Online academia

A couple of interesting posts on online academia. The first looks at how PhD students might use online resources and networks to promote and resource their own research, while the second looks at developments in online theological education.

Mental health and academia

Mental health amongst academics doesn’t really get talked about to much. Constant change within the tertiary sector, continual creeping (and often accelerating) bureaucracy, and an ever increasing audit culture can and do reduce space for collegiality, fulfilling a sense of vocation and developing a kind of work life balance (e.g. spending your annual leave doing the research your job requires but doesn’t allow time for in your regular work schedule). In this environment, mental health issues are hard to manage and even seen as a kind of normality sometimes. These recent articles on the issue from The Guardian pick up on this.

EasyBib Bibliography Creator – Google Docs add-on

With more students using web-based/cloud-based software to write their work up in, this looks like a useful addition for Google Docs – See EasyBib Bibliography Creator – Google Docs add-on.

PaperPile does something similar but it isn’t free, RefWorks (if you have access to that) can sort of fake doing it too.

Mobile devices & Learning Management Systems – Random Thoughts

Over the past year or so I’ve been using an older model iPad in my tertiary education environment to access various information and learning management systems and have, on the whole, been disappointed. The iPad works well for consuming media (provided it comes from a ‘kosher’ source), for reading email (but less so for responding to it), for looking information up online and carrying the various documents I need at meetings. It does not work as well for content creation – I have various office suites and an external keyboard and wouldn’t replace my laptop with it – and often doesn’t ‘play nice’ with web systems that have been developed ‘in-house’. And in some cases, e.g. accessing course materials or web-based email systems, it can be a real pain.

In my next job I’ll be working much more with the Moodle LMS (which I haven’t used much since 2006-7 when I was installing and configuring it for distance courses), and I’m wondering with the plethora of mobile devices out there what is the best way to use them with Moodle and the other institutional IT systems. In the last year I’ve tended to start with the app for things like Moodle, Facebook and Endnote and then shifted to the web versions when the apps have begun to struggle or frustrate what I want to do. So this year, I’ll be tracking sites like the ones below and looking for examples of LMS to mobile device connections that work well, what works best for academic staff and what works best for students. (And hopefully getting to try out Android, Windows 8 RT/Phone and iPad/iPhone systems with what we do to see how it all works.) Stay tuned.

Summer reading…

Pottering through a number of books this summer break – dipping into them for a bit before moving on to another book for a while. On the go at the moment or just finished include:


“Happy Hour In Hell” (Tad Williams)

So far not as good as it’s predecessor, “The Dirty Streets of Heaven”. It feels more formulaic and in places the flippancy seems a little forced. Still it keeps up the research into angels in popular culture. Heaven and Hell here seem to be more reflections of human existence than the other way around though.


“The Left Hand of God” (Paul Hoffman)

One a range of fantasy fiction that I’ve come across in the past year or so that very much seem to be on the Church (or just religion) as an evil (or misguided) empire. Seems to be a common theme at the moment – I’ve also just finished the two below that also have a similar theme in them.


“Theft of Swords, Vol. 1(Riyria Revelations)” (Michael J. Sullivan)


“Rise of Empire, Vol. 2 (Riyria Revelations)” (Michael J. Sullivan)

I’m also dipping into the following two books and quite enjoying them. Both different to each other but well worth the time.


“Eating Heaven: Spirituality at the Table” (Simon Carey Holt)


“Religion and Science Fiction:” (James McGrath (ed))

And finally this arrived in the mail at Christmas, which looks like it’ll be helpful for teaching this year.


“Beginning Theology” (Lucienne Breingan)

Writing, reading and (religious) imagination

Two links here which both connect to the idea of ‘world-building’ – in the first case on the importance of fiction in engendering imaginative, thoughful people, while the second contemplated different ways in which one might deal with religion in fantasy writing.

For more on world-building, including some material in JRR Tolkien’s idea of sub-creation, see THE PERFECT PLANET: Comics, Games and World-Building.

Looking back – Teaching

Finishing up working somewhere provides an opportunity to look back at what’s happened during that time. Today I was thinking about the different courses I taught in the School of Theology at the University of Auckland. Some of the courses below (e.g. Theology 100) I’ve taught in every year, others like PTHEO 221/321 and 222/322 were courses I developed from scratch in the last year or so and only taught once. Most courses were taught on a two-year rotation, except for core Stage 1 and postgrad courses. And in some of these courses I was working with one or more other people to deliver the course – that has both advantages and disadvantages to it. Most years I taught all or part of 5-7 of these.

Anyway, here are my courses from the last 6 years:

Undergraduate Courses

Theology 100 – Beginning Theology in Aotearoa New Zealand
The course aims to introduce students to some of the established processes or methods of doing theology in context. It will provide development of skills in recognising and analysing the sources for contextual theology and of doing theology in relation to a particular question or issue.
Theology 101/101G – The Bible in Popular Culture (My favourite course to teach)
An exploration of biblical themes, images, and metaphors in contemporary film, music and cultural arts through which religion and culture intersect. It develops tools appropriate for analyzing popular culture, as it moves from the local to the national to the global.
Theology 107 – Introduction to Christian Theology
An introduction to key sources and methods drawn upon by Christian theology, including the shaping of ideas of revelation, God, Jesus Christ, creation, humanity and hope. The course examines different ways that these ideas have been related to individual, communal and global life.
PTHEO 215/315 – Theological Ethics
An exploration of the history of the development of theological ethics within Christianity will form the basis in this course of a study of the human person as an ethical being within particular communities and cultures.
PTHEO 217/317 – Spirituality in Aotearoa New Zealand
Christian spiritualities and their relationship to personal, community and societal well- being is the study of this course. The course will be oriented around three key topics: 1. An introduction to spirituality, and in particular, Christian spirituality. 2. Indigenous spirituality 3. Peace and peacemaking
PTHEO 219/319 – Studies in Public Theology
This course provides an introduction to the study of the origin, nature and methods of public theology. The content of this course seeks to provide a critical understanding of the role of theology exerting a positive influence in relation to public issues facing individuals and society today.
PTHEO 320 – Research Essay in Practical Theology
Supervised research on an approved topic in Practical Theology.
PTHEO 221/321- Expressions of Christian Spirituality
Examines a variety of significant traditions within Christian spirituality, with particular emphasis upon their theological, historical and cultural dimensions and their expression in contemporary contexts.
PTHEO 222/322 – Religious Media and Communication
This course explores key areas of religious communication including the coverage of religion by mass media, how religious communities interact with the media, and how mass media shape perceptions of religion. Particular emphasis will be placed upon the interaction between Christianity and the media.

I’ve also taught modules in the following undergraduate course.

PTHEO 211/311 – The Self in Pastoral Care
This course will engage with a variety of theoretical and theological frameworks in order to understand how the self is formed and effects relationships with God and others across in the work of pastoral care across a range of personal and social contexts.
ARTSGEN 92F – Introduction to Arts and Humanities (2013 theme – “Monsters and Moral Panics”)
Introduction to Arts and Humanities is an interdisciplinary, skills based course which takes students through a special research topic with input from a number of different Arts and Arts related disciplines. This not only provides students with research experience, it also assists them in making subject choices for Stage I by introducing them to different disciplines and subject areas in the arts and humanities.

Postgraduate Courses

PTHEO 710 – Spirituality and Wellbeing
In the world today, there are a wide range of spiritualities—traditional and recent, Christian and non-Christian. Some of these may be seen to contribute to human wellbeing while others may be sources of pathology. This course investigates some of the critical aspects of the relationship between spirituality (particularly Christian) and wellbeing for persons, communities and relationships.
PTHEO 714 – Science, Technology, Media and God
The course critically examines the relationship between science, technology, new media and the Christian theological tradition. Attention will be paid to historical and contemporary engagement in global and local contexts.

I’ve also taught modules in the following postgraduate course.

THEOLOGY 701 – Hermeneutics
This course critically examines the development of the theory of hermeneutics within the philosophy of the twentieth century and its implications for the various sectors of theological study. It will explore how hermeneutical perspectives inform the methodologies and approaches particular to Biblical Studies, Christian Thought and History, and Practical Theology.
THEOLOGY 702 – Doing Theology in Context
A critical reflection on the processes of doing theology, with special reference to Aotearoa New Zealand. Using a theme or issue, students will engage with a variety of theological approaches from Biblical Studies, Christian Thought and History, and Practical Theology. Students will relate these approaches to, and integrate them with, the subject area in which they are majoring.
PTHEO 711 – Body Theology and Society
A critical investigation of the way the human body has been situated within the Christian theological tradition. It addresses the central question of how theology can be formulated through the body as subject, rather than as object. The practical applications for engagement in society will be explored.