Every so often in higher education, you get a new concept or method or resource or something in a class that really stands out – something you'll probably think about / use / refer to for the rest of your life. I can think of several. And, some classes have more of these than others, of course.
This semester I find myself in several such classes. Perhaps I'll comment on more of them in future posts.
One of my classes this semester is History and Philosophy of Preaching, with Dr. Mark Minnick. One of the major semester projects was called an "Illustration File." It was really unrelated to the course content, but he includes it as a course requirement because he wants to force us all to test a system that he has used effectively for years, and he knows most of us wouldn't try it if it didn't cary a point value!
Although there were lots more particulars, the basic idea is that we had to collect at least 70 illustrations from our reading this semester. Not just reading for this class, or any of our classes, for that matter. Anything we're reading this semester is a valid source. Then he wants us to connect the illustrations to a particular Scripture text. The idea is that ever after, when preaching on a particular text, we'll have ready illustrative material.
The underlying principle runs something like this: If you're a reader, you'll come accross all kinds of really good quotations, ideas, illustrations, etc. But most of us don't retain that very well. A week after we read it (or are tested over it!) we've forgotten it. So, you need a good system to retain, organize, and recall the nuggets.
I've taken Dr. Minnick's idea and expanded it a little bit and adapted it for computer using MS Access. In short, I have all of my books and other resources entered in one db table, and then when I’m reading and find an illustration, anticdote, fact, anything I want to keep, I key it to a text in another table. So, for Romans 1:17 [the pivotal verse in Martin Luther's conversion from Roman Catholicism, which was essentailly the beginning of the Reformation], I have the story of Luther’s conversion.
Obviously, it will take a long time to have a comprehensive collection, but the goal is more than just to have illustrations – it’s really more about having a system to retain and organize the things I’m reading.
I’m working on another system to keep track of papers I’ve written, for example (and the research I did which never showed up in the paper), and class notes, etc, so that I’ll have ready access to those items when needed.
A third aspect of this effort to preserve and recall material is a separate system to retain non-textual items – topical studies, for instance, and whole articles and websites that I want to retain for later study.
I’m starting to realize that it’s really a waste to read all these things and remember long enough to pass a quiz but then forgetting most of it by the time it would really be useful to me… =/ So, I’m really trying to store stuff away, and these systems are all experiments seeking to accomplish that purpose.
If you're interested in experimenting with my database or have thoughts, questions, or suggestions, please send them my way!