I may be somewhat behind the times, but this past Fall term was the first time I more extensively made use of my website in connection with courses. I thought I’d post some of my thoughts on this process here.
Since I had begun the website itself in 2003 (www.philipharland.com), I had my course outlines (syllabi) online (on my courses page). When I started the blog in 2005, I began to make use of my blog entries to expand upon materials from the courses I was teaching (including having a “series” related to each course: NT series, Christian Apocrypha series, Medieval Christianity and Reformations series, etc.). My aim there was to help students out on key issues while also writing in a way that would (hopefully) be exciting, or at least of interest, to others including my general readership as well (a course like The History of Satan made this a possible task).
This past term I have now added my “discussion notes” (namely what used to be overheads), handouts I have put together, and some additional readings (when in the public domain), all in connection with my “Founders of Christianity” course here at York (so far we’ve dealt with Paul and deutero-Pauline literature). I have developed the course notes in a way that now includes links to specific online materials within the notes themselves, as well as general links to other websites on the issue of the week (as I work through the course). You can see this whole set up and browse around to see what I’ve done by going to my courses page. I will be continuing this into the Winter term of this course and also taking a similar approach with my course beginning in January on “Visions of the End: Early Jewish and Christian Apocalypticism.”
Overall, I have found this to be quite successful. I was hesitant about posting my course notes on the web because I feared this might give some students the impression that they didn’t need to show up at class. Since I don’t like my students to fail miserably (or even to fail at all) I gave repeated warnings about the need to attend class if they wanted to pass. Whether those warnings have worked, only time will tell, but it seems like there is a normal turn-out for class discussions and the usual number of people have generally done well on the test and assignments.
I think this new set-up was of some help to the students, particularly in preparing for their end-of-term test. The fact that suddenly in December my website exceeded its bandwidth, with a resulting overload and temporary shut-down suggests that the students were going back to the discussion notes and to the blog entries to help them get the broader picture and remind themselves of what we had learned.
I have also found the more integrated use of the web useful in my own course preparations (with the pay-off in time savings coming in future years). Although I have a reputation of being quite organized, there are many times when I simply cannot find my lecture notes for this or that lecture, or when I cannot locate some ancient text that I had photocopied to use in class. Now I find such texts online and create a link within my discussion notes. So everything is right there on the web for me to use in the class itself regardless of what else happens, and the students too can check them out after class (assuming some level of motivation). So when I’m talking about Josephus’ portrayal of first century Judea leading up to the revolt, I can quickly click on a link to the passage that deals with Pilate and the standards, or when I’m talking about Pliny the Younger’s dealings with followers of Jesus in Pontus, I can quickly show and read them a portion of his correspondence. The pay-off in terms of time saved will come later, of course, and there is a danger of dead links that will need to be sifted out each year. But, overall, I think this is going to be good for both my students and myself. Perhaps I’ll have another update on progress at the end of the Winter term.