Biblical Scholars: Care to be Interviewed?

I have assigned my “Introduction to Old Testament” students to interview a “real biblical scholar.” Students will collaboratively come up with questions for their interviews during October, and conduct their interviews by phone or Skype in early November. They will then write a report on their interview.

Here is how I describe the report to them:

The student will have already prepared and refined a list of questions, independently and in collaboration with colleagues. She will have contacted the subject, arranged the interview, and held the interview, in accordance with instructions.

The report should demonstrate that the student asked questions appropriate to academic biblical studies, while also appropriately inviting the subject to reflect on “essential questions” related to the practice of academic biblical studies. The report should contain an introduction, a list of questions, and a body that communicates the subject’s responses to each question, and a conclusion. The report should show evidence that the interview has prompted the student to “step back” and reflect on her practice of biblical studies both for our course work and longer term.

I would like volunteers to either have a completed PhD, or else be ABD with a full-time academic job in biblical studies.

If you are interested, you can respond here in comments, or else email me at my work address: brooke dot mylastname at garrett dot edu.


[Biblical Scholars: Care to be Interviewed? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/09/20. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

“Good Morning, Eager Young Minds.”

This is the first day of the new term. My classes this time around are:

  • “Introduction to the Old Testament”: yes, we are reading backwards again. We’ll also continue with viewing lectures as pre-recorded downloads outside of class. New this term is the Wikipedia assignment, in which students will make a series of course-related edits to relevant Wikipedia articles. Also new is a plan to prepare for in-class discussion with threaded, asynchronous, online discussion between sessions.
  • “Elementary Hebrew 1”: as in recent years, we’ll be starting with about ten hours of oral/aural exercises, using no texts of any kind. I’ve got a small surprise planned for today, if I can manage to walk to a store between classes.
  • “The Old Testament in the New Testament”: a new seminar, beginning in tee minus 150 minutes. The meat and potatoes of the course will be student presentations, with each student presenting a “method” article on some aspect of literary allusion as well as a “content” article on NT allusions to the OT. Something new: all presentations will be offered from a standing position and must have some A/V (multimedia) component. The idea is to raise the energy level up from “somnambulant rap session” to…I don’t know, something where blood continues to flow to brains.

And, yes, each of these meets today! The seminar meets once each week, the Intro course twice, and Hebrew thrice, so Tuesday is the big day of the week this term.

How about you (both profs and students): what’s on the menu for Fall 2010? What’s new, and what’s old?

[“Good Morning, Eager Young Minds.” was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/09/07. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Student Hebrew Bible Wiki (in progress)

One of my introductory Hebrew Bible classes has been producing a wiki at The wiki is meant to be a resource in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the study of the Hebrew Bible.

The work is in progress, and is weighted toward Writings and Latter Prophets. (This is all they’ve learned yet: in fact, they were learning the wiki during the Writings, and so Job, for example, never got in). This is the first time almost any of the students have been involved in a wiki of any kind, and they have picked it up admirably.

Anybody may view the wiki, but only members of the class may contribute to it.

Go and have a look if you like!

Reading the Textbook with an Open Bible

Typically, in an “Introduction to Bible” or “Introduction to Old/New Testament” sort of class, the student is expected to read weekly in a textbook and also in the Bible. However, some students find themselves reading through a chapter of the textbook without the content seeming to “stick,” or gain traction, with them. Others will find themselves getting bogged down in confusing biblical material, blowing a lot of time on (say) the Book of Jeremiah, without much payoff in their understanding of critical issues in that material.

I regularly suggest that students read the textbook with an open Bible. The textbook will regularly cite the biblical texts, usually in the context of making some critical point. “In Jeremiah 7:4-14, we can see the prophet’s attack on his opponents, who are convinced of the Temple’s inviolability and therefore unimpressed by the Babylonian threat on the horizon.” At this point, the student should read Jeremiah 7:4-14, checking to see 1) that the textbook is reading the Bible correctly, and 2) whether the student is understanding the textbook correctly. The student should do this with all of the Bible references in the textbook.

In the above example, the student may also find that related aspects of the course work are reinforced: the fall of Israel (where Shiloh is) to the Assyrians, for example.

“But reading the textbook already takes so long: now it will take longer!” Will it really? Perhaps, but with a net gain in time. By the time a student has read the textbook on, say, the last years of the first Temple, she will not only have already “skimmed” the whole book of Jeremiah, but will have done so with attention to critically significant texts, in the context of an informed discussion (with the textbook) about those critical issues. So, there’s the main part of the assignment to read Jeremiah, checked off the “to do” list.

Also, the words of the textbook are now gaining traction for the reader: by “checking up” on the textbook’s claims about the Bible, the student is out of a purely passive, receptive mode of reading, and into a dialogic, critical, active mode of reading. Additionally, related critical issues are being brought into synthesis with the material at hand (“where is Shiloh? why is it destroyed?”). This kind of active learning is what makes material “stick.”

Have you tried “reading the textbook with an open Bible”?

Biblical Studies Carnival XLVI is Up

Clear some time this weekend for some reading, kiddoes: the latest Biblical Studies Carnival has been posted by Daniel and Tonya.

For those readers who are unacquainted with the concept: a monthly “carnival” includes links to a great many blog posts in biblical studies, all written during the last month.

Posts are nominated for the carnival by readers. Carnivals are hosted by volunteers. Carnivals are cool. Like it says in the Bible, “Come and see.”

You can find links to previous Biblical Studies Carnivals over at the Carnival’s home page.

Being a Student: Writing for the Course

“He could have written this before ever taking my class!”

Among my rubrics for student writing is the requirement that they rigorously engage the course materials (readings, lectures, discussion) and also engage the methods taught in the course (narrative criticism, form/genre criticism, attention to historical contexts, and so on).

For introductory students, who are still trying to get a handle on just what we are reading/doing/talking about, this can at first feel a bit abstract. Recently, an exasperated colleague at another school made a comment that, in my view, offers an excellent “thumb rule” on this business of writing for the course:

“He could have written this piece before ever taking my class!”

If I had to isolate the single most common complaint that I’ve heard professors utter about student writing, it wouldn’t be about grammar and spelling, or about making deadlines, or even plagiarism. It would be this complaint, that a piece of student writing (often for a final project in the course) could have been written by the student without ever having taken the course in the first place.

So, ask yourself—early in the process of planning, and again early in the writing, and again when approaching completion—could I have written this before I ever took this course? Or am I making concrete use of the readings I’ve read, the lectures offered, the modes of inquiry that have been encouraged, the discussions facilitated in class?

Random Colin: the Bible Isn’t a bible

Random Colin has a post up called, “The Bible isn’t a bible…” It’s in part about what the Bible is not (an instruction manual) and also what the Bible is. By all means have a look.

Something I find myself saying to my students, repeatedly and in different ways, is that we have to begin biblical studies by discovering what the Bible is (as opposed to whatever we might already think the Bible is). This discovery does not happen all at once, but rather happens over time, and only by one means: reading, reading, reading. The discoveries are piecemeal, but add up: the prophets prove not to spend all their time predicting the future; the Psalms are not so bland and nicey-nice as our lectionaries suggest; Job is neither silent nor uncomplaining; the Law doesn’t include much law; the Canaanites of Jericho don’t trust in their faboo wall. The more one actually reads the Bible, the more one says, “What gives?” And as surely as the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, “What gives?” is the beginning of knowledge.

I’d gotten the heads-up on Colin from Bryan at Hevel and John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. I’ve been reading him for a while now, and have now also and belatedly added him to my blogroll. While you are over there reading about what the Bible is and is not, browse some other posts for a bit.

[Later: I see Colin has moved to WordPress. Here is the link to The Bible isn’t a bible…, and to his Home Page.]

“Audience” and Student Writing

To whom should a student imagine herself writing, when doing her course work? At least, she’ll want to know how much knowledge of the subject matter she can presuppose on her reader’s part. Further, a writer naturally imagines a hearer: an interlocutor to her line of reasoning, a narratee to her narration.

In my experience, the usual reflex is to imagine the professor as the audience. This makes a kind of sense: the work is actually to be read by the professor, of course. And, the professor created the assignment in the first place, so doing the thing feels like an “answer” to that.

However, many students will already know some drawbacks of imagining the professor as their reader. For one thing, the professor’s knowledge of the field of study will usually so far exceed the student’s that the student has no idea what prior knowledge or presuppositions to assume for that reader…not to mention the creeping fear that the prof will know some bit of data that totally demolishes whatever line of reasoning the student has gone out onto the limb with in her writing. Further, the student may have negative, fearful, or ambivalent feelings about the professor. The conditions for good writing are delicate, and as easily frightened away as shy woodland creatures: the imposing shadow of the prof-as-reader can all too easily paralyze the writer before she can really get started.

At the same time, I don’t think that the utterly uninformed layperson—what I think of as the “tabula rasa” audience—is a much better alternative. If the imagined audience has no prior knowledge of the subject matter, then the student writer feels compelled to explain every little thing to the nth degree…and the work becomes unmanageable. Also, this “tabula rasa” audience is rather amorphous. I prefer a nice, clear audience in my head.

For my part, I suggest that in their writing, my students imagine a strong colleague as their audience. That is, some one (or two, or three) classmates who have kept up on the reading, heard the lectures, participated in the discussions, and have sought to make connections between the different elements of the subject matter. This solves the question of prior knowledge: the writer does not have to explain every little thing, but insofar as her research has led her to information not covered in class, she should bring that data into relation with her classmate’s body of knowledge. The “strong colleague” is (or can be) a positive figure to hold in one’s mind, and emulating that mental audience is an attainable goal: the “strong colleague” is like the writing student herself at her imagined best. In the writing that she is doing at that point in time, the “strong colleague” represents the best of what she is trying to be.

What do you think of the “strong colleague” as an imagined audience for student writing? What sorts of audiences have you imagined for yourself when you write, and with what results?

Bible Dudes? Bible Dudes.

More proof, if any were needed, that I need new minions: how have I not been made aware of these guys?

Hat tip to Bryan at Hevel.

Social Learning Tools: Bringing it Together on NetVibes

My last two posts showed how students’ course-related blogging can be gathered and shared by Yahoo Pipes, and how their course-related social bookmarking can be gathered and shared by Diigo. Today, I conclude by showing how these and other online student works can be “fed” to a central location using NetVibes.

NetVibes is an aggregating page, as is Google Reader or Bloglines. NetVibes allows the user to create public pages (visible to anyone) as well as private pages (visible only to the user). Within a page, the user may create multiple tabs to organize her feeds. Michael Wesch, who teaches anthropology at KSU, has an active NetVibes public page.(*) Here is the “Welcome” tab of my own public page in progress.

For a given course, I create one or more tabs: here is the tab for my course IPS-417. Remember the Yahoo Pipe that I talked about a few days back, the one that gathers course-related blogs entries from all of the students’ different blogs? With NetVibes, I have created a widget that shows the results of that Yahoo Pipe: you can see it in the upper left of my IPS-417 course tab (it’s named, “Blogging”). And remember that the students will all belong to a Diigo group that shares its course-related bookmarks with one another? I also have a NetVibes widget showing those Diigo bookmarks: it’s in the lower left of that IPS-417 course tab.

Since this is all done simply by gathering RSS feeds, it is easy to add other useful feeds to a NetVibes course tab. So, that IPS-417 tab that we’re looking at also has feeds from Twitter and from the course WetPaint Wiki. On Twitter, I will encourage students to use the hashtag #ips417 for their course-related tweets; using RSS, my NetVibes widget gathers those tweets (and only those tweets) into a single feed. Similarly, any changes made to our course wiki are “fed” to a widget in our NetVibes tab. This not only helps the students keep abreast of changes, it also helps me easily track which students are contributing and how much.

It’s all funneling: taking the things our students are doing all over the web, and directing them where they can be shared and assessed in one place. As Wesch has said, we are training “the machine” to bring the information to us. For me, this means that I am free to dissolve (or at least make permeable) the “firmaments” that enclose our CMS (Blackboard) and our classroom itself, allowing student collaboration to find a place in the overlapping spheres of public discourse that they are already using (or at least could be using).

Are your students (or you yourself, as a student) already collaborating online? Do you have other strategies for encouraging and managing online collaboration? What do you think of the possibilities, for bad or for good?

* I encourage educators and students alike to view Wesch’s hour-long address, “A Portal to Media Literacy.”