(A litle context: I’m part of a certificate program in Online and Blended Learning Design, through Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School. This post originally appeared on the Open Day School site, which is devoted to Online and Blended learning, and is affiliated with the Yeshiva University School Partnership program.)
As I explore the universe of online/blended learning (OBL), what strikes me is that there are so many different models being tested. We are pioneers in creating new modes of learning and student engagement. I’m positive that there will never be agreement on one type of platform, and that educational institutions will take the methods that work best for them. We truly are entering into an age of modular education defined by the one-size does not fit all ethic.
Full time formal educational programs (whether based in a brick and mortar structure, or creating a hybrid virtual/face to face experience) have time, room and maybe even the resources to experiment. My concern is the world of part-time Jewish complimentary education, especially congregational schools. These once or twice a week programs have a special challenge: the students are “not in the building” everyday. There is a different motivational element here as well. They are not legally compelled to attend religious school. They come if their parents are engaged in Jewish life, and/or to achieve that golden ring in modern North American Judaism: the bar/bat mitzvah certificate. For most of the institutions, there is also a lack of staff and resources to truly experiment with and deveolop different approaches to learning. How do we make certain that the promise of OBL can be fulfilled in these settings?
This is not to say that no one is experimenting with blended learning models in synagogue settings. There are. Some, like Behrman House’s Online Learning Center provide students and teachers with ready made environments, resources and curriculum. Some synagogues are experimenting with live-streaming their classes to distance learners who can’t physically be in class. Some educators are experimenting with developing post-B’nai Mitzvah courses using blended leaning paradigms. Skype is being experiment with in a number of synagogues around the country to enhance and augment Hebrew instruction.
The question that should be asked when we introduce new tools and technologies concerns goals and costs. Are we trying to correct a problem, or enhance motivation, or solve a financial issue, or all of the above? Does the introduction of OBL in a synagogue contain a risk of adversely impacting the sense of community? How do we make sure that learning from afar doesn’t result in a decline of f2f community (if maintaining earth-based relationships is a goal)? There are those educators who fear that OBL can lead to a situation where people would opt out of coming to the brick and mortar synagogue structure because learning online is more convenient. These are all valid concerns, and there are no simple answers or solutions.
So, we experiment. We see what works. We adapt OBL models from full-time education into the realities of part-time synagogue education. Challenges notwithstanding, we do need to move forward to develop learning models that can reach all the different types of learners, both children and adult. The formal learning structure might be part-time, but perhaps the online/blended learning paradigm can provide the environment for more full-time engagement in Jewish learning.
Peter Eckstein began his career a Jewish educator in 1982 on Kibbutz Ketura, working with children of all ages and serving as the kibbutz Education Coordinator. In 1993 upon returning to the U.S. he became the Director of Education and Programming at Temple Israel in West Palm Beach. Currently he is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens. In addition, serves as the Technology Integration Educator for the Friedman Commission for Jewish Education.He was very active with the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education as programming co-chair, Shabbat chair and conference chair for several conferences. He has taught professional development for educators, Judaic adult education classes, and the Palm Beach County’s “Introduction to Judaism” course for those seeking to become part of the community. He is specializing in teaching educators how to integrate Education Technology into the Jewish classroom. He has also served on the faculty at URJ Camp Coleman as an informal Jewish educator.Peter is fascinated by how technology and experiential education will aid in the transmission of Jewish awareness to the next generations
Latest posts by Peter Eckstein (see all)
- Bringing the Sand Home – Take Aways From the RealSchool Summer Sandox - July 22, 2013
- Playing in the Sand: Getting Ready for the RealSchool Summer Sandbox - July 7, 2013
- Swimming Lessons - March 4, 2013