Thursday, September 27, 2012

Extending Jewish Education in Eastern Europe:
Warsaw Teachers Learn the Art of Online Instruction …. Online!
R. Stan Peerless, JETS

The challenge of reviving the remnants of Central and Eastern European Jewish communities has been taken on in recent decades by the Lauder Foundation. The Foundation has developed a network of Jewish day schools to service the primary centers of Jewish population. Yet, an additional challenge has emerged in recent years – how to reach the considerable number of Jewish students who live outside of larger population centers?

The Lauder Foundation believes that the solution to this challenge lies in modern technology that enables distance learning through the use of easily accessible computer conferencing platforms. The Foundation recently embarked on an experimental program designed to train teachers in the Lauder Morasha School in Warsaw to acquire the skills of online teaching. The goal of the program is to empower the Lauder Morasha School staff to teach students in remote areas through distance learning programs that include both Jewish and general studies. How do these Polish teachers learn about online teaching? Of course, they themselves are engaged in online learning.

In establishing the program, the Lauder Foundation consulted with JETS (Jerusalem Ed Tech Solutions), a Jerusalem based Judaic distance and online learning provider. JETS conducts a similar program called JconnecT which enables students in smaller Jewish communities throughout North America to learn about Judaism together in the same virtual classroom on Sunday mornings. Seven Lauder Morasha teachers participated in a series of webinars conducted by JETS director, Smadar Goldstein, to learn how they can implement the JconnecT model in their locale. In the first few webinars, Smadar guided the Polish teachers through the use of the Elluminate computer conferencing platform and a variety of online learning tools that facilitate student engagement, enhanced student oral and written response, foster cooperative learning, and facilitate authentic assessment. After observing best practices modeled by Smadar, the participants practiced using the tools in their own lesson preparation. In subsequent webinars, the Polish teachers, who have already begun their online teaching, have had the opportunity to deal with their actual questions and concerns by sharing and discussing their online successes and challenges with Smadar and each other. As Smadar puts it, "Our goal is to create an online professional learning community that can provide knowledge, skills, and ongoing support for these budding online teachers."

The Lauder Morasha teachers have expressed their satisfaction with their own learning process.

I learned the ‘how to’s’ of being a successful online teacher!

I’m excited to do all these activities with my students!

I think that my success are smiling faces of my students singing with me and that they can say something in hebrew it's only few words but on the other side they'are only 6 year old :)

My students and I really liked the icebreakers! It helps create an online community. I didn’t think we’d be able to, but we did! They said they can’t wait for the next session...thank you!

Online learning has indeed made the world a smaller place. Teachers in Warsaw can now impact on students in remote parts of Poland, with a little help from their colleague in Jerusalem.

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