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Religious Studies, Classroom Technology, and Digital Humanities

Abstract

How can scholars in religious studies better engage our students using appropriate classroom technology? Students want us to use such technology, and experience and research have shown that proper deployment of classroom technology in keeping with instructors' pedagogical goals can better engage students.

Through this project, the participants aim to:

  • Learn more about innovative technologies that are available for teaching various courses in religion that we can incorporate into our ongoing courses either as technological enhancements in the classrooms or a component of blended teaching methodologies;
  • Share our individual experiences with classroom technology — positive and negative — as a means of developing a set of best practices that involve technology in the religious studies classroom; and
  • Engage in a conversation with fellow religious studies scholar-teachers on the specific pedagogical issues involving our field and classroom technology, with a particular focus on the liberal arts classroom experience.

Note: Content adapted from project proposal.

Goals

Updated Feb 08, 2016

The presenting problem that this project addresses is how scholars in religious studies can better engage our students using appropriate classroom technology. Students want us to use such technology, and experience and research have shown that proper deployment of classroom technology in keeping with instructors' pedagogical goals can better engage students. The goals of the proposed project are:

  1. Learning more about innovative technologies that are available for teaching various courses in Religion that we can incorporate into our ongoing courses either as technological enhancements in the classrooms or a component of blended teaching methodologies
  2. Sharing our individual experiences with classroom technology - positive and negative - as a means of developing a set of best practices that involve technology in the religious studies classroom
  3. Engaging in a conversation with fellow religious studies scholar-teachers on the specific pedagogical issues involving our field and classroom technology, with a particular focus on the liberal arts classroom experience.

While we each represent a distinct institution, our institutions share the central goals of liberal arts education to challenge our students' critical thinking and expression, which increasingly means utilizing appropriate multi-modal technologies. In religious studies, we consider these goals central to our field as well. Within religious studies at our respective departments, each of us also seeks to help students develop skills related to analysis of texts, synthesis of new ideas, and ability to successfully communicate about topics related to the study of religion. Collectively, these intentions connect to specific goals of our three institutions.

  1. At Lake Forest College, the project most centrally connects to the institutional mission to "encourage students to read critically, reason analytically, communicate persuasively, and, above all, to think for themselves. We prepare our students for, and help them attain, productive and rewarding careers." Since technology has become so central to contemporary life — everything from digital workflows to e-books to social media to professional communication — making use of appropriate classroom technology is essential to model and encourage the sort of goals that we lay out in our college mission statement.
  2. At Colorado College, the project aligns with the institutional mission to "challenge students, one course at a time, to develop those habits of intellect and imagination that will prepare them for learning and leadership throughout their lives." Effective use of technology can certainly contribute to these imaginative, varied modes of thinking. The incorporation of technology in the liberal arts classroom also fits well with Colorado College's unique block plan, in which varied use of class time keeps students engaged and enhances learning.
  3. At Ripon College, faculty have begun to discuss current approaches to enhance classroom teaching through technology, e.g. flipped classrooms, online assignments, Skyped presentations by remotely located guest lecturers. With the aid of Information Technology Services (ITS), faculty plan to continue these discussions and learn more what technology is available on campus, and receive training in how to use it to enhance classroom teaching.

The FaCE project has as its central goals fostering collaborative and innovating efforts among ACM faculty and addressing one or more of the large challenges or opportunities facing residential liberal arts colleges. This proposed project intended to meet these goals in the following ways:

  1. Direct collaboration between three faculty members at three different institutions in the planning and executing our participation at the 2015 THAT Camp and AAR/SBL Annual Meeting.
  2. Enhancing innovation in the classroom through the implementation of new technologies by capitalizing on the research partners’ shared exposure to cutting edge digital humanities tools and techniques at the aforementioned meetings.
  3. Direct integration of one of the most important aspects of contemporary culture - technology - into our pedagogical toolkit, so as to better engage our students in 21st century liberal arts college classrooms.

Activities

Updated Feb 08, 2016

Each member of this research partnership will serve as a fully engaged participant at the 2015 THAT Camp and AAR/SBL Annual Meeting, attending sessions, taking part in discussions, and making presentations. Most importantly, the research team will be leading a "talk session" at the THAT Camp, which in the parlance of the THAT model represents "a group discussion around a topic or question [of relevance to technology and religious studies]."

Our "talk session" would center on technology in liberal arts college classrooms. We will seek to align our teaching positions/interests, but at the same time each bring distinctive perspectives from our own particular areas of study and teaching, which include biblical studies, religion in late antiquity, world religions, and American religious history. We will be responsible for convening and directing the session and discussion of topics pertaining to several methods we are currently using in our teaching that involve technology: flipped classrooms, blogging, online discussions in blended learning, and wholly online courses. At THAT Camp, we will also participate in other talk sessions as well as the "teach" (hands-on workshop), "make" (collaborative working session), and "play" (exploration of technologies) sessions that distinguish the THAT Camp experience.

We envision that our conversations and experiences at THAT Camp will continue into the various AAR/SBL Annual Meeting sessions, including panel discussions, workshops, and other interactive forms of discussion of pedagogy. Relevant meeting sessions will include those sponsored by the Teaching Religion Section (AAR), Transformative Scholarship and Pedagogy Group (AAR), Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies Unit (SBL), and Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, And Christian Studies Unit (SBL). While it is impossible to specify which events at either the 2015 THAT Camp or AAR/SBL Annual Meeting will be of direct relevance to our project, our analysis of past meetings suggests that many topics are likely to involve data in the digital humanities, digital platforms for undergraduate research, twitter, digital A/V in the classroom, new media, and content management in the classroom.


Dissemination Strategies

We are fortunate that two interrelated opportunities exist to help us achieve our three project goals:

  1. Our disciplinary THAT Camp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), a gathering of religious studies scholars who participate in an "unconference" dedicated to the consideration of technology in religious studies;
  2. Pedagogy and technology- related sessions and panels held at the joint Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL).

Importantly, the events occur subsequently, with our disciplinary religious studies THAT Camp held the day before the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting begins. The proposed grant would fund our attendance at the THAT Camp and the AAR/SBL Annual Meeting in November 2015, held consecutively in Atlanta, Georgia.

Depending on the specific means by which we satisfy our three goals (i.e., learning about technologies, sharing our experiences, and engaging in a conversation), we will leave the THAT Camp and the AAR/SBL meeting equipped with new technological tools and techniques for classroom engagement, and refinements of the existing approaches that we use. (We include a small budget for acquiring relevant technology tools; any significant investments in such technology tools fall outside the bounds of this proposal.) We will learn from each other and from our colleagues, and envision a longer collaboration as we report back to each other on the dissemination of our work on our campuses and through the ACM Religion disciplinary listserv, which a member of our group has requested to be established.

It is difficult to predict what tools, techniques, and technologies will be addressed at meetings a year into the future (indeed, some technologies to be discussed may not yet exist!), but in the interest of describing the type of approaches on which this project focuses, we provide brief examples of the sorts of projects that we hope to improve upon and further develop through the proposed activities:

  • Ben Zeller currently uses a blogging assignment in his course. The assignment calls for students to respond to assigned reading materials before the class meeting, and comment on classmates' responses. Ideally, this prepares the students to better engage in discussion during the actual face-to-face meeting, making this technique both a "flipped classroom" and "blended" course. While the blogging technique works well, refinements could be made.
  • Pamela Reaves regularly introduces students to online digital manuscripts collections. She is interested in developing ways to use such collections with her students in more advanced, sophisticated ways. Engaging with scholars who also incorporate such collections in their classroom should be quite productive in this regard.
  • Brian Smith works with more structured online discussions among students in small groups, where students answer questions and give opinions regarding assigned readings and ask each other questions. After making their initial post, each student must respond at least twice to the questions posed by their peers. At the conclusion of these online exchanges, the instructor uses the information collected as a means of drawing students into a "live" discussion in the classroom.

Through presenting on these approaches, soliciting feedback, and conversing with other teacher-scholars, we hope to improve these and similar technology engagement techniques.

In addition, we will also share what we have learned with our broader campus community, particularly faculty involved in the humanities who would most directly benefit from our experiences. One intended result of our project is therefore the dissemination of knowledge and best practices in digital humanities and classroom technology across our home institutions and between disciplines. Because humanities classrooms tend generally to incorporate technology to a lesser extent than other fields, we believe this project will serve as an especially effective means for developing and refining humanities-specific engagement with technology that enhances liberal arts pedagogy.

We propose that we share our experiences with our departments, divisions, and disciplinary faculties (as the case may be) through a formal presentation at each of the research team’s respective institutions. The specific form would vary, but generally would follow the contours of a one-hour presentation and Q+A session to be sponsored by the appropriate department and teaching support program of our institutions:

  • Ben Zeller, Lake Forest College: Learning & Teaching Center (LTC) luncheon series on teaching issues.
  • Pamela Reaves, Colorado College: Crown Faculty Center, Faculty Lunch Series
  • Brian Smith, Ripon College: Brown Bag Faculty Lunch Session

We would also disseminate our findings and discuss our experience more broadly across the ACM via the Religion disciplinary listserv. Depending on the specific nature of what we learn at the conferences, we envision possibilities that we may want to train other faculty on new technologies, propose the purchase of new softwares, or develop follow-up projects building on our initial conversations.


Lead Partner
Benjamin Zeller
Assistant Professor, Lake Forest College
Religion
zeller@lakeforest.edu
Collaborating partner(s)
Pamela Reaves
Assistant Professor, Colorado College
Religion
pamela.reaves@coloradocollege.edu
Brian Smith
Professor, Ripon College
Religion
smithb@ripon.edu
ACM Program Funding
FaCE
Award
$7,458
Funding Cycle
2014-2015
Project Duration
Keywords
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