Letters Home (Discussion Assignment)

As you have seen, I am noodling ideas for weekly discussion-board assignments in my upcoming online course, “Literature of Ancient Israel” (an introductory course in Hebrew Bible and biblical studies for students planning careers as lay pastors).

One week, I may ask them to compose a short letter to someone “back home” (figuratively speaking: these are mostly commuter students who live locally). This could be a family member, or a friend outside of the school, or someone at their home church. In the letter, they would write about something they’ve recently learned in the course, trying to communicate what excites them about it, and what preliminary, provisional ideas they are developing about why this thing matters.

The letter would have to show engagement with the materials of the course: readings, lectures, other discussions. They would also need to respond to (not “answer”) some of the other students’ letters.

This “Letters Home” assignment would also serve as practice for the final paper they need to write for the course: “How has the study of the Hebrew Bible shaped my Christian imagination and goals for Christian ministry?” (I hasten to note that the setting is a professional program in pastoral studies; these are not undergraduates with a wide variety of vocational plans.)

What do you think of a “Letters Home” discussion-board assignment? Are there ways in which you would tweak it, or any red flags to be looked out for?

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