Every module is a conversation. It is a conversation amongst students, tutors, all the voices that students and tutors bring with them from their contexts and experience, and all the voices that students encounter in the materials that they read, watch, and listen to during the module.
Developing and tending a good bibliography is one of the ways in which tutors can shape a module’s conversations. It is therefore one key element in the processes by which tutors develop and tend their modules, year by year. Each year, as part of the normal processes of module review and development, tutors should be adding new materials, pruning existing materials, working out how better to describe and arrange bibliographies so as to invite students into conversation with these voices, and considering the accessibility and the diversity of the voices included.
A long, undifferentiated list of books and journal articles is likely to be very forbidding for most students – particularly those who have no experience of university-level academic study. There are, however, various things you can do to avoid that.
The range of voices that students encounter in a module’s conversations matters deeply. It will shape their perceptions of whose voices count in the conversations of the church – and whose voices do not. Bibliographies should, therefore, as far as possible include a wide variety of voices – a variety of genders and of ethnicities, a variety of traditions, and people speaking from a wide range of contexts and forms of experience.
There has been considerable research on the impact of reading list diversity (and lack of diversity) on student learning. See, for instance, this clear and well-referenced summary of the issues as they affect the teaching of philosophy. Similar issues are in play in theological education.
We want our bibliographies to introduce students to the best and most important voices in the relevant area – but that means the voices that are best and most important for the purpose of the module. A module is meant to lead students into, and help them engage with, a rich conversation about its subject matter. Helping students from a variety of contexts and backgrounds recognise that the conversation already includes people like them is part of that invitation. Helping all students recognise that voices from a wide variety of contexts and backgrounds are already part of that conversation is also important. Having a richly diverse bibliography is therefore part of what ‘best and most important’ means in a theological education context.
Obviously, working on the bibliography is only one part of the process of ensuring that a module leads students into a richly diverse conversation. It needs to be woven in with all the other elements of module review and development. There are, however, some specific tips that can help with bibliographies.
Amending module bibliographies is a task that benefits hugely from the involvement of students. Whether through feedback questionnaires, or discussions in class, or in a specific space on a module’s Moodle pages, or in other ways, it is worth soliciting student feedback on
For an example of a student-led process of bibliography revision in a different discipline see this report from UCL’s Anthropology programme.