teaching biblical studies
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I teach biblical/theological studies. Each semester, I seek to guide students toward a deeper understanding of my conclusions concerning the major theological points of the Old Testament. I teach them that, as a result of sin, the world in which we live is not the world as God created ...
Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom, Volume Two
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Reading The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book by R.A. Montgomery as an eight year old in 1979, I never could have imagined relating that adventure to the book of Revelation in scripture. Now, after reading Robby Waddell’s essay “Choose Your Own Adventure: Teaching, Participatory Hermeneutics, and the Book of Revelation” in Teaching the Bible in the Liberal Arts Classroom: Volume 2, the possibility of a scholarly conversation between the two makes me eager to teach Revelation again.
Teaching the Bible includes four parts: tactics, strategies, principles, and reflections on Biblical Studies in the liberal arts classroom. Waddell’s essay is just one of several essays sharing tactics for teaching the Bible. Each of these tactical essays highlight creative and compelling possibilities for teaching: Twitter as a tool for conversation and connecting, Wikipedia as an example of Pentateuchal formation, and digital storytelling to illumine Biblical character studies are just a few examples. Certainly it would be easy to view these tactics as mere activities for class discussion. However conceptualized, within this framework these tactics reveal deeper truths: the changing role of teachers in a twenty-first century globalized classroom, the ongoing fight for humanities’ role as a vital component of a post-modern education, and facilitating effective learning when it is all too easy for a student to surf the Internet while taking notes on their computer.
Editors Jane S. Webster and Glenn S. Holland, along with their cohorts in the “Teaching Biblical Studies in the Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context” within the Society for Biblical Literature, care about this deeper conversation. Tactics for teaching become activities when separated from guiding strategies and overarching principles. Tactics become a particular art form when guided by essays like those included in Parts II and III of this book.
Consider the strategy suggested by Sonya Shetty Cronin in her essay, “Fantasy: The ‘Renewed’ Genre Making Necessary a Biblical Education for Understanding Our Contemporary World.” Cronin’s argument suggests scholars of Biblical studies should be just as versed in modern fantasy novels as they are in Philo. Doing so allows scholars to continue to present the modern relevance of Biblical themes as well as their undergirding of so much of popular culture. If strategies are the goals that guide tactics, principles are the greater themes that illumine those strategies. In this volume, themes of ecology, supersessionism, and violence are explored as principles that call for a deeper conversation within the Biblical narrative and contemporary culture.
The final three essays, exploring Biblical studies in the liberal arts curriculum, are valuable conversation partners. For example, Steven Dunn highlights a syllabus and course objectives drawn into conversation with the ability-based curriculum at Alverno College. Katy E. Valentine probes the problems and possibilities for teaching students from non-religious backgrounds.
Certainly The Lost Jewels of Nabooti drew me into the scholarly conversation unfolding within these pages. To be clear, this excellent book is not unlike a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where the reader chooses the adventure most needed within their classroom setting.
Understanding Bible by Design: Create Courses with Purpose
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2016
Lester, Webster, and Jones came together from different academic contexts to create a practical, succinct resource for professors on course design. Lester and his co-authors set out to demonstrate how the principles of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s 2005 updated Understanding by Design (UbD) model can be applied to theological or religious disciplines in higher education. UbD is a method for designing courses that intentionally fulfill the instructor’s stated course goals from day one.
UbD is a learner-centered approach intended to focus on the macro-level objectives of the course. UbD seeks to generate courses where each class is connected clearly with the objectives. Lester finds that UbD works best for course units or individual lessons in his Master’s level courses on the Bible. He provides helpful examples of how he applies the concepts of UbD to his teaching approach or assessment of assignments. While Lester uses the model’s “essential questions” to structure course units, the other authors show how UbD could apply to an entire course.
For teachers of undergraduates, Webster’s chapter is very insightful. She provides in-depth examples of the types of assignments she assigns, exam questions and “metaquestions” utilized throughout the course. For her New Testament course, Webster assigns sixteen one- to two-page papers that build on each other and advance students’ writing skills. This is an ideal assignment for any instructor, but it must be noted that all three authors have teaching loads lighter than a typical small liberal arts college faculty member’s teaching load of 4/4 or 4/3. Nevertheless, such assignments constitute a helpful resource for all higher education teachers.
The final chapter demonstrates how the principles applied by Lester and Webster aid in developing non-biblical courses. Here Jones writes about his successes and failures as he developed his courses on Rituals and Early Judaism for the first time. The benefit of this chapter is the honest analysis of how he set up his course and his own reflections on the results, including pitfalls for new followers of the UbD model and thoughts on the unique pressures of teaching at a college or university for the first time.
The chapter on creating an online course is less effective because half of the chapter is a general defense of online teaching. The other half of the chapter lacks the type of precision one finds in the other chapters since it does not include a specific course as an example.
This small volume is a great resource and quick reference for graduate students, new professors, and professors who have had little guidance on teaching. Each author introduces the concepts of Understanding by Design in a succinct and accessible manner that moves smoothly through the thought process of implementing it. For anyone who has been teaching for a longer period of time, the book could be a good resource for modifying current courses. While the work is geared toward courses on the Bible, the concepts can be transferred effortlessly to nearly any other theological discipline.