A personal journal about teaching the Bible and ancient Near Eastern history/theology/religion/archaeology to university students in New Orleans, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.
Friday, October 31, 2003
Today I've been meeting with my Theology 2001 groups who are designing websites. In retrospect, I probably should have had more checkpoints earlier to guide them. I've noticed many groups have put off this project and haven't put in the work required up until this point. Yet, some groups have amazed me at the research and insight they've put into this. I like how each group has had to split up the project, with each member being responsible for a critical methodology and applying it to their passage. Then in the end, as a group, they'll put all their parts together. But some groups of course have members that aren't quite as motivated as they should be. When I was a student, this is why I hated group projects. Here at Xavier I've been told repeatedly about the merits of group projects, mostly because this is how the world will often work they graduate. But there is a huge difference, in that members that slack off can get fired in the real world. Overall I've been pleased with the projects, but now it's crunch time, and we'll see how they come together. It seems I have to invest in a floppy disk drive, as I can currently only read CD, DVD and Zip, not 3.5 floppies, which is what the students have. Teaching with technology is pretty darn expensive.
Monday, October 27, 2003
Today in my Theology 2001 course, The Torah of Israel, I brought in my model of the Tabernacle and reinacted the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) sacrifice. This is always a popular lecture, mostly because I get a student volunteer to wear an outfit of the High Priest which I made. They then use the urim and thummim to see which goat will be the scapegoat. When talking about this desert demon named Azazel, I showed clips from the movie Exorcist where a priest/archaeologist digs up a Pazuza statue in northern Iraq, and thus unleashes this unholy spirit who takes over that girl. Why do most horror films start with archaeologists finding something? Anyway, the model of the Tabernacle along with altars and goats with blood on the horns of the altar etc I think really lets students see how a very important holiday in the Bible would have been inacted. Plus they get to see a classmate look funny dressed as the high priest.
Saturday, October 25, 2003
Whewwww! I just finished putting all my quizzes into Blackboard for the semester. I decided to try this out for the current semester. When I came to Xavier I felt it necessary to give quizzes to make sure students were doing the readings before class. I would usually give these out on Friday of MWF sections, and Thursday of TTh sections. But, these took away about 15 minutes of classtime, and often students would come in late and I would be spineless and let them take it. In short, it was becoming a problem. So I learned blackboard. I now put all of my reserve articles on it in .doc or .pdf format, and all the class handouts. Everything except the textbooks. This has been very popular with the students, though it has made this semester rough as I try to get all the articles typed out about a week before they are due. Anyway, when I teach these courses in the future it should be easier. Well, back to the quizzes. I put five questions from each day's reading assignment on blackboard, and using the random pool option each student is presented with 3 randomly selected multiple-choice questions from the pool of 5. They are given a five minute time limit, and the quizzes go offline when class starts. Thus, they have to take the quiz before the class for which they were assigned. In the end, there will be 30 quizzes, which makes 90 quiz questions. I will drop the lowest 3 quiz scores. If I take the huge amount of time involved in making up the quizzes and setting up blackboard properly, these have been great. The students I find are really doing the reading more closely, and they are coming to class prepared. Also, I don't have to spend any class time going over the quizzes. Once in a while there has been a problem. Blackboard, or more likely, Xavier's server was down for a few days. I simply postponed the due date for that quiz. Also, once in a while the students think a question might not have been worded properly, or something similar, or their computer froze. These I deal with on an individual basis. Anyway, hallelujah, I now have all the quizzes on blackboard for all of my courses this semester. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have time to work on my atlas.
Friday, October 24, 2003
Technology has been sucking up my life. Not literally. It’s just that lately about 80% of my waking hours involves fiddling with cables and rebooting my computer. This is mostly because of two things. First, I’ve switched from PowerPoint to Keynote, and this takes a great deal of time to learn the new software and to make the PowerPoint features fit. It is such a huge disadvantage that Keynote does not have hyperlinks, and I really hope they put this into the next edition. Second, technology is eating away at my life because I’ve been digitizing all sorts of video and DVD. I have a presentation coming up for the American Schools of Oriental Research, and my paper covers the way archaeology and archaeologists have been portrayed in film. So I either convert from video using an analog converter at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, or more recently, I’ve shown DVD and VHS films using a projector onto a bedsheet on the wall, and then film this with the audio going into the mike jack on the camera. Then I have to export these from imovie to quicktime. I’ve got some great clips, such as the Mole People, Laura Croft, Exorcist, Mummy, and of course Indiana Jones, but my God this eats up time. Also money. I had to pay about $50 to get my hands on this old movie called Skullduggery in which Burt Reynolds of all people plays an archaeologist. Hopefully I can get most of this recorded and exported into quicktime in the next couple of weeks. I’ve got a bunch of writing that needs attention, especially the Bible atlas I’m working on as well as my website BibleDudes. Bart Everson at CAT has been very helpful in working with me on digitizing the film clips. The ones that I’ve shown in class, such as a Seinfeld clip where Newman is like Solomon, have been very well received.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
I've converted many of my lectures from Powerpoint to Keynote. This has been very time consuming. Keynote has really cool slide transitions and graphics capabilities. Plus in my mind the menu makes more sense. However, this is the first version of keynote, and it does not contain the ability to make hyperlinks. This is a major flaw in my opinion. Occasionally I would hyperlink to websites, but mostly I would hyperlink to various documents in the powerpoint lecture. I would even have urim and thummim icons on questions pages that I could click and the computer would randomly select a slide with one of the student's pictures, and they would answer. I can't do that with keynote. But keynote does integrate with quicktime better.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
In an attempt to make my lectures more interesting, I've decided to move away from PowerPoint and will give Keynote a try. Keynote, as a Mac OS software program, is supposed to be a bit more stylish and compatible with quicktime. It should be here in a few days, and I'll give it a try.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
I've been incorporating a great deal of digitized movie clips into my lectures, as well as sound files. The students seem to enjoy these, and they help the students to pay attention. Mostly I've done this in my Torah of Israel class, where we show clips from Moses movies such as the 10 commandments when relevant. I've also put in clips of sound files, such as Louis Armstrong singing Go DOwn Moses, and Billy Crystal's comedy bit about Edward G. Robinson miscast in 10 Commandments. I believe comedy helps me in teaching.
Monday, October 13, 2003
I handed back exams in Theology 2001 today. SOme were excellent, some were awful. It is always hard for me to hand back the awful ones. It makes me feel guilty. Part of this is because I was so driven as a student that such bad grades would have crushed me. Part of this is because if students do poorly it reflects negatively on me as a teacher. I wish I could motivate ALL my students to put the time in for test. I used to have a few teachers who really motivated me to do well. Anyway, the days I hand back tests always suck.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
I've spent Sunday creating Blackboard quizzes for upcoming dates. I create a pool of five multiple-choice questions worth one point each. Then in the quiz section each quiz randomly selects three questions from the pool. Students have five minutes to take the quiz and they can only take it once. Thus far, halfway through the semester, the students have taken 16 quizzes already. What is good about this is we don't use class time for quizzes, and with the quizzes before each class over the readings I've noticed the students have been reading. In fact, they've been reading more than ever in my experience in teaching. The bad side is it takes a great amount of time to keep this updated. I should be spending time with my family today or finishing the atlas I am writing instead.
Saturday, October 11, 2003
I've spent Friday night and Saturday grading exams for both of my classes. I decided to expand my website on guidelines for paper writing. Same old issues, such as starting off papers with dictionary definitions, mixing up alter/altar, Israel/IsrEAl, and improper citation format. Anyway, overall I was pleased with the exams. Several students though didn't seem to study too hard, and turned in exams half blank. Also, in the portion where students wrote papers outside of class, I've had a few turn in downloaded papers, who will fail the assignment. These students usually wind up dropping the course, so in the end I wonder if there are really any repurcussions for plagiarism.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
In my Theology 1120 course, Intro to Biblical Studies, I feel I’m facing something of a dilemma and/or problem. I often make jokes when I’m lecturing, and I feel humor is one of my biggest assets in teaching. This is always remarked upon and praised in my student evaluations. A group of what I estimate to be three or four students, led by one student in particular, voiced their opinion that I must not make jokes about New Orleans. In the past I’ve referenced the poor health people in the region have, due to largely to obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, as well as poor public education in the area, and lousy driving. How on earth does this relate to biblical studies? Great question. I might have been lecturing on Eli or Eglon being fat, as the Bible says, and said something like “The Bible claims Eli was fat--not New Orleans fat mind you, but maybe Green Bay or Chicago fat.” Such a joke would come up about once a week or so, and to be honest I’ve never really paid attention to it in the past. I certainly make way more jokes about Nebraska, my home state, and California, where I lived for years. But one day in class I felt verbally attacked by a student, the leader I mentioned earlier, who claimed that people in the class demanded I end the New Orleans references. I explained that I care very very much about improving New Orleans, and many of the problems faced in this community terrify me, and that I am dedicated to improving them, but often I make jokes about very serious matters as a means to deal with these matters. This group congregates in the back of the class, and often during lecture they look at me with very angry expressions. Early this week, when we were going over the study guide for yesterday’s exam, a few of these students stated the study guide for the exam was “totally ridiculous” and that I was expecting way too much from them. I tried to explain that I know my classes are challenging and require a great deal of work, but that I feel that students perform to expectations and that I’ve made a commitment to set the bar high. They said this was not their hardest class, but that the exam would be. Unfortunately this argument lasted about 10 minutes of the review session, and I felt attacked and that I was losing control of the class. After the class several students came up to me and said I wasn’t expecting too much, just that the students in question always complained. I felt terrible in that the students took pity on me and said these things, and felt I wasn’t being a good teacher if I was dividing the class as such. In the end, I thought long and hard about it, and decided not to lower or compromise my standards. During the exam, several of these students made a half-hearted effort on the exam, and for much of it put their heads on their arms and pretended to be napping. This group also had a problem with wandering eyes, and a couple of times I had to remind them to keep their eyes on their own papers. After the exam, when I was leaving the classroom, I noticed them congregating and giving me dirty looks. When I was grading I noticed this group left much of the exam, such as a map section and the summary of an article, completely blank. I have never experienced a group of students turning on me as such, and feel the need to talk to them to resolve this issue before it gets out of hand. I think I will set up an appointment with one or more of these students when the time is right, after a few days for them to reflect on the exam.
Yesterday my students in 1120 (Intro to Biblical Studies) completed an examination. I've graded most of them, and the grades were overall good. About five of the 28 students scored in the 90's. They hand in papers related to this exam tomorrow. My other class, Theology 2001, is taking an exam on Friday. I've had several students come to my office with questions, which is a good thing. The server here at the university has been quite slow, and at times inoperable. I hope this doesn't effect students emailing me with questions. With Blackboard I will be able to post keys on the website, and then not spend class time going over the exam.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Last Saturday I took about 12 of my 1120 students (Introduction to Biblical Studies) and we volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. We put a roof on a house, as well as installed windows and a variety of other tasks. I've implemented a Service Learning component into the course, where students pick a biblical verse that would improve the world, and then implement it through at least 8 hours of service. Most students chose to go with me to Habitat, and I think it is a very positive experience. I get to know the students better, and they get to know me. They also meet other people in the community, both volunteers and the people who will be buying the house.
Monday, October 06, 2003
In my Torah of Israel class, theology 2001, the students have a group project in which they will create a website about a particular passage in the Torah. These websites will have a variety of critical methods, such as textual criticism, historical criticism, literary criticism, source criticism, etc. I've noticed that because of the project, I've been meeting quite a bit with students outside of class. This is time consuming, but overall a very positive feature. I get to know the students better when I meet with the groups and individually. The students seem excited that their websites will really be online.
Sunday, October 05, 2003
This is my first blog. How exciting! I'm creating this online journal in order to be a better teacher. I hope it will clarify my thoughts on a variety of issues. I've recently made a huge effort to teach using technology. This includes using powerpoint, web authoring, blackboard, digital imagery, audio files, and digitizing movies and clips from television shows. I think thus far, about midway in the Fall 2003 semester, it has been very successful. This is mainly because I decided to no longer teach the texts. What I mean by this is that in the past, I would expect students to read the assignments before coming to class. They rarely did, and had little motivation to do so, because when they got to class I would summarize the reading material for them. Now students are really doing the reading and we have had excellent discussions on a high level in my classes. We are talking about critically reflective ideas instead of details. This is due to to innovations I've used. First, I create blackboard quizzes on the daily reading assignments that students must take before classtime. I create a pool of 5 questions, and the students are randomly given 3 questions, multiple-choice, and they have 5 minutes to complete these. Second, before each assignment I have a list of questions and terms that I expect them to know before class. In class, we examine the questions in powerpoint, and I have programmed my computer to randomly select one of their pictures. That student is then responsible for answering the question. After we briefly go over the questions, we then use the rest of the class to discuss, compare and contrast various ancient texts, including the Bible. Anyway, let me end this--my first blog--by saying thus far I have been very impressed with the results. I told my students I believe that often they achieve to where the expectations are set, and that I have personally raised the bar in my classes. I've adopted the moto "I care whether you're learning." I write that on the board before each class.
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