Uploading Hebrew: The Transformation of the Language Classroom

The discussion surrounding best practices for teaching Biblical Hebrew has grown in promising directions through recent years. Along with increased attention to modern pedagogical methods, there has also been an exponential growth of interest in online language education as technological advances make web-based instruction more versatile. My perspective on this discussion is informed by over a decade of experience in Biblical Hebrew (BH) curriculum development for contexts ranging from in-person to online, from grammar-translation to communicative methodologies, from private organizations to the university level, and varying combinations of all these factors. The particulars of each learning environment (timeframe, institutionally-mandated outcomes, student demographics, etc.) have required me to constantly revisit what I see as the driving questions behind any BH course design project: What are the learning goals for this institution and/or student group? Within the given parameters, how can we maximize the students’ immersion in the most authentic possible form of BH, and how can we most effectively leverage modern research on language acquisition with regard to focused instruction, comprehensible input, etc.? In the present session, I will share how I have addressed such questions in two particular contexts: 1) An undergraduate university setting which combines a living-language style classroom (using methods such as Total Physical Response and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling), a grammar-translation textbook, and an innovative online homework program that gives students real-time feedback; and 2) An exclusively online (asynchronous) BH course designed on the open-source Moodle platform and geared toward BMin/BTh/MDiv students who also need to be trained to incorporate their Hebrew skills with the language resources available to them on the Logos software. The latter project is modeled in part after the former, and it engages a number of technological tools (audio, video, auto-correct exercises, etc.) in an effort to translate the pedagogical advantages of a face-to-face communicative classroom into the online environment. During this presentation, I will use Jonah 1 as an example text through which to demonstrate the various types of online exercises and resources that I have found to carry the strongest pedagogical value in each situation. As the demand for online coursework continues to grow, I expect that using these two teaching contexts as test cases could provide worthwhile insights for others who are also presented with the challenge and the opportunity of guiding biblical language acquisition in an online world.