At the recent New Orleans SBL meeting, one of the “hot” sessions was the Software Bible “Shootout” in which five different software options demonstrated their method for solving a series of challenges. Read Rick Mansfield’s summary here. More discussion here (with lots of further links).The software vendors represented were: Logos, SESB, BibleWorks, Accordance and Olive Tree.
You can look at each of the resources in depth at your leisure. My question today is not which one handles what challenge better, but rather, who should determine which software you use?
There is definitely a discussion going on about the pedagogical value of introducing bible software earlier in the seminary curriculum (and in particular, for the biblical language courses). The problem is how to integrate these programs into the classroom. Some seminaries seem to let the programs just filter in as students discover their merits on their own. At the other end of the spectrum are the seminaries that mandate purchase of a specific program that is then utilized (and supported) throughout the curriculum. I see value in both approaches.
First, I own a Mac. I have used Accordance for years. But until recently, I was in a very small minority. Most of the support I needed I found on the Accordance forums (also their blog and website), through social media networking, or Accordance seminars. Most of the computers around me were PCs and most of those users chose BibleWorks. Most students will become familiar with whatever program they use in seminary/university and will not want to change to another program after graduating because they are heavily invested in software and experience. So, since I was personally convinced that I wanted to use Accordance, I would have a hard time having someone tell me I could not and would have to buy another program and use that for classes.
On the other hand, as an instructor, I see the value of having everyone “on the same page.” Calvin Seminary does require their students to purchase one package (a specially tailored Logos package, if I recall correctly). Carl Bosma has developed a detailed seminar-like course that teaches students exactly (step-by-step) how to use the program. The course is part of a pre-semester orientation (the training is ongoing though). This means that the IT department and the professors all know exactly what program their students have, they can share filters, data, links, etc. with no conflict issues. They can pull material up in class and students can follow along on their own computers. Students are allowed to collaborate and share resources they develop. By the time they graduate, the idea is that they have a personal library of notes, sermons, etc. all linked in their Logos program and they know exactly how to do studies and sermon prep utilizing all their Logos text and book resources. There is a plan to have support for Mac users of Logos, but for now I think most of their Mac users run Logos in a Windows environment on their computer.
The issue, especially for students choosing seminaries, could come down to a minor decision-making fork-in-the-road along the lines of “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC.” In other words, if I really want to keep using my Mac, if I have heard that Accordance does fantastic searches and has lots of scholar-level texts, will I choose a school that is only PC and Logos-based? What about if my church has already given me a copy of BibleWorks and my mentor is very skilled in that program? Now, obviously much more important criteria will be considered (and should be) first. This is not a primary concern. But it isn’t a minor annoyance either. It’s more along the lines of deciding whether you want to live for several years with the cold weather up North vs the sunny South. Except that the decision will likely affect a student for many more years. The skills a student learns and practices in school/seminary will likely be the skills they continue to use later in the ministry. It would be very difficult to switch after becoming a competent user of one program for 3 or 4 years (not to mention the expense of switching programs or platforms).
So, what do you think? Should schools decide for students which bible software to buy? Does the benefit outweigh removing individual choice in the matter? Should all the options be made available to students so they can make an informed choice? What is your own experience?
To be completely candid, I now run Windows 7 via Parallels 5 on my MacBook Pro (please don’t condemn me). I needed to do this to run some Windows-only software to allow me to work with colleagues on some projects. As a result, I have SESB and limited Logos resources loaded on the Windows side. I also have Vocabula and some translator software for projects I am working on. I do use the Olive Tree iPhone app, and am a beta tester for some of the original language modules (more about Olive Tree in another post). The only program I do not currently have access to is BibleWorks (however, at one point I did have a copy to demo for my students, but I left that copy of the program with the instructor who followed after me).
UPDATE: The nice folks at Bibleworks have contacted me and offered to send a copy of the program so that I can include that resource as I continue to review software and develop digital tools. Thank you Jim Barr!