Googleful vs. Google-free Digital Bible Literacy

Brian Bibb recently shared the final exam from a course he teaches called “The Digital Bible,” as well as providing more information about the course on his blog. Daniel McClellan also mentioned it. My own course on the Bible focuses on information literacy, and yet there are some significant differences between Brian’s course’s final and mine. In his, students are told not to use Google. In mine, they are encouraged to do so, in a way that retrieves reliable scholarly sources of information. But I had wondered whether it might not be a good idea to get students to at least do initial assignments – or perhaps in class activities – in which certain sources and generic search engines are not used.

What do others think? Is the best way to get students to learn to consult reliable and academically-appropriate sources to give them specific ones to use, or let them run wild on the internet with some basic guidelines and instructions, some combination of the two, or an incremental process that moves gradually from the one to the other?

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  • Bryan Bibb

    Thanks, James.

    This is a great question, and I think the answer depends on what you hope your students will learn. Digital Literacy, and using Google critically to find biblical information is an essential skill now, and *very* difficult. In other components of the course (homework assignments and discussions) I encouraged them to use web searches.

    My course is essentially an exegesis class. I wanted them to learn how to use Accordance for exegetical tasks, and a big part of that is using the application’s search interface to identify key passages on topic, related texts, intertextual echoes, etc. Google can be used for that, but I want them to rely on their own searching and analysis rather than the synthetic material they find on the web. Also, a careful biblical search will reveal the diversity of biblical views on a given topic, which may be an important balance to the one-sided information found in an article.

    That said, this was my first time teaching the class, and I am very eager for suggestions and questions, and to hear about other approaches.

    • James F. McGrath

      We should definitely stay in communication about our courses and compare notes! Mine is a core curriculum course as well as one that religion majors may take. I’d love to find a way of making one of the assignments a specifically exegetical one that requires the use of some very specific sources – I’d probably include specific printed commentaries accessed through Google Books, and perhaps specific software, but I’d need to look at whether the pricing is appropriate when most of the students will not take other courses on the Bible, and so it would just be for this class. I won’t do that next semester, but may at some point in the future, and look forward to talking more about that in particular.

      I’m thinking of trying out Ehrman’s new textbook next semester. I had better make up my mind quickly!

  • Brad Matthies

    In class activity: Set them up for the learning moment. Develop a source evaluation rubric. Then, prior to class, select 6-8 sources. These can be from the web, databases, books etc. Make sure that two of the sources are clearly biased. Break the class into groups, give each group a source and rubric, and have them evaluate. Leave time at the end for each group to report back. I’ve used this activity many times and it works swimmingly.

    There’s good stuff on the net. There is also bad stuff in the scholarly world. I prefer to teach them to evaluate all sources critically. If you front load at the beginning and give guidance then you can let them run wild on the final and duck!

    • James F. McGrath

      Sorry for not responding to this comment sooner. This is a great in-class assignment. I hope to try it in a more formal way this semester, and I will let you know how it goes!