M. S. Thirumalai
The Power of the Printed Word
The power of the printed word will continue, and the Internet will not replace it but will supplement it for many reasons.
Search engines such as Google are working overtime to get as much as the printed books available through the Internet. It is a welcome step. Many universities are also involved in this effort. Physical layout of the library is changing rapidly with greater access to the electronic catalogs, electronic materials in the Internet, and simply by providing access through a variety of databases which offer indexed, and thus authoritative, materials easily for any diligent student. Google is in the process of digitizing entire holdings of several major libraries such as those at the Universities of Stanford, Oxford, Michigan and the New York Public Library. Some regional efforts have also been initiated, for example, at the Carnegie Mellon University, to digitize books from Asia.
In spite of these efforts, the role of the printed book as the major source of authoritative information, as a tool for collecting thoughts and analyzing these in deliberate processes and as a tool for relaxed and self-paced learning will continue to be appreciated. We do not foresee a day when humans will give up this old fashioned tool altogether.
Developing Critical Skills
Students need to develop critical thinking skills in any field including theology and biblical studies, contrastive studies of cultures and religions, cross-cultural evangelism, etc. These skills including “involve interviewing people, researching on the Web, library research, taking a look at costs, providing input on support levels, and more” will be required on the field.
Curriculum in Colleges
The curriculum and the syllabi of various courses in leading colleges and universities have begun to include specific activities to identify, locate, evaluate and use a variety of sources in the Internet. At least about 15% of the total points seems to be allotted in some leading colleges in various courses. In some courses within the same colleges, a greater allocation is made. This effort recognizes not only the importance of non-book related additional and current information available in the Internet but also the need to use these materials for effective learning even as these will reduce plagiarism.
Internship and Internet Materials
Colleges such as Bethany College of Missions that have longer periods of internship which involves instruction, learning, and experience in distant lands, have to take advantage of the Internet materials in addition to prescribed textbooks, because regional variations and interpretations are available in the Internet through the contributions of regional scholars. While printed books are expensive, information in the Internet is relatively less expensive, almost free in many cases.
Students under training often tend to take advantage of the materials available in the Internet for doing their assignments, for group discussions and for their own knowledge and understanding. However, discernment in all these as well as critical skills to identify the most relevant, accurate and authoritative resources need to be developed, canalized and used effectively. Moreover, these students as well as their instructors will do well to identify resources, to quote Tim Freeman’s words said on another occasion, “to back up the instructor’s syllabus”.
How Do We Identify Resources?
Such identification has to take into consideration several factors. Of these, we would like to suggest that the following four are most crucial:
- Relevance of the material.
- Purpose for which the material is sought and the audience to whom the material is to be presented.
- Authority of the source.
- Current status of the information.
Each of these categories has its own several sub-factors. For example, for a course on cults, discussion on Hinduism or Islam may not be highly relevant. However, the extent of accommodation of cults within a religion such as Hinduism, Islam or Buddhism may be researched to contrast the evangelical Christian and non-Christian Religions’ approach to cults within their theology. Is the information found in the Internet is already substituted with more research and more recent information? The authors’ bias and prejudices, authors’ academic and research backgrounds and qualifications, etc. are some of the other factors.
Exercise Abundant Caution!
In any case, because a material is found in the Internet and is widely popular does not guarantee its error-free status. Wikipedia is certainly an admirable tool, but as the website itself clearly reveals that the research reported therein is subject to further verification and refinement. So, caution is to be exercised in using such materials.
Supplant the Printed Instructional Materials
And yet supplementing the printed book with the Internet materials is an absolute necessity which we cannot ignore. Use of such materials and demands on the students to identify a number of reliable sources in the Internet become an effective source of student-faculty participation in the process of teaching and learning.
Begin with Providing CDs with Supplementary Materials from the Internet
One of the ways to provide for recent materials is to identify the sources in the Internet that are freely available, download them, index them with proper references and visuals, and where necessary offer comments on them and provide these resource materials in pdf format in CDs. Once again, to quote Tim Freeman, “providing a CD for several of our courses that will have Internet-based resources to back up the instructor’s syllabus” is very useful instructional strategy.
This strategy will be very beneficial to internship teams in distant lands as well as for thousands of missionary training centers around the world.
Problems of Connectivity
Connectivity to the Internet is still a problem for thousands of missionary training centers around the world. At the same time, the printed books that these institutions use are not up to date, and multiple copies of these books are not also available in the libraries. Most recent books are expensive and thus recent deliberations on issues relating to missionary training are not easily available for instruction in these training centers around the world. On the other hand, personal computers are available in most training centers and in their libraries. While connectivity makes it difficult for these trainees to access the Internet with ease and for long hours (without which benefits cannot be derived from the use of the Internet), use of personal computers for word processing, accounting and presentation has become very popular.
Providing electronic materials of substantive authority and dependability to these trainees or at least to these thousands of missionary training centers around the world in the form of CDs for each course is a strategically feasible and useful method to improve the availability of additional materials in these training centers and in global internship centers in distant lands.
Some Practical Steps
- Get a copy of the current syllabus for all the courses from a standard institution such as Bethany College of Missions, USA; Bethany International University, Singapore, or some other GlobeServe network schools in Africa, Asia and/or Latin America.
- Identify the textbooks, articles, websites, etc. that are required for each of these courses.
- Study carefully, and in consultation with the instructor of each course, to elicit what additional materials will be relevant and necessary. This information will also come from the regimen of discussions, assignments, short answer questions, multiple choice questions, and such other grading tools provided for each course.
- Decide on keywords, etc. for each of these courses, or even for the major divisions within each course.
- Use a variety of search engines, beginning with Google, but include also available encyclopedias, expository dictionaries on the Internet, and such other materials. For example, the Ethereal Library of Christian Classics run by Calvin College is a source that we need to visit.
- Download the relevant materials, with their website link address, date of downloading, etc.
There are many other steps in completing the downloading of materials, arranging them, cataloging them, converting them into readable formats even without the original formatting, adding necessary comments, and so on. There are numerous steps, but a patient collector of information will follow all these to bring in a sense of well prepared materials with authenticity.
We can plan on cataloging about 60-75 materials for each course, running to a total of about 300 or so pages. Teachers will have the freedom to choose from these supplementary materials for their students to read and discuss.
Ultimately, relevance, authenticity, accuracy, authoritativeness, timeliness, etc., will decide how useful the materials are for our training purposes. A secondary benefit is that this will reduce plagiarism as the users will have proper references for each material to cite following standards of APA, MLA, etc., style sheets.
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M. S. Thirumalai