status

Professors Sharing Student Papers – a plea

Over the past several years, social media has exploded as a driving medium for communication and discourse in across our contemporary culture. This is not a surprising statement. Due to the easy access and low barriers of social media, it is rather easy to have a presence in various places. One of the great benefits is having professors who are part of various schools and institutions having accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This allows them to add insightful notes on their fields of specialization, identify new research or discoveries, and interact with current trends. As this happens, social media is being used well.

TwitterTeachingHowever, some professors and educators are using part of their social media platforms to share their students’ papers through quotes, commentary, and other incisive critiques. In instances, professors are quoting directly from student papers and offering less than charitable thoughts…usually to a handful of ‘likes’, favorites, repostings, and/or replies from those who follow their posts. While the plaudits of the masses are always enjoyable and ego building, these kinds of actions are, ultimately, dangerous and harmful to the educational process.

There are a number of pseudonymous or anonymous social media accounts that started this trend, perhaps one of the earliest to do in my discipline (theology) is the Bible Students Say twitter account. Others have arisen of the kind and the interactions caught a lot of attention. The tweets were edgy and often funny or ironic quotes from students, yet under the veneer of anonymity many seemed to be okay with that kind of posting. At some point over the past several years it became acceptable for faculty members and professors to imitate these accounts, but under their public profiles. Now, it seems, one can easily note when the high points of the semester by the quotations of student papers in various professorial social media accounts.

This trend is not a good one. Thankfully having never seen any of my own paper quotes out in social media, I have heard of some students who have had some of their papers quoted…and then read the, sadly, expected chiding and churlish interactions and replies from others on social media. Recently, over the past several months, I’ve noticed some professors who have ceased doing this, but others who have increased up their posts. A second aspect of this trend is professors complaining about the nature of student papers, without direct quotes, and the lack of educational refinement or gaps in the students’ work.laughing

My thought behind this is simple: Please stop posting student paper quotes and content, please stop commenting on the “drudgery” of grading them, and please stop chiding your students over public social media about being…well, students.

After thinking over this issue for a while, my greatest objection to this is that the behavior of professors who engage in these is, ultimately, a violation of the informal professor-student compact. Students are learners, they don’t know everything on a topic and are most assuredly in process of development. Professors are given the great task of helping forming students intellectually and relationally for the world. To take sections or sentences from their papers and post them publicly, almost always to shame them or make fun of their incomplete thoughts, violates this compact.

If professors would go back and read their undergraduate and early graduate work they would bristle and roll their eyes at things they said, conclusions they made, argumentation process laid out, and even poor methodologies. Part of being a student is the confidence and trust that your professor will graciously hear you out, offer correctives, and help move you forward as a student. If a professor were to stand up in class and read aloud of papers of students while others listened we would cringe; doing it on social media is no different.

Another point is that complaining about the grading process is not enduring to anyone else. As a professor grading is a necessary and expected part of your role in the lives of your institution and student body. They need your feedback. As someone who has little desire to enter the academic world, I also see it as trite and unbecoming of a seasoned academic professional. You have a career that many aspire to, yet it is treated with disdain. My encouragement would be to refrain from letting us know how badly your students are doing, because they are a reflection of an increasingly broken higher education system and your teaching style.

There are some wonderful discussions about how to use social media to interact with and help your student, advice and tips to add to this engagement, and also helpful points about the limitations of what can be shared on social media. Many good things can be accomplished through social media. Students are benefited by access to discussions with professors and even seeing how their educators are actually normal people. Yet in all of this there is a darker side that can lead us to harm relationship between professors and students. Just as a pastor would be negligent in posting the detailed counseling conversations with others, or a priest the sins heard in the confessional, a doctor in discussing a patient’s lifestyle or health, professors need to be reticent in posting harmful or hurtful information about their students. You have a wonderful and amazing task: to shape and develop the next generation. Steward that task well and we are all beneficiaries.

So, what do you say?

23
Jun 2016
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

DISCUSSION No Comments
status

Why the Languages are Important for a PhD

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been devoting myself to learning theological French in order to satisfy my second research language requirement prior to my comprehensive examinations.

There is often a push and pull in a PhD program about any number of the requirements. As I’ve seen in my evaluations of different programs before actually entering one, the requirements are often the same across the board. Particularly for those of us pursuing PhDs in a humanities subject (such as theology, history, etc) one of the requirements are two research languages. On my degree completion plan, I have the option of any of two of three research languages: German, French, and Latin.

Not too long ago there was a bit of a dust up about whether or not PhDs in New Testament needed to know Greek for their final examinations. It resulted in a good conversation around the blogosphere. Why a PhD in New Testament should be able to graduate without reading knowledge of Greek is a mystery to me. A PhD, more than any other degree in the university curriculum, should demonstrate mastery of a field of research. So, along those lines, I have no problem stating:

Research languages (i.e. foreign) are important and should continue to be required for those pursuing PhDs in humanities subjects.

Part of proper scholarship is the engagement with a broad array of thinkers and scholars. To best do this, being able to get outside of the box that one’s primary language creates allows access to some who will stretch a student/scholar’s abilities and thought processes. Even today, when we have more access to translated scholarship, there still remains a substantial body of literature outside the English language that should be engaged. Online translating tools, such as Google Translate, remain unreliable and often give incorrect translations of texts as they lack the ability to distinguish nuance.

In my own studies, in historical ecclesiology, I’ve encountered a number of works that meet this classification. For my dissertation, one of the key works that I am using is by a German scholar of the late 1800s, Rudolph Sohm. In writing Kirchenrecht, Sohm argues that the earliest churches had no ecclesiastical constitution but were ruled by a charisma (understood differently than the charismatics of today) which provided leadership for those who were seen as gifted by God. This is an essential point for my work on the role of local church autonomy in the early churches. However, Sohm’s work has never been translated into English. (A challenge I might take up…after my dissertation.)

Other examples abound.

Having competency in two research languages allows one to engage in this kind of broader research and fill out the views that would be other otherwise unavailable to the student.

Along these lines it is important to note this: a PhD isn’t a gimme degree.

Too many students believe that just because they pay tuition and submit assignment they deserve a degree. Our entire higher education system has become a secondary entitlement program where students demand degrees and passable grades for shoddy work.

Because a PhD is a rigorous degree it should also have requirements that are equally rigorous.

To be honest, over the past month I’ve been staying up until about 2 AM most mornings working on my French so I might pass a competency exam. This isn’t fun, but it is absolutely worth it. There are certainly other things I could be doing, but because I’m enrolled in a PhD program I have purposely set aside these things to pursue a higher calling. Languages are difficult and add an important step of rigor to a PhD.

PhDs are important degrees for those who desire the highest levels of intellectual engagement and academic accomplishment. If you cannot learn two research languages that might be a good indication that you aren’t cut out for a PhD. This likely will sound like a kind of elitist, and it certainly is. We should have no illusions that a PhD is as simple to achieve as an undergraduate degree. The language requirements of a PhD are an effective vetting mechanism to ensure that the highest qualified students (note, this is intellectual qualification not monetary) are obtaining these degrees.

Finally, the language requirements of a PhD provide an important tool for a lifetime of scholarship that awaits. Though I am not entirely convinced that Latin, German, and French should be the only research languages, this harkens of colonialism, a student should have the ability to add in an appropriate language. By having two research languages in their research tool chest, academics are prepared to provide quality research and engagement with works that have yet to be written.

Perhaps, in summation, the language requirements for a PhD are important for these three reasons:

  • The ability to engage in a broad discipline of research and scholarship
  • A reasonable vetting step for the most rigorous of academic degrees
  • Developing tools for a lifetime of scholarship

 

So what do you think? How have you engaged with research languages? Are there other reasons for requiring languages for a PhD?

20
Aug 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
status

Review Round Up for Aslan’s “Zealot”

Well this week has had an interesting turn of events that began with the proliferation of clips from that ill-fated FoxNews interview of author and professor, Dr Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Any book that is marketed as a popular treatment of technical scholarship, and that subsequently makes it to the top of Amazon’s sales list, needs to be taken seriously.

So here’s a briefly annotated list of some review links in certain categories:

Technical/Scholarly Reviews

In his Huffington Post review, Greg Carey gives a thorough review of Zealot that makes notes of its achievements while avoiding polarizing language. This does not mean Carey lacks criticism, but rather that his tone is measured.

Anthony LeDonne’s review, however, is markedly different in tone and force. LeDonne is helpful in his completeness of noting how much Zealot lacks an actual historical basis for its purpose.

Peter Enns hasn’t added a review, so much as a couple of notes that are appropriate to continuing the conversation about Zealot.

Jim West provided a quick retort of seven of the core positions (I’ll save you some time: the answer is Bultmann) of the text and then later noted the challenge of this kind of marketing strategy. We’ll all be looking forward to his more in depth review which is surely forthcoming.

That’s about it for scholarly interaction in the theological blogosphere. If I’ve missed some, let me know, because I definitely want to include them.

Popular News/Media Reviews

There were a couple of reviews of Zealot from some pretty high profile publications. At first there were two quick review notes from the Publisher’s Weekly and the New Yorker. They are joined by longer reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Each of these reviews (written by some with, it seems, limited backgrounds on the topic) talks about how well Aslan has written the book, points out the alarming points, and settles on recommending the text for both of these reasons. There isn’t really any scholarly interaction.

In a more engaged review at Salon.com, Laura Miller challenges the approach Aslan takes. Adam Kirsch, at The New Republicprovides a more detailed interaction with the text that also questions some of its method and conclusions.

Of course then we have the Amazon.com reviews…which are about as useful as a Southwest Airlines pilot in the international terminal.

Certainly there are more forthcoming interactions. I’ll be sure to update the post with them. Just one quick observation (or two):

I don’t know what the process is/was for a text like Zealot when it comes to submission. It is curious that the publisher submitted the text to some popular review sources and not, it appears, scholarly ones. If this perception is wrong, I apologize. However, if this is the case…why would they do this? Why not pick up the phone and call a couple historical Jesus scholars and ask them to look at it while the popular press is doing the same?

All of this seems to be leading to a point that I reflected on this morning that this has a parallel to Matthew 16:26 (cf. Mark 8:36.)

In the larger community Dr Aslan will enjoy a couple of weeks of press and publicity and likely a fat royalty check for some time. That might work for him and his publisher, but in scholarly circles (the circles that provide sustainable engagement and develop appropriate reputations) he’s pretty much done. If the book is, as we’re seeing, really this poorly researched he’s toast. We can’t imagine what will happen if significant scholars get a hold of this text (Wright, Ehrman, Hurtado, etc) and do a just treatment. Who is going to take Aslan seriously in six months, a year, ten years due to this book and subsequent follow ups that are equally as bad? How does he rehabilitate his reputation following this book? It will be difficult to say the least.

Just a quick hit. Please update me on some additional reviews as they are forthcoming.

status

Who is More Qualified to Write on Jesus?

At this point I think we can agree any topic related to Jesus causes a firestorm.

This weekend a new controversy has sprung up as it relates to Dr Reza Alsan’s interview on FoxNews about his new book Zelaot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. Now I’m not going to comment on his text, however the controversy around his interview has gotten a conversation going. Over at First Things, Matthew J. Franck has put together a post about the challenge of Dr Aslan’s purported credentials. Whether or not Dr Aslan has a PhD which allows him to say he’s a historian is not my point. I generally support the view that to be considered a critical scholar on a subject one needs to have “a terminal degree in the specific field of their inquiry with relevant research and peer reviewed articles published while holding a relevant academic position at an educational institution.”

This definition should enough to begin to answer this question about who is more qualified to write on Jesus. Jesus is popular stuff and if you write a decent book and have the backing of a smoothly operating propaganda machine you should be able to sell some books. Western culture still loves to talk about Jesus.

So, does being a   (insert religious or non-religious moniker)  make one more credible or less credible when it comes to writing on Jesus?

From a position of academic scholarship, so long as someone has a relevant degree and has done quality research to answering a question, however one fills in the blank in the above line doesn’t matter. Academically, a Muslim with a New Testament degree is just as qualified as an evangelical Christian with the same degree to write about Jesus. Now, whether they have done a good job will be determined (not by 24-hour news channels) but by the scholarly community at large.

Scholars submit their work to review (both peer review and review articles) and it should withstand a healthy conversation that is either positive or negative. A writer who isn’t prepared, or willing to do so, isn’t a scholar and isn’t credible.

In our contemporary age, too many of us operate with an approach of suspicion when encountering a sympathetic scholar, or writer, who produces a work about a controversial topic. Surely the convinced Christian has less to offer than the critical atheist when asking historical questions about Jesus. Apparently there is a lack of credibility that comes from being affiliated with the group you’re critically engaging.

Now this might just be a product of our age.

I, for one, welcome Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic inquiries into the picture of the historical Jesus developed by orthodox (small “o”) Christians since the establishment of the post-Apostolic church. Let’s get our cards on the table and have a generous conversation. Let’s use the same historical methodology to evaluate all of our leaders by which we evaluate Jesus. Let’s compare the historical Jesus against the historical Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Siddhartha Gautama, and others.

Now, the larger question for Muslim scholar such as Reza Aslan, does he welcome appropriately credentialed Christian scholars to investigate Mohammed?

It’s easy to write a book about Jesus. Dan Brown stole material from another book and now lives in a very large house after writing a very bad book about Jesus. But he’s not a critical, or any kind of, scholar.

The challenge is writing a good book about Jesus that authentically and critically engages the historical scholarship in a quest (no pun intended) to answer the author’s primary question about Jesus. It’s been done, but only in limited form and usually in a manner that doesn’t interview well on the 24-hour newsfeeds.

Finally, we shouldn’t miss the point that Reza Aslan has provided a critical interaction with the theme of resurrection and how it would have reflected a political and religious reality of the historical Jesus. This seems to be, obviously, completely missed by the interviewer. Now that is an interesting topic. One of the challenges Islam brings to Christianity is a denial of the crucifixion. I believe that is one of the more historically established events in antiquity. If Dr Aslan is offering a new perspective, I’d be willing to hear it.

Of course, we must point out that any scholar going on any of the 24 hour news channels (or Comedy Central) shouldn’t expect to be received with any respect for critical nuance. That’s probably more of a statement about the journalistic torpor of our days than a commentary on the failures of scholarship. Long gone are the days when scholars would be interviewed by learned journalists who probed their insights and helpfully developed the discussion. This FoxNews interview is a blight on our culture and the interviewer misses the entire point. Since Foxnews has a history of failing to critically engage scholars, I simply think they don’t have much to offer in this conversation.

So, Who is More Qualified to Write on Jesus?

First, we must consider the qualifications (academically) of an author. No offense to my Christian brothers and sisters, but if you have a high school diploma with no additional undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate study, you aren’t as qualified to write on Jesus as someone who has those degrees. Also, any of these degrees of collegename.com diploma mill doesn’t qualify you either.

Second, just because someone is a Christian (including us terrible evangelicals) doesn’t mean our opinion is less suitable than a non-believer. If an evangelical has done the work their voice should be heard.

Third, just because someone isn’t a Christian who has the requisite academic work, doesn’t mean they are more worth hearing by the population at large. Critical inquiry demands peer review. It demands the qualified conversation of specialists who can review and consider the piece.

So finally, let those who choose to write on Jesus be subject to the process of answering the question about their credentials and then let their work stand (or fall) on its own.

UA-40705812-1