Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Blogging next semester in Theology 1120: Intro to Biblical Studies
I feel using student blogs this semester helped the course overall. However, I want to tailor a blogsite to my class. I think I want a homepage for the course in which students must blog weekly about how they are proceeding on a course project. I would like them to be able to post comments on other blogs. I would like to be able to rate the blogs by most viewed and also be able to personally pick a blog each week for the other students to view. I would like for there to a section for course project, which will be how to improve the world, and also they could blog definitions for terms.I would like students to be able to click on other student's names and be able to read their blogs. I would also like a dropbox for assignments. The technology for this is beyond me at this point, so i'll ask Bart Everson for help. So what does that make in the end? A section where they must blog weekly updates on their improve the world project. A section on terms where they give definitions. And finally a section where they can post thoughts on the course. I think that for the readings in the course I'll have them write out answers to the questions and bring these to each class. Sorry trees. I'll ask Bart if he thinks there is a way around this.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Many Thoughts on My Course Prophets and Prophecy After A Semester of Heaven and Hell
By and large I am happy with the way the course turned out. This was my first time teaching it. Even though the university’s official evaluation forms are kept in some secret vault until the final grades are turned in, I’ve read the comments on my personal evaluation forms (that are anonymous) and also for a recent assignment I had students blog their thoughts about the course and how they thought I should teach it in the future. So I have some idea about how students felt regarding the semester.
First I need to address what might be called the Cain Abel syndrome, as this is what troubled me the most and in the future will improve my teaching I hope. My 9 AM section was the best section I’ve ever had, and I will very much miss the discussions we had. We worked on a very high level with erudition and enthusiasm. There were a few personalities in there that made for excellent group dynamics. Just about everything went fantastically. However, my 8 AM section was the worst I have ever had by far. Same class material, but 180 degree different results. There was organized resistance to just about everything I did in the class. Much of this had to do with an argument we had about my high expectations with the first paper assignment. The main thing I learned is that it is a terrible idea to argue with students in class. I suppose most teachers know this, but I had some utopian understanding that further communication would bring this student to realize that though I set the bar high the paper was going to be very good for their education. That day I should have said to the student that raised the issue “I’m sorry you are having difficulty with your paper. I feel we’ve spent adequate class time going over this previously, and if you have any questions I encourage you to email me or visit during office hours.” If he/she continued, I should have asked them to leave. Through the course of the semester I had several students in that section repeatedly voice how they would teach the course. This mostly reflected that they thought the course would be a Bible study about the biblical prophets. I had one student say on the evaluation forms that I did not respect Christian students. This was the same student that felt my critique of Mel Gibson’s Passion movie was equivalent to criticizing Christians. Anyway, I hope that student later in life will find a teacher who can open his/her mind, as I wasn’t the one for sure. Many 8AM students wished I would have done more to silence the disgruntled students, as they were distracting and created a poor learning environment. I should have, and am sorry I didn’t. In the very least I should have separated the disrespectful group so they didn’t sit near each other, and I should have asked students who were not being respectful of my class to leave and meet with student services before being allowed to attend. This was the same section that had a student complain to the Dean that I said Biology majors were stupid after I really said that I was surprised that Biology majors I’ve been told are the most intelligent majors we have, so I can’t believe they’re the ones having the most difficulty with this assignment. A student in class said they hadn’t written a book report since the 5th grade, and I said great, I’m sure they pull it off, and then some student told the Dean that I said Xavier students couldn’t write on a 5th grade level. After the Dean called me about this complaint, I apologized to the class in a written statement (it’s on an earlier blog) about how I had great respect for Biology majors. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have apologized because I didn’t say anything out of line. I also wish the students would come to me first if they have a problem, and if it can’t be resolved they should go to the chair. The Dean in my opinion might have asked the students first if they have brought this up with the instructor before taking on the roles of judge and jury. Anyway, I’m quite glad that section will be finished. I spoke with my chair and others about this section through the course of the semester. Some good feedback included that I should work on keeping the border between faculty and students in place. So, I’ve finished signing my emails to students Michael and started using Dr. Homan. Probably a good idea. Seems like democracy in the classroom worked just find as long as students remembered it wasn’t exactly a democracy. So, in addition to all the negative stuff above about how I would improve the class by being more of a hardass, some other good ideas from me and students include:
1. Take one lecture towards the end and discuss Nostradamus and other more recent so-called prophets.
2. Do one more group project, perhaps have groups of three present a 5 minute skit on each of the Minor Prophets. The movies they did in group projects worked out great.
3. Blog less but more meaningfully. Instead of blogging before every class, once a week would be better. They could blog about upcoming papers. I’m still exploring ways to get students to do the reading.
4. Reduce Former Prophets material into one week.
5. Start off with Jeremiah in much detail and then explore ANE prophecy, then come back to biblical prophets.
6. It wasn’t enough for some students to discuss paper guidelines in class. Even though I have an extensive website about what I expect from papers, I need on the syllabus to be more specific about each paper.
7. I need more problem based learning assignments. I should come up with something similar to Bible Mysteries that I use in my Intro to Biblical Studies course.
8. I need to find better books. Some students loved David’s Secret Demons, some hated it. Those that hated it were divided between a couple fundamentalists who felt Halpern should not question biblical history. Others felt it was too difficult to understand. I loved the book, and thought it exemplified critical thinking and biblical studies very well, but if it reached only some students is it worth keeping it in the class. Perhaps it would be better suited for a class on David, or on the Monarchy, or something like that. I also did not like the book Meet the Prophets very much. Prophets and Prophecy in the ANE could be reduced to a few representative sections. We should have read Wen Amon in its entirety. One week on Prophecy in the ANE would be adequate.
9. Turn the last paper, about making the world a better place, into a bigger part of the grade and have them start earlier on it. Maybe their blog could be about this, and have weekly entries on how it is going. I’ll know more about this when I read their papers on this topic.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Blog Workshop
Today I attended a CAT workshop about blogging headed by Bart Everson. A few faculty shared what they are doing with blogs with other faculty. It was interesting. The main thing I got out of it was the potential to create a tailor made blog site for my students. I've been thinking about breaking the class up into groups so that students respond to other blogs from the class. I think we could come up with fun blogs, such as Bible jokes that students can post to. I also wonder what we could do with What would Jesus do? type things. THere could also be more useful blogs where they give definitions to terms in the reading. Bart seemed to think if he were a teacher he would work on having the students make blogs that people would want to read. Anyway, I need to think about this and sometime this summer set up a tailor made blog site for my 1120 class.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Blog about Blogging Workshop
This Thursday the Center for the Advancement of Teaching is putting on a workshop called "Blogs and the Blogging Bloggers Who Blog Them." Great title, Bart came up with that one. Anyway, it is going to be about how we can use blogs in the classroom. I've used them this semester. In retrospect they didn't work as well as quizzes to get the students to do the reading. Some students sort of quit blogging as time went on. I should have checked them more regularly. What I did originally was have them print out the blogs and bring them to class each day. That would work better, but I was concerned about wasting paper. I think I might try that next semester, trees be damned. Anyway, I'm anxious to see how others have used blogs in the classroom.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

In my Theology 2002: Prophets and Prophecy course, we made three movies. They all turned out very good. The first was a version of Jeopardy with the contestants Isaiah (all three in one), Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. The second was a soap opera based on the Minor Prophets. The best one was by my favorite section, and they did a version of Jermiyahu Springer where Hosea and Gomer were guests. It was very funny. In the process I learned quite a bit about editing digital video. When I figure out a good way to compress them into a reasonable size, I'll put them on the web.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Teaching and Politics and Step Shows
Often times when I'm teaching I'm not sure how appropriate it is to incorporate my own political views. I think the answer is "Not appropriate at all." Most people in academia lean to the left, but I remember hearing students once in Texas complaining about a teacher who said something bad about George Bush. I would have a hard time these days sitting through a lecture that was 180 degrees opposite of my views. In my lectures at times I bring up both Democratic and Republican presidents as analogies. In my field of expertise it is at times very difficult to remain neutral when talking about the modern day Israel/Palestinian conflict, especially because so many of the arguments on both sides are biblically based. My students curious to know what it was like to live there. Actually, most of my students have no idea about current politics. Most probably couldn't describe Sharron or Arafat. This idea of Americans ignorant about world politics is sad but true. I guess in the end my students are pretty clear about my political views by the end of the semester. I should put more effort into being neutral. I tried to learn about African American culture last weekend by attending my first step show. I didn't enjoy too much about it. First, I waited in line for nearly two hours. Xavier students don't wait in line, they show up at the end, find someone they know at the front of the line, and move in. Then inside, I really didn't get the whole concept. Seemed the goal was to stomp and clap as fast as possible. It reminded me of River Dance, which I find embarassing for white people. Anyway, I tried to find out on the web about step dancing, and many said it went back to African roots. But nobody in Africa dances like that. At one point the step dancers took wooden candy canes and banged them around on the stage. Big deal . . . ANyway, I've been to the step show and made the effort to understand Xavier culture. I just need someone to explain why step dancing is so intersting. If you know the answer to the riddle that has proven so illusive to me, please email me at Thanks