Latest update: May 1st, 2014
Orthodoxy is often perceived as resistant to change, but the vibrancy of many Orthodox day schools indicates otherwise. In my experience as an educator, Orthodox schools are interested in exploring different types of educational formats. In particular, online learning is becoming an increasingly important component of day school frameworks. Schools incorporate E-learning for a variety of reasons:
● Online learning enables schools to incorporate Israeli educators who have expertise in particular subjects and can offer an Israeli flavor to the learning.
● Computer activities allows for differentiated learning.
● Partnerships can be established between Jewish classrooms in North America and Israeli classrooms.
● Day schools can combine classes, including sex-segregated groups in which boys and girls participate in the same online class but don’t meet or interact in “real time.”
● The variety of available online tools creates a dynamic classroom environment that fosters increased student participation.
● Online learning promotes collaborative learning in which students have numerous opportunities to interact with their peers and use their classmates’ knowledge, comments, and research to enhance their own knowledge of a subject
● There are more and varied opportunities for teachers to assess student progress and for the students themselves to evaluate their own progress.
Over the past year I have been involved with JETS, Jerusalem EdTech Solutions, an organization that offers online educational programming to Jewish day schools throughout North America. These schools span the Jewish spectrum, but it’s clear that increasing numbers of Orthodox schools are adding E-learning to their curriculum, with encouraging results. The teachers are enthused, the students are engaged, and the depth and strategy of online education allows for deeper, broader, and more intensive learning opportunities.
JETS course options cover a wide range of Jewish and Israel-related curriculum including core curriculum subjects in Tanach and Gemara and issues that impact on students’ connection to the land and state of Israel. Schools use online learning to promote the students’ language acquisition, to reinforce different concepts, and to open up students’ encounters to new worlds and experiences. Web-conferencing enables students to discuss ideas and concepts interactively – often with the facilitator or peers in Israel.
Some schools are reporting significant success in “flipping” their classrooms so that learning activities that could once take place only in the classroom can now be completed in the student’s home, leaving the classroom for teacher-directed learning and more one-on-one interaction.
JETS is presently facilitating a year-long Contemporary Jewish Issues course with Yeshivat Kadimah of St. Louis. Kadimah is a new high school and the classes are still small. JETS and Yeshivat Kadimah established the Contemporary Jewish Issues class as a synchronous class in which the entire student body can participate in the class together, even as the boys’ and girls’ sections remain separate.
Smadar Goldstein, JETS director and the class facilitator, meets with the students twice a week via web-conferencing. She presents the course content and the activities both orally and visually via a Learning Management System (LMS). Students use the LMS to view their assignments, complete their assigned work individually or in small groups, track their own progress, receive and respond to teacher and peer comments, and make use of a variety of evaluation tools to assess their achievement.
The Contemporary Jewish Issues class has always been one of most popular JETS programs. In presenting the class to Yeshivat Kadimah, JETS is taking the course one step further by incorporating reflections on Jewish heritage – the students examine multiple aspects of Jewish history in the light of current events that are impacting on Israel and on the Jewish world. The multi-generational discussion includes the opinions of historical Jewish leaders and thinkers, textual study, and biblical and rabbinic perspectives.
The course began with an overview of the destruction of the 2nd Beit HaMikdash and the political and nationalistic aspirations of some of the various Jewish groups of the era. Using online polls, research tools and shared documents, the students are able to review the historical background of the era, examine the decisions that the Jews were forced to make, and apply their knowledge to today’s land for peace controversy.
The course has gone on to cover a wide range of additional subjects that are as pertinent to the present day as they were to the Jews of previous centuries. The topics include acculturation and assimilation, law and morality, universalism and particularism, Intellectual openness, creating a modern Jewish army, Jewish medical ethics, and democracy.
One of the most innovative aspects of the E-learning course involves the students’ ability to create their own projects and share them with their peers. Students work on their own projects while simultaneously reviewing the work of their peers. This adds to each participant’s overall understanding of the subjects under discussion.
Last November the yeshiva invited parents to a meeting at which they were introduced to the E-learning class in which their children were participating. Parents were able to observe how the students are enjoying a highly effective classroom environment that promotes their understanding of complex issues. Everyone came away highly impressed.
“The way you’re learning is unbelievable,” said one attendee. “Taking what you’re good at – modern technology, chat rooms, discussion forums – and turning it into online educational experiences is something I never could have done and yet you clearly are learning so much.”
Editor’s Note: For more information on the Jewish Educators Awards click here.
About the Author: Laurie Rappeport lives in Safed, Israel. She is an online Israel and Jewish studies educator for JETS Israel and works with the Jewish Educators Awards (http://www.jewisheducatorawards.org) to increase the visibility of online education in the Jewish educational landscape.
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