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In the future, will most students learn biblical languages in a classroom—or on a computer? The Best Practices in Teaching Workshop, one of a number of new program units at this year's Annual Meeting, was highlighted by presentations that addressed new pedagogical uses and forms of media. The session, which focused on Greek this year, exceeded the expectations of its organizers by packing its room.

In the discussion after the session, there was strong interest in forming a Greek professors' association among SBL members and in holding yearly meetings. Future years' meetings of the Best Teaching Practices Workshop will focus on the pedagogy of biblical Hebrew, Introduction to New Testament, and Introduction to Old Testament.

Joel Harlow of Reformed Theological Seminary started off this year's meeting with a presentation on his experiences teaching biblical languages over the Internet. Having just received his 500th online registration, he reported that he had achieved student satisfaction and achievement levels comparable to face-to-face (or F2F) learning.

Harlow emphasized the differences between online and traditional learning situations, especially the gap that exists between teacher and students. Because of this, he said, "Learners must learn differently, teachers must teach differently, and institutions must support differently." The learners tended to be older, part-time students who were juggling responsibilities; they had to be more self-motivated and responsible than F2F students. Teachers, Harlow said, need to learn to use different formats (such as PDFs and e-mail) more effectively, and to remember that they are no longer the "sage on a stage" but a "guide on the side." For their part, institutions need to make tech support readily available; Harlow's research suggests that tech support is actually more important to student satisfaction than teacher availability, a comment that caused a ripple of exclamation in the room.

The differences in online learning led Harlow to structure his courses differently. Every student has six months to complete a course and is allowed to move at his or her own pace. The student has to complete all quizzes and tests, but there are no fixed dates for them; they can take every quiz and test at the end of the course if they prefer. Harlow believes that this allows to students to function in "mastery mode, not survival mode." He also talked about the importance of course design—the work that happens before the course starts. He points students to CD-ROM exercises and gives them practice tests structured just like the real ones.

The rest of the session was a hit as well. Steve Walton (London School of Theology) presented on a British group's efforts to draft a better introductory guide to reading the Gospel of John. The group focused on where beginning students really are and what sort of helps they need, eliminating the jargon and confusing abbreviations in some such guides. Pierre Johan Jordaan (North West University, South Africa) talked about teaching Greek in a multilingual setting, remarking that students whose native language was not the English or Afrikaans of his textbooks often had an advantage in understanding grammatical structures of a language. Randall Buth generated a stir with his presentation on "Teaching Greek Outside of a Textbook." Buth has his students act out short skits and converse in biblical Greek. Finally, co-chair Clayton Croy (Trinity Lutheran Seminary) gave a "baker's dozen" of tips from his own experience of teaching NT Greek, encouraging teachers to bring some wit and fun into the classroom with singing, skits, and funny quizzes.

At its peak, the session had more than 100 members in attendance, and the handouts prepared by the presenters quickly ran out. At the end, Croy was effusive: "This is wonderful. I really didn't expect attendance and response like this." Croy's co-chair is David A. deSilva of Ashland Theological Seminary

Christopher B. Hays, Emory University

Citation: Chris Hays, " The Best Practices in Teaching Workshop: A Look at One New Program Unit," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Dec 2004]. Online:


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