March 31, 2003

Daily Update

Today I switched the DNS from forwarding requests for www.disseminary.org to the Seabury version of the site to pointing to our new location. It’s taking a while to propagate through the internet, but I hear that the internet is a Big Thing — er, Agreement — so I’m not surprised that we don’t get instant response. This means that Trevor’s and my blogs have come over to the Disseminary site, too, which introduces some delightful complications with the links with which you all have been honoring us. We’ll keep everything up to now on the Seabury server as long as need be, though, so we shouldn’t be 404-ing people.

I added the Colophon page to the “About the Disseminary” section, and completed our transition of all the pages to the right-hand links column format. Next, we want to write a page about our license policy, and to pin down among Trevor and Wes Avram and me how we’ll handle applications to participate in Wes’s seminar.

Posted by AKMA at 10:56 PM | Announcements | TrackBack

March 29, 2003

Moving In and Decorating

With generous help from Michal and Dorothea, we now have Moveable Type working in our new home. The tasks before us now include relocating the two personal blogs (AKMA’s and Trevor’s) to this location, reconciling all the pages to this design, and making a last-minute check to get ready to open the doors for a Grand Opening party.

Posted by AKMA at 08:26 AM | Announcements | TrackBack

March 28, 2003

What’s Been Going On?

The hoopoe, our emblem

March 16, 2003
We’re working toward the site design we envision for the project as a whole. The left sidebar now reflects the major category divisions of the site. The stylesheet is still built into the page, which we’ll strip out as soon as we reach a stable perspective on what we want the styles to be.

We don’t have any writings or MP3s available for download yet, but that’s where they’ll go when we get them. Maybe Susie and Dorothea and Trevor and I can choose a short sample document to mark up, record, and publish, as a test case.

Dorothea is working at teaching us what we need to understand about XML in order responsibly to begin our publishing work. Don’t blame her if we don’t do well enough.

We’re negotiating with a conference organizer to web-publish the proceedings of an international gathering of scholars next year.

We seem to have found a lawyer who’ll help us construct our licensing boilerplate pro bono; I’m not holding my breath, but I will cheer once we get that squared away.

Wheels Within Wheels

March 13, 2003
Trevor’s design for the Disseminary header is now final; we spent an afternoon together moving elements around, and finally arrived at the header above. Unless someone comes up with a topper, we’re set.

We’ve also chosen a typeface, FontFont’s Scala, which we chose because it wasn’t an obvious standard, because it holds up well at small and large sizes, because it wouldn’t break our budget, and because it gave us both delight. We had been casting about for a typeface for weeks, each of us in turn naming a personal favorite and the other politely saying, “Mm hmm,” not ever arriving at a common choice. One day Trevor was scheduled to preach at a Mass at which I was presiding, and as we prepared in the sacristy we looked at the pulpit Bible together. We both recognized in the Bible’s typeface the design we’d been looking for, and Scala it was.

Trevor chose our official color —green — with #336600 being our principal web-safe shade.

The hoopoe, our emblem

February 25, 2003
Trevor and I got the good news this afternoon that Prof. Wes Avram of Yale Divinity School will lead one of our Disseminary seminars, on “Spirituality and Technology.” We had been hoping for this; the topic seems a natural for us, and Wes is a brilliant scholar of these questions. We’ll have more details in a while; we are still, after all, trying to pick out the web hosting service we’ll use. But this is a great first step for us, and we can’t wait to turn Wes loose with the seminar as soon as we line up the fixings.
We’re still waiting on our legal advice. I’ll follow up with a couple more alternatives.

Shades of Green

336600 333300 003300 336633
336633 336600 333300 339900
333300 003300 336600 003300
339900 336600 336633 339900

February 21, 2003
This week, we began working on elements of the configuration of the Disseminary web pages, and names of participants we’d like to rope into leading off our articles and seminars. We’ still pinning down the whos and whens. We’re still waiting to hear from the learned and generous counselor who may turn out to be our lawyer. On the positive side, we’ve made some initial design decisions.

February 14, 2003
Funding for the Disseminary came through today. Right away, we began putting together the resources for our transforming flanking maneuver in theological education. We even have a prospective lawyer to set up our intellectual-property arrangements.

Posted by Bruce at 06:19 AM | Announcements | TrackBack

March 10, 2003

Our Licence

The hoopoe, our emblem

One of the Disseminary’s purposes entails demonstrating the value of using digital technology for publishing academic resources. We want to operate at the convergence of three forces that act upon academic publishing in the area of theology and relgiious studies: first, that academic publishing tends toward low profits, high expense, and limited circulation; second, that digital technology diminishes distribution costs almost to the point of insignificance while dramatically increasing the size of the audience; and third, that institutions with an interest in religious education (not only colleges, universities, and seminaries, but also congregations and foundations) allot considerable sums as stipends for teachers to prepare material that goes unpublished.

The first and third points mean that scholars and teachers constantly prepare material for presentation, which publishers cannot afford to distribute (despite a vast audience for such material). Although a global audience seeks opportunities to learn more about religious, spiritual, theological topics, print publications reach mainly local readerships (“local” that is, by nation and to some extent by language); costs relative to transportation, as well as import/export duties, constrict the extent to which interested learners can gain access to books and articles from other nations. The Disseminary can make texts available around the world, to schools, libraries, and individuals wherever there’s internet access.

We will continue to seek support for commissioning publishable works, but we will also negotiate with conferences, endowed lectureships, and other venues for the permission to distribute texts that have already been commissioned by these sources.

The Disseminary license (which we’re still trying to get pinned down in legal writing) will work this way:

  • The work will be distributed on terms essentially equivalent to a Creative Commons “Attribution — Noncommercial — No Derivs” license. That is, works published by the Disseminary may be copied and distributed freely so long as the work is properly attributed to its author, so long as no charge is made for that distribution, and so long as the work is not changed in any particular.
  • The Disseminary will publish the work in a variety of formats. Wherever possible, we’ll distribute works in XML (for archival and web-services purposes), in HTML (for convenient online access), in PDF (for convenient, standardized printing), and in MP3 audio.
  • The Disseminary will arrange with authors to license the prerogative to print their works with a print-on-demand commerical publisher (from whom authors would receive conventional royalties).
  • The author retains the right to re-use any material published by the Disseminary in any future projects. In theory, an author might publish a monograph with the Disseminary, discover that its ground-breaking importance arouses the interest of a major print publisher, and contract with that print publisher to distribute a print edition of the monograph. The original material would stilll be available through the Disseminary, but the new edition (possibly revised or expanded) could be bought in bookstores from the commerical publisher.

We believe that this mode of publication ably serves all interested parties, without instituting a pointless rivalry with familiar publishing institutions. Academic authors typically receive very little in exchange for their compositions; our model proposes both an initial stipend and the possibility of future royalties. Moreover, a significant part of teachers’ motivation to publish arises from their commitment to circulating their ideas, an end that the Disseminary can serve much better than conventional publications. Readers benfit from having free access to texts in a variety of convenient forms. Even print publishers benefit from having this alternative medium by which authors can distribute hard-to-market works (odd-length monographs, extremely technical works, Festschriften, conference proceedings and symposia, for instance). Moreover, the Disseminary can help print publishers recognize commercially-promising authors.

The Disseminary will publish both peer-reviewed texts (in the Quadriga series) and, in the Hoopoe series, texts that (for various reasons) merit publication apart from peer review. Our program of publication will make finely-prepared educational resources available around the world at no charge, at the same time expanding and enhancing the audience for theological and religious books.

Posted by AKMA at 02:09 PM | About the Disseminary

Colophon

The hoopoe, our emblem

We use a variety of tools in constructing the Disseminary. As the vast preponderance of other designers, we constantly use the Adobe family of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (though AKMA prefers Macromedia Freehand to Illustrator). Trevor likes to use Macromedia Dreamweaver; AKMA likes to use PageSpinner. We rely on a variety of shareware utilities in our work: PopChar X, Default Folder X, NetNewsWire and TigerLaunch (by our Cornerhost neighbor Brent Simmons) among them.

Of course, our weblogs are powered by the remarkable Moveable Type.

The Disseminary typeface is FontFont Scala.

The principal Disseminary color is #336600.

Posted by AKMA at 02:07 PM | About the Disseminary

The Big Fantasy

Wheels Within Wheels

Since we first found receptive ears for our Disseminary project, we’ve had various tiers of aspiration for the project. Tier One, “The Little Dream,” was realized in last year’s Teaching and Technology Conference at the Wabash Center, to be renewed September 2003. Tier Two is the Disseminary — you can see the prospects and results of this all around the site.

Tier Three is “The Big Dream,” and this would entail offering an open-enrollment conference for seminaries, religious studies departments, and theological other educators. The premise of The Big Dream would be to round up travellers for the technological clue train, to bring educators who don’t have the time to explore new aspects of technology into contact with some practitioners who live at the frontier of innovation in digital media.

Tier Four is “The Big Fantasy,” the dream-come-true funding opportunity for a visionary philanthropist. The Big Fantasy would be a theo-technology center for the practice and enrichment of the use of technology in teaching religious studies and theology.

The Center

The ideal Disseminary Center (or “The Wozniak (or whoever) Center for Technology and Theology”) comprises office and presentation space, and ideally housing for resident and visiting faculty. The Center should be in an area with at least one teaching institution with a theological library, with convenient air and auto (and rail?) access. One alternative would be floors in an office building, as a studio or loft space; that would probably entail limiting the amount of faculty living space. Another alternative would be a building or complex of buildings, but that would tend to exclude metropolitan areas. A rehabbed warehouse would be great; so would a complex of buildings in a campus setting.

The importance of offering living space involves both visiting and residential faculty. One of the cardinal characteristics of the work cycle of a research and teaching center is fluidity — but if faculty must dwell miles away from the Center, the effects of working odd hours on their family and social lives would begin to erode the flexibility of the Center (“flexibility” being especially important for a technologically-oriented research and teaching facility).

Were the timing (and realities!) different, it would have been a spectacular opportunity to work out an arrangement with Union Seminary in New York City. Office space and housing may be at a premium in Durham, as they surely are in New Haven (though YDS has unused bulding space), Cambridge, DC/Northern Virginia, Atlanta, the Bay area, and Los Angeles. Rochester NY might make a powerful combination of possible facilities, cost, and cultural setting.

Residential faculty

The ideal Center will have a core residential faculty of from two to four theologians and one technologist. These would provide the continuity, the human repository of experience, discernment, and transmission for the Center's functions, ensuring that the Center (part of whose work it would be to not know exactly what it’s doing) would not be assembling every year, every semester, as a team of possibly-mismatched or oddly-matched blind dates, but would form a smoothly-cooperating core to buffer differences among visiting faculty and facilitate (and pass along the benefits of) effective research when visiting faculty pursue divergent research agendas, or encounter discordant personalities.

The residential faculty would draw from distinct theological domains, to the extent possible, although they would need to work comfortably with one another. They would, in other words, share a sense of mission relative to engaging the intersection of emergent technologies with the study and practice of religious traditions, while engaging that mission from various disciplines in their studies.

The residential technologist would concentrate on overseeing the Center’s relationship with technologies it has already adopted, and also keeping an eye on the technological horizon for further possibilities. Her job would not involve introductory hand-holding, for the most part (that would more cost-effectively fall to work-study students), but would probably involve mediating the Center’s experimentation with and adoption of new technologies. This would be a great job for a classic geek, provided that he understood the cooperative dimension of the position (and did not exploit it as a venue for self-interested gadget-chasing).

Staff

The Center would need staffing including a Director (which position might fall to one of the residential faculty), office manager, and a variety of assistants (some of whom might be drawn from local seminaries, colleges, and universities). The staff would exercise the leadership in bringing order to the research plans of residential and visiting faculty, their schedules, travel plans, the presentations and teaching work of the Center’s site, budget, supplies, and so on. The staff are the sensible people who sustain the diesseitigkeit of the Center’s visionary work. While the faculty’s feet may not always stay on the ground, the staff keep the faculty’s ankles within reach.

Visiting Faculty

The Center would invite a cadre of visiting faculty for each semester or for one-year terms, providing a locus for research and development. This opportunity would benefit faculty, whose ordinary work schedule permits no opportunity for such development and would disseminate the understanding of technological possibilities for faculty to take back with them to their various home institutions. One would not want too great a disparity between the number of visiting faculty and the residential faculty, lest the two bodies develop distinct, disintegrated senses of their identity and work. With a residential faculty of four, the Center might effectively house a visiting faculty of seven or eight, but a ratio closer to one-to-one would be more desirable.

Ad Hoc Faculty/Staff

The Center might decide to take on specific projects of limited duration, for which faculty and staff would be recruited. These faculty and staff would remain with the Center not on a term-by-term basis nor on long-term contracts, but as their specific project’s need dictates. The Center might, for instance, commission several teachers and programmers to develop a walk-through animation of particular religious sites or events: the Temple in Jerusalem, a hajj to the Kaaba, a visit to the Temple of the Tooth, a circumambulation of the monumental stupa at Borobudur, a Capacocha sacrifice.

The Center’s Mission

The Center would take on the mission of conducting fundamental experimentation and exploration of the relation of technology to teaching in the area of religious studies and theology.

One element of this mission involves end-less fiddling with technology to see what happens. The faculty would be expected to work at a level of technological sophistication that would permit them to converse with technologists, but without necessarily sustaining programming or soldering skills. They would be, in the words of one IT department, “expert users.” In order to sustain and cultivate their expertise, the Center would expect them to devote some of their time simply to playing with technology.

Another element to this mission involves teaching. Since the Center exists to serve the end of enhancing teaching through technology, its faculty should be dedicated teachers. The Center should offer classes, presentations, lectures, and other educational activities on a regular basis, affording its faculty the occasion to demonstrate and sustain their teaching abilities. The Center may, on occasion, assign faculty to the work of institutional classroom instruction (making the proximity of an educational institution all the more desirable) — though it is not by any means assumed that this constitutes the norm for education, especially for technologically-mediated and -enhanced education.

Another element of the Center’s mission involves demonstrating the possibilities for technologically-enhanced education. In certain respects, this would follow the Disseminary agenda; in other respects, it would involve workshops with visiting faculty and others (whose home institutions might pay for the opportunity for them to come learn what’s going on at the Center).

Another element involves the faculty’s own ongoing research (not necessarily “technological” research). Faculty would be expected to maintain their participation in the scholarly discourses of their fields, and the Center would respect the need for time dedicated to research and writing in these fields.

Yet another element of the Center’s mission could include consulting to educational institutions with regard to institutional deployment of technological resources. The Center could offer disinterested consulting grounded in its own experience and experimentation. Such consulting conducted by salaried members of the Center team could raise funds for the Center.

Facilities

The Center’s facilities would of necessity be shaped by its technological focus. Residential faculty would work with CPUs replaced on a regular cycle; visiting faculty would be encouraged to bring up-to-date equipment from their home institutions. The budget for hardware acquisition would be higher than might be the case were the Center not committed to an exploratory mission; the Center should be in a position to showcase best practices in technology acquisition and deployment.

Prospects

Well, none in particular at this point — but contact one of the Disseminary directors, if you know someone who might be interested in funding such a center.

Posted by AKMA at 02:05 PM | About the Disseminary

The First Sketch

Preliminary Notions

The following sketch reproduces what I earlier posted on a the main page of the Disseminary site, before we even had funding to build the Disseminary. The first section describes the history of the project from AKMA’s side. The second describes the Disseminary that Trevor and AKMA proposed to the Wabash Center, which has now been funded for the first year.

These musings apply assumptions about the Web and distribution of resources in keeping with such sources as The Cluetrain Manifesto (Locke, Weinberger, Searls, and Levine; Perseus, 2001); Gonzo Marketing (Locke; Perseus, 2001); Small Pieces, Loosely Joined (Weinberger; Perseus, 2002); and The Future of Ideas (Lessig; Random House, 2001), inflected by readings from Edward Tufte on the visual communication of information and Scott McCloud on publication and dissemination of niche market publications (in his case, comics).

Our self-introduction on this page

The Disseminary has its origins in a proposal AKMA first made in 1995 or ’96, if memory serves, for a site where theologically-interested inquirers might begin the work of putting into practice a different model for learning and teaching. At the heart of the project lies the premise that institutional infrastructure — not only the physical infrastructure of buildings and supplies, but also the information infrastructure of grades and credits — and the costs of maintenance do not simply make education possible, but also inhibit education in important ways.

Most obviously, the costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs large sums whether to buy or rent; salaried faculty cost a great deal, and they expect certain prerogatives associated with their academic vocation. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). Even further, the institution’s attitude toward education warps toward its perceived necessities of physical plant and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

Moreover, the social function of education often presupposes goals that do not themselves serve the interests of teaching and learning. People look to educational institutions to issue warranted certification that learners have attained particular levels of proficiency. Institutions that accept such a social function — in other words, the vast preponderance of them — need to slice, dice, and quantify the pedagogical endeavor so as to determine which students attain the degree, diploma, or certification. The exigencies of quantification and standardization oblige schools to squeeze all areas of study into terms of uniform duration, testing students to ascertain their progress, assigning a one-dimensional evaluation of a student’s accomplishment, and so on. These all serve the purpose of upholding the social function of the teaching institution — but not necessarily the purposes of teaching and learning.

The Disseminary stands for an approach to education and educational materials apart from the constraints of institutional education: credits, fees, restrictive copyright limitations, grades, and other limitations. The project envisions a variety of educational resources offered at no charge, for no formal credit. Such resources may in the long run include publications, asynchronous seminar discussions (kept available in archives), chats, interviews, audio and video recordings; we’ll post a fuller sketch of an ideal Disseminary below. Our present Wabash Center grant proposal includes plans for generating one online textbook and one online seminar [later changed as below].

This version of The Disseminary draws on ideas discussed in a conference paper from the Garrett Theology and Pedagogy in Cyberspace Conference (subsequently published in Teaching Theology and Religion), then further discussed at a Wabash Center Teaching and Technology Conference during the summer of 2002 (scheduled to reconvene in September 2003).

At the 2002 Wabash conference, one of our colleagues proposed the following manifesto for what she called “open-source” pedagogy:

  • Course content kept in open public access, but confining relationality of dialogue (and, perhaps perforce?, reserve materials) to password protected materials
  • Full compliance with web accessibility guidelines
  • Consider pushing the use of something like Nicenet
  • Support the use of open source software as an ethical commitment (e.g. Openoffice.org)
  • Use and support network technologies that are open (end-to-end)
  • Clear fair use policies that promote an open commons
  • Promote technology choices that favor access
  • Teach media/digital literacy as a core competency
  • Promote open source development of substance
  • Core pedagogy is constructive, collaborative
  • Promote policies nationally and globally that reflect these principles

These points resonate with the Disseminary sensibility; where we don’t anticipate emphasizing them all, we support the outlook that they bespeak.

For the time being, The Disseminary exists mostly as plans and possibilities; we await word on our pending grant proposal. But when the grant is approved, or even if it isn’t, we may get impatient and see what we can get rolling on our own. Until then, you’re welcome to bookmark AKMA’s and Trevor’s weblogs, where there’ll be the most frequent updates, and where they’ll be likely to mention any significant changes to this site

Thanks for visiting. . . .

The Disseminary Sketch

We envision the Disseminary as an umbrella for a variety of educational ventures. Among the dimensions of the proposal we imagine, we propose the following in the form of a site map:

Seminars

Disseminary seminars would be asynchronous discussions led by commissioned participants in the project. While leaders would maintain the prerogative to shape the seminar as they felt appropriate, we anticipate seminars beginning from a familiar readings-and-discussion format. Such seminars could easily be conducted with existing weblog tools such as Movable Type, and might (at the leader’s discretion) permit comments from non-participants. Once the seminar had run its course, the conversation would be archived and available for browsing or redistribution.

Lectures

Many institutions for theological and religious studies regularly commission presentations for named lecture series; the Disseminary would house video, audio, or transcripts of these lectures, extending the reach of the the lecture to remote locations and amplifying the prestige associated with the institution’s and the lecture’s name.

Classical sources

Many of the pivotal resources for teaching and learning in theology and religion were published well before the present copyright regime took effect. The Disseminary would prepare carefully-edited digital versions of these texts (many of which are already available in plain-text or lightly-edited versions) for use in classes or for individual reading.

Study guides

There exists on the Web a signiŽcant amount of highly-useful resources for religious and theological education. However, these resources are widely dispersed and while some indices (notably the “Wabash Center Guide to Internet Resources”) do exist, these indices rarely provide more than basic commentary. The Disseminary will commission Žve study guides that will direct the reader through a course of study that comprehends its entire subject area. For instance, a study guide on “mysticism” will note that the translations of Pseudo-Dionysius’s Mystical Theology available online are of signiŽcantly lower quality than that available through the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality series. It would also note that the work of Maximus Confessor is not available online, and that the serious student should consult a print edition of his Chapters on Knowledge. The purpose of this would be to augment the study of Žgures such as Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena—of whose works good online editions are available—with the guidance necessary to enrich a student’s learning. The study guides, in effect, teach a subject rather than provide a list of information and links. To some extent, the study guides acts as a small, but reputable secondary resource on its subject. The study guide will also refer to other reliable secondary resources both on- and off-line.

Commissioned Publications

Academics write much all the time, for very little return. The Disseminary would commission works and publish them for distribution online. While some will quickly point out that online publications would fail to draw high-quality writing from estimable authors, we respond that the advantages of online publication would provide an attractive incentive for possible authors. Not every prominent scholar need contribute—but once one or two participate, the perception that online publication lacks scholarly heft will quickly evaporate.

Commissioned publications may vary in scope from full monographs to topical essays to chapter-length introductory treatments of fundamental topics. We especially look forward to commissioning textbook chapters for use in introductory classes; teachers (and learners) may compile a collection of chapters to use as a single textbook, or select particular chapters as worthy of attention. The Disseminary can commission alternate chapters on the same topic, so that a teacher could choose a chapter on “Eschatology” (for instance) from among a range of available options.

A Note on Online Publication

The Disseminary project envisions not only the online distribution of its commissioned work (and edited classical sources), but also distribution in print. To that end, the text will follow a carefully planned mark-up scheme, such that a print-on-demand publisher could produce a limited-run edition of a selected text with only minimal set-up. Moreover, print editions stand to return to their authors royalties over and above the initial commission—a noteworthy incentive for writers to participate in Disseminary publishing ventures.

Other Ideas

I know we’ve had other ideas—they’re just escaping me at this moment.

Posted by AKMA at 01:59 PM | About the Disseminary | TrackBack