The Exegetical Thesis as (Digital) Storytelling

The “exegesis project” is a The Big Project for masters students in a biblical studies course. Usually, it’s a paper, of course. This term, I hope to encourage students in my “Book of Daniel” to consider doing the project in the form of “Digital Storytelling.” I realize that this calls for a two-part explanation:

  1. What makes exegesis “storytelling”?
  2. What makes exegesis “digital”?

I am going to take these one at a time. Today, we will stick with the first. In beginning to learn exegesis, one of the big hurdles for students is that they are asked to bracket their spiritual autobiography long enough to attend to the biblical text’s own historical context. That being so, what can I mean when I ask them to accomplish their exegesis as “storytelling”? I’ll break it down:

What makes it “exegetical”?

  • The body of the work asks questions about the meaning of the biblical text for its author, and for the community to whom the author appears to have written, in that author’s own social and historical context.
  • The work’s arguments rely on publicly available evidence and explicit lines of reasoning. They do not depend upon private revelation, confessional dogma, implicit lines of reasoning, or logical fallacies.

What makes it “a thesis”?

  • The work is organized around the defense of a single claim, or thesis. A thesis is NOT, then, an opinion, a narrative, an “exploration,” or a review. A thesis should be defensible, relevant, and manageable. By “defensible,” I mean that it is a proposition that can be established by publicly-available evidence (not private revelation or confessional dogma) and an explicit line of reasoning. By “relevant,” I mean that the thesis forces your reader to re-evaluate the biblical text; the thesis “makes a difference” to how the biblical text is read. By “manageable,” I mean that the thesis can be argued comprehensively within the constraints of the assignment; it is not too big an idea for the word count, and also not so small that the paper falls significantly short or has to be “padded up.”

What makes it “storytelling”?

  • Even when presenting data (as in a lecture, or a thesis paper), there is a “narrative” of sorts: you lead the reader from a starting place, through a terrain known only to you, to a destination. A good presenter “knows her narrative”: you could take away her slides or her paper, and she can still guide you through the “narrative” of her subject matter or thesis (Ask a student about a recently-completed paper; if they can do this, it’s probably a good paper.)
  • We commonly ask our students to “book-end” their thesis with an introduction and a theological/hermeneutical conclusion. The project should begin with a statement of the student’s interest in the biblical passage. It should end with her own assessment of the passage’s theological claims as determined by exegesis. (Are those claims moral? coherent with other biblical passages? intelligible to today’s reading communities?). This conclusion should also include claims about how the text might, or might not, lend itself to preaching and teaching in particular, well-defined communities of hearers. This is to say, the thesis project is a “round trip,” beginning and ending with the student’s own pressing theological and hermeneutical concerns.

So…What makes it “digital,” if it is?

Stay tuned. In a follow-up post, I will look at the phenomenon of “Digital Storytelling” in the digital humanities, and how it might serve as a platform for “exegesis as storytelling.” In the meantime, what do you think of this way of putting things? Does “storytelling” offer a useful lens, or muddy the waters?

[The Exegetical Thesis as (Digital) Storytelling was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/01/30. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

RBoC: Not-Yet-End-of-Term Edition

End of term? Not even Spring Break yet! (Next week, insh’allah and the creek don’t rise).

I have in mind some writing on pseudonymity and nymity in blogging, on a recent Chronicle op piece about keeping quiet in faculty meetings, on ancient language “reading examinations,” and on “feeling like a writer.” This is what I’m doing instead:

  • Facilitating faculty training on our new Moodle learning management system (so long, Blackboard);
  • Arranging to offer similar training to our platoon of TAs;
  • Preparing biblical Greek reading exams for 2nd-year Greek students and Ph.D. candidates;
  • Catching up on a self-paced UWM online certification program in online teaching and learning;
  • Working up a couple of videos for our seminary admissions page;
  • Keeping up on quizzes, exams, and papers for Elementary Hebrew, Elementary Greek, and Intro to OT;
  • Experimenting with a couple of new productivity helps to organize the above and more;
  • Eat, sleep, you know. Maybe try for a haircut.

What do you find this week  among your RBoC?

[RBoC: Not-Yet-End-of-Term Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/04/12. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student?

Not everyone is equally prepared for online learning, just as not everyone is prepared for a given degree program, or for several aspects of face-to-face learning. What would you ask of a prospective online student in order to help her determine her readiness?

I have been reading through some online quizzes that ask, “Is distance learning really for you?” Here is a sample:

The questions can be clumped into some more-or-less discrete categories:

  1. access to internet and minimal hardware and software
  2. minimal competence with an operating system, manipulating files, relevant applications
  3. comfort and experience with navigating tasks online (email, paying bills, renewing library books, search engines)
  4. comfort and skills with social aspects of internet (Facebook, blogs and comments, Google/Yahoo Groups)
  5. how much time one expects to spend on a course, and in what increments
  6. habits relating to organization and professionalism
  7. normal student skills like reading, writing, participating in discussion, interacting with faculty
  8. motives and expectations (why an online course rather than face-to-face?)

For me, some of the real biggies are those that pertain to the f2f classroom as much as to distance learning: How much time will you put in? Will you break that time into daily chunks? Do you have professional habits of time management and communication? Do you have experience with active reading? Do you have experience with several different kinds of writing? Why are you here? Some of this can be taught, but a lot of it amounts to disposition and attitude. Even a willing student who falls short in these areas will be struggling against likely long-term counter-productive habits.

The items more clearly related to the peculiarities of the online environment—knowing what to own and how to use it, navigating virtual space, translating existing social skill sets into unfamiliar venues—actually worry me less. Sure, the student has to recognize the need, and may have to get over a “fear hump,” but if that one hurdle can be negotiated, then it’s just a matter of learning a bunch of stuff.

This is, I acknowledge, my own idiosyncratic assessment: it’s how I think it would be for me to get started.

What would you want to ask of a prospective online student, to help her make a no-B.S. assessment of whether distance learning is for her? If you have been an online learner, what do you know now about “what it takes” that you didn’t know then?

[What Would You Ask a Prospective Online Student? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/16. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Closed Captioning for User-Generated Video (via ProfHacker)

[Changed title, but not URL, to reflect distinction between subtitles and closed-captioning.]

Yesterday, ProfHacker posted a blog entry about how to produce closed-captioning for your videos using the site Universal Subtitles. As ProfHacker points out, when you have created the subtitles, they exist only at the Universal Subtitles web site; but, you can download the subtitles as a file and upload that file to your video on YouTube. ProfHacker shows the process, step by step.

Embedded below is my first effort at closed captioning. The main glitch is that my videos often already have subtitles of varying kinds, because they are often language-learning videos. And, you cannot (I think) change where the closed-captioning sits: it is always at the bottom of the screen. Now, if your already-existing subtitles are YouTube “annotations,” you can always go into YouTube and move them around. But, if your subtitles were created with the video itself (as in iMovie or whatever), then you would have to actually go back and re-edit the video and upload the revised version (which would have a new URL on YouTube).

The take-away on this for me is that, when I produce subtitles in my videos (that is, subtitles that are not closed-captioning), I will want to keep them at the top or sides of the screen, so that there is room reserved at the bottom for closed-captioning. As you can imagine, the screen “real estate” will really be filling in at that point.

This is my video on how to sing Happy Birthday in Hebrew. In the few places where my subtitles and my closed-captioning collide, I have not tried to fix it (yet). Obviously, you will need to click the “cc” (closed captioning) button at the bottom of the video screen.

What experience do you have with closed captioning, whether needing it or producing it? What issues should I know about as I continue to closed-caption my videos?

[Subtitles for User-Generated Video was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/11. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Modern Israeli Music in Hebrew Class

Second-semester Hebrew is always a pleasure to teach. Sure, the students have usually blunted their edge in the 5-6 weeks since fall session. But they get it back quickly, and things quickly assume the character of an advanced-level course. Any attrition has already taken place earlier in the first term, so there’s a “lean and mean” quality to the student population. And while there are enough new syntactical concepts coming down the pipe to keep them on their toes, morphology has somehow become “no big deal”: Oh, so that’s how we do the Niphal? And guttural still do their thing, and III-still gets bumped of by a suffix? Nûn still assimilating? ’Kay, whatevs.

For the first time, I’m helping the students work through a piece of modern Israeli Hebrew rock music: Rona Kenan, ’לחיות נחון.’ (First semester we spent time on some common prayers and the Torah blessings from the Sabbath liturgy.) We began this week, and I was happy to see that the students were enjoying it.

I had distributed this to them a week or two before, inviting them to give it a listen and to jot down anything they thought they recognized. Here’s Rona Kenan:

Between them, students teased out a lot more than I thought they might. They had already noted:

  • Lots of זה and לא
  • Lots of forms beginning with ל (not having yet learned the infinitive, but correctly equating it with some infinitive forms that I had used informally in earlier sessions)
  • Words and roots like טוב, אהב, אכל, מאוד.
  • Phrases like מִכֹּל, אני רוֹצָה, ביום, בלילה.

Together this week, we took time to work completely through to the 0:21 marker:


זה חשוב לאהוב

ולמדוד את הטוב מזמן לזמן

לא לבקש מה שאי אפשר לקבל

One of the students had earlier gotten turned onto some other pieces (like Shrek and a little Les Mis), and she shared these links with her colleagues.

So, thanks, Rona! The students got a heads-up on the infinitive, and we all got a timely mid-winter change of pace.

How are your classes this term? Are you doing anything to mix it up a little this February?

[Modern Israeli Music in Hebrew Class was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/18. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation

“‘To Those Far and Near’: the Case for Community at a Distance.”

The Background:

A Community of Scholarship, Emory’s Candler School of Theology.

Episode CXXVIII of the Endless Thread, Pharyngula.

Losers of Friday Night on Their Computers, Twitter search. [link fixed]

SBL Annual Conference 2010 (#sbl10), Twitter search. [link fixed]

Intro to OT Online Group Paper (concluding summary), Wetpaint.

Dissecting Community: Example from Sociology:

Community, Infed (Informal Education).

The Project:

Bible and Teaching Blogs via feeds, NetVibes.

Collaborative Wiki on the Hendel Affair, Wetpaint.

[Links for SBL10 Workshop Presentation was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/11/22. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Open Access Intro to OT

This post concerns my ideas for a particular kind of open-access Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

I recently floated a Tweet (and Facebook status update) that asked around about any open-access Introduction to the Old Testament. I have an idea for such a project, and wanted to see if anything was already out there (knowing pretty well that there is not).

Akma proved (as I knew he would) to be an eager conversation partner, and his responsive post has generated some discussion. I follow up there with some remarks about what I have in mind.

What I plan to try for is an Introduction to the OT that:

  • is freely available online;
  • is historical- and literary-critical in focus (as is a Coogan or a Collins, say; in other words, not a “theological introduction” narrowly reflecting the concerns of faith communities or other readerly social contexts);
  • is authored by a socially diverse body of contributors.

With the “open source” aspect, I mean to respond to a clear need. I would like my own students to have a freely-available, critical Introduction. (I’d actually like them to have several, as well as several open-access Hebrew and Greek grammars, and so on.)

With the authorship and content that I have in mind, I mean to address a situation in the field. During the time that historical criticism was held to be in decline, traditional historical-literary introductions continued to be ceded to the white male authors, while women and people of color wrote works intended to supplement such introductions. Now, though, the recognition of the biblical authors as among the “Others” to whom we try to listen earnestly has prompted some rehabilitation of the historical-critical approaches. It is well past time to have “traditional” historical-literary-critical Introductions to OT that reflect genuine diversity of authorship. (What holds together such an Intro would be a shared commitment to grounding one’s historical-literary claims in publicly-shared evidence and lines of reasoning; what makes it diverse would be the unpredictable range of possible perceptions and assessments regarding that evidence.)

Akma had the excellent idea that such an Intro could be “modular”: after the initial publication, if somebody wanted to offer a supplemental chapter, zie could do so as long as the controlling body agreed that the supplemental work fit the scope and formatting of the project.

I will be writing up an outline delimiting the methods, outline, and scope of the project, and will also be having discussions with possible contributors. I am at a very early stage on this, so you will have to stay tuned a while to hear more about what takes shape.