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 Anumma.com 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.]

THATCamp Pedagogy This Weekend (Picking My Feet Edition)

Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?

I’m on my way this morning to THATCamp Pedagogy (ProfHacker post), an unconference on teaching and learning as an aspect of digital humanities (THATCamp home). The unconference is in Poughkeepsie NY, and is sponsored by Vassar College.

Besides the “unconference” sessions, there are planned “boot camps” on:

  • integrating digital projects into undergraduate courses;
  • teaching with Omeka;
  • the undergraduate’s voice in digital humanities;
  • “So Long, Lecture.”

I will plan to live-Tweet as opportunity allows. On Twitter, you can follow me for the weekend at @anummabrooke to see my Tweets alone, or follow the hashtag #THATCampedagogy (note the single “p”) to follow all Tweets on the unconference.

[Addendum: the hashtags actually used at the unconference have been #THATCamp and #pdgy]

Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie? (Not Safe For Work!)

[THATCamp Pedagogy This Weekend was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/10/14. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

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.

Thanks!

[Biblical Scholars: Care to be Interviewed? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com 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.]

The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew)

I’ve worked into biblical Hebrew the children’s song, “The Wise Man Built His House upon a Rock.” I happened to hear the Boy singing it one morning, and I found myself putting most of it into Hebrew while shaving.

I like it as an exercise for my students because it’s simple, and because the vocabulary is so well attested biblically: build, descend, ascend, fall; wise, house, rock. The choices I made about verb patterns could give rise to fruitful conversation about the qatal, yiqtol, and wayyiqtol. It’s good for me, too: I had initially been drawn to the Infinitive Absolute for the concurrent action of rain falling and floods rising, until my search for biblical parallels suggested I was on a wrong track. (I’d be on firmer ground if the two verbs shared a single agent.)

Another song I plan to put into biblical Hebrew is a version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” While not all of this vocabulary is biblically well-attested, it has value for communicative teaching of Hebrew: it uses words that have high “pay off” for daily usage. (So, I’d be open to songs that use body parts, colors, numbers up to thirty, and everyday objects.)

A third song I have planned is “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” A fourth is a surprise.

How about some revision of “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” with all biblically-attested animals? More advanced would be a revision of, “Hush, Little Baby (the Mockingbird song).”

What other simple children’s songs can you think of that might be put into biblical Hebrew? The song should be fairly short and simple. Ideally, they should EITHER 1) feature vocabulary that is biblically well-attested, OR 2) feature vocabulary that has high pay-off in terms of everyday nouns and concepts like body parts, colors, numerals, and so on.

[The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock (Biblical Hebrew) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/07/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 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 Anumma.com 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.]

Teaching Carnival: Backstory (and New Carnival)

The newest Teaching Carnival (4.8), by Annie Vocature Bullock, is available!

Linking to this edition of the Carnival, ProfHacker Jason B. Jones also fills us in on where it began, and how one can host or contribute to a Teaching Carnival.

It is through the Teaching Carnival that I began to get to know most of the blogs in my Academic Blogroll. (See my right sidebar, underneath my regular Blogroll.) While I don’t love the other Carnival in my life less, it is the Teaching Carnival that most often makes an immediate difference to my daily practices of teaching and writing.

You can always find past Carnivals on the Teaching Carnival Home Page.

[Teaching Carnival: Backstory (and New Carnival) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/04/04. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Frequency Lists for NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew

(Welcome, ad hoc Christianity readers and listeners! I was just hearing from a colleague who notes that vocab-failure is the main cause of flunking a reading competency exam. Hope you find these helpful.)

I have created a pair of “frequency lists” for New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew: words are listed from most-frequent to least-frequent, according to parts of speech. I stop the lists at words occurring less than ten times. Proper nouns are excluded.

My purpose in creating them is to have a resource for drawing up vocabulary quizzes and varying kinds of audio-visual helps. I am posting them here in the event that anybody finds them useful.

Biblical Hebrew frequency list

NT Greek frequency list

Past a certain point, the elementary student is learning vocabulary from reading texts more than from vocabulary lists. Once that begins to happen, the vocabulary “sticks” better because it is associated with a lively context. Still, readers at any skill level can benefit from a check-in with vocabulary. And, as I say, I find such helps really valuable when, say, trying to create in-class dialogues that reinforce essential lexica.

To what sorts of uses might you put a frequency list?

[Frequency Lists for NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/10. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Maybe a Chip in My Head Like Spike Had

In the current incarnation of our academic calendar, Monday is Administrative Day. Classes don’t meet, and faculty all have our meetings. Instructors will know how this kind of thing gets written, via the weekly workings of the Hive Mind, into one’s DNA. No classes Monday.

But this term, Elementary Greek meets Monday mornings at 8:30 a.m. (the result of a complicated, meeting-date-to-be-arranged situation). And my habit is to prepare the previous Thursday, so that Research Friday is left alone and the weekend can be spent poking at longer-term projects.

And so, every Sunday evening for the last three weeks, I’ve startled awake just before dropping off and yelped, “GREEK!”

So I’m totally setting an iCal alarm to alert me to the remaining sessions, synching with my phone and iPod to give me a three-machine alarm along about Sunday dinner. Because let’s face it, my subconscious has already outperformed itself bailing me out on this one.

[Maybe a Chip in My Head Like Spike Had was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/03/07. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs

(N.B.: Because I blog under my proper name, I drafted this post at least one full year ago—maybe a year and a half, or even two years—then saved it to post later. This way, it is clear that the post does not concern any of my current teaching sections, but rather a situation that simply crops up periodically. Any resemblance to current students, living or dead, is coincidental and regretted.)

Professors, do you occasionally find yourself perplexed to observe a student who repeatedly fails to accomplish the assignments, but never steps forward to talk about it? Even when you have called attention, during class time, with heavy eye contact, to the part of the syllabus that says they can’t pass under such circumstances? No contact, no drop slip, no…anything? Perversely, such a student usually continues to take the quizzes or exams, on which basis I theorize that they simply do not believe anybody would actually fail them for a course, and that my warnings are a part of simply keeping up appearances.

Students: have you been or known such a student? (Anonymous comments encouraged!)

Policy-wise, it isn’t a murky situation: the student will not pass the course. And between the syllabus and the verbal heads-ups, there aren’t any doubts about communication. But…what, if anything, do you do? Options include:

  • Do nothing to interfere with the student’s karma: it’s a free country;
  • Reach out to see what gives;
  • I guess I am out of options at this point.

What is your own habitual practice with those students who are failing to turn in the work, but who keep showing up to class and taking—usually failing—quizzes and exams? The ones who have never come to you to acknowledge that they aren’t handing in the assignments?

[Stealth Students, or, Long-Fuse Effs was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2011/02/21. 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 Anumma.com 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.]