2011 Award for Innovation in Instructional Technologies

PLU Hebrew Idol: Religion and Literature of the Hebrew Bible
Pacific Lutheran University – Tony Finitsis and Nick Butler, with assistance from students and staff of Religion Department and I&TS

Project website

One of the integrated learning objectives at Pacific Lutheran University, as a liberal arts institution, is the development of critical thinking skills through reading, writing, and communication. To that end, most classes at PLU require some form of in-class presentation that asks students to demonstrate the development of their critical thinking skills. In the Religion and Literature of the Hebrew Bible class this presentation has taken the shape of a short movie production that is shown in class. The short movie also supports a specific course objective for this class, i.e., consideration of the contemporary relevance and significance of the biblical material.

Course video projects engage the interests and learning styles of students of the Internet generation. In the past, video production required specialized training. But with the proliferation of camera phones, open source editing software, and distribution systems like YouTube, most current students have rudimentary production skills. However, asking students to produce a quality short movie requires further sophistication in content understanding, storytelling, and movie production.

With PLU Hebrew Idol, video production is fully integrated into course structure and pedagogy. Creative expression is encouraged while ample support and guidance are provided — by both the professor (Professor Antonio Finitsis), who helps students refine their critical skills within the course context; and the instructional technologist (Nick Butler), who enables the students to hone their technical skills and knowledge of the production process.
The “PLU Hebrew Idol” competition is an event that requires the integration of instructional technology with teaching and learning in three successive stages. The first stage focuses on students who are working in small groups (3-4 members), with the goal of helping them develop the skills necessary for creating a quality movie. Students are first trained in the art of story-telling in order to facilitate the writing of their script. Then they are introduced to the process of movie production and film editing in order to help them achieve a quality video product. Finally, students are equipped with necessary equipment to film and tools to help them put together their movies once they have finished filming. This is the most crucial stage of the project as the project team follows the pattern of implementation, observation, and refinement in order to shape workshops in a way that they are most effective for students.

The second stage focuses on creation of a public forum in which the broader university community can watch the best movies and vote for their favorite. This stage requires the coordinated work of an instructional technology team. The team first designs the logos that define the competition visually and serve as attention-getters, then it designs the website to be aesthetically pleasing and in-sync with current technology. Next the team animates the logo for the website, streams the videos, and sets up the voting system. In this stage most of the work happens behind the scenes, with those student workers involved obtaining work experience in the application of instructional technologies. Our over-arching goal in this stage is to get everything ready for the involvement of the entire student body and staff of the university.

The third stage involves the creation and staging of a live final competition that is visually stimulating, educationally rewarding, and interesting to attend. In this stage the technical team focuses on creating original visual content, engaging several faculty who portray Hebrew Bible characters and serve as judges, and enabling several student workers to meet the staging needs of the live event. First, a short video is created that introduces the judges of the competition. Second, a video is created with the best scenes from the movies of the previous year. Third, a stage is set up to function as the red carpet interview area for finalists of the competition. This is the most labor-intensive stage of the competition that involves the contributions of many people who are responsible for a wide range of tasks.

Over the last three years, PLU Hebrew Idol competition has showcased student critical thinking about the Hebrew Bible beyond this class and into the university community. Students tell their stories of understanding through the lens of reality shows, comedies, epics, and dramas. In the words of professor Finitsis, these movies are “too good for no one else to see.”

For more information, visit the PLU Digital Media Center website: