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Archive for March 2007
Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 11:48 AM by Jason Barker
In addition to the different sections in the online series, he has also combined the series into a single PDF with an introduction.
Posted in Online Resources
Posted on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 10:49 AM by Jason Barker
I've read with interest some recent posts on Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning about encouraging civic engagement among teens and young adults. Lance Bennett recently uploaded transcripts from an online discussion he held with scholars and practitioners in youth engagement, and then uploaded the draft of a paper discussing the issue. While the subject of teen governmental activity is at most tangential to this blog, and the discussions are far too wide-ranging for coverage here, a very brief summary of the issue is nonetheless helpful because the general scenario is also applicable to youth religious involvement.
Essentially, Bennett states that there are two competing paradigms regarding youth civic involvement:
The engaged youth paradigm implicitly emphasizes generational changes in social identity that have resulted in the growing importance of peer networks and online communities. In this view, if there is an a decline in the credibility or authenticity of many public institutions and discourses that define conventional political life, the fault lies more with the government performances and news narratives than with citizens who cannot engage with them. In an important sense, this paradigm emphasizes the empowerment of youth as expressive individuals, and symbolically frees young people to make their own creative choices. In the bargain, the engaged youth paradigm also eases the overriding duty to participate in conventional government-centered activities. In many cases, researchers in this school are only dimly aware of (and may tend to discount) research on declines and deficits in more conventional political participation among young citizens. As a result, the engaged youth paradigm opens the door to a new spectrum of civic actions in online arenas from MySpace to World of Warcraft.
By contrast, the disengaged youth paradigm may acknowledge the rise of more autonomous forms of public expression such as consumer politics, or the occasional protest in MySpace, while keeping the focus on the large body of empirical data showing a generational decline in connections to government (e.g., voting patterns) and general civic involvement (e.g., following public affairs in the news) as threats to the health of democracy itself. Those speak of disengaged youth often worry about the personalization or privatization of the political sphere (young people living in heavily commercial online worlds), and focus more on how to promote public actions that link to government as the center of democratic politics, and to other social groups and institutions as the foundations of civic life.
The question is how can we resolve these different perspectives so that we can have a more productive discussion of education programs and policies? To begin with, consider the possibility that these different views of young people and political engagement reflect actual generational changes in the nature of citizenship itself. Proponents of the disengaged citizen paradigm seem to be using an earlier generational model of citizenship (centered on duties and obligations) to evaluate younger generations, while those seeing more engaged citizens seem to be focusing on changes in identity (involving needs for more self actualization, personal expression and individuality) associated with globalization and life in late modern society.
Anyone who has spent much time reading this blog knows that, from a religious (rather than political) perspective, I generally agree with the "disengaged youth paradigm" (this recent post being evidence). The primary reason for this, of course, is due to the fact that, as an Orthodox Christian, I support traditional Christianity and religious involvement, and thus see youth disengagement from the Church and society in general as highly problematic. Another reason, however, is that I find unconvincing - largely because they are unsupported by my personal observations, and because most of the research I've encountered seems to conclude differently - most of the arguments asserting that youth are becoming highly involved in widespread social networks that are increasingly involved in social action. What I mean is that, while youth are certainly spending significant amounts of time in virtual social networks (e.g., MySpace), the level of involvement seems to be largely superficial: not only is the depth of communication low, but the amount of time spent developing core relationships within any one virtualized social network is quite limited. In other words, from what I can discern, in a specific online episode youth generally move through a variety of virtualized networks engaging in brief messaging with an array of people, but seldom spend much time in any one virtualized network or communicating at length and in depth with any one person (or small group of people) who is geographically distant from them.
With whom, then, are youth really spending their time? They are generally still spending their time with youth with whom they are in close physical proximity: i.e., the majority of time they spend communicating online is used to communicate with their social network at their school or in their immediate community. And this, really, is both predictable and appropriate.
Despite this point, it is true that youth are engaging in at least limited virtual interaction with widespread social networks, and this interaction will almost certainly not decrease. We Orthodox Christians need to accept this reality, and work within it to reach youth whose religious engagement currently limited to online communities. There is a real need for Orthodox social networking media, and I hope to see some developed. This would increase our outreach to non-affiliated youth, as well as benefiting those Orthodox youth who because of their locale have few opportunities for interaction with other Orthodox Christians their age. To use the tiny mission at which I'm a member as an example, we have two youth: a sixteen year-old girl and my three year-old son (at 37, I'm the third-youngest member of the mission), and we live 90 miles from another Orthodox church. Online Orthodox social networks would be a tremendous asset to youth growing up in circumstances like this.
At the same time, such online social networks must ultimately never be more than a introduction to Orthodoxy for unaffiliated youth, and a supplement for Orthodox youth: as I've said many times before, the Orthodox life is communal, and thus our emphasis should always be on inclusion in - and thus activity within - the local Orthodox community. Our spiritual life must never be limited to autonomous activity.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 11:01 AM by Jason Barker
I need to make an unexpected trip, and thus will be away (and not blogging) for a few days. I'll be back next week.
Posted in Jason Barker
Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 12:09 PM by Jason Barker
Related to my last post - and any other post where I talk about computer systems and/or applications - I should emphasize that neither the Department of Youth Ministry or I provide any guarantee, warranty, or offer of technical support with any of the systems or applications I mention. I only write about things I've successfully used and like, but you assume all risks if you decide to try these out yourself: neither the Department of Youth Ministry or I assume any liability or legal responsibility for your experience.
In other words, "Your Mileage May Vary."
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 11:42 AM by Jason Barker
I've mentioned before that, although I use a Mac, I also run Windows in Parallels Workstation for Mac. This enables me to use essential software for which I currently only have Windows versions.
Since Parallels - like most virtualization applications - allows you to install more than one operating system as a guest OS, I also installed Edubuntu so that my three year-old son could have a free education-focused OS that would also be effectively sandboxed (which means that he cannot leave Edubuntu and access anything in OS X, and also means that should he wreak havoc in his Linux OS, I can simply replace that virtual hard drive with a backup copy I've made of the file). There are a large number of good open source applications installed by default with Edubuntu that are a bit too advanced for him right now (Open Office, Firefox, etc.), but he is deriving a great deal of pleasure - as well as developing computer skills and enhancing his reading and memory skills - from such applications as GCompris and Tux Paint.
To enable my son to use his Linux system while still allowing me to use my computer, I wanted to run Edubuntu in a virtual machine on my old computer running Windows, but I didn't want to pay for the Windows version of Parallels. I learned that InnoTek's VirtualBox is now free under the GNU (for personal and evaluation use), so I installed the Windows version, and then installed Edubuntu as a guest OS in VirtualBox. At this point, everything is working fine.
I bring this up not to promote any particular virtualization programs or OS, but rather to note that it is possible for churches and ministries that want to install multiple computers in their office (or install a computer - or even computer lab! - in their library) to do so relatively inexpensively by using free and open source software. For example, the Orthodox classical school at my old parish (and for which I developed their website) runs openSUSE and Open Office on donated computers in their computer lab.
Since the average computer user is unfamiliar with Linux - even I have only the barest smidgen of knowledge about the distro I installed - priests and laypersons may be reluctant to commit themselves to a foreign OS. This is where virtualization comes in: you can install the free VirtualBox application on your PC (they are currently working on a Mac version), install the Linux distro of your choice as a guest OS in VirtualBox, and learn to use Linux without needing to partition your hard drive or risk any damage to your system. If anything goes wrong with the virtual drive running Linux, or if you want to try a different OS, you can simply replace the virtual drive with a new one in much the same way that you would replace a word processing document.
If your church or ministry has the opportunity to receive some donated computers, but you do not have the money for multiple licenses of Windows or applications like office suites, using a free open source OS like Linux and related open source applications is an effective way to legally stretch your resources. Furthermore, running the OS in a virtual machine on your current PC is a relatively painless way to test your options and learn the ropes without doing any damage to your current setup.
By the way, if you do run Linux on your computers, you should know that - to the best of my knowledge - my Bible study applications will not run on those computers because there is not currently a Linux version of the Shockwave plugin (given the focus of this post, they call this situation ironic). You can nonetheless access the main articles through the HTML versions, and download and print the PDF handouts.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 9:56 PM by Jason Barker
Fr. Stephen Freeman has posted another article on biblical interpretation.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 1:12 PM by Jason Barker
if:book has an interesting post linking to an article by Cory Doctorow about reading text on a computer screen; Doctorow is specifically discussing reading novels, but his points can generally be extended to any long-form textual publication. Doctorow's thesis can be summarized in this quote: "The problem, then, isn't that screens aren't sharp enough to read novels off of. The problem is that novels aren't screeny enough to warrant protracted, regular reading on screens." I have to admit that I'm not sure exactly what Doctorow means by novels being insufficiently "screeny" to encourage reading electronic versions; it seems his point is that extended digital publications are currently insufficiently adapted to the typical computer user's activity of engaging in digital multitasking (which is too distracting when reading complex extended publications).
While interesting, I'm not sure that Doctorow's point is entirely accurate (I think his argument is more effectively related to attention spans and the discipline of reading than to the subject of the readability of text when published in various media). Nonetheless, he and if:book's Ben Vershbow make an important point when they say that the most common object to reading digital publications - the supposed lack of clarity of digital fonts and their subsequently reduced ease of reading - is no longer a serious objection to reading digital publications. While neither author goes into detail on this particular point, I believe that the increasing transition of computer users from CRT to LCD monitors erases most of the previously quite accurate objections to reading from screens: LCD monitors do not have the flicker from refreshing the screen that is a significant problem with CRT monitors (as I can tell you from bitter experience, prolonged reading from a low or standard-quality CRT monitor is quite conducive to headaches), and digital text is actually sharper than the text in most books (which have the problem of print slightly spreading from ink soaking into the paper).
I believe the issue of portable reading devices is more significant than Doctorow believes. For example, I would generally prefer to do my reading from electronic devices rather than printed publications - precisely for the reasons of easy searching and storage mentioned by Doctorow - but there are two significant limitations for me. First, while Doctorow is correct that iPods and other easily portable electronic devices allow for reading digital text, there is the significant problem that these devices require far more care and protection than does a printed publication. If I am reading in my recliner, or bed, I do not want to be continually vigilant to avoid dropping my electronic reading device, or to worry about it being knocked from my hands by a rampaging pet or accidentally damaged in some way by my three year-old son. Pets or child may occasionally rumple a printed publication, but they will seldom destroy it - the same could not necessarily be said about a sensitive electronic device. Secondly, as a commenter to Doctrow's article mentions, DRMs and the wide array of incompatible formats is a further obstacle to widespread reading of extended electronic publications.
These objections can of course be applied to my Bible studies, and they do limit somewhat the usefulness of such a digital publication. There is little that I can do at this time about these problems beyond make the text from these studies available in multiple formats - Shockwave and HTML - to maximize their availability and usefulness for readers. I believe that enabling users to print copies of the HTML version of the articles addresses a great deal of the "electronic or print" dilemma, and future technological advancements will eventually solve even more of these issues.
Another issue with on-screen reading that is not mentioned by Doctrow, but is directly addressed by Vershbow, is the formatting of text on the screen. Speaking from my experience, a problem with reading long-form publications on a screen is that - unless specially formatted - the screen presents a significantly greater "chunk" of text at one time than does a printed page. For example, the window in which I am typing this post is roughly 13.5" x 8.75" - this presents a far greater mass of text than does the page from a typical hardcover book, which typically has a text section (not including headers and footers) of less than 4.5" x 8". Text must be formatted so that it is "manageable," not presenting an overwhelming mass in a single view through which the reader must slog. Vershbow thus demonstrates one free application that formats RTF documents in columns with horizontal scrolling. Similarly, documents published in PDF allow documents to be formatted in the same conventional manner as printed publications (as well as avoiding much of the restricted formatting that plagues many e-publications and e-readers).
In addition to using PDF for my handout formats, I address readability issues in my Bible study applications by limiting the size of the article on the screen by putting it into a small window. Readers are therefore seldom confronted with more than one paragraph of text at a time.
There are many other things that I hope to incorporate into later applications - ability to print articles from the online application itself, ability to bookmark articles, etc. - but my concern for formatting issues is one example of some of the things I take into account when trying to maximize the usefulness of my Bible studies.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Friday, March 16, 2007 at 9:51 AM by Jason Barker
Ancient Faith Radio has a new podcast hosted by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt called OrthoDixie (named after Fr. Joseph's blog). The main page for the podcast currently links to two files, including an interview with Fr. Joseph by John Maddex.
The topic of the second file, The Cross, reminds me that Steven Robinson and Bill Gould have returned from their extended hiatus with a new edition of their Our Life in Christ program. Part of the current program features a discussion of the recent Christianity Today article on the sign of the cross.
Posted in Online Resources
Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 11:15 AM by Jason Barker
Via a link from GetReligion (headed by Orthodox Christian religion columnist Terry Mattingly), I read an article in The Washington Post about Hindus using the Web to commission offerings at temples in India. As Mattingly laughingly notes, this type of article is very up-to-the-minute - if this were 1995.
Despite the decidedly dated reason for the article - that the Internet has become a hub for religion - the article nonetheless caused me to think about an issue about which I've written before: the fact that Orthodox Bible study is a communal activity. Despite the fact that the Post's article focuses on Hinduism, the individualistic approach to worship covered in the article is of great concern to Orthodox Christians. We of course do not adhere to the Hindu concept of local deities (which drives the desire of the people in the article to commission offerings at specific distant locations), but we nonetheless must avoid using the Web as a proxy for worshipping and studying in community.
I will repeat what I wrote earlier about Bible study being a communal activity:
Orthodox Bible study is not an isolated activity, but instead is one that intricately relates the individual to all other Christians - past, present and future - who have engaged or will engage in the study of Holy Scripture. A individual Christian teen's spiritual development must be understood and promoted within a community of peers and leaders who know and love this person, and can support and guide this person in his or her life. It is for this reason that I regularly encourage teens to not rely solely on my Bible study applications as personal tools, but also to take this material and discuss it in an Orthodox youth group. I further encourage adults to participate in these groups, both for the good of the teens and for their own growth.
Individual study is, of course, very important, but it must never be the entirety of a person's Bible study. I try to design my Bible studies so that they are effective for individual study (which is where people will have the greatest amount of time for thorough reading and reflection), while always driving the individual toward then taking what he or she has read and studying the text and worshipping God within the local parish.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 9:12 PM by Jason Barker
I've been asked about the focus of this blog; it seems that some people are a bit confused by what seem to be a random selection of topics for a blog that ostensibly focuses on my Orthodox Christian Bible Studies projects. In reality, however, this blog focuses on five general topics, all of which are closely related to Orthodox multimedia Bible studies.
First and foremost, this blog provides updates on project development
- in that sense, this is a "company blog." As I progress on projects
directly related to Orthodox Christian Bible studies, I make note of
that progress in these pages. For example, as I complete and upload
chapters of the "Journey with Jesus" study on the Gospel according to
St. Luke (which really is coming!), those uploads will be mentioned
and linked on this blog.
- Second, since these Bible studies are intended for teens, I write about issues related to both general teen literacy and biblical literacy. Many of the articles on this blog discuss online publications about adolescent education or youth Bible study, and the ways in which current trends and developments in these areas affect my work on these Bible study projects.
- Third, since I create multimedia publications, I write about current trends in Internet and multimedia development and usage, and the effect that these have on my Bible study projects.
- Fourth, because I regularly encourage other Orthodox Christians to engage in multimedia outreach and education, I also mention new websites and other online resources created and distributed by Orthodox Christians.
- Finally, because Internet multimedia publishing involves computers, I occasionally write about software and other computer resources that are available and useful for individuals and parishes.
One thing you will seldom see are posts about me: this blog is not an appropriate forum for discussing my personal life, and even if it were, I have no inclination to do so. By and large, the only personal information you will read about me in this blog are notices that project updates are being delayed due to illness, travel or technical problems, and occasional notices about some of my other publications and media appearances.
In other words, this blog was created to update you on Bible study development in the Department of Youth Ministry, and secondarily to provide information and assistance that may be useful to others who feel called to engage in an online educational ministry. All the posts on this blog revolve around these emphases.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 11:10 PM by Jason Barker
Religion editor Frank Lockwood reported last month about a recent survey the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finding that regular church attendance among young people is declining, and the number of youth who claim no religious affiliation is rising. Lockwood writes:
Among Americans ages 18-25, only nine percent attend church more than once per week. Another 17 percent attend about once per week. The bottom line -- 3 out of 4 aren't regular churchgoers.
Most consider themselves Christian (45 percent Protestant, 23 percent Catholic, 3 percent Mormon, 1 percent Orthox and 2 percent other Christian.) Non-Christian religions continue to draw few adherents (2 percent Jewish, 1 percent Muslim, 3 percent other non-Christian). But 18 percent say they have no religion and another two percent declined to answer.
It should be noted that these statistics are not reflective of the level of belief and activity among youth who regularly attend church services. For example, in his 1998 survey of teens involved in regional and national activities in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, Fr. Joseph Purpura found that 83 percent of these teens attend at least one service per week, and have correspondingly high levels of belief (and low levels of behavioral and moral issues). What the Pew survey indicates, however, is the low level of belief and activity among the overwhelming majority of youth who only infrequently - if ever - attend Christian services of any sort. This is of course a serious concern to all Christians, and certainly to Orthodox Christians (only ONE PERCENT of the Pew respondents said they were Orthodox), but this situation also presents opportunities to Orthodox youth and youth workers.
I listened to a couple of radio programs earlier this week that made me think about this issue. The first, a Reformed Protestant program called The White Horse Inn, featured Mark Driscoll, the pastor of a youth-oriented church in Seattle, WA. Driscoll made a very important point: youth who are desperate for authenticity are potentially open to serious, traditional Christianity (there are of course many who would be opposed to such Christianity, but the point remains valid). It is vital to understand the current culture, and use it to reach non-Christian youth, without compromising our beliefs or our practice.
The second program was the latest episode of Come Receive the Light, where Fr. Christopher Metropoulos interviewed Bradley Nassif. Dr. Nassif focused on the fact that truly evangelistic Orthodox Christianity can powerfully and effectively reach people who are hungry for authentic transformation in their lives (he also notably mentioned ways in which many of us who are Orthodox Christians will need to change in order to be used by God in this way). Nassif's focus was not on youth outreach, but his points - to which I strongly encourage you to listen - are equally valid for teens.
The Department of Youth Ministry puts our Bible studies online, not merely because it is a cost effective way of disseminating the material to Teen SOYO groups in North America (although that certainly is a significant benefit), but also because having them online makes them available to anyone who might be interested - Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Christian and non-Christian. This is only one way in which to reach both the affiliated and unaffiliated, but it is nonetheless a genuine attempt.
What might God be calling you to do for those approximately 20 percent of youth who have no stated religious affiliation (as well as the large number whose affiliation is at most nominal)?
Posted in Miscellaneous
Posted on Monday, March 12, 2007 at 10:56 AM by Jason Barker
This is just a quick note to let you know that I've been quite sick, but am finally back at work.
I need to catch up on the pile of things that have accrued while I've been sick, and then Luke chapter 1 will be uploaded in a few days.
Posted in Jason Barker
Posted on Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 3:49 PM by Jason Barker
There are people who would say that today's Mr. Boffo could be applied to me.
3/16/07: I've replaced the original link in this post. If the comic you read has a joke about something different than computers, please let me know.Edited on: Friday, March 16, 2007 4:49 PM
Posted in Jason Barker