Guiding students toward a critical use of Internet resources

Traditionally, one might end a semester of teaching the Hebrew Bible with a large cumulative assessment to see if students can tell you who ‘Abraham’ and ‘Moses’ are and what happened during the Exodus. I received permission to go a different direction. I created a project that tries to focus more on what they will learn than what they have learned. I called it ‘Reading the Bible Digitally‘ and the point of the project was to teach my students to think critically about the Internet resources they use.

If you’d like to see the basic rubric, you can access it here:

In gist, the project consisted of three parts in two sections: (1) analyze Ronald S. Hendell’s article ‘The Search for Noah’s Flood’ written for The Biblical Archaeological Society and then do the same for Answer in Genesis’ YouTube video ‘What Are Some Evidences of the Flood?’ featuring Andrew Snelling; (2) write a short reflection (five to six sentences) in response to this exercise.

In part 1, I want my students to see what they could learn about Hendell and Snelling (credentials, vocation, publications, etc.) as well as the organizations giving them a platform—The Biblical Archaeological Society and Answers in Genesis. Then I wanted them to comment on things like whether their arguments seemed based on evidence or conjecture and anecdotes; whether evidence (a line of thought that could be followed) was provided or just claims made (which doesn’t make them wrong, per se); whether there was an obvious religious or political bias (not necessarily a ‘bad’ thing but something worth knowing); and whether the article/video tended to sensationalize or even dip into conspiracy theory type thinking (e.g., Snelling attacks the ambiguous group ‘scientists’ at the end of the video).

In part 2, I asked students to tell me what this exercise taught them about doing research on the Bible, how it might help them in their other classes, and how it might help them in life in general.

As I begin grading I’m happy with what I’m seeing. There’s some questions I’ll word differently next year but I’ve already had a couple of students tell me how much they enjoyed this project and I’ve heard from a colleague that a student told them about it. My main motivation was this: most of my students won’t major in Religious Studies, or go to seminary, but they’ll hear claims made about the Bible the rest of their lives. I know that the first place most of them will go to find out more about something is Google. So, the question I’m asking myself is this: Will my students be prepared to be discerning life-long learners in our digital age after they’ve left the guidance of my classroom? I hope the answer is a little closer to ‘yes’ now.

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