posted August 7, 2002

Prof Developing Free Web Course on Hebrew

Dr. Barry Bandstra of the Hope College religion faculty wants to give away what he knows, to anyone who's interested.

Bandstra is developing "Reading Hebrew," a Web- based course that he intends to make available for free. He hopes to make it easier for others to learn biblical Hebrew by providing a resource for colleagues at other institutions and even individual students.

"One of my goals is to provide a tool that would encourage and facilitate teaching biblical Hebrew at the college level, especially at liberal arts colleges where staffing and resources in Old Testament may be low," said Bandstra, a professor of religion and chair of the department at Hope. "I also hope that the learning package will be useful for individuals students of biblical literature who may not have access to college or seminary instruction, such as pastors who desire to learn, review or further develop their biblical Hebrew reading skills."

Bandstra is developing a package of materials that can be used in a two-semester course sequence. In support of his work, he has received a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, which is based at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. The $14,256 grant from the center will fund materials, stipend support for Bandstra and a student researcher, and other expenses through the summer of 2003.

The package will include the entire Hebrew Bible, sound files, and a full set of grammar lessons, and self- graded exercises and tests. Bandstra also hopes that it will be inviting. "The basic premise of my work developing Internet resources for biblical study is that instructors must find them extremely easy to use," he said.

The Web-based resource is just the sort of material that Bandstra, an Old Testament scholar who has been at Hope since 1983, would like to have in his own teaching. In fact, he has already been using a preliminary version in his biblical Hebrew course at Hope, and intends to use the completed edition as well.

The project combines two of his scholarly interests: biblical Hebrew linguistics, and the use of computing technology as an instructional tool.

The content will feature a grammar of biblical Hebrew that Bandstra has developed using a "functional" approach to learning language--meaning with a primary emphasis on learning the language as a means of communication, with secondary emphasis on memorizing forms and rules. "By writing my own functional grammar in the form of a teaching grammar, and making it available as a Web course, I am able to introduce this new approach to understanding language, and at the same time do it using computing resources that will aid in the learning and understanding process," he said.

The technical development will draw on the two decades he has spent designing materials for both the personal computer and, more recently, the Web. In 1989, he received one of only 12 Apple Computer Courseware Development Grants awarded to the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges; in 2000, britannica.com gave his multi-media textbook "Reading the Old Testament" a four-star "Superior" rating.

He hopes that the combination will produce increased emphasis on a field of study that, for him, is a passion.

"My basic motivation in developing this project is that I love teaching biblical Hebrew to college students," Bandstra said. "If biblical Hebrew comes to be taught at institutions where before it had not been, I'll consider it successful."