Monday, November 21, 2011

SBL: Bible Software Shootout 2 - Revenge of the Teacher

SBL Computer Assisted Research Section: 
Bible Software Shootout 2 - Revenge of the Teachers 

Keith Reeves introduced the session and highlighted that this session was not intended to be a shootout resulting in last man standing. Rather, the approach this year is to come at the topics 'backwards' by seeing how teachers are actually using the software in the classroom.


Two professors from Calvin College, Dean Deppe and Carl Bosma, presented on their use of Logos in their classrooms.
Calvin College has a 2 week gateway course that is a required part of the curriculum to introduce Logos to the students. An important aspect of the instruction is both learning how to use the program and to start the process of using it to take notes.
  • A 1 hour introduction
  • Four 2 hour sessions explaining features with MDiv students
  • Three 3 hours sessions with MA students.
Deppe showed examples of how he has used Logos. (Cf. Deppe's All Roads Lead to the Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry into the Bible for his work on using Logos for exegetical examples. I have now acquired the book and will provide a review here, hopefully before the new year.) He demonstrated how he thinks in terms of various lenses for viewing the texts using various Logos tools: Personal Book Builder to collect notes, Collections for searching, Passage Analysis, highlighting, layouts, visual filters including sympathetic highlighting, tools that can be used for students who don't know Greek or Hebrew, etc. He showed an interesting example of highlighting of verb tenses in Romans 7 along with quite a number of layouts he has created for working with grammatical, exegetical, background, related texts (e.g., DSS, Josephus, Pseudepigrapha).
Bosma showed how he used Logos for notetaking and linking to local and web resources.

  • It was clear that both Deppe and Bosma have a great deal of experience working with Logos. It was good to see they are actually using it.
  • Deppe especially had a tremendously customized version of Logos enhanced by many of his own layouts, collections, etc. Unfortunately, it is not possible to share layouts with other users (at least at this time). When I try to model my use of Bible software, I would like my students to be able to follow along, so the ability to share a similar look would be important.
  • It's great that Calvin College has the required training sessions. I know enough about the use of Logos to see that the kind of things Deppe and Bosma had done reflect at least a high intermediate level of skill. 
  • Though it wasn't pointed out in the session, I like that Logos is available for Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad, Android, and as a mobile web resource at


Roy B. Brown from Accordance demonstrated how he and his colleagues have used the program. (His presentation is available HERE.) He noted that the use of the software is dependent on the audience. He used Amos 1.1-6 as an example.
Preparation: How can Accordance be used for preparing, creating handouts, etc. He noted a variety of resources available and the easy way to export material for printing, incorporation in other programs, using its Slideshow mode, displaying collections of photos, maps, etc.
Presentation: The Slideshow mode was particularly helpful in Brown's own presentation to the group. It's a great way to present while staying within the program. (I have found that I regularly am jumping back and forth between PowerPoint and the Bible software as I teach.) He showed the sort of resources he would use for teaching Amos 1.1-6 to a popular level and then repeated the exercise as he might use it with a more advanced level group who know Greek and/or Hebrew. One of the things he demonstrated was the Inference search which looks for passages that might stand as allusive parallels.
Participation: How can Accordance be used most effectively in an interactive environment? Brown provided an example of how one might start with the Amos text and move from resource to resource by means of simply highlighting words and using the extensive integration of links to maps, lexicons, timelines, graphics, dictionaries, etc. One can even rather effectively conduct searches in Hebrew without know Hebrew.
Some of the things that struck me in this presentation were:
  • They have accumulated an excellent collection of related resources for biblical study: grammatical/syntactical,
  • The program was quite fast when running searches and switching between resources.
  • The integration of resources and the intuitiveness of accessing them is excellent.
  • The program is quite attractive overall.
  • They have made the program accessible to both an academic/technical and popular level audiences.
He also demonstrated a recently added feature: a "dynamic interlinear." While standard interlinears (based on the English) and reverse interlinears (based on the original language), their dynamic interlinear provides linking to up to eight tagged English versions and includes all the tagged information including syntactical tags. For the NT, he showed how this dynamic interlinear could be used to line up various NT manuscripts for comparison.

  • Brown did indicate that it is possible to share Accordance workspaces which would make it much easier for students to follow along.
  • It was an impressive display of linked resources that Brown demonstrated, but I'm also wondering what the total cost of all those resources is. Yes, it probably is cheaper than buying hard copy edition,and one can, of course, gradually build up one's Accordance library of resources, but I doubt many students would be able to afford it all at the outset.
  • Accordance is available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. (It can be run on Windows under emulation.) Buy the Mac version, and you get the iPhone and iPad versions with it running all your Mac resources.

OliveTree Bible Software - BibleReader

Steven Johnson and Matthew Jonas, both from OliveTree, presented. Johnson provided an overview of the program while Jonas spoke more about its classroom use. They presented how it works on an iPad as well as demonstrating a beta version of the program for MacOS. They are certainly multi-device aware and offer (or are working on offering) the program for a variety of platforms: Macs, iWhatever, Kindle, Nook, PC, Android, etc.
Two main concerns for BibleReader are approachability and having everything available, everywhere, all the time. How quickly can someone start using the program? They try to have as simple and as intuitive interface as possible. Further, while there are some differences particular to each platform, they also try to have the interface as similar as possible so that students will be able to follow along regardless of platform. Everything is automatically synched, so that annotations and such are preserved as a user moves between their various devices. The Resource Guide was an effective center for moving around to related resources: related verses, commentaries, topics, dictionaries, images, maps, notes, charts, etc.
Do note that the program really has its roots as a Bible reader, so it is easy to switch to a simple reading view though all the resources are still easy to call up. Jonas demonstrated the features that allow BibleReader to be personalized: notes, highlighting, bookmarks, book ribbons, etc. They use their own cloud sync service to keep everything current, but you can also use an Evernote sync service.
For students, it's easy to get started with BibleReader using their 'freemium' model. The basic program is free and available for the various platforms. They also are looking at integrating social media tools. (E.g., it's only available on Android for now, but it is possible to share verses via Google+, FB, Twitter.)
  • It is indeed a clean and intuitive interface.
  • It was impressive during his presentation how Johnson switched between devices. The program was consistent but still took advantages of the platform's capabilities. (E.g., iPad multi-touch, use of gestures)
  • While OliveTree certainly has a full collection of Greek and Hebrew resources, it strikes me as intended to be accessible for a somewhat more popular audience level.

Overall comments, questions, and observations:

  • It was an interesting choice on Logos' part to have instructors who use Logos present rather than company representatives. They did a good job, but it was a different presentation compared to the others.
  • How easy is it (or to what extent is it desirable) for instructors to share resources with students? How desirable is it to do this? I find that I usually do want to share what I am asking them to learn about the use of the program. I think it is important, therefore, to have easy ways to share workspaces/layouts, search parameters, etc.
  • It is great to have a 'buy once' policy which allows you to transfer your resources to the variety of platforms you use. All three companies basically offer this.
  • I also see how we are moving to a situation with students using a variety of platforms, and most of them are more portable: tablets, iPads, and smartphones. Logos leads the way here, and only OliveTree will compare with it (once they make the desktop versions available). It is important to have one's resources available regardless of platform and to have them available everywhere. I also find, however, that when I am doing in-depth work, I really want a lot of screen space, so I still favor a desktop or laptop setup.
  • I do believe that cloud syncing and backup will become a standard. This involves not only the syncing of resources but of one's personalizations. Logos and OliveTree lead the way in this respect. 
  • BibleWorks was noticeably missing from this shootout. Since it is the program I am most familiar with, I can affirm that it can pretty much do everything the other programs can do and other tasks as well. And it does it all for cheaper considering the resources it includes. Still, there are some limitations to BW. It is a Windows program (that can be run under emulation on a Mac), but it cannot be used on a mobile, handheld device. Given the way the program works, the bigger the monitor the better, so I'm not sure it would be very useful on the small scale of a mobile device. Second, I have encouraged BW to make it easier to sync one's personalizations (e.g., annotations, searches...). It can be accomplished, but it requires the use of another cloud syncing service like DropBox or SugarSync. (I use SugarSync, and it works beautifully. I add my BWNotes, ase, and timeline subdirectories to the sync list, and it keeps everything up-to-date between my home and work computers. BTW, if you sign up for a SugarSync account after clicking on that link, we both get an extra .5Gb of storage in addition to the 5Gb free starter account, so please do so!)
 Bottom Line: Thanks to the CARS (no longer the CARGroup since we are now a CARSection) for organizing this section. While it did give the companies an opportunity to demonstrate capabilities of their programs, it also provided some excellent ideas about how the programs can and are actually used in classroom settings.


  1. Was there any mention of BibleWorks? I am very surprised to hear it wasn't there.

  2. Is the picture accurate to how many people showed up to that session? It looks surprisingly sparse.

  3. @Michael: The session was given a rather large room, and I was expecting more people too. Maybe 40 or so? Maybe part of the reason is that it was scheduled for the early session on Sunday.
    @Danny: As you may know, BW doesn't open for business on Sundays, including here at SBL. Further, they did not want to get into the fray of the competitive sniping that happened online following the session 2 years ago where people were eager to declare who had 'won.' It was rather friendly this year, and the classroom perspective did seem to create a friendlier climate.

  4. Can any one tell me the motive of this session?

  5. Rather than simply being an opportunity for the companies to show off their latest features, the goal was to look at what features were actually being used, particularly in the classroom.

  6. Thanks for this. I was glad to read the tone about the shootout. I was deeply disappointed in the past one that resulted in a very tragic number of things being said online after the meeting. I don't know if it stems from the Mac versus Windows thing. Sadly, being a Mac user, I think we are some of the worst when it comes to arrogance and pride in our choice of computing hardware, but it should end when it comes to our cool Bible tools in that we are all aiming for the same thing: studying the Word of God.

    I use several tools simultaneously used in this shootout and they all serve me wonderfully from different perspectives. Kind of like the body should function. :)

    Thanks again for your report.

  7. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.