The immediate impact of ChatGPT on my pedagogy

Prior to the pandemic, our school began to make a shift toward digitizing assignments. We became “BYOD” (“Bring Your Own Device”). I followed suit by turning almost everything into something from Google Workplace: Docs, Forms, etc. When the pandemic sent us all home, I was ready for the transition to Meets (eventually Zoom) and Classroom. But once we returned to “in person” learning, it was clear something was wrong. The psychological and social impact of the pandemic, combined with what I perceive to be the ongoing influence of zero-attention span social media (e.g. TikTok), made it clear to me that basic skills like close reading, note taking, and writing needed to be retaught. So, this year I removed computers from my class, for the most part. My students receive a guided outline for each lesson. They can take notes on it. Each of my assignments is open note, in order to reword note-takers. And I don’t have my students read articles from their computers anymore, realizing I was going to lose the battles against all of the alluring tabs attracting them to some other part of the Internet. Now, they receive printed versions. It’s almost as if the Internet was never created. Almost.

I’ve continued to do assessments through Google Classroom. My students have to write somewhere between six to ten sentence “Exit Ticket” responses. For some lessons, I had them do something like a quiz that I called a “Multiple Choice Review” that was, again, open note and not really a quiz as much as a chance to have them stop and revisit key concepts, rewarding those who took notes so they could use them. The aforementioned Exit Tickets were completed through a Google Form when I wanted a very brief (six sentence) response and through a Google Doc when I wanted a slightly longer (ten sentence) response with a more formal rubric to follow.

Because of this approach, my students have been using their computers for these assessments. Also, if they miss class, they can turn these writing assignments into homework to do outside of class through Google Classroom. As you may have guessed by now, and as I should have known as a teacher in my seventh year, the temptation to plagiarize has been too strong. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like an epidemic. I’ve graded hundreds of assignments this semester but only had six or seven cases of plagiarism. That being said, several cases of plagiarism is alarming.

The alarm is going to be screaming even louder now. For those who haven’t been paying attention to education and technology news, a OpenAI, ChatGPT, has been made available to the public that’s a game-changer. It can take a prompt and write a response that’s better than most of my student’s writing. Usually, this is how I catch plagiarism. Suddenly, a fourteen year old with a perfectly fine vocabulary for their age writes something that I know they wouldn’t say. If I’m using a plagiarism checker, it’s caught, but even just copying-and-pasting into Google is sufficient most of the time. ChatGPT changes this. You can know that it’s unlikely that your students wrote what they submitted but plagiarism checkers and Google searches won’t suffice because the AI is writing fresh content.

To see why this is freaking out educators, I recommend an article and a podcast:

As an educator, I don’t like saying what I’m about to say because I know it increases my workload as part of a profession known for being notoriously overworked and underpaid, but also I’m an ideologue when it comes to the value of a liberal education and skills that may not be valued by the Cult of STEM, like the reading, note-taking, and writing I discussed above, which I find indispensable to a healthy society and a functioning democracy. My plan is to fight the Internet’s self-deconstruction with a further return to pre-Internet pedagogy. My Exit Tickets will be hand written in class (unless an accommodation is needed) during class time with the only materials available being the physical papers notes and articles that students have been given.

The perk of doing this in the Internet age is that I can have my students submit both the physical paper itself but also take a picture of it that can be submitted as an attachment in Google Classroom as a form of safeguarding against the old annoyance of losing a student’s work or having a student falsely claim to have submitted something they didn’t submit without the benefit of having Google Classroom to check that claim.

I’m aware that grading handwritten assignments will be difficult. I’m including in the rubric the necessity for the writing to be legible and I’m keeping the length requirement short enough to prevent too much hand-writing fatigue. In a sense, I feel like I’m doubling down on the necessity of reading and writing skills in a digital age that is trying to marginalize those skills as secondary or irrelevant (say compared to coding). But I believe—and I recognize my biases here—that if the Cult of STEM dominated education, we’re in for a world of pain in the not-so-distant future.


Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: my SBL presentation recording

On Thursday, I presented a paper titled “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism” at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting 2020 (online this year). The recording is available for those who registered for the conference. (Hopefully, someday, for the sake of public scholarship, most of these recordings will be made available on YouTube!) To find it, just search by my name. Here are PDFs of the handout and slides I used:

Here I am presenting on the ol’ Zoom machine!

#SBLAAR2020: Days 3-4

Yesterday, I attended the joint session “The Intersection of Bible and the United States 2020 Politics” of SBL’s Bible and Practical Theology and AAR’s Evangelical Studies Units where I heard Anna Hutchinson’s “The Role of Theological Education in Evangelical Bible Reading and Interpretation” and Marie Purcell’s “A Battle between Good and Evil: Ethnographic Reflections on the Election from First Baptist Dallas”. Both were fascinating. Then I got to hear some of the presentations from the Ecological Hermeneutics/Paul and Politics SBL session.

Today, I’m presenting at 5 pm EST (4 pm CST) on the topic “Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism”. It’s a “teaching tactic” style presentation on an activity I had my students do in order to teach them a little bit about how the Bible is formed. If you’re interested, here are PDFs of the handout and the Slides:

Here are a couple of posts I wrote after I offered the activity to my students:

Presentation at the 2020 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting

It’s been several years since I’ve had a proposal accepted for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I’m excited to announce that this year—presuming we are able to meet in Boston, MA, in person in late November—I’ll be presenting on the topic ‘Muddy Paper in Plastic Bags: Practicing Textual Criticism’ for the program unit Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context. I’ve written about the activity that I’ll be discussing in this paper/presentation. See these posts:

  1. ‘Making textual criticism fun! Hopefully.’
  2. ‘Pictures of my textual criticism activity’

I’m excited about this. I hope it’s live in Boston because (1) I have never been to Boston; (2) I enjoy this conference because I’m a geek; and (3) by November I’m going to be sick of presenting things online if that’s the way it goes.

AAR/SBL 2019: Day 2

Yesterday was ‘Pedagogy Day, Part 1’. Today will be ‘Pedagogy Day, Part 2’. I attended two-and-a-half sessions yesterday. In the morning, I attended ‘Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies/Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context’. I benefitted a lot from this session. Nicholas A. Elder’s ‘Top Five’ assignment gave me new ideas for how to evaluate my students’ reading homework. I’ve tended to go with the ‘answer these questions as you read’ route, but as you might imagine, I can tell many of my students do keyword searches to find the relevant section of the (digital) textbook, and then they respond to it without evidence that they’re reading through the text. Elder’s ‘Top Five’ asks students to list their top 5 observations. It means they have to show their own thinking in their own words. Depending on the length of the reading, I might require that these reflections come from different parts (if it’s as short as a Bible Odyssey article, then no worries, but if it’s a third of a book chapter, then I’ll need them to spread it out a bit). Also, if someone isn’t doing there work, they can just email a friend for ‘answers’ because ‘answers’ will be subjective.

Jackie Wyse-Rhodes talked about ‘visual pedagogy’ or ‘visual exegesis’, a.k.a., drawing out a text. I’ve done a lot of this and I’ll share more on this topic later. What comforted me was to see teachers using technics with college students that I use with high schoolers. Kara Lyons-Pardue shared an exercise where she gets students to summarize a Bible dictionary entry in their own words and then share their findings with the class. I’m thinking of ways I might adopt and adapt that assignment for my New Testament class next semester. Then there were several other interesting talks on everything from helping students summarize key information about a book of the Bible to using Star Wars to teach source criticism to using the different perspectives on a news topic as reflected in comparing how different newspapers present it as a way of introducing the different ‘Jesuses’ of the Gospels and much more. But I can’t say a lot about everything because this is a blog!

The middle of the day was spent, in part, at a session titled ‘Death to the Term Paper!’ I had to leave about half-way through but I enjoyed the first part. My big ‘take-away’ is this: many people who teach what I teach realize most of their students won’t go on to be employed in religious studies/scholarship. So, we need to ask, ‘Is teaching them to write a 15 page paper on this topic the best skill we can teach them?’ This wasn’t revelatory for me because I don’t assign long papers for a couple reasons: (1) I teach 9-12 graders and creating a rubric for a research paper that covers that diversity is insane and (2) my English Department colleagues have the privilege of teaching them to write long papers, building class upon the other, so I’ll stay in my lane.

The last session of the day—another under the umbrella ‘Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies’ but with an emphasis on ‘Teaching Tips for Teaching the Hebrew Bible in Its Setting’ was full of good ideas. There was more on drawing from Justus Ghormley. Kristin J. Wendland showed us how she explains the temple-cult to her students by going outside and doing a giant role play with her class. Jennifer J. Williams explained how the topic of ‘identity’ in Ezra-Nehemiah as it related to Persian rule can serve as a gateway for talking about ‘identity’ using the biblical text. This last one stood out to me as in line with how I teach the Hebrew Bible. And while all of the sessions were informative and useful, Julie Faith Parker’s ‘Adieu Sumeria: A Cuneiform Introduction to the Sophisticated Land Abraham Left Behind’ was the most fun and unique.

Parker showed us how she emphasizes the importance of realizing how big a deal it would be to leave Ur for somewhere like Canaan. She presented the south Mesopotamia as the Manhattan of Abraham’s day. In order to teach students about the writing and technology, she teaches them to write some words in Cuneiform using clay and a chop stick. She taught us how to write ‘god’ in Akkadian. Then she passed around a little ‘cylinder seal’ so we can see how they function (comparing them to how all of us have phones in our pockets now) and I made this:

Pretty cool, huh? Well, today it’s off to a couple more pedagogy based sessions. On Monday I plan on attending a discussion of Matthew Larsen’s Gospels Before the Book which is a book I’ve been reading. And then, as quick as it came, the conference will be over!

AAR/SBL 2019: Day 1

I landed in San Diego last night. I’m excited to be here. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended the annual meeting. Since I arrived later in the evening, I didn’t do much. I met with my friend, Bill Heroman. I did a little planning for my conference schedule. And that’s it.

My employer sent me here wanting me to go to sessions focused on pedagogy so that’s what I’ll be doing today and tomorrow. This morning I’ll attend a session titled ‘Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies/Teaching Biblical Studies in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Context’. While I teach in a college preparatory high school context, I can tell by the session titles that there’ll be useful material for me to adopt. Then I’ll go to ‘Death to the Term Paper! Building Better Assignments and Assessments’ and ‘Teaching Tips for Teaching the Hebrew Bible in Its Setting’. Both look good.

Canon and Metanarrative: Reflection #1

I’ve read enough Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard (and responses to them) over the years to have developed a bit of unease with metanarrative. But also I’ve come to the conclusion that metanarrative may be a necessary fiction for effective pedagogy. What do I meant by this? Well, when introducing students to topics like the contents of the Bible—at least to students in their teens who may not be familiar with what they’re learning—you need some sort of context for it to make sense. Sure, the Book of Genesis is valuable to one person in ways that is different from others (even corporately: from one Church to another and from a Church to a Synagogue) but if I know nothing or almost nothing about Genesis, then it means nothing. Therefore, in order to teach it in such a way that prevents eyes from rolling into the back of heads, a context must be chosen, even if only temporarily, and even if only for heuristic purposes. A story needs to be told that gives the concept a meaningful context.

It may be that students deconstruct that context later in life. And that’s not only acceptable but maybe encouraged. I wouldn’t have studied religion if it hadn’t been for my related experiences as a child and teen that pushed me to want to challenge and critique the worldview I inherited. In other words, that worldview, while mostly discarded now, inspired and provoked me to ask the questions that give my work meaning.

So, at least when it comes to teaching the Bible, what’s the metanarrative? What’s the context I give? Is it simply the canons of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles? Well, that’s tricky because to use a canon demands that one introduce a handful of other concepts surrounding canonization, many that are fuzzy, and still debated in the upper echelons of scholarship. How did we get the Tanakh/Old Testament? How did we get the New Testament? It’s difficult to teach this to students who don’t yet know what the collections contain. Who cares about how we got something until we know what that something is?

Additionally, outside biblicist circles, the digitization of the Bible is reshaping canon. When I began teaching Biblical Studies at the high school level, students brought physical Bibles with them. When our school went BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and everything began to be digitized (including my guiding notes and other projects) it was natural to begin using websites like to direct students to the passage being read any given day. The order of the canon, and how to find ‘Malachi 1.2’, began to lack relevance and became impractical in a sense. Now, you, dear reader, may feel that it remains a necessary skill to teach students how to find something in a physical Bible. To a degree, this may be correct, like teaching cursive may be useful. But what is even more useful in my mind is teaching students how to use the tool they’ll probably use most often once they leave your class: the Internet. With that, the Internet has morphed canonicity in ways I’m still pondering, but in ways that I think change how canon relates to the metanarrative you gift your students now for deconstruction and further investigation later.

What then is the alternative? I’ll say more in future posts (and by ‘say more’ I mean think aloud, not necessarily offer answers that work for everyone).

Blogging is Dead. So why this blog?

I used to blog a lot. Too much. Like three entries a day. It was bad for my mental health. It was bad for my interpersonal relationships. So why this blog?

Well, there’s a few reason.

  1. I was notified this week that a paper I proposed for the 2020 Southwest Commission on Religious Studies was accepted. My paper, ‘Reading the Bible with iGen’, will be part of a panel titled ‘Biblical Studies in the Bible Belt: Pedagogy and Best Practices’. The downside? There won’t be projectors provided, and I don’t think I want to print copies for everyone in attendance, so I’ll need a place to upload a copy of my paper so people can read it from their computers/phones while I present.
  2. This is my fourth year teaching religious studies at the high school level. This may be one of the loneliest gigs a high school teacher can obtain because so few high schools offer religious studies course (and for good reason considering the potential First Amendment related quagmires that can arise). I have a couple of colleagues within our school’s Humanities Department but that’s the extent of it. So, this is a place for me to share some thoughts on the intersection of religious studies, biblical studies, pedagogy, and adolescence, and maybe there’ll be a few people out there in the void who will speak back to me!
  3. I think this intersection is under-appreciated and quite interesting. Whether it be the work of people like Benjamin Marcus, a Religious Literacy Specialist with the Religious Freedom Center who has been promoted the C3 Framework as a way to help teachers teach religious studies as part of social studies curriculum; or Linda K. Wertheimer, whose book Faith Ed reports on the challenges teachers face when teaching religion in a public school setting; or Mark A. Chancy, a Professor of Religious Studies, and an accomplished scholar of the Christian New Testament, who has been researching Bible curriculum in public schools; or Andrew Mark Henry, a doctoral student at Boston University who created the ‘Religion for Breakfast’ YouTube channel which makes religious studies topics accessible to a new generation; there are people doing really interesting work and I’d like to share it with others.

So, I won’t blog that frequently. I’ll stay in my lane and on topic. And I won’t get into debates in the comments. This should make this blogging experience a healthier one.