Character-izing gamification

For the convenience of anyone who wishes to follow along with my November 20, 2016 Society of Biblical Literature presentation entitled “Character-izing Gameful Learning: Using Student-Guided Narratives to Motivate, Engage, and Inform Learners,” here is the slideshow, presented as a PDF with one slide per page. The program book abstract reads as follows, though it’s no longer 100% accurate to the presentation:

Religion 101: Old Testament in Context is the first of three religion courses required of Pepperdine University undergraduates. For some time now, my students have encountered foundational course material (basic facts and orientation to key questions) in the form of 21 substantive homework assignments delivered within Pepperdine’s course management system. These lessons resemble a textbook in informal prose; students interact with the lessons by reading materials directly in the LMS, by following hyperlinks to other online readings and videos (mostly from Bible Odyssey, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and educational YouTube channels), and completing reading quizzes in the LMS. Beginning in Fall 2010, I began to inject elements of gameful learning and teaching by introducing the “Worlds of Biblecraft” metaphor, switching to accrual grading, and introducing content-themed terminology to describe course activities (“learning tribes” instead of “small groups,” for example). Since then, “gamification of education” has gained steam worldwide. However, the blossoming literature on gamification can be hard to review, interpret, and apply. As Karl Kapp (2012) notes, “There are literally thousands of books, articles, and newspaper reports on the effectiveness of games and gamification. Some of the reporting is based on theoretical underpinnings, some of it is based on opinion, and some of it is based on wishful thinking.” In the Spring and Summer terms of 2016, I sought to contribute to the empirical research on the effects of gameful learning in biblical studies. Supported by a grant from Pepperdine University’s Technology and Learning department, I reframed one-third of the homework assignments as narrative “choose your own adventure” experiences using the fictional characters of Deanna Jones and Larry Croft as guides to help students explore the biblical stories of the creation of humanity, the exodus, the Israelite “judges,” the Assyrian domination of Israel and Judah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the edict of Cyrus, and the trials of Job. Core elements of the previous versions of the assignments—biblical readings, secondary readings and videos, and quizzes—remained fundamentally the same as in the discursive version. Learning gains were measures by comparing aggregate quiz and test scores in the control (pre-revision) and experimental (post-revision) groups. Additionally, student attitudes toward the two different types of assignments were measured self-report instruments.

Just a game?

jag-rbgFor the convenience of anyone who wishes to follow along with my November 19, 2016 Society of Biblical Literature presentation entitled “Just a Game? Exegesis, Theology, and Ethics in Five Recent Bible-Themed Board Games,” here is the slideshow, presented as a PDF with one slide per page. The program book abstract reads as follows, though it’s no longer 100% accurate to the presentation:

In both the introduction and the conclusion to their groundbreaking study Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls (Baylor University Press, 2010), Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris noted that “[m]ost religious board games are simply religious versions of familiar games like Monopoly or Risk, with churches and missions replacing railroads and hotels” (177–178; cf. 2). In the years since then, several new Bible-themed board games have appeared, including Genesis (Gigantoskop, 2010), Kingdom of Solomon (Minion Games, 2012), Kings of Israel (Funhill Games, 2014), and Commissioned (Chara Games, 2015). Each of these games seeks to provide a kind of religious edutainment in which players experience biblical narratives and themes by way of engaging game mechanics. In general, these games exhibit better game design and production values than previous attempts. Moreover, despite clear family resemblances to existing secular games, they depart from the trend noted by Bado-Fralick and Norris of reskinning prior exemplars. Like their forebears, however, these games are “expressions of religiosity growing out of contemporary modes of communication and exchange,” each with “layers of culture, relationship, and identity embedded in [it]” (Bado-Fralick and Norris, 175)—not to mention layers of exegesis, theology, and ethics. This presentation peels back some of those layers with respect to Genesis, Kingdom of Solomon, Kings of Israel, and Commissioned, and the presenter’s own work co-developing a fifth such game, Crossroads (Trivium Studios, 2016). Coherence and/or incoherence between the games’ implicit theologies and those held by the presumptively evangelical Christian audience, supportive and/or subversive approaches to the biblical source material, and representations of divinity, ethnicity, and gender in each game will receive special attention.

Deeper black, whiter pale

ltbylbA very distinguished journalist used a very ill-considered metaphor today, illustrating just how far we white folk have to go in rooting out deep-seated prejudices that may manifest themselves despite our own best efforts. While considering the relatively small polling gap between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of Mr. Trump, “Every week he manages to stain his character a deeper shade of black” (my emphasis).

This metaphor suggests that misbehavior makes you blacker. In a time when being a large black man instantly gets Terence Crutcher labeled “a bad dude” by an observer in a helicopter, we white people must pay more attention to the metaphors we use. Continue reading

Calibrating collegiate homework: a slice of theory

student-1528001-640x480I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the preparatory assignments in my introductory Old Testament course for first-year Pepperdine University students. Actually, I started this process during the Spring 2014 semester, but I’m revisiting it right now for various reasons. Early in the Fall 2015 semester, I consulted half a dozen handbooks for college teachers, and found very little firm guidance on how much reading is appropriate for a college course. My sources generally agree—and rightly so—that the complexity of the reading material and the purpose for reading it must factor into the decision. However, these import caveats sometimes come across almost as excuses for eschewing any sort of quantitative guidelines whatsoever.

Being unable to locate any commonly accepted best practices for gauging the length of college reading assignments, I’ve cobbled together some tentative guidelines for myself. I offer them here for your review and comment—especially if you happen to know of empirical research that can better inform these practices.

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ESV critics hit by backfiring punctuation

Okay, so that headline sounds like it should appear in the Babylon Bee, but hear me out. I’m referring, of course, to the recent announcement that the latest revision of the English Standard Version has now become the pretentiously titled Permanent Text. Quite a few criticisms have been leveled at the ESV’s revision committee and its publisher for this move, and I agree with almost all of the criticisms that I have seen thus far.

So I’m not writing to disagree with any of those criticisms, but to point out the importance of typography.The first blog post I read criticizing the petrification of the ESV text was Scot McKnight’s “The New Stealth Translation: ESV,” in which the following passage appeared:

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