Sects in the City

Sects in the City November 28, 2007

A colleague of mine has been having his students develop a web site, called “Sects in the City“, about the various religious communities around Indianapolis. The project was undertaken with support from the Butler University’s Center for Faith and Vocation.

I’ve long tried to use computing and the internet in teaching, and in particular getting students to produce work that can be made available on the internet. The quality varies, of course, but students sometimes take their work more seriously if they think that it will be ‘published’ and potentially read by a wider audience. I started when I taught in Romania back in the late 90s, because there were so few good academic resources for Biblical studies available in Romanian. So I got students to make some translations. One funny story from the experience was having a student do what was otherwise an excellent translation, but she stumbled at the phrase “pan-Gnostic theory”, not recognizing that ‘pan’ was a Greek rather than English word. The resulting Romanian phrase was essentially ‘the frying pan Gnostic theory’ (teoria gnosticului tigaie)!

In a class on Paul and the Early Church (which I’ll be teaching again in the Fall) I had students submit commentaries on passages, thus making a fuller web-based commentary as a collaborative effort. More recently I was able to use WikiBooks for this purpose in a class on the Gospel of John, getting students to create and edit an open-source commentary on the Gospel of John. In addition to getting feedback from one another through the editing process, this gave the students greater insight into what a Wiki source is, which is important in and of itself in our time, when students turn to places like Wikipedia first when in search of information for their assignments.

Felix Just has long had student work posted as part of his excellent web site on the Gospel of John. More recently I also saw my friend Ken Schenck mention that he is using blogs in some of his classes.

For an amusing illustration of the potential for a Wikipedia entry to not have a neutral point of view, click here.

I’d welcome comments on the effectiveness of these tools in teaching, whether the things that are posted prove useful for subsequent generations of students, and creative ideas for use of web-based resources in education.

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