An Education

A few weeks ago I was at a wonderful training session, which highlighted ways to use the iPad in special education. It was well-presented, thought-provoking, and encouraging — three things which always make my day.

During the presentation, however, I was involved in a brief exchange which has continued to bother me. The trainer was presenting on a paper writing tool which allowed you to copy text from an embedded web-browser and copy it into a paper (whereupon it was automatically formatted as a quote). What I didn’t notice, however, was how the app recorded the site from which the quote came. This is a big issue for a research paper, so I raised my hand and asked, “Does this app keep a record of where the quote came from? Does it create a citation reference?” The trainer shrugged and said, “No, unfortunately not, you still have to do that by hand.” I could tell that the trainer thought, as I did, that this was a glaring omission. Before I could respond, however, an older woman grumbled, “As well you should.” she then turned and glared at me and said, “Says the English teacher.” It wasn’t an appropriate moment to take up the challenge, so I let it drop (see, I can keep my mouth shut… occasionally).

I have no doubt that students should know what a bibliography is, or what the proper formatting of a citation should be — but it seemed like this teacher believed that they should always be done by hand. She seemed worried about the mechanics, getting people to know how to use the “one true tool,” and I’m not certain that’s good enough. In fact, if I were a teacher today I’d probably encourage students to use Zotero, End Note, or some other bibliography tool to create their citation. It would make the writing of the paper the focus, rather than worrying if something is being cited correctly.

Still, in this world of automatically generated bibliographies, how can we teach students the concept? One method is what the aforementioned teacher seemed to champion, we make the students do it by hand after learning the one, true, method. This is great, until you come up with a media not covered by the in-grained method or go to a school which requires another method entirely. The latter actually happened to me, in high school I was taught “in-text documentation,” but when I got to college I needed to switch to footnotes. It was a pain. It is because of personal experience I think there is a better way of teaching citations.

First, I’d use my bibliography tool to pull, up a reference in the format we used in the school. Then we would go over the parts of the citation and discuss why each segment was needed. After this, I would take the same citation, but format it another style. We could present the two styles next to each other and ask, “ What’s different?” Following this we could discuss why the differences might exist. This way, students could see that there is more than one style of citing references, grapple with why all the information is important in a citation, and ponder why different styles exist. Perhaps we’d practice for a bit using the method preferred by the school, and I’d throw in some curve balls to deliberately trip up the students (change the media, put in a translated work, make them cite a multi-volume series, etc.). After the curve-balls we could go back to step one and look at the correct citation, along with other styles. Then, because schools are poor, I’d teach them how to use Zotero with a free office suite like Libre Office (incidentally, this is one area where mobile computing is seriously lacking at the present).

I feel, in this way, students get more than the “how,” they also get some of the “why.” This is, after all, what education is supposed to do — it helps us scratch the surface of our knowledge and come up with new ways of asking, “Why?” Simply giving students, “how” is a great disservice.

The freedom of immediacy

“I’ll e-mail it to you when I get home.”

Thus has much important data been lost in congregations all over the world. Most congregations, for better or for worse, are volunteer organizations. This means that, for better or worse, most of the people doing the work of the congregation have a life away from it. This often means that “regular life” distracts people from following through on tasks they are being counted on to accomplish. While many pastors, including myself, tend to offer complaints about this state of affairs — the truth is we often commit the very same violations. Usually we commit them in organizations other than the congregation we pastor, but we even commit them for “Church work” that tends to fall out of our normal realm of activities. Stuff just “comes up” and we forget. When this happens, it leads to some rather awkward board meetings.

Yet, we don’t have to “send it out later.” A link to a story, the results from research, the worship songs (order, lyrics, and music), meeting notes, event invitations, and even data analysis can all be done before we even get home. When you have a smart phone, tablet, or even a laptop (as long as there is wifi acces) whatever information was going to be passed on later can be passed on immediately. It’s becoming increasingly the case that other members won’t even have to get home before they receive the data, as they have mobile access to the Internet themselves. For tasks which need to be accomplished later, the same devices can be used to program reminders (both for the one assigned to the task and to for the rest of the group to encourage a task’s completion). This way, a great many of the communication which needs to be passed on between meetings can happen before a meeting is over, and even be presented in a format which encourages continued dialog.

This freedom also works for members of a committee or team who may not be present for a meeting, but can be available. If someone was to get a quote for a purchase but was unable to get to the meeting, for example, there is no need to shelve the proposal until the next meeting. Text messages can reach someone wherever they are, and replies can be easily sent back (Central Baptist got our quote for mulch via this method — I didn’t say it was exciting, just efficient).

Is there a downside? Of course. People are used to contacting me immediately which can be a pain when, like now, I’m on vacation. I might be IMing a friend, but someone from work can still chime in as well. My phone still rings, and I have to remember not to answer it when it’s a work related number. Text messages are still pushed to my device, and it’s difficult not to jump into something during my “down time.”. I said, “Hard,” however, not, “Impossible.” just like pastors from previous generations, I need to guard my times of rest. Sure it’s a difficult spiritual discipline to master, but it’s one worth striving for nonetheless. While might say that this always connected world makes it more difficult to find down time, I disagree. It is because I’m always connected that I am so free! I’m not chained to an office, or even a phone, I can to pastoral check-ins at any time of the day without worrying about intruding or interrupting a meal. I can discuss an issue, make a proposal, and come to a decision with people without needing to wait for a monthly meeting. I’ll take being always connected towards old-school church any day.

if you’ve discovered that, “I’ll get it to you later” really means, “I’m going to forget to do send this to you,” then perhaps it’s time to try something new. We can say, “How about you send it to us now?”. You’d be surprised at how freeing it can be.

Immersion emergence

The other day I needed to get some work done on my MacBook, and felt an odd emotion.

I was annoyed.

It was odd feeling. Over the last decade and a half I’ve moved from Windows, to Linux, and then to Mac. Each time the shift was met with a sense of joy at the prospect of learning new skills and tools. Each was also accompanied by a sense of wonder at the sheer speed of the computing power suddenly at my disposal – the shift to the Mac was perhaps the greatest of these (though, to be honest, I doubt I’d appreciate the Mac as much if I hadn’t used Linux for so long).

For some reason, I didn’t expect a similar sense of wonder about iOS. My iPad, after all, was supposed to be an ancillary device – the one that I use when I’m not doing anything “major.” Even after noting that my time on both my MacBook and iPhone has dropped significantly, I still didn’t think about my adoption of the iPad as a shift to a primary device. That is, until, I woke up my MacBook from sleep and did something of which I had become unaccustomed — I waited. First, I had to wait while the MacBook drive spun-up and the machine became usable. This wait, which is significantly faster than the Windows and Linux machines I’ve used in the past, suddenly became intolerable. I had to wait for my application to start, and then I had to search for the file I wanted, and the wait for it to open. By the time I got done I shut the MacBook, thinking to myself, “I really don’t like this!”. While I still use the MacBook for many tasks, it’s no longer the pleasure it once was. The MacBook has a barrier between me and my work, while my iPad let’s me touch it in order to move it around and manipulate it. While geeks tend to laugh at terms like “immersive,” that’s exactly what is appealing about devices like the iPad.

This isn’t to say it’s perfect, I still worry about the unclear application approval process that Apple uses for it’s app store, and I don’t like how the app store actually prevents open source software from appearing there as well. I also worry at the heavy-handed way Apple is insisting that everything which can be purchased via a link in an app (such as with the Kindle app). I still want a physical keyboard to touch-type and will probably get one soon (though that weakens the sense of immersion, I admit).

I will probably buy another MacBook at some point, but when I do, it will be an Air — it’s the only computer on the market right now that I think will ease my new sense of annoyance with old-style computing.

Insight

I will often appear to be “out of it.” Sometimes I’m just wiped out from worship, allergies, or illness. Sometimes I’m just “out there” pondering the existence of the universe (or pretending certain household items are spaceships in a battle for survival – don’t ask). It’s usually difficult to figure out the reason why I’m not mentally present. One thing, however, is certain. If I’m lucid it means coffee has recently been ingested.

Romantic Realist

Sometimes I hate looking at the world. There is so much going on as people struggle to eat, fight disease, overcome natural disasters, and battle oppression for the hope of a better today. Yet, I have the audacity to think that it’s normal to go through my day without many troubles at all. The problems of the world seem so big, and I feel so terribly small that the temptation to bury my head in the sand is very real indeed.

Then I have a moment when I see a thing of genuine beauty and think, “If something so beautiful can exist evil really can be overcome.” Until I remember that, like this sunset, all of our beauty comes with a cost – and a lot of it manages to perpetuate the very evil which sets the world aflame. It’s too much to get my head around most days – and the internal wrestling match is highlighted well in this comic. One day, all things will be made new – but as we work and strive to see that process underway now, the hoping is awfully painful.

Is there one person speaking, or two? I’m honestly not sure.

Romantic Realist Comic

Healthy Introspection

I’m preaching on 1 Corinthians 15 this Sunday, and as I worked on the text this week I came to appreciate something about the Apostle Paul. To be honest, I had seen it before, but as I looked at the text for my sermon I was enabled to pause and see it as one if the core realities of Paul’s life. He was deeply introspective.

In 1 Corinthians 15:8-9 Paul admits to a deeply divided fellowship that was unworthy to be called an apostle because he had persecuted the Church. Paul never forgot who he had been, and what he had done. It stuck with him throughout his life.

We would be wrong, however, to come to the conclusion that Paul was a guilt ridden wreck. This is far from the case! His memory of his past evils didn’t lock him in place, rather, it drove him forward in his pursuit of Christ. His work for the Gospel also wasn’t born from a divine guilt-trip. Rather, this Apostle worked “more than all of them” out of a sense deep gratitude. He declares in verse 10 that he is what he is by the grace of God. He may have been born in an untimely manner (εκτρωμα, in verse 8, refers to a birth takes place without a viable gestation period – usually a miscarriage or premature labor), but by God’s grace he managed to live. In verse 10 Paul picks up that image of untimely birth again and declares that the grace which was in him was not, literally, “born in vain.” He knows that he shouldn’t be who he is, by all accounts, but he celebrates that he is anyway. The reminders in both the beginning and end if chapter 15 seem to show that Paul wanted the Corinthians the develop a similar introspection.

This is something we can learn from. If we are to continue to develop as disciples of Jesus we must never forget what we have been. We did, indeed, need Christ to die on our behalf. Like Paul, however, we shouldn’t keep this memory alive in order to bathe our souls in guilt. Instead, we remember in order to develop a sense of gratitude and joy that we have been embraced by a loving God who has embraced us in Jesus Christ. It is from this sense of gratitude and joy that we remember to pass in this grace to others. How, after all, can we proclaim the Gospel of grace if we fail to remember that we needed it in the first place?