“Confessions” Brought to Life Through Interactive App



Pippa Leigh

The University introduced an interactive app for Apple and Android devices, enriching St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” at a launch party held on Nov. 13, Augustine’s birthday. As ‘Nova is hailed as the nation’s Augustinian Catholic University, this piece of literature has served as a key text within the Augustine and Culture Seminar classes in the fall of each year, revealing the faith development of this religious figure. 

The idea of creating this app was developed three years ago by Noël Dolan, an alumna of the University and the Director of Academic Learning Communities. “Working with a tablet device showed me the capabilities of technology and the ways in which different learning styles benefitted from audio and visual elements,” Dolan said. “My classes worked with a few apps, one of which was on the Shakespeare play we were reading. I knew the Humanities were beginning to benefit from technology so I wondered if we could ‘open up’ a core text at our university.” Although the Humanities are typically seen as an area of study less technologically-developed than other fields, this app will help bring the study of this philosophical and theological text into the 21st century although Augustine began writing “Confessions” in 395 CE. 

The app has many resources, including a copy of the Maria Boulding translation of the text, several commentaries on each chapter, a gallery of paintings of Augustine, as well as photographs of significant settings still in existence, audio readings of each chapter, including one read by Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D, a timeline of Augustine’s life, and a map of his life journey from Northern Africa into Italy. The text itself gives readers the ability to highlight important areas of the text and leave personal annotations. 

Philosopher and Assistant Director of the Augustine Culture Seminar Program, Gregory Hoskins, revealed his view of the app as a contributor to some of the commentary in terms of the changes it will bring to the classroom. “I think that, in one sense it doesn’t need to change anything at all, which is to say that it is just another way of granting access to the book and this particular translation,” Hoskins said. “However, it also creates a tremendous amount of opportunities and resources for learning about the book which are traditionally more difficult to access.” 

Hoskins, as a contributor, hopes that the commentaries and resources will be most helpful in providing the historical information necessary to truly understand the meaning of the text. He says, “Augustine is writing about the social and political issues of his day and issues within the Church itself. In a number of things he says, he is taking positions on controversial issues. The app is like having an excellent encyclopedia with you while also a reader that you can refer to whenever you need to.” 

Aside from the many scholars within the ‘Nova community, students also took an active role in the app’s development. The technological aspects of the app were designed by  Frank Klassner’s Mobile App Development Class as part of the coursework. The app was finished off and developed by UNIT and lead programmer Chris Backofen, a recent graduate. ACS classes tried out the earliest versions of the app to provide feedback. Dolan revealed that users can look forward to more student contribution in future updates, including a recording of the Pastorals Liturgical Music Group singing a hymn in the style of what Augustine would have heard in the church of St. Ambrose. It was performed at the official launch party.