"Good Morning, Eager Young Minds"

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Another year, another OOTLE: The Open Old Testament Learning Event, now in year three for 2017!

Welcome to our new learners! Through public writing and public interaction, we will build together the understandings awaiting us concerning the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, its literature and historical contexts, and its study.

Our first week of activities will open up Monday morning. See you there!

OOTLE16: Academic Biblical Studies for Everyone

Posted on by Brooke Lester

It's just about time for OOTLE16, The Open Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) Learning Event 2016. What is the Hebrew Bible? Who wrote its texts, and when, and why? What can it mean when read by different readers?

The core learners in OOTLE16 are students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary taking the course for credit. But, anyone may participate, as much or as little as you like.

The course runs 13 weeks, in four (4) units after an introductory week (February 2-8):

The Writings (think Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes): Is the world a sense-making orderly place where people mostly get what they deserve, or a senseless mess where everyone just gets what they get? And where is the Complaint Department? February 9-29.

The Latter Prophets (think books with names: Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.): No, they're not actually all the same. For example, only one of them hides his underwear by the river. And only one goes naked for three years. What's bugging these guys, anyway? March 1-21.

The Former Prophets (think Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings): From the sweeping entry of Israelites into the land (are we supposed to care about the dead Canaanites, or what?), to God sweeping the Israelites out of the land (welcome to Babylon!). Kings and prophets. A lot like Game of Thrones. March 22-April 18.

The Pentateuch (think Genesis, Exodus, and laws and stuff): Where the story begins, and where most of your dinner-table arguments with extended family come from. April 19-May 9.

Interested? Go to our course site, and find information on getting started with your own blog and Twitter account.

Mobile Learning: Reflections in Progress

Posted on by Brooke Lester

This post is a "during-course reflection" for "Mobile Learning," a course in the Advanced Studies Certificate: Distance Education Professional Development program at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

It is written in Markdown on an iPhone 6+, using the Squarespace blogging app, Byword, and DropBox, as well as the public-bookmarking site Diigo.

The "guiding question" or "essential question" that I've brought to mobile learning is, "How might mobile devices make it easier to integrate reflection/activity on a course's subject matter with other elements of one's life, generating unpredictable possibilities for unexpected connections?"

Abstract: In a constructivist view of learning, knowledge is built, or constructed, through meaning-making activities that bring previous understandings into relation with new understandings. Learning is an irreducibly "creative" act: it is created via synthesis. Does the mobility of mobile devices make it easier to facilitate the regular integration of new understandings with the understandings (already) active in the other areas of one's life: family, play, work, etc.?

This short piece on "Connecting the Army to Digital Applications," while brief and summarizing, piqued my interest simply by its intentionality. What would it be like if seminary students, accomplishing their degree programs in real-world loci of practice (churches, non-profits or other non-government organizations, etc.), were provided class activities that could be accomplished "in the field" as opportunities presented themselves? How about their pre-program orientation, their advising, library usage, and so on? What if learners received explicit instruction on using mobile devices (from flip phones to smart phones) to do so? I have found myself preoccupied by a phrase used in this piece: that the goal is to foster "a persistent learning environment."

The "Basics" page of ADL's Mobile Learning Handbook and the Upside Learning "Quick Start Guide" ebook (edit: corrected click-through) have both helped me broaden my introductory understanding and get up on the lingo. For example, the concept of "push and pull learning" (intuitive enough to coders who use repositories like GitHub, but probably not to others) provides a kind of lever by which a fan of "just-in-time learning" to plug that set of pedagogical insights and practices into a mobile-friendly course design.

Integrating that concept of "push and pull learning" into my guiding question should become part of my final project for the course, along with the idea of "interactivity" in this piece by Jesse Stommel, noting that mobile devices facilitate an "easy move between reading and content creation."

My guiding question still makes sense to me as originally written. I found another student keen to provide Spanish-language learning resources to learners in the places where trying to use that language, and became interested in expanding on that idea (perhaps in Hebrew-languages courses that I teach occasionally).

#JobvGod: Job versus God, the Twitter Game

Posted on by Brooke Lester

It's Job versus God, in an epic battle of justice and power. Who's right? Who wins? What the heck is with those friends, anyway?

This is a multi-player Twitter game, inspired by Twitter vs. Zombies. It can be adjusted to last for days (as in these instructions) or for only a few hours. It ends when time is up, or (tragically) if everybody playing finds themselves on #TeamFriends. Job vs. God was developed for the Open Old Testament Learning Event 2015 (OOTLE15).


All game tweets must include the hashtag #JobvGod.

Players announce their entry into the game by tweeting "I'm in!" (or similar) with the hashtag #JobvGod.

During game play, any player can attack any other player with a #JobAttack, paraphrasing Job's legal case against God and citing their biblical source accurately by chapter and verse. (For example, "42:6". Be sure to cite Job's speeches, not just any part of the book of Job.) Use at-mentions to select your victim.

The victim must issue a counterattack within six (6) hours. To counterattack, Reply to your attacker with a #GodAttack, paraphrasing God's argument against Job and citing your biblical source accurately. (Be sure to cite God's speeches, not just any part of the book of Job.)

If you find yourself attacked with more than one #JobAttack at once, you may counterattack them simultaneously by at-mentioning both attackers in your #GodAttack.

If a player is #JobAttack-ed, and fails to counter with a #GodAttack within six (6) hours, then she is penalized by joining #TeamFriends. She cannot issue any attacks or counterattacks while she is on #TeamFriends. To get out of #TeamFriends, she must tweet three (3) tweets paraphrasing the arguments of Job's three friends, including the hashtag #TeamFriends. (Be sure to cite the friends' speeches, not just any part of the book of Job.) She is then out of the penalty box, and free to #JobAttack other players again.

Nightfall: From 10pm-6am Central Time, the clock stops. So, if a player is attacked at 8pm, she has until 10am to counterattack.

These rules imagine the game going on for a few days, working around people's work schedules. If you want to play a shorter game, make sure all players are available and have the book of Job handy. Shorten the required counterattack time from six hours to five minutes.


Job Attack: @anummabrooke tweets "Bring case to judge against God, & God is the judge! Fix is in! 9:15 @charheeg #JobAttack #JobvGod"

God Attack: @charheeg Replies "@anummabrooke Where were u when I gave birth to hail from my womb? 38:29 #GodAttack #JobvGod"

Team Friends: @charheeg, finding that over six hours have passed since @anummabrooke's Job Attack, tweets three tweets similar to this: "Can u provide any evidence of the righteous perishing? I haven't seen it. 4:7 #TeamFriends #JobvGod"


Suggest improvements in the comments. For example, in Twitter vs. Zombies, you can defend another player with a "swipe." Should something that be a feature in this game? How would it work?

Nuggets: "Let's Use the Web"

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Why Learn "Old Testament Studies"?

Posted on by Brooke Lester

You probably know how to listen. But do you know how to listen well?[^1]

  • Do you know how to be willing to not understand, instead of rushing to premature closure by putting the speaker into your comfortable boxes?
  • Do you know how to practice empathy, avoiding a rush to judgment and putting yourself in another's shoes, imagining circumstances and decisions that seem unthinkable or preposterous to you?
  • Do you know how to be vulnerable, entertaining the possibility that you may be the one who undergoes real change as a result of the encounter?

What is your conversation partner's history? Her language? Her culture? (What are your own?)

Now. You probably know how to read. But do you know how to read well?

They wrote over the course of a thousand years. They wrote in their walled cities, their open villages, their schools, their homes, and lands far from all of these. They wrote in support of the state, and counter to it, and in its ruins. They wrote for one another and against one another, to silence each other and to preserve each other. They told their stories, inscribed their laws, cried their supplications, sang their songs, listed their lists, raged their rage.

If you like to read, you can read them. If you like to understand, if you like to better hear the voices of the past, then you will want to learn how to read well.

  • Historical study
  • Literary study
  • Cultural study

Come and learn the tools by which we listen well to the voices of the Hebrew Bible.

(This post is in response to the prompt, "What is the real 'Why' of your course?" asked in Unit 1 of Connected Courses: Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed.)

[^1]: This list represents my recollection of that offered by Dr. Pam Holliman, professor of Pastoral Care, in a presentation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

How to Write about Ferguson

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Allow me first to correct the punctuation in my title, above:

"How to Write about Ferguson?"

Now you can hear it the way it sounds in my head.

For a week and a half, I've been preoccupied by the Michael Brown tragedy, by the ensuing protests, and by the depressingly and infuriatingly (but not surprisingly) misconceived police response that still grips the city and daily threatens further loss of life. At the same time, I bang out nearly-due revisions to one writing project and draft two more, both also under deadline. At the same time, I prepare my fall upper-level course for waiting learners.

Today, Nyasha Junior, biblical scholar and public speaker, rightly has asked:

The ONScripture piece is a resource for "preaching reflections" on Michael Brown and Ferguson. "#SBL" refers to the Society of Biblical Literature, the flagship professional society for academic biblical studies.

I am primarily an academic, though I do preach occasionally, as an unordained layperson. I teach the literature of ancient Israel, understood as having two interpretive "anchor points": the likely meaning of biblical texts in their ancient Near Eastern social/historical context, and the range of possible meanings such texts may support for us johnny-come-lately readers in our own social/historical contexts. Additionally, my job description asks me to explore digital learning, finding and modeling better practices of online pedagogy.

My habitual mode, then, is less to tell people HOW to interpret biblical texts in light of the murder of an unarmed Black teen by a white law enforcement officer, and more to PREPARE learners to generate such interpretations as they might find liberating, for themselves and for others.

My habitual mode is less to rally faculty colleagues to a particular understanding of the racist and preposterously over-militarized police response in Ferguson, and more to rally them to the possibilities for facilitating online communities of inquiry where they and their learners can be genuinely present to one another in a time of crisis, even if the learners are prevented (usually for economic reasons) from enjoying on-campus residency.

In an upper-level seminar on "Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Old Testament in the New Testament," I may ask learners to write creative, biblically-allusive blog posts on Ferguson, white power, and casual brutality. Persuading faculty colleagues to learn to live-stream lectures & panels, I may appeal to their desire to reach at-risk communities…perhaps including Ferguson. I'm working up notes! But shit takes time. And the revisions, and the drafting, and the fall classes.

For now, I'm a white academic whose relative privilege would allow him to monitor Ferguson passively while sweating out those scholarly revisions and drafts. For whom Ferguson is important but for whom (let's face it) Ferguson need not be treated as urgently as some other things in his life. How can I write about Ferguson now?

Like this, apparently. And by letting people know, here and on my Facebook feed, that I am Tweeting about #Ferguson and (more importantly) Retweeting about #Ferguson, and that they should be too. By letting people know that they can become better informed. That other academics are trying to figure out what we owe our learners now and later in response to Ferguson.

If you are a non-Black biblical scholar, then (aside from preaching), how do you write about Ferguson?

Connected Courses

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Talk about just-in-time learning. One day, I begin to fumble through creation of a "connected course" for 2015. Next day (more or less), my Twitter feed coughs up an invitation to Connected Courses,

a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.

This is gonna be great.

What's a Little Unfriending among Friends?

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Like many other Facebook users, I have a lot of Friends that I don't interact with much; or, I find that my Friends list has come to be at crossed purposes with what I'm trying to get out of Facebook. After all, most of us developed our network of Facebook Friends when the service was new. Not only did we not yet have an idea of where our Facebook use was going, but Facebook itself has changed a lot in the meantime.

These are the considerations going into my upcoming Great Facebook Friends List Slash and Burn:

Does this person have another way to reach me? For example, if I know them as a colleague or former student at Garrett-Evangelical, then they either have my contact information, or can always reach me through the school. Not only that, but a Google search of my name will yield my web site, which has a Contact Me tab (or my YouTube channel, where they can comment; or my page, which includes a phone number; or…). So--might as well face it--everyone can reach me. There is no one who really needs to be my Facebook Friend in order to contact me.

Have this person and I interacted in the last year or so? Have we commented on one another's Updates? Have we Messaged each other? Do we interact offline or in other environments like Twitter? If I do interact with this person, on Facebook or elsewhere, then I'd like to preserve the Facebook Friendship.

What about former students? This is a hard one. I really do not want to send an implicit (and erroneous) message to former students that I am ready to forget about them, or worse, that I only reciprocated their Facebook Friendship perfunctorily or grudgingly. But, look, they're not my students any more, they are free citizens. In some cases, we have continued to interact with one another (see above). In other cases, we haven't. Former students can reach me by other means, just as anyone else can. I especially welcome them to do so, including those whom I Unfriend after years without interaction.

What about current students that I don't know well? Sometimes current students whom I don't know choose to issue me a Friend request, then do not interact substantively (or at all) with me. But, hey, hope springs eternal: maybe tomorrow. Maybe I could Like or Comment on something of theirs and something might come of it. What the hey. Keep 'em.

As I have said previously, nobody can say authoritatively what "Friending" on Facebook is. Don't let me, or anyone else, tell you what your experience of Facebook, or of Facebook Friending, has to be! Only through their continuing decisions do users decide for themselves what "Friending" can be, or what it will become.

[What's a Little Unfriending among Friends? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2013/02/15. Except as noted, it is © 2013 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Sense of Entitlement

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Is it "a sense of entitlement" if students are actually entitled to it? To what are learners in fact entitled?

A recent Language Log post tracks the meaning of the word "entitlement" over time. I was surprised to see how early it acquired negative connotations. Originally meaning something to which a person is legitimately entitled (think of going to college on the GI bill, for example), it came quickly to be used in contexts where a person believes they are entitled to something on which they actually have no legitimate claim. The string, "…sense of entitlement…" is common.

You hear a lot in higher ed these days about the "sense of entitlement" among students, and this does point to a genuine problem. Grade inflation is real, as is a consumer mentality around education: you hear sentiments like "I pay the teacher's salary, so they have to do x for me," where x = "respect my learning style," "cut me a break because of my full-time job," "avoid offending me." (Side point: an instructor is no more employed by her learners than a waiter is employed by the guy ordering a steak.)

But are learners entitled to nothing? I'll offer today two things to which a learner is, in my view, entitled: Clarity regarding time commitments, and clarity regarding assessments.

Time commitments: A learner is entitled to know how many hours the course work is designed to take. Many of my students work long hours (usually in a church), and frankly, should either be working fewer hours or taking fewer classes ("But my scholarship requires…"). It's a real systemic problem in need of address. At the same time, we all know that being squeezed from both sides is the human condition: it's how you develop muscle, and learning to "push back" against one's employer is a survival skill.

I often say,

Here is the difference between me and your church employer. The church will never tell you it has "enough" of your time. It will always want more. Me, I will design my course in such a way that its time requirements are predictable: about so many hours of reading, about so many hours of activities. If you are spending (say) 6-8 hours each week, outside of class, on this 3-credit course, and not getting the results you want, then come see me. I won't simply say, "spend more time." I'll first work with you to help you make the most of that 6-8 hours.

Some students will, in fact, need to put in more time than others, especially if language is an issue, or they have a poor background in reading. Maybe some can only achieve sub-"A" work in the time that they have. But again, if they put in the time, they are entitled to my help on getting the most out of that time.

(Side note to instructors: do you know how many words are in your assigned readings? Do you know what reading rates are typical for your learners?)

Assessments: A learner who attempts to "meet the bar" of expectations is entitled to know where the bars are set. I am a convert to rubrics, and have all the fanaticism of a convert. No matter how carefully I try to write my expectations into paragraphs of prose, it's not enough. The fact is, I do have, in my head, 1) a list of things that I am assessing in an assignment, and 2) a mental picture of what "not good enough," "good enough," and "more than good enough" looks like for each of those things I am looking for. The learners deserve to have access to that "mental map," taken out of my head and spelled out visibly on paper. Here is an example of my assessment rubrics: the assignment is peer review. (Imagine the learners have written a draft of a paper, and are to review one another's drafts; they are graded on their peer reviews, so this is the rubric for that review.)

What challenges have I overlooked regarding time commitments and assessments? To what else, in your view, are learners "entitled"? How do you view student "entitlements"?

[A Sense of Entitlement was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/10/08. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

What Makes it Play-skool? Fear and Safety in the Learning Space

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Play-skool and peer review: Commonly, I have my class write a project in stages, with peer review of each stage. Every time I introduce peer review to my learners, they go willingly enough through the exercise, submitting their work to one another and accomplishing their reviews. Then, as reliably as heartbreak, one of them asks optimistically, "So when will we get our real feedback?"

"You just got it," I reply with the even voice of long practice. Cue chill breeze and blowing dry leaves in twilight.

On the next round, the peer reviews are always better: more detailed, more genuine, in closer engagement with the assignment rubrics. The reviewers tackle their assessments as if something were actually at stake, which of course it is.

They have discerned the truth: peer review, in my class, is not "Play-skool." It's the real thing. They are afraid to let one another down, and they should be. A "safe space" is suddenly something that it's up to them to construct.

Slight shift of gears: In a recent faculty discussion about race and racism, we compared notes about how we address systemic racism (or, for another example, systemic mysogyny) as a subject matter in our various courses. As often happens, a colleague mentioned the frustration expressed in class (sometimes professionally, more often unskillfully) by the white man, usually young, who feels targeted in such a discussion. We talked about how to facilitate a safe space for him, but at the same time, we agreed that that's just the way the ball bounces: "The learning space is never completely safe. And shouldn't be." If it were completely safe, it wouldn't be a learning space.

It would be Play-skool.

So. On the one hand, I absolutely believe that the creative activity of making meaning can only happen in a space where fear has been removed…or removed enough, or removed in the right places. I have determined this in the crucible of fairly long experience. But at the same time, if all possible fears have been removed, if the space is made unsurpassingly safe…then we're in Play-skool, and learning is done.

Thoughts coming later on parsing this out more completely. What are your thoughts on fear, learner safety, and Play-skool?

[What Makes it Play-skool? Fear and Safety in the Learning Space was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/10/01. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Twitter Chats for "Introduction to the Old Testament"

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Something new this year for the online Intro class: weekly Twitter chat.

How It's Done

On Twitter, you normally see the posts of people you follow, in an undifferentiating stream with the latest posts at the top. However, you can also view a Search window, and see all posts that include your search term…including posts from people you do not follow. So if a set of participating users agree to include a shared search term in their posts, then they can use that Search window as a chat forum. By convention, such a search term is proceeded by the hash sign (#), and is called a "hashtag": for example, our hashtag is the hash sign followed by our course number, #11500x. We meet Tuesday evenings 7:00-8:00 pm, CT.

Our Course

This course is "Introduction to the Old Testament," a fully online course with about 20 learners, taught by me at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The course is completely asynchronous: there is no time at which all learners must participate together in real time. Also, our learning management system (Moodle) does not include a "virtual classroom" module. (It could, but we have not purchased one.) So, a Twitter hashtag chat allows us a space in which to have synchronous engagement with one another.

How It's Going

I am using the one-hour weekly Twitter chats to engage "big ideas" or "essential questions" that are foundational to the tasks they are accomplishing in the course; for example, "What is 'academic biblical studies'?"; "Academic biblical studies as public work"; "Biblical literature as narrative art"; and so on. Participation is voluntary, and has ranged from 10-14 learners (of my 20) to a scant 2.

Since Twitter is a public forum, our followers from outside of our class have discovered our chat and joined us. This includes my colleagues who teach biblical studies elsewhere (some known personally to me, but not all), former students, and other interested outsiders.

Each week, I have assembled a list of prompts, to keep things going or to get things back on track if necessary. I have not had to use them often, but I feel more comfortable having them ready to hand. Some "template" tweets are a good idea to keep handy though: reminding learners to use the course hashtag, announcing the chat and its topic, inviting lurkers to join in, etc.

Nearly all of my learners are brand new to Twitter. In every class I teach, whether online or face-to-face, I like to incorporate an activity that will introduce most of the learners to a new digital accomplishment of some sort. The idea is not that they should all like Twitter, but that they should have regular, guided experiences of braving new digital tasks.

Have you ever used Twitter chats as a teacher or as a learner? Are there other digital "new frontiers" that are part of your course work this year?

[Twitter Chats for Introduction to Old Testament was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/09/27. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Brooke's Despair

Posted on by Brooke

This weekend I tooted an initial draft of an epigram describing a phenomenon that I would dub, "Brooke's Despair":

Early in term, feedback is most urgent, yet assessments are (early in term) most time-consuming.

On reflection, I would augment it:

Early in the term, prompt assessments are most urgent, yet most time-consuming, and most in competition with other demands.

Learners have got to get feedback into their hands as soon as possible. All of them need to assess their strategies for tackling the course work. All of them need to see how the assignment rubrics (which they have, right?) function in practice. Some of them are going to need to withdraw at some point, and need to begin to become aware of the fact (it costs more the longer you wait). In my own experience, the course has to be designed with short assignments, early in the term, graded promptly.

But assessments are most time-consuming early in the term. If I have a Teaching Assistant, we are still learning one another's routines; they are still getting to know my rubrics; they are still getting to know how I want to exchange files. Neither of us has gotten to know the learners yet. And the learners themselves are exacerbating the problem through their own problems, forgivable (students entering the course late off of the wait list; problems in student housing; books not attained by the book store) or less so (sloppy interaction with course documents or LMS).

And assessments are in competition with every other start-of-term manner of thing. Every committee has its first meeting coming up. Everything left hanging in the last term demands to be picked up again. Email boxes fill at a soul-crushing rate. The kids are also back in school, so lives at home are in transition ("Hey, Dad, I'm in accelerated math this year! Can you help me?").

Early in the term, prompt assessments are most urgent, yet most time-consuming, and most in competition with other demands.

[Brooke's Despair was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/09/17. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Shorter Colorado State University (CSU) Story

Posted on by Brooke

So, shorter CSU story: The Establishment went to Vegas with the economy, consumed the winnings whole, scorched the earth in their wake, and now their representatives in the academy (along with their relatively few multi-generational "made men") prepare to dispose of the casualties as Unpersons.

K tx. Please ignore my unsurprised, slacker, vacant stare.

Or did you think that this was just about PhDs "growing stale after three years", and that the permanent erasure of those sidelined by the crash of 2008-2010 was a coincidence here?

"They're gone, that's all. They're gone. And we couldn't do nuttin' about it."[1]

Lee Bessette asks, "Why do we fight?" It is a great question, though I've never thought of the post-boomer generations "fighting" against the self-serving wastefulness of the Baby-Boomer masters of the universe. It's more about being like water, fitting into the nooks and crevices, usually digital crevices (library science, online learning, "alt-ac"). If it's a "fight," then it's not "fighting the power," but rather, "a fight to survive."

(CSU has repented of having used its outside voice and has papered over the mistake. It will now return to speaking its name indoors.)

[Update: Harvard too. h/t @readywriting]

[1]: h/t Driftglass.

[Shorter Colorado State University (CSU) Story was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/09/14. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

See You at THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy

Posted on by Brooke

It's official: I will be attending THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy in Portland OR, on October 20-21.

Last year, I made it to THATCamp Pedagogy in Poughkeepsie NJ. I would love to see a more-or-less annual pedagogy unconference unfold, in some form or other.

More as we get close, but you can expect some live-tweeting and blogging from THATCamp Hybrid Ped.

[See You at THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/09/13. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The Real First Day, RBoC

Posted on by Brooke

Classes start a week from tomorrow. But as of today, summer is officially over.

Today begins our 2-day faculty retreat. Then, the rest of the week is new-student orientation. Then, a relatively joyless Labor Day weekend filled with the last-minute labors of course preparation. Then finally, "Good morning, eager young minds."

Here are my start-of-term Random Bullets of Crap:

  • Try to chill out and enjoy faculty retreat for two days;
  • Prepare for student orientation session on online coursework and our Bible Content course;
  • Get advisees safely settled into their sockets for the term;
  • Finish planning, syllabus, and LMS build for online course Intro to Old Testament;
  • Complete last set of Flickr slides for face-to-face course Elementary Biblical Hebrew;
  • Make progress in home stretch of online course in online pedagogy;
  • Make long-postponed repairs to my suits: buttons, hems;
  • Office housekeeping: get plant out of water pitcher into planter, and swap out cafeteria plastic tableware for a couple of sets of proper, if cheap, table settings.

Where are you in the start of the term? What are your own random bullets?

[The Real First Day, RBoC was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/27. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Late Work

Posted on by Brooke

I am changing my "late work policy"...again.

My policies go through stages: I slash-and-burn down to apodictic simplicity ("Thou shalt not kill"). Then over the years, as "edge cases" or unforeseen scenarios stack up, the policy grows to resemble the casuistic laws of Exodus or Deuteronomy ("...but if…then…").

The Old

I had had my late work policy leveled to an elegant simplicity:

No late work shall be accepted (except in the case of emergency or disability documented with the office of the Dean of Students, and then at the discretion of the instructor).

Problem One: Volume.

Way, way more students than you think will turn in late work anyway. Distressingly often, they will acknowledge that they had read the policy, but assume nonetheless that there is a grace period. ("Well I just thought….," they begin. In the immortal words from Bull Durham's Crash Davis, "Don't think, Meat; just throw.") Either I cave, and that's it for my policies from then on; or I stick, and it takes only a very few of these episodes to add up to a huge overhead in time-consuming administrative fiddle-faddle. And all this time, what I want to be doing is attend to students accomplishing their work outside the blast zone of "Well I just thought..."

Problem Two: What about us oh-so-hip instructors who assign significant amounts of collaborative projects?

Late collaborative work is a nightmare. It is THE nightmare of us oh-so-hip instructors who assign these projects. The AWOL student's peers are thrown into a tailspin and have to be reassured that they won't be "dinged" for lost productivity. Then, late in the game, the slacker wants to suddenly show up and pitch in...creating more chaos than if they just stayed away from the project altogether, since they have no idea what's going on.

So. Casuistic law: Let there be separate policies for individual work and collaborative work. ("…but if the attacker did not lay in wait for him, but God let him fall into the attacker's hand…").

The New

This is what my new attempt at a late work policy might look like:

Late or Missing Work:

Tip: plan your progress in such a way that you will have something to submit on time, even if it isn't perfect. (Fact: work drafted at the last minute is imperfect anyway.)

Individual Work: Except where noted elsewhere in the syllabus, late individual work will be penalized at a rate of one letter grade during the first 24 hours, and one letter grade during each additional interval of 24 hours.

Collaborative Work: This includes any writing to which peers are expected to reply. When somebody fails to accomplish collaborative work on time, she prevents her peers from succeeding. Penalties for late collaborative work will be assessed at the sole discretion of the teaching staff. Possible penalties include:

  • a score of zero (0): this is the default penalty;
  • a non-zero failing score (for example, 60%);
  • score reduction at some rate based on how late the work arrives;
  • loss of later opportunities for participation (for example, if the project has "moved on" without the late participant).

Learners will not be offered "make up work" to compensate for late or missing work.

The You

So tell me: what improvements can you offer, or what experiences do you have with a late work policy?

[Late Work was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/24. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Making Better Ancient-Language Reading Exams

Posted on by Brooke

Some modern-language "reading exams" reflect a sound pedagogy that 1) reflects communicative learning of the target language, 2) offers clarity of expectations for assessment. I would love to see graduate reading exams in Hebrew and Greek achieve that same pedagogical footing, incorporating an extemporaneous oral component and rubrics made available to the learner.

The "reading exam" is well known to many graduate students. Because introductory and intermediate foreign-langauge courses vary from school to school, most Ph.D. programs will ask applicants to take a reading exam to show their proficiency in a given "research language" (often German, French, Italian). In some cases, a program might ask for a similar examination for an ancient ("dead") language: in my field, for example, Hellenistic Greek or Biblical Hebrew.

Reading exams tend to vary with the idiosyncracies of the examining instructor. A departmental guideline might offer expectations or options regarding format: our own offers the student a choice of having two "unseen" texts to translate, or else having to answer comprehension questions (posed in English) on both an "unseen" text and a set of short "seen" texts. Beyond the formatting guidelines, though, expectations are usually pretty opaque. How long will it be? Will the content be related to the learner's field of study? What kinds of errors are important? Is it better to turn in an incomplete exam that is error-free in what it accomplishes, or is it better to finish with some parts left really rough? "Only the Shadow knows."

Some modern language reading exams reflect an expectation that the student has really learned to communicate extemporaneously in the target language, for example by an oral component with "Q and A" conducted in that language. To my knowledge, exams in Hebrew and Greek never include this, because so very few seminaries or divinity schools teach biblical languages using communicative-language/second-language-acquisitions methods. (The overwhelmingly common model is to teach the elementary linguistics of the target language; believe it or not, in many courses, the target material is not even read out loud by the learner.)

Here's what I would like to see in ancient language reading exams:

  1. Extemporaneous, oral component: This could be small or large. At minimum, the exam itself could be simple translation, but preceded by a "social" exchange in the target language (welcoming the student, pleasantries, getting settled). At most, the entire exam could be a discussion, in the target language, of readings that have been accomplished ahead of time by the student. I might like to see an exam that splits the difference:
    • a brief social exchange in the target language;
    • simple translation of a reading not seen before by the learner;
    • a handful of comprehension questions, in the target language, concerning a reading that the learner has pre-read.
  2. Rubrics for assessment: The truth is, not every mistake counts equally in assessment, and (depending on the assessor) some mistakes won't count at all. For example, an assessor might not detract from the student's score if she appears to transform a passive form into an active form while preserving the correct meaning. These matters should be agreed upon within a department, and made available to the student in a rubric.
  3. Word count expectations: In a timed exam, how many words/minute can the student expect to be asked to translate? This needn't be the same for all languages and all programs, but again should be made clear in the rubric. From the very few examples I have been able to put my hand to, I think that 4+ words/minute (250/hour) is reasonable for modern research languages; for ancient languages (Latin, Hebrew, Greek) I would like to think that the same expectation is within reach, while about half that (2-3 words/minute) is usual.

The first item could only be used, of course, with a learner whose instruction has prepared her for it. The second and third items, however, should be incorporated into every program's guidelines for foreign-language reading exams.

What is your experience with "reading exams"? Does your experience with them give you grounds to critically assess my observations or suggestions?

[Making Better Ancient-Language Reading Exams was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/22. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Free Your Twitter-Using Learners from the Car Boot? It Will Cost You

Posted on by Brooke

A novel and exciting business model seems to keep coming up a lot lately, one that educators using social media might keep an eye on. It's so "out there" that it might as well be fantasy or science fiction. In fact, here, I'll draw on an episode of the TV show Angel (spin-off from the better-known Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for an example; the scene is a classic ransom swap:

Italian Demon: "You give me the money, I give you the head."
(Angel and Spike stare at him blankly.)
Italian Demon: "You give me the money…I give you the head."
(Angel and Spike stare blankly.)
Italian Demon: "Money, head. Money, head."

What we expect, of course, is that the Italian Demon will make the head freely available to the protagonists, while accepting advertising revenue on the side. Naturally, the Italian Demon would then be free to negotiate with his advertisers concerning how the head might be festooned with banner ads; or whether Angel and Spike might be invited to choose their advertising experience before accepting the head (and their personal preferences sold as data to marketers). Since Angel and Spike are themselves paying nothing for the head, they are comfortably excluded from all decision-making concerning the transaction, and if they don't like the terms, they'll have plenty of friends to admonish them not to complain about free stuff.

But here, instead, Angel and Spike are paying directly for the head. By spending their own money, they become partners in the transaction, rather than passive recipients of whatever the Italian Demon and his actual partners (his advertisers) choose to deliver. (In fact, Angel and Spike will use this agency to decide to fight the Italian Demon instead of pay him, and the Italian Demon will give them a bomb on a short fuse instead of the head. But anyway.)

It's a powerful idea. Earlier this year, I moved this site from to Squarespace. I did this for a handful of reasons, but one of them is that, since I pay for the service, I get 24/7 living-person customer support. ("You give me the money, I give you the head.")

I wrote last week about some troubling developments at Twitter. As most of us know, Twitter's partners are not its users, but its advertisers: as Jason Lefkowitz has said (quoting Dave Winer), users aren't even riding in the backseat, they're locked in the trunk. Most users won't care much as "promoted Tweets" by BP and KFC take over their feeds, and as Twitter rubs out 3rd-party Twitter applications in order to provide users with a "consistent (i.e., Twitter-controlled) user experience." But it won't just be nerdy app developers that lose out: educators, for example, will likely lose the ability to use Twitter in ways that they choose (like with Storify), if their pedagogical choices don't match up with Twitter's (potentially ever-changing) "rules of the road."

A group of app developers have gone off and created a Twitter alternative, "app dot net." Users pay (currently $50/year) to keep the service working and growing, and so the proprieter's business is with the users, rather than with advertisers. Whereas Twitter is chopping off the development of 3rd-party applications, AppDotNet is largely inhabited by such developers. And here's my point: if as an educator, I want to see a certain kind of user-experience for my learners, then in principle, I can create the app I want or contract with a developer to create it for me.

"You give me the money, I give you the head." It's a powerful idea.

I do love getting free and cheap stuff on the web. I willingly sit through commercials on Hulu. I grudgingly hand over my personal consumer habits to Google. It's one way to do things. But it's not the only way. And for educators who have a stake in taking ownership of the "user experience" and, and in multiplying the possibilities for the learner's ability to experience and manipulate of web content, riding locked in the trunk is not always going to be the best way.

[Free Your Twitter-Using Learners from the Car Boot? It Will Cost You was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/20. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Twitter to Learners and Teachers: Run Along and Play...Somewhere Else

Posted on by Brooke

Twitter has published the coming changes to how it allows applications (programs) to use its service, and these changes spell debilitating problems for educators who use Twitter.

Teachers on Twitter overwhelmingly favor some form of "active learning" or constructivist pedagogy: whether in face-to-face or online courses, the idea is that students learn by doing, making, building (often collaboratively). As part of a typical learning cycle, the learner is exposed to knowledge or information or has an experience facilitated by the course designer, and then goes on to make something in response. By working (often with others) to create something (a paper, a debate, a presentation, a tool), the learner makes original connections between data points and thereby constructs new meanings for herself. The result is a perception-changing experience of the subject matter. Make sense? Making a thing > making meaning.

Twitter's changes will make it impossible for many educators on Twitter to facilitate the kinds of activities that accomplish this. For one depressing example, take Storify. Educators use the dickens out of Storify, for good reason. After a student has had some instructor-facilitated, varied experience mediated through (say) Twitter, blog posts, news articles, Facebook, and so on, she can use Storify to make meaning of that experience, and to create a digital narrative of that experience for others. But look at Twitter's "rule 5a" for Time lines:

Tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks.

As far as I can see, this is a bullet in the head for the use of Storify with Twitter.

The "big picture" of Twitter's changes to its API can be seen in the quadrant at the bottom of the announcement…or even better, in Dan Wineman's improvement to the graphic. As I tweeted before, the graphic amounts to this:

  • business engagement, business analytics, consumer analytics = GOOD.
  • consumer engagement = BAD.

In Rene Ritchie's words, "Twitter wants to marginalize apps used by me, and maximize apps that would use me and my data."

Welcome to the Facebook-ization of Twitter, the perhaps inevitable result in services that are free to consumers and depend on leveraging their attention to advertisements. In a later post: "Welcome to App-dot-net."

[Twitter to Learners and Teachers: Run Along and Play...Somewhere Else was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/17. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]