VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today

What do students in Higher Education see today? What do they “see” in the sense of, “What are their visions?” And, what do they literally see from the place in which they are expected to learn?

This is the question posed by Michael Wesch, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. Wesch is well known for his work so far in gathering and analyzing the experiences and voices of higher-ed students in an internet age.

Watch some of the YouTube videos tagged VOST2011. For an educator in Higher Ed, the videos are rather hypnotic, occasionally disturbing, and often illuminating. Take the following as an example:

More upbeat, but not less analytical or thought-provoking, is this piece from a student at University of the Philippines:

In the professorial circles in which I run, I am probably among those more likely to identify with the students of VOST2011: besides being a “distance pedagogies guy” (in progress), I am after all a Gen-Xer, and until a subject matter grabbed me in my Masters work, felt continually disenchanted with and alienated from the structures of education, while still identifying strongly with other students as a peer group. At the same time, however, I am formed by an exceptionally traditional and modernist Ph.D. program, and believe as strongly in “disseminating data” as in facilitating constructivist activities for peer-to-peer learning.

Professors: What do you think of Wesch’s call for submissions, and what do you think of some of the videos? How do they speak, or not speak, to you as educators?

Students: What are your visions today? What do you see from the place where you are expected to learn?

[VOST2011: The Visions of Students Today was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT

Dr. James Cone is delivering our Convocation address at G-ETS this morning at 11:00 CT, and there will also be a panel discussion at 3:00 CT.

His address is titled, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Cross and the Lynching Tree in the Black Experience.”

The link for the live webcasts is www.garrett.edu/convocation. Viewers will need to have downloaded and installed Apple’s free QuickTime Player, and may begin viewing fifteen minutes before events begin.

[James Cone Live Today at 11 and 3 CT was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/09/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything

This is an idea about which I could not be more enthused (hat tip to Pharyngula).[1] Ten biologists collaborate together to answer any questions that a layperson might pose them. The front page provides some relevant caveats; for example, if the question is quite basic, they might gently point a reader to the standard textbooks, rather than be roped into doing someone’s homework for them.

I especially like that the site builds a searchable growing repository of questions already answered. This should be a helpful resource, not only for inquirers, but for the team members to consult when dealing with new questions.

The idea of a similar, “Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything,” site has seized my imagination. In my experience, answering questions about the Bible and biblical studies for genuinely curious laypeople is a delight. Part of that delight comes from my sense that only a few people have a resource in their lives to field such questions; when I make new acquaintances, they often have a short list of questions about the Bible that they’ve waited to unload, or that they’ve bounced off of others without receiving satisfying responses.

Some desiderata that come to mind are:

  • As with AaBA, there would need to be a fairly large team: at least eight, I think. The good news is, I suspect recruiting new team members wouldn’t be all that hard, such that the team could grow (or shrink) according to traffic. The idea is that nobody should have to spend more time on it than they want to, with a very low minimum expected commitment.
  • Team members should have terminal degrees in biblical studies, or else be candidates in a terminal degree program.
  • The team members would have to have a shared understanding that “biblical studies” is a non-confessional literary and historical enterprise, relying for its claims on the shared public evidence of the biblical texts and such extra-biblical evidence as variant manuscripts, ancient Near Eastern texts, material remains, and so on (rather than on private revelation and confessional dogma). Theologically, it’s about the theology in the texts rather than one’s theology of the Bible. This understanding would need to be communicated on the front page of the site.
  • There would have to be a standard rubric for recognizing and dealing with poor-faith inquiries coming out of the culture wars. This would, at the same time, have to allow for good-faith inquiries coming from those whose frame of reference has been distorted by the culture wars. (In English: What about spamming inquiries from folks like Answers in Genesis? What about well-meaning inquiries from folks whose minds have already been addled by AiG?)

I’m not in any hurry on this—believe me!—and it is the very beginning of the school year, with all its busy-ness. Still, if anyone who meets the second criterion above would be interested, let me know, and we can begin to look into it. If enough scholars were interested that the work load were low, it could be a real service.

BACK TO POST By the way, P.Z. has been having a hell of a time. He won’t be grateful for your prayers, but if you’re in a position to give to Red Cross, donate blood, or otherwise render service to heart patients, he’d be pleased.

[Ask a Biblical Scholar Anything was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/26. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use?

Akma and Mark (links are to their home pages) shared a Facebook link to the Geek Muse: 100 Reasons to Study Theology and Religion: A Call for Comments. With religion and theology departments coming under the knife, Geek Muse calls for your arguments: how do these programs benefit our society? What good are they? Give it some thought, and go comment.

[Studying Religion or Theology: What’s The Use? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/23. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Culturally Diverse Classrooms (Liveblog)

Today, we welcome Dr. Nancy Ramsay (Brite Divinity School) and Dr. Frank Yamada (McCormick Theological Seminary) to host “a faculty workshop on understanding power dimensions in culturally diverse classrooms.”

Should the format afford me opportunity, I’ll try to live blog here from time to time during the day.

[I should have added that the event is organized by Dr. Gennifer Brooks, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.]

Overall: A really good day. Lots to simmer on while walking to and from the train this week.

3:00: When we ask students to put themselves at risk by self-contextualizing and making contextual claims, we want to be prepared to sometimes lead them in “taking a step back”: pulling back to a relatively safe analytical stance.

2:20: “Over time, it becomes less about ‘How can we be multicultural?’ and more about ‘How do we negotiate the multiform culture we comprise?’”

1:30: What does an incoming student “look” like? What does a graduating student “look” like?

1:10: Hard to sum up the things that came out of break-out groups and lunch discussion, except that I really do work with some incredibly smart and reflective educators.

10:55: Given the desirability of at least limited permeability (to define institution), how can that permeability be defined in ways that yet fully promote diversity?

10:20: I have habitually tended to privilege bottom-up construction of systems and of changes to systems, but I find myself persuaded concerning the importance of cultivating “key (powerful) constituencies” in an institution as prerequisite for an organized, team effort toward change.

9:52: Mental tangent: when we talk about a focus on better accomplishing educational mission by improving our own institutional integrity, I keep being reminded of the role of the five tenets of Taikwon-Do in the practice of that art: you become better at the external goal (doing something) by improving your self (becoming something).

9:50: Identifying practices that imagine power as “a scarce commodity,” and those that imagine power as “integrative or expansive.”

9:45: An institution might have a track record and articulate goals regarding diversity and progressive inclusiveness, but could yet be looking for “ways of keeping that in remembrance.”

9:35: Questions around how rooting out systemic oppression and exclusiveness benefits those of the dominant (white, or male, or hetero) group. Responses involve individual benefit and sharing in collective benefit.

9:17: “The work in the classroom will not flourish if there is not concurrent institutional change.” I like starting here: it defuses any individual defensiveness about current practice and results.

9:10: The first half of the day looks to be titled, “Institutional Power and Privilege.”

[Culturally Diverse Classrooms (Liveblog) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/MONTH/DATE. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity?

Answer: According to Crossley, this dread feeling could potentially unite biblical scholars of all competing stripes.

In the online journal Bible and Interpretation, James Crossley writes that biblical scholars can hang together in defense of their discipline’s relevance, or we can hang separately in the public square of budget cuts in higher education.

The humanities will no doubt be the first target within universities in times of recession and cuts, and attention has already turned to those subjects deemed “irrelevant.” Unfortunately, the critical study of the Bible can be misunderstood as academics at prayer[.]

Please do read the whole thing: it is not very long.

Joseph Kelly offers a brief round-up (first paragraph) of bloggers already commenting on the piece.

[What is, An Impending Sense of Job Insecurity? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?”

After accepting Professor Bruce Waltke’s resignation, for having spoken aloud about the plain facts of the state of our knowledge concerning the natural world, Reformed Theological Seminary Campus President Michael Milton gushed enthusiastically about the vast spectrum of scientific/historical conclusions that the seminary would find acceptable from its faculty:

“Oh, we got both kinds: Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism!”[1]

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Here’s a hint to President Milton, but especially to any prospective students considering places like Reformed Theological Seminary:

  • no matter how “diverse” the spectrum of “acceptable” conclusions,
  • if an institution draws a line anywhere and says, “The conclusions of your research may extend here, but no further; beyond this line your inquiries may not lead you,” then
  • you are not in an institution of learning. In fact,
  • you couldn’t be more in the dark if you were stuffed into a sack.

I was going to add that those who enforce such parameters or assent to them should be willing to stop using the internet, and all computers (which rely on those merely theoretical critters called “electrons”); forego the MRI, the CAT scan, antibiotics, and all of modern medicine, returning to the leech-craft of their forebears; grow their own food, eschewing the disease-resistant strains available at market; keep the radio off, doing without satellite-produced early warning of natural disasters. After all, these are all the results of unbounded critical inquiry, and have arisen only where such inquiry has won out over efforts to suppress it.

But then I realized that these folks won’t return to their pre-modern dystopia without dragging everyone else along by force, so sorry, they’re just going to have to learn, one at a time, to live in the actual world, with its pesky, bias-challenging data. If one fears that one doesn’t know how, I offer the gentle and redoubtable Professor Waltke as an example.

For other feedback in the biblioblogosphere, see John Hobbins’ response and his round-up of other responses, and more recently, Jim Getz.

BACK TO POST “Creationism,” including so-called Intelligent Design, is always the view that God created all the species in the form that they have today: in other words, that evolution leading to speciation has not happened.

[“Uh, What Kinds of Biblical Historical Conclusions Do You Usually Have Here?” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Again with the Women…

…seriously.

When a community or an activity is overwhelmingly dominated by male voices, I simply assume that this is a sign of extreme ill health.

I might make arguments about why the community is in such a state, and about which external or internal factors are to blame, and how to bring the patient to a healthy state. But, nothing could convince me to spend time debating about whether the community is in ill health, any more than I would be drawn into a discussion about whether a 98%-white community were in ill health. Exclusion simply is a condition of ill health, an indicator of pathologies.

I bring this up because the Bible-blogging community has again asked itself, “Where all de wimmin at?” (see comments there, and if possible see this older post also).

To which I say, “Good”; frankly, I am not sure there are any more urgent questions to be asked.[1] [A belated clarification: I mean by this to say, This is an urgent question; sorry that my phrasing was not as clear as possible.] Anybody who wants to can compare the level of participation of women in SBL or AAR to that in the Bible-blogging community and see the disparity.

That said, depending on how the conversation takes shape, it may or may not be a conversation I want to be involved in (not meant as a threat; I know that the world turns with or without my help; just processing things aloud in my head).

Insofar as the conversation is about whether there is a problem or not (especially in the mode of, “Won’t you complaining wimmin just kindly explain one more time why you think that there’s a problem here?”), I’ll just wander off to the punch bowl and see if any other like-minded folks are also there, rolling their eyes and trying to look like they just came in to get out of the rain.

Insofar as the conversation is about the role of wimmin in the (a, some-or-other) church, you’ll find me elsewhere, waiting for notice that the talk about biblical studies is scheduled to begin.

Insofar as the conversation is about why the women bloggers just can’t enjoy a healthy (persistent, endless) debate about how uncomfortable they make traditional, complementarian-minded men feel, and why they can’t just be more sensitively tolerant of world views that prefer to see women’s voices marginalized, I’ll…well, no, thanks.

But, insofar as the conversation acknowledges at the outset a problem in exclusion—no matter what the possible internal or external root causes of that exclusion—and seeks to discover and address root causes; insofar as that search for root causes is well-meaning and sincere, however naive and fumbling; insofar as the conversation partners are eager to be self-critical; in short, insofar as the conversation situates itself in 21st century academia, then I am cautiously excited for its possibilities and earnestly committed to participate.

(Postscript: I can imagine a related post dealing with the fact that Bible-blogging is less independent of sectarian confessional writing than is the peer-reviewed work associated with SBL or AAR.)

(Second postscript, later: J.K. is also welcoming conversation.)

BACK TO POST Though some other questions might be closely related, such as that of the relation of privately-held sectarian claims (about gender, for instance) to the publicly-shared evidence and lines of reasoning that characterize academic biblical studies.

[Again with the Women… was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/05. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

SBL 2010: “Community” in Online Learning

My presentation proposal for the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature has been accepted. The paper is, “To Those Far and Near”: The Case for “Community” at a Distance. The session is about Web 2.0 tools in teaching and learning, and is offered by the section, Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies.

I will share an abstract and my plans for the presentation later on. Briefly, what prompts me to choose this topic is my frustration that many educators who are unfamiliar with online learning will pronounce authoritatively that “real” or “authentic” community only happens face to face. It would be fine if this position were adopted as the conclusion of an argument befitting the holder of a research degree. However, the impossibility of “online community” is too frequently asserted as a non sequitur, without investigation into the fifteen-odd years of data at our disposal. Humanities educators may presume without inquiry that distance learning is limited to a static mode of knowledge-distribution. Among Christian theological educators, one commonly hears discussion-closing, preemptive appeals to “embodiment” and “incarnation.”

My presentation will offer a paper that takes the data—student evaluations, scores on collaborative assignments, teacher testimonials, independent surveys—into account. I may look also make note of online communities not relating to distance education. Ideally, the paper will focus on courses that traditionally depend on the creation of community toward the end of moving and changing student participants. Ideally, the paper will be offered asynchronously so that the presentation itself will involve a real-time community-building activity.

Are you skeptical of the possibility of online “community”? If so, what are the grounds of your skepticism, and what sort of evidence for online “community” might you (in principle) take seriously?

Do you already experience “community” among folks who have not met face to face? If so, where and how do you experience it?

[SBL 2010: “Community” in Online Learning was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/02. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Finally: Proof of God’s Existence

A student informs me on Facebook that National Geographic Channel is offering its annual Easter season woo-fest, as indicated in this almost unendurable article in the Telegraph (“New series…new explanation…Egypt…Exodus blah blah volcanic ash yada yada algae etc”).

No, I am not saying that proof of God’s existence is found in the tendentious quote-mining of scientists by entertainers to sell a reductionist, sensationalist narrative product to gullible yokels rendered nearly helpless by years of substandard science education and the polarizing media invention of false equivalencies.

I am saying that it is found in this: when I wrote the web URL of the Telegraph article into a Facebook comment addressed to a colleague, the “captcha”[footnote] presented to me was this:

by weasels

Top that, Anselm and Aquinas, if you can.

Notes:
BACK TO POST A “captcha” is when you have to read and copy some scribbly text in order to prove to a web site that you are not a spam robot. You sometimes have to do that when you write a comment on web sites, especially if your comment includes a web link.

[Finally: Proof of God’s Existence was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/29. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]