Archive for the ‘Digital life’ Category

In which Christopher Robin leads an Expotition to the North Pole

Image from Wikipedia

I have added another chapter to my readings from Winnie-the-Pooh. “In which Christopher Robin leads an Expotition to the North Pole” naturally if you live in Canada, NZ and various other countries with enlightened copyright laws it is quite legal to listen and enjoy. If you live in the Disney Union or the United States of Monsato you would be committing a serious crime if you dared to listen!

Sensible Sentencing

Writing is dangerous. Readers often misunderstand. #SensibleSentencing can help. Short simple sentences are easier.

I have been marking. Some student essays are a joy to read. Some are full of long complicated sentences and I am left guessing what the writer intended to say. I cannot fairly give marks based on guesswork. Not just beginners, but experienced writers too, can write sentences that are misunderstood. Complex sentences are more likely to be misunderstood than simple ones.

The trick to writing that can easily be understood is easy. The trick to writing that is unlikely to be misunderstood is easy. Write simple sentences. Each sentence should say ONE thing.

[Like most “rules”, experienced writers can break this one effectively. PG Wodehouse wrote many long elegant sentences. Often they had a “twist” that added spice to his humour. However, when beginners try to copy such sentences often something goes wrong. The result is puzzled or angry readers. If you are an experienced writer you should still be wary of long sentences. They are dangerous. Check them twice.]1

If each sentence is short and says one thing, then it is almost guaranteed to be clear and comprehensible. Sometimes we need to coordinate two ideas together – in which case use a conjunction. If the ideas are simply placed side by side use “and”. If they are contrasted use “but”.2

However, beginners should be wary of sentences that use more complicated tricks than this.

  1. This is good advice. I have been writing for public consumption for over forty years, usually more often than weekly, still most of my bad writing is due to long sentences – like this one? []
  2. You can do this as two sentences, using however, but this can lead to other problems. Not least lots of “howevers”. If you start a sentence with however put a comma after it.

    Actually it is more complicated than this, if “however” means “no matter how” it is not followed by a comma. For example: “However Squiggly tried, he couldn’t get his mind off chocolate.” More here. If “however” means “but” then a comma is needed: in Star Trek (2009) Spock says, “I intend to assist in the effort to reestablish communication with Starfleet. However, if crew morale is better served by my roaming the halls weeping, I will gladly defer to your medical expertise.” – More here. []

How do you begin to introduce the Old Testament?

In any writing or other communication, project where you start is really important. Most losses of audience occur near the start.

For this reason I’ve always been puzzled by how common it is to begin Introduction to the Old Testament books and courses start at the beginning. To a scholar the beginning is obvious, canon, what makes the object of study a “thing”. It is because first Jewish and then Christian communities used these writings as Scripture they became a “thing” – and because they did we study them. Logical as all get out :)

But does it work? Does this beginning grab a potential audience and drag them into the rest of the book/course?

Perhaps instead of beginning at the beginning we should start with “Why it matters”. If we start there we might grab our audience in ways that a description of the three-part nature of the Hebrew Bible canon, and a discussion of the difference between this and the organisation of the Christian canon of the Old Testament may not!

For followers of the Open Old Testament Learning Event1 it might be better to wait for the Biblical Scholar OOTLE Hangout announced for Thursday, February 5th, 3:00-4:00 pm Central Time.

Brooke describes the hangout like this

I will be joined by a few other biblical scholars for an “On Air” live Google Hangout. We will talk about why we love the Hebrew Bible and its academic study, and what kinds of things we hope for students to get out of an “Introduction to Old Testament/Hebrew Bible” course.

After that they may begin to understand why details of canon and canonical shape matter!

  1. BTW since the name has the “The” (see the masthead of the website) should the hashtag not be “#tootle15″ instead of #ootle15 ? []

Open Old Testament Learning Event 2015

I have just signed up for Ootle15. This is an open (as in anyone and as in free) learning event/course organised by Brooke Lester (a creative and interesting blogger and OT teacher with special interests and responsibilities for online learning.

If you fancy learning more about the OT you can too. It IS free and open to all.

I’ve participated in a couple of MOOCs related to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible both run with the support and resources of major universities and using the Coursera platform. Ootle15 has the air of being run thinner resources, if not quite the smell of an oily rag, and so should make an interesting comparison.

I have already begun to notice a learning curve as the course will use Twitter as well as blogging. I’ve used blogs since 2004 (11 years recently) so that is no learning yet, but I have resisted Twitter. Rudely suggesting it is only for twits! So I have generated a Twitter account just for the course. And successfully (as far as I can tell, one of the disconcerting “features” of Twitter seems to be that tweets just vanish into the ether, rather like legacy publications.1 )

The header picture, a section of which I have used above, hardly makes me feel at home, this part of NZ almost never gets snow and certainly not in high summer!

  1. Print media. []

Ban Christmas

Mike Crudge asks some interesting questions about “cringe communication” from Christians, he also poses a challenge to “create a simple and engaging billboard for your church this Christmas?”

Here’s my entry:

My reasoning? It seems to me that the clever style of billboard works most easily when satirising something, that is by its nature it is “protestant”. At Christmastime few Christians are thinking in terms of protest, sadly. There are surely enough opportunities, things we should protest against. The whole consumerist festival, for a start…
What about a poster calling for Christmas to be banned: “Cut the stress… Ban Christmas!” With a picture of a “picture perfect” family doing christmas with lots of presents and food etc…

Recording audio

Over the last year I have been forced (by equipment failure and an unwillingness to spend “too much”of the family budget on Internet publishing) to experiment with various options for recording audio.

I’ve done some of the 5 minute Bible podcasts using our camera (then combining a presentation with the video in the visual version of the podcast) this approach gets OK audio, except when the camera is too far from the speaker.

But most of the time I have used the internal mics on my Tascam DR-40 (digital audio recorder) at first I thought the quality was quite good. However, I have begun to wonder if it is better to attach a mic (I’m using the one I used to use with the external sound card).

I wonder if any of you would be willing to listen to a bit of the 7th chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, and compare it with one of the earlier chapters and let me know what you think of the differences in recording quality?

It would be a big help – one of the problems with doing such stuff without colleagues or technical support is that I don’t have an unbiased pair of ears to criticise!

Three excuses and a fine old story

I know, I know, I have not been posting as often, or as deeply, as I used to. Let me offer three excuses and a fine old story.

Excuse the first: I am retired and no longer think about teaching the Bible all the time (it is now a hobby, and looking after steers, sheep, pigs, ducks, chooks, fruit trees and vegetable patches are now my “work”). In this connection I have been learning to make proscuitto, salami etc. and experimenting to produce the world’s healthiest chocolate treat.

Excuse the second: the blogsphere has changed and gone “mainstream”, by and large people now only comment on and discuss “celebrity” blogs, it was the discussion and argument I enjoyed, not merely publishing ideas into the wild blue yonder.

Excuse the third: I have been writing and publishing in more academic formats than I used to, witness my CV and my Academia.edu page.

And the fine old story? Well I saved the best to last. Because those of you unfortunate enough to live in places with indecently long copyright terms (the United States of Disney or the Kingdom of Sony spring to mind) must listen illegally if you are to listen to it at all. I have been recording A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and have currently completed six chapters.

Digital commentary for the 21st C

At the conference I attended in Sydney recently one of the stimulating conversations I enjoyed was around ways to present Bible commentary in a digital medium for non-specialist readers in the 21st C. The Amos – Hypertext Bible Commentary was already beginning to show its age even when it was first published in a stable peer-reviewed edition.

[The pictures and other design elements were planned for a 800×600 screen, and mobile phones were not considered as a delivery system.]

Move forward a decade and responsive design (that will work on both hires screens and on portable devices) seems basic, and indeed one must envisage mobile devices as most likely the hardware of choice for accessing such a work.

This leads to the interesting possibility of packaging the commentaries as apps, and thus potentially breaks the funding barrier. Few people in the developed world or even middle class people elsewhere would balk at spending a couple of dollars for a Bible commentary.

The other interesting idea came from a presentation on visualising biblical studies ideas, and the thought that it would be nice to have a drill down menu that worked a bit like Prezi.

I like the idea, but am having trouble “seeing” how it might work. The Prezi below is my attempt to play with this concept… What advantages, disadvantages, alternatives, possibilities etc. do you see?

Oxymoron or game-changer? Academic self-publishing

The indefatigable Jim West pointed to this fascinating announcement from De Gruyter. Publoris like “ordinary” self-publishing services like Lulu offers a basic service with choices for the level of editorial involvement. Thus far nothing new. Except that in some sense this venture carries the imprimatur of De Gruyter, though not their editorial or peer review. Will such works offer their authors academic credit?

At first sight the answer is clear. They will not. And yet, if the involvement of De Gruyter is sufficient to attract some good work, and if these works get reviewed in serious journals, they will gain academic credit for their authors. (At least in the NZ Performance Based Research Funding assessments, the academic evaluation of research outputs I am most familiar with, reviews and such measures “count” for more in the long term than publishing with a prestigious house.)

Hence my title. Is academic self-publishing really a contradiction in terms, or a return to an earlier (purer?) form of academic publishing. Already we have “patrons” paying for the publication of works (if only authors’ institutions) why not a return to the “good old days” of self-publishing?

How does this look from where you work? Do you think the De Gruyter name has sufficient “clout” to get the library sales and reviews self-published works will need? Or has De G merely opened a vanity press more obviously and explicitly than others have yet done?

Getting students to read your comments in a Jetsons world

"Jetsons" by http://www.hogwild.net/images/Misc/jetsons.jpg. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of List of Characters in The Jetsons via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jetsons.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jetsons.jpg

“Jetsons” by http://www.hogwild.net/ via Wikipedia

The Sydney College of Divinity 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference “Teaching Theology in a Technological Age“is an interesting experience. Listening to so many teachers who are as a matter of course teaching distant students using a variety of computer mediated tools is in some ways like seeing a Jetsons “future world”, from only five or six years ago, come to life.

Yet the progress seems mainly to represent the greater importance of flexible teaching which has been driven by student demand, and so economic forces, rather than pedagogy. Pedagogy for an electronically mediated age seems still too much for most teachers and administrators. (More on this when I am less tired, a long day’s travel and two very short nights mean I can’t write clearly enough at the moment.)

There have been the usual “aha moments” not least (the only peripherally technological) suggestion of giving students their assignment with comments but no mark and asking them to assess the grade. One then, of course, may need to discuss and adjust the grade with the student, but the process forces the student to read the remarks, and to think about their performance in useful ways.

It’s been great to meet ACOM colleagues that I have only previously had email contact with, I feel much more part of a team now.