Professor Nina Livesey Champions Online Learning

Professor Nina Livesey Champions Online Learning

Nina-and-Students-Summer-2012. Nina Livesey, online learning.What is your background and something others may not know about you?

I was born in Havana, Cuba, to a Hungarian father and an American mother with Russian ancestry. I grew up in Miami, Florida, and spoke Spanish as a very young child and often heard other languages spoken in the house, such as Hungarian. Due to this early exposure to languages, I developed and have retained a keen love for them. I have spent much of my academic life immersed in languages: I have studied Spanish, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and German. I am now dabbling in Coptic. I earned my bachelor’s degree is in Comparative Literature, in which I specialized in French and Latin. I then earned my master’s degree in Theological Studies, and Ph.D. in Religious Studies. The common thread tying these various disciplines together is their concentration on languages and texts.

Tell us about your teaching and your present position at OU.

I have been an assistant professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (Religious Studies Program) and the College of Professional and Continuing Studies since fall 2008. I teach three courses per semester and my teaching load is evenly distributed between the two colleges.

Beginning this past academic year (2012-2013), all of my courses for each college were taught fully online. More and more as I think about teaching, it is only in regard to an online environment. I find that I am becoming more vocal about online teaching and, unlike in the past, mention that I teach online (or fully online) to other academics in the so-called traditional university setting. I do this, I think, because I see many of its benefits for my students. I tell people that my students’ discussion posts are far richer than what I have experienced in face-to-face teaching.

My students have choices (within limits!) as to when they complete the assignments for the class. I like the fact that my courses offer an alternative to having to come to campus and that I can help to facilitate the education of interested students who for one reason or another (job, family or disability) are unable to attend face-to-face classes. I also have the sense that my students, too, appreciate this alternative type of learning opportunity. The downside, of course, is that we have no “snow days”!

“These tangible items bring you into direct contact with the past, something that textbooks, cannot do. There is something quite unique and thrilling about uncovering a coin buried for more than 1,500 years. With a dig of an ancient site, history is not simply something about which one reads but can be seen and touched.”

The goal in all my classes is to challenge my students to think and to develop good writing skills. I aim to make the course content and materials relevant and engaging. The heart of all of my classes is the discussion board, yet there is always a large writing component as well. I strive to give students as much feedback as I can.

All of my courses concern some aspect of religion. My “bread and butter” course is The Bible as Literature, taught at PACS as an eight-week survey of the main books of the Bible (Jewish and Christian scriptures). The course entails readings from the Bible and from textbooks aimed to provide an historical perspective to the books of the Bible, discussions and weekly short essay assignments.

As one might expect from my research interest, I teach an undergraduate survey course for A&S on the Apostle Paul. In that same venue, I teach a course on biblical women within the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and another course on Jesus and popular culture. That course is titled, Jesus On Screen and Off, and concerns depictions of Jesus in films dating from the early 20th into the 21st century. I also teach a master’s level course for PACS called Religious Leaders for Social Justice. In that course, we review the writings of some of the world’s great religious leaders/thinkers such as Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and discuss factors that influenced their rise to a position of prominence. More recently, I developed an 8-week PACS undergraduate course called World Religions and Ecology, which looks at the ways in which various religious traditions can and do inform the way we view and value or devalue the earth and the environment.

Have you worked on any special projects since you have been at OU?

Yes, I have. In the spring of 2010, Professor Jodi Magness of UNC Chapel Hill came to OU as a guest lecturer for an OU Dream Course given by a professor in Religious Studies. I just happened to sit next to Jodi during at a faculty lunch and she mentioned to me that she would be starting a new archaeological dig in Israel to unearth the remains of an ancient synagogue. She also mentioned that she was looking for university sponsors for her project. Although I am not an archaeologist by training, the idea of traveling to Israel and taking part in this dig sounded fascinating to me. After considerable effort, I was able to put together a month-long summer course for OU students at Jodi’s dig site in Huqoq, Israel.

During each of its three seasons thus far, the dig has uncovered some spectacular finds: we located the eastern wall during the first season and it is tremendously thick and large, indicative of a monumental structure; and during the subsequent two seasons we excavated to the floor and found that it has a mosaic tile covering. The tiles, called tesserae, have images!

Samson-from-Judges-Summer-2012. Nina Livesey, online learning.

The first image uncovered (summer 2012) was of a woman and then of an inscription in Hebrew or Aramaic. And during that same season and also in the summer of 2013, we uncovered images of the biblical Samson twice depicted as a giant (shown above). The scenes are from Judges 15:4–5 (summer 2012) and 16:3 (summer 2013).

Unfortunately, OU Religious Studies can no longer send faculty and students on this particular dig, but the excavation itself will continue for several more years. In addition to working at the dig site, students and staff took part in weekly visits to other archaeological sites in the region of the Galilee. My experiences there are unforgettable.

Archaeological Digs

The archaeological digs pictured were unforgettable times for Dr. Livesey. Faculty, staff, and students spent long days (beginning at 5:00 a.m.) together, living and working in close proximity. On these extended digs, lasting friendships were created and significant artifacts from the past were uncovered including ancient coins from various time periods, pottery and glass and the biggest find of all, the mosaics.

“These tangible items bring you into direct contact with the past, something that textbooks, cannot do. There is something quite unique and thrilling about uncovering a coin buried for more than 1,500 years. With a dig of an ancient site, history is not simply something about which one reads but can be seen and touched.”

Nina Livesey is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Liberal Studies at the University of Oklahoma, as well as co-editor ofForum. She holds a master’s degree in Theological Studies and a doctorate in Biblical studies. More information about her publications, courses and research can be found on her website.


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The College of Professional and Continuing Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.