Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Teaching Notes: Life and Letters of Paul I

Each autumn ("fall") since 2006 I have taught a course that once belonged to Ed Sanders, "The Life and Letters of Paul". The title is perfect, especially for someone like me whose interests are more historical than theological. This is now the third time I have taught this course at Duke and this time I have expanded enrollment to over 100 students. This represents something of a challenge, but a challenge I enjoy. People talk much less in a bigger group, but at the same time the occasion somehow feels more major and a bit less low key. The larger group allows gives one a real variety of students, and I was happy to discover yesterday that I have the full range of students from freshers (still called "freshmen" here, a term British universities abandoned decades ago) to finalists ("seniors").

The age range requires some thought. In the UK, most universities now group into different "levels" and it would be unusual to have first years with finalists. In this class, I have some people just out of high school, who will be doing their first university writing for me, and others who are right at the end of their Duke careers, with tons of writing experience. I am lucky, though, to have three excellent teaching assistants and what we will do together is to make sure that the freshers are encouraged along the way.

I have introduced a couple of changes since I last taught the course. One thing is to introduce a third piece of assessment. I tended to find that there was some anxiety among Duke students about a whole course being assessed on just two pieces of work, a "mid-term" and a final examination. Several of them would be worried about the long gap between October and December without any sign that they were sustaining or improving on their mid-term grade. So this time I am giving them three pieces, the mid-term paper in early October, an exegesis paper in November and a final paper in early December. The mid-term is their first chance to delve into nitty gritty introductory, historical questions and to do lots of targeted reading in preparation. The exegesis paper will then encourage them to test their skills with the primary text. The final paper will see how well they have coped with assimilating the course as a whole.

One plus this semester is that appear to have been given a room with windows in it, over in the Social Sciences building. So we are borrowing from other Arts and Sciences departments rather than from the Divinity School, as previously.

In future teaching notes this semester, I hope to reflect on the way that we are learning about Paul this semester. One of the big tasks for next week is to see whether I can get the punters as interested in Pauline chronology as I am. This is not an easy task. For most students, Pauline chronology is about as exciting as the Synoptic Problem, and we all know how much fun that is.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

I wholeheartedly agree that Pauline chronology is as exciting as the Synoptic Problem!!!

Daniel Graves said...

Sounds like a great course, Mark... I do enjoy reading your reflections on both content and pedagogy.