts from the announcement of a report: The Dumbest Generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardises our future. The extracts made me want to scream and cry.
The problem is that often people look at only the front end of what technology has to offer instead of the back end, or the outcome. An elementary principal told me that his fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are having problems when assigning research projects. The students view it as a procedure where they cut and paste information off a Web site, add some sentences of their own and turn it in. The information passes too quickly from the screen to the homework papers and isn't processed through the mind. The speed and ease of the digital resources actually conspires against producing long-term understanding.
Now, I know exactly what this is about, I've seen it. My daughter preparing work for school, and slowly I am becginning to see it in my Intro class students. What makes me want to scream and cry is that the fault is not the students, it's the teachers! I said I was beginning to see the problem crop up in younger students in the Intro classes. Why do I not find it in the same students in level 2? Because we have taught them better. Returned work saying it is unacceptable, and explaining why it is unacceptable, and students learn to behave differently. They learn the behaviour proper to an academic environment, they learn to interact with and process what they read. Why can't this school principal get his teachers to do the same - after all the younger kids are brighter and more adaptable than the young adults we teach ;-)

They can't either because they lack the courage and imagination, or (my guess, because I'm impressed by the dedication and imagination of most primary and secondary teachers I meet) because "the system" won't allow them to test for real skills, but rewards students who can "manage information" in a simplistic way. In NZ it is the stupidity of the NZQA "National Framework" with its tiny quantifiable manageable "skills" that causes the problem. Now I recognise, and indeed have preached (in the very different academic context of the University), the value of clear coherent small learning outcomes, but only within an overarching system of values and goals (an academic culture) that sustains and gives context to these smaller "learning outcomes".
You improve your writing only when you are pulled up and challenged. The blogs keep them [young people] networking only with their peers and that holds them at the same level.
Duh! Of course, but what is the teacher's role in this, the technology of blogging allows the student (at whatever level they are) to interact with writers who are more advanced than themselves. I've watched that work in a blogging community of Biblical Scholars. Now so far as I know no secondary students have interacted with that community, but there is no reason, if the student has some humility and common sense they could not. I'd bet it would be the same with communities of organic Chemists, or Poodle Fanciers. It is not the technology that is the problem producing dumb students, it is the teaching that is lacking, allowing dumb students!
Opening titles from the TV series
Nichthus' own final comment points up clearly where the problem lies. Technology does NOT make you dumb, dumb teaching driven by dumb pedagogies do that, and the dumbest of all is "an answer-driven pedagogy", everyone who has listened to, read or watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy knows that it is not answers that matter but questions!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008
  Maps for teaching
A couple of days ago Chris Heard posted about how he is upgrading the maps he uses for teaching (I found his previous set really useful a couple of years ago) using the atlas module in the Accordance Bible program for Macs. Because Chris wanted maps with semi-transparent "call outs" with reminders on them he took the Accordance maps into Photoshop to enhance them. Then David Lang on the Accordance blog noted this and proposed that presenting them directly to the class in Accordance would allow extra features like animating the routes map. Chris replied that he wanted the maps available to students for private study, and that not all students have this software, so the maps had to be exported anyway.

I haven't explored the map modules in the PC Bible software I use, I doubt it is as good as Accordance, though years ago Logos Bible Atlas software was a great addon. Now however, the maps and especially the wire frame "3D" ones look very dated. So I use another standalone program, Bible Mapper by David P. Barrett you can download and use the basic program freely, though there is a small (currently US$35) charge for adding some useful features. I think David's tool produces good-looking maps easily and quickly, though like Accordance it would need export to Photoshop (or GIMP or whatever) if you wanted to add semi-transparent layers.

Mark at the really useful Biblical Studies and Technological Tools blog has posted on this a few times recently, he is presenting on the topic at BibleTech08 an event I'd have loved to be at, his posts are worth looking at:
Oh, and here's a short video that shows that I can't use graphics programs as well as Chris, and suggests that I must take all the advice and start outsourcing myself to India. (Rather than transporting myself to Sri Lanka.)


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Thursday, December 13, 2007
  Computers in class :: or a false view of teaching?
Photo by Hari Bilalic
Another teacher fires a round in the war against laptops in class "Computers in the Classroom…Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be?" Is this a "Dog Bites Man" headline, or what? R. Scott Clark talks sense about the fact that students who make handwritten notes are likely to do better than those who try to typewrite a transcription of the lecture. Students and other profs chime in to complain about the clacking noise... yada, yada, yada...

BUT, the whole conversation is again so wrong. The "lecture" should not ne something you can, or would want to transcribe! Think about it, if it is transcribable why not just buy the book, a $20 paperback costs far less per student than a teacher and you can read it when you want - and you can choose a "better" teacher ;-) The lecture as a means to transfer information and ideas (as data) is inefficient and inconvenient, compared to print. Use the "lecture" time to do more, add value, get students engaging with the ideas and information and long term they will learn more.
Photo by peiqianlong
If one dictates a "lecture", and students write a transcription (or even - though this is much better - makes selected notes) by hand or on a laptop then the teacher was replaced by technology over 500 years back! When Herr Gutenberg invented moveable type he made the printed book cheap - why take lecture notes, if the teacher just "lectures" save travel-time, boycott the class and buy the book....

HT to Joe Fleener


Friday, December 07, 2007
  Experts and Web 2.0 :: teaching and learning
Photo by Cdr Aitch
In his post Web 2.0 and experts: a metaphor Nichthus continues to ruminate on the relevance or place of Web 2.0 approaches to teaching.

This time he proposes a thoroughly Kiwi metaphor: refereeing decisions at a rugby match (I'm sure denizens of other sports-mad nations can translate ;-). Of course, in terms of the Rugby match he's right, no one but the blindest, most one-eyed fan would want the crowd consulted over a difficult point of interpretation of the rules of a sport that could decide a world cup.
Photo by Jitsu
BUT is refereeing a match, or indeed any other decision making process, the best model for teaching and learning? By this I mean: when I learn am I placed in the position of a referee who much decide what is "right"? In a totally, 100%, unguided system I might be, but if I have a guide or teacher (whether by my side or on the stage ;) the model no longer describes my experience or the process.

In teaching and learning the question is not: which decision will be taken - was it a try or not? Rather the issue at stake is: will the learner acquire the desired information and skills, and through what process will they be best facilitated in this learning?

Here Web 2.0 provides a much better model than a referee. For, through the advice and critique of my peers, through trying things for myself, as well as through professional advice and critique, I am likely to learn more and better - not least because my peers motivate me. The joy of discovery motivates me, in ways the threat of bad marks does not. I respond better to stick and carrot than just stick! Maybe to use another Kiwi metaphor teaching is more like herding sheep than refereeing a rugby match, sheep are more likely to find their way to the desired pasture if they are part of a flock moving that way than if they respond alone to the shepherd's yells and waving arms! Of course the ideal is to have a few sheepdogs helping too ;-)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007
  How do "theologians" think?
Nichthus in Teaching theology: What's the microcosm? Quotes Parker Palmer
We honor both the discipline and our students by teaching them how to think like
historians or biologists or literary critics rather than merely how to lip-sync the conclusions others have reached.
Which as Nichthus recognises raises, for teachers, the question: How do theologians think? I'm delighted that in seeking to answer this he returns to my favourite description of theology, Anselm's "Faith seeking understanding". In the light of this what theologians do is seek to understand (life, the universe and everything) as believers.

However, this is where it gets tricky, especially in the world of traditional academic theology. For as the discipline has grown and developed it has "evolved" several strikingly different specialities. In theology as academic discipline a "(systematic) theologian" seeks understanding differently from a "practical" theologian, and neither follow the same paths in their search for wisdom and understanding as a biblical "scholar"! Life is totally different in the real world. The neat corridors in the academy that one follows in the search for understanding are not like the winding paths and thickets of the forest of life in which we (whether "theologians" or "lay" - what a daft distinction, as if the untrained punter in the pew does not do theology!) are confronted by experience with requires our faith to "understand" it.

Please do not understand me wrong, I do not mean that the techniques and tools my discipline can offer to faith (all the methods and techniques that generation after generation of Bible readers in academy and church have struggled to develop, and now also adding some of the tools that secular readers of secular texts have added to the arsenal) are unnecessary. Students if they are to become competent readers of the Bible still need to recognise the genre of a passage, still need to listen to how others have read it... Discipline skills and knowledge are not unnecessary, they are vital. But, they are not the core of what a "theologian", qua theologian, does.

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