Thursday, November 19, 2009

How and Why the NT Gateway was Rebooted, Revitalized and Relaunched V

This post continues the series on the changes at the NT Gateway (I, II, III, IV).

Now that the new version of the site was in place, I was finally able to do what I had wanted to do for years, to invite others in to join the team. I have moved cautiously, approaching people one at a time in these early stages, so that we could ease into the new arrangement, allowing each person to find their niche. The first person I approached was Holger Szesnat who for years had been a help to me behind the scenes, offering suggestions for new links and so on. Holger agreed to lend a hand and he has done extensive work in the last few months refreshing links and adding new ones. Then I was lucky to have as my research assistant Maxim Cardew, a new PhD student at Duke, and he has been working with me on the site since September and has done some great work. So with an expanding team in place, how has the site changed and what are the plans for the future?

When I spoke to the CARG two years ago, I suggested that there had been a major shift over the last decade in the way that subject gateways worked. Because of the explosion in internet resources, subject gateways are becoming more and not less important for students. The proliferation in online materials means that the new student has little idea where to start. Googling in the dark is not a realistic option for the student serious about their research. So what the NT Gateway and sites like it can provide is a means by which students can find their way to the best available materials in the subject they are researching.

The difficulty with the site as it was configured was that it provided a massive number of links on each subject, and the first time user might quickly become daunted and then leave. I was concerned that it was failing in its mission to serve its primary constituency, the students for whom I had created it in the first place. I wanted to maintain the comprehensive treatment as far as possible, drawing attention to useful materials for scholars and graduate students, but at the same time provide instant pathways to good academic material for undergraduates on their first visit. How could it be done?

I like to walk around websites and imagine myself into the role of different users and to see what kind of experiences they might have. When I went on walks like this on the NT Gateway, I noticed that I had not provided enough signposts for undergraduate students. I had pages on which I had listed introductory resources, but they were not flagged up. Sometimes, the clearest introductory chapters in books were buried in pages of books, dissertations and articles. The first order of business, therefore, has been to move Introductory materials to the top of the sections in which they appear, and then to underline some of the best resources for new students among those introductory materials.

So on the Gospel of Mark, for example, Introductory Materials are now prominent. Students will quickly find a selection of the best places to begin their study of Mark. Nevertheless, we were concerned that students may still need a little more grounding before they begin to read these materials, and Maxim Cardew has therefore been writing bite-sized introductory essays that slot in to a given section even above the Introductory Materials, as here: Introduction to Mark's Gospel. We have begun to add these in several places on the site and the hope is that this will make the NT Gateway much more useful to students setting out on their study of the New Testament.

In the final post in this series, I will attempt to explain the pedagogical and economic advantages of this new endeavour.


Jason A. Staples said...

Mark, the way that you're treating things on NT Gateway with respect to undergrads opens the question of whether the introductory textbook as we know it is an endangered species.

It strikes me that a move towards classroom use of things like NT Gateway might be one of the major moves in the pedagogy of the near future. I have questioned the value of traditional NT textbooks for a few years now (being of the opinion that too many students read the textbook but not the biblical text itself), and given the kind of resources offered at NT Gateway, it might be feasible to simply drop the textbook in favor of the use of something like the NT Gateway as a supplement to the NT text itself.

Mark Goodacre said...

Spot on, Jason. Thanks for the comment.