Friday, October 12, 2012

The 'Old-fashioned' lecture

Listening to experts in pedagogy, student services and university curricula for the past few years has given me the impression that most people think the idea of old-fashioned lectures from professors is just that: old-fashioned, stodgy, stale, yada yada. I've never quite believed the mantras associated with this popular belief, which tend to go hand in glove with moves to ramp up distance education courses which - although they often include taped lectures - do not by their nature involve participation in a face to face encounter with a live person who lectures. And I've always thought that there is inherent value in such face to face encounters: in hearing a professor explain points on the fly; engaging (whether sympathetically or skeptically or both) with students; watching and evaluating how a professor thinks though things, maybe with notes or slides as back up, sure, but always with that adventurous aspect of the 'on the fly'.

Well. This story made my week. No, it made my month. A research study conducted here in Quebec and headed by a colleague here at Concordia confirms the secret that I thought might never see the light of day. Wait for it: Students Like (Good) Lectures. GASP!!

Here's the eyebrow-raising part of a story on the study, near the end:

The surprising results showed that students were more appreciative of the literally “old-school” approach of lectures and were less enthusiastic than teachers about using ICTs in classes. Instructors were more fluent with the use of emails than with social media, while the opposite was true for students.

“Our analysis showed that teachers think that their students feel more positive about their classroom learning experience if there are more interactive, discussion-oriented activities. In reality, engaging and stimulating lectures, regardless of how technologies are used, are what really predict students’ appreciation of a given university course,” says Fusaro.
Amazing. Spread the news: gadgets, videos, convoluted, multi-faceted discussion rubrics. All might be useful in certain contexts.... But nothing can replace the old-fashioned lecture for providing the base of a high quality university education.

And, as for the value of good lectures and the person-to-person element of a university education, see this excellent piece from a few weeks ago by U of T professor Orwin: There's no substitute for a real university classroom.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 'Other Jesus' Industry

One of the strangest things about the latest Jesus controversy (Harvard's Karen King claiming to have in her possession a fragment of a 4th. century text referring to Jesus' wife) is that it did not coincide with either Christmas or Easter. That is, what usually happens with these kinds of things is that some purported 'discovery' just happens to coincide with Time magazine's deadline for its pre-Christmas or pre-Easter issues.

Not this time: the timeline was foisted on us by an academic conference, at which King made her 'discovery' known. The question people are now asking is: did she have any idea how negative the coverage and scepticism would become? Did she know what on earth she was setting herself up for? Not that such scepticism is undeserved.... far from it. The initial comments by King, while circumspect, were clearly designed to entice the public into wanting to see and hear more about this new angle on Jesus.  And, this was when things began to fall apart - more quickly than they usually do.

So, where we stand now is that we're probably dealing with the latest in a long line of fake Jesus stories, which as James Hannam implies, in a nice context piece, is frankly sad. Sad in the sense that people have a lot of expectations about what Jesus means - very much their own (uninformed) expectations, that is. And the western media are all too happy to oblige those expectations, rather than do anything else that might appear stodgy, traditional, not to mention academically sound.

This is additionally weird, because so much of the soundest scholarship these days has to do with the Jewish identity of Jesus, about which the popular media tends to shrug. At least, *if you're looking for* a Jesus who doesn't quite fit the parameters set by the Christian creed, why not write something that picks up on the work of E.P Sanders, Paula Fredrickson, Richard Horsley, Pinchas Lapide, Brad Young, Sean Freyne or Jacob Neusner --- and that's just for starters.  

As for the specifics of this latest Jesus outburst, a real NT scholar (as opposed to a scholar of the ancient world / ancient texts of various sorts), Craig Evans, has posted his summary ruminations on facebook, as follows: 

Is the Coptic papyrus, in which Jesus speaks of his “wife,” a fake? Probably. We are far from a “consensus,” but one scholar after another and one Coptologist after another has weighed in pointing out serious problems with the paleography,
the syntax, and the very troubling fact that almost all of the text has been extracted from the Gospel of Thomas (principally from logia 30, 101, and 114). I suspect the papyrus itself is probably quite old, perhaps fourth or fifth century, but the oddly written (or painted) letters on the recto side are probably modern and probably reflect recent popular interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The decision of the editors of Harvard Theological Review not to publish Professor Karen King’s paper is very wise. Perhaps we will eventually learn more about who actually produced this text.