I spent a couple of days last week with a few dozen avid Accordance Bible Software users and members of the team from Oak Tree Software. David Lang's last "top 10" reason to attend the conference ("Become a power user of Accordance 9") was the encouragement I needed, together with an astonishingly cheap flight/hotel deal from Orbitz. Off to Dallas I went.
Prof. Rick Mansfield has written a great review of the conference as a whole. I concur with everything there, except I'm a good bit less interested in mobile computing than he is (otherwise I'm completely normal). Since I attended a couple of the sessions that he did not mention, I thought I would report on those here and then offer some thoughts for next year.
Dr. Tim Jenny (a.k.a. "Dr. J.") did a session on Building Custom Workspaces. If you missed it, you can catch his podcast on the topic and/or download his notes from this Accordance forum (maybe, at last check they weren't there yet). The best part of this for me was his quick differentiation of these elements of a workspace: zones, windows, panes, tabs. Each of these elements behaves a bit differently from the others. You can combine them in ways that make sense for whatever project you're working on and then save different workspace configurations for different projects.
The addition of zones in Accordance 9 makes the Accordance workspace amazingly flexible without being so busy you get lost in your own resources. I love the ability to have a lexicon and analysis details open alongside my texts. I have also discovered that the maps open now by default in a separate zone. No more clicking tabs back and forth to see these resources while reading Scripture.
Presentations & Accordance
Rev. Tom Childers did a session on working with Accordance as a Presentation Tool. Rev. Childers mentioned "Slide Show" mode (available in the Window menu), but he spent most of the session demonstrating how one could work with a dual display to have notes and a "busier" Accordance workspace on a computer while a cleaner text-only window could be displayed on a projector. There were lots of general tips on presentation style too ("Have a backup plan." "Know your equipment.")
The session offered a great example of the way many of us use Accordance alongside a number of other tools. It doesn't make sense to try to turn Accordance into Keynote or PowerPoint. If you need a static map in a presentation, it makes sense to export an image into a presentation that you build in one of those programs. On the other hand, if you want to scroll through a Scripture reading for people, especially with parallel texts, or you need the flexibility of showing texts or places on a map "on the fly" with an audience, Accordance can be running on your computer and simultaneously looking good on a projector.
The Construct Window
If they had not been offered at the same time, I would have attended both the Graphical Resources workshop and the Construct Window workshop. Alas, until the Accordance software team turns its attention to time travel, choices like this will need to be made. I went to David Lang's Construct Window workshop. Great pedagogy here! David started by showing us a search performed with the search entry box, then showed us how to do the same search in the construct window, then how to add new elements to refine results of that search again within the construct window.
After the session, I'm not as scared of the construct window as I was before it. I still routinely get error messages when I try to use it, but I've found (wait for it...) it helps to read the error messages instead of just clicking them away. They really are error-specific and they often help me understand what I've done wrong. Reading through the hits also helps clarify what I need to do either to limit a search further or to back off certain limits in order to see what I'm looking for. Looking down the list of hits, I quickly see what Accordance thought I wanted (that is, what I actually asked for), and I can see how it is like or not like what I am actually after.
Ideas for Next Year
Keep Multiple Formats
This year's conference featured plenary sessions, "light" and "heavy" tracks of how-to sessions, and panel discussions. The variety, in my view, was just right. I'd love to see similar variety in future conferences. The evening session on a related topic but not on Accordance per se also worked very well.
'More is More' in terms of Presenter Preparation
The sessions worked best when presenters had examples "up their sleeve" as it were, and not so well when they depended on examples from the audience. Maybe we audience members were unprepared. Maybe we did not want to monopolize a session with what might be either too simple or too arcane a request. For whatever reason, more than once the energy went out of a session—at least for a moment—when the presenter said, "What about you? What would you like to see?" I know presenters were trying to involve us, but something about it seemed to make everyone quiet. From Rick's assessment of the last session (which I had to miss in order to catch a flight), it sounds like that session, too, was a good idea that got a little derailed by a similar dynamic.
I'm not sure if a decision was made, conference-wide, not to have handouts, but if so, I'd urge presenters to reconsider this for two reasons.
- If you have to produce a handout for your session, you as the presenter have to get clearer on what you are trying to accomplish. You cannot as easily give in to the temptation to punt (or so I'm told).
- A few screenshots or tips on a one-page handout can help session participants take notes and help them recall the session highlights much later. Without such a handout, much more is likely to be quickly forgotten.
I'm not asking for a photocopy of every presenter's slides or a dozen screen shots. In fact, that would be less helpful than what I want, which is just what will fit on one page per session. These could then be posted to the forums for users who couldn't make it to the conference.
Progress on Learning Goals & More
I wanted two things from the conference.
- I wanted to come home with an enhanced capacity for doing my own scholarly work in Accordance, especially given the updates of Accordance in version 9.
- I wanted to learn the program well enough to teach my Luther Seminary students how to use it in Greek and exegesis classes.
I made progress on both of these goals. And while it wasn't part of a learning goal, exactly, it was a great pleasure to make the acquaintance of the real people/rock stars behind the software and the support provided for it. Thanks to all of those who put this event together.