Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jewish Online Experiential Learning

Few educators will argue that informal learning is assuming an expanding new centrality in contemporary life. Such learning alternatives can take the form of any of numerous models including day camps, elearning, home schooling, group activities and enrichment programs. According to Dr. Barry Chazan in his recent article "The Philosophy of Informal Jewish Education, "Throughout the ages, the Jewish community has devoted much energy to the establishment and maintenance of a rich educational network. There is little doubt of the link between a strong commitment to education and perpetuation of Jewish literacy, lifestyle, and peoplehood."

Finding informal education opportunities for young learners in the Jewish world is not always simple. Via day schools and congregational afternoon/Sunday Schools Jewish education has, for many, become highly regimented and regulated. Increasing numbers of Jewish schools are, however, beginning to include experiential education in their curriculum as a vehicle for integrating informal education into their formal school framework.

David Bryfman, founder and facilitator of the iCenter and recognized expert on Israel education, experiential Jewish education and technology, summarizes experiential education as combining three elements -- recreation, socialization and challenge. When these elements operate together students can learn, develop and grow through their experiences.

Increasingly, Jewish online educators are examining the challenge of how to integrate elearning tools with Jewish content to provide students with a high quality Jewish experiential learning experience. Regardless of whether a student is learning at home or in her classroom, experiential Jewish learning can expand existing opportunities to provide her with numerous interactive opportunities to explore material in ways which are new and exciting.

Internet classes can take the form of a webinar, in which the students listen to an instructor and follow the instructor's directions as they collaborate on projects and activities.

Even more exciting, however, are today's online learning management systems which provide learning frameworks that match Bryfman's parameters precisely for experiential learning. Educators can (and do) discuss their preferences for such systems which may include WIKIspaces, Moodles, Haikus and other LMS options.

Regardless of the LMS system used, these systems offer the facilitator the opportunity to present material, solicit opinions, create discussion sheets, take polls, request feedback and engage the students with a variety of online tools that meet the definition and concept of experiential education for online learners. In addition the online format enables students from different locations to join together for interactive blended, synchronous or asynchronous learning.

Some other advantages of online experiential learning via a LMS include:
·         The learning is centralized. All content is available to students 24/7 in any location. Multiple students can access the material, which is consistent in delivery and evaluation, at any given point in time.  
·         Delivery and evaluation are consistent. The facilitator can easily design and deploy customized modules and can track the students' progress.   Varied learning strategies can be managed according to each student's unique learning needs via the LMS's power to manipulate the learning pace.
·         Content is easily upgraded, changed, and edited as needed. Students can interact with one another as they explore the material and complete assignments.
·         It's easy to use a LMS which centralizes the course's documentation and administration and records all new uploads instantly.

·         eLearning is a cost-effective alternative for many schools which wish to expand the experiential learning components of their frameworks in an affordable manner.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Keeping on Top of Things

During the recent JEDLAB-JETS online gathering, participants discussed the need for a centralized web presence where Jewish educators will be able to reference the available tools that make online education interactive and engaging.

JEDLAB was created in April 2013 to serve as a network for Jewish educators. JEDLAB members "meet" virtually on the JEDLAB Facebook page to discuss, debate, trade information and exchange ideas to make Jewish education a more challenging and engaging environment for teachers and students.

Throughout the years various Internet websites, forums and web presences representing brick-and-mortar centers have been established. These online spaces were designed to provide teachers with relevant teaching materials to improve their online classroom. A quick perusal of these sources, however, indicates that the sites were built years ago. The information was collected by a center staff member who posted the links and then forgot about the webpage. These resources haven't been updated in years has results in broken links and outdated information.

More distressing, even, these sites don't include the options for Learning Management Systems, virtual blackboards, Wikis and other web tools that form the core of today's elearning classroom. The world of online education is changing almost weekly and the existing lists of resources -- even those that were posted three, four or five years ago, haven't kept up.

When JEDLAB and JETS met on September 16th 2013 to discuss the continuing evolution of Jewish elearning, participants foremost expressed their desire for a centralized inventory of Internet tools which would provide teachers with the guidance that they need to access relevant, state-of-the-art etools. In keeping with the interactive nature of Web 2.0, the registry was envisioned as a collaborative effort. Group members will work together to create such a catalog and will then meet in webinars and PD encounter sessions. During these sessions participants will learn to use new tools and crowdsource on ways in which the tools can be used effectively in the Jewish classroom.     

Tikva Wiener of the Frisch Real School volunteered to begin to collect the information and create a realtime web presence on the RealSchool website. In conjunction with this list Jerusalem EdTech Solutions will be running a series of webinars as well as a year-long course of collaborative interactive design which will help Jewish educators facilitate the use of these tools in their classrooms. Presenters and moderators for these sessions include some of the most important and vibrant voices in the field of 21st century Jewish elearning including Tikvah Wiener of RealSchool and Smadar Goldstein of JETS.

Both the year-long PD course and the webinars are scheduled to begin in November 2013. Signup is via each course's webpage.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

JWA, JETS and JEDLAB Meet to Advance Jewish eLearning

The first JEDLAB-inspired webinar occurred on Sept 16th, hosting 16 Jewish educators from around the globe. Veteran EdTech educators Etta King, Education Program Manager at Jewish Women's Archive and Smadar Goldstein, Founder and co-Director of Jerusalem EdTech Solutions (JETS), coordinated this online learning hangout to talk about how technologically-adept educators can learn from each other and bring newcomers into the elearning world. 
The group, which included both day school and afternoon school teachers, online educators, administrators, educational coaches and other professionals met for a participant-driven, collaborative discussion about online professional development in the Jewish educational community. Etta King opened the session by describing her wish to find new and creative ways to develop and implement curriculum that focuses on Jewish values, Jewish heroes and social justice. Her previous conversations about online learning have been within the JEDLAB community as well as within her own organization, and now she threw open the question of how to involve more participant-educators with the goal of creating a structured program of professional development which could establish universal objectives for online learning.
The participants expressed interest in an online class as a good way for Jewish educators to advance together. Such a class would allow for collaboration and a process learning experience that could strengthen teachers' skills for coping with varied classroom situations. In addition, the webinar participants noted that, in the same way that students learn best when they apply a skill or concept immediately, teachers will also increase their teaching skills when they can acquire new information in an online PD class and apply it in their domain within days, without having to go through a long period of planning before implementation.

The webinar participants offered concrete solutions. One idea was based on the website in which a community of people interact online for a shared goal. This type of framework could be specifically helpful to lay leaders and other non-professional educators who are teaching in Jewish educational frameworks but lack an education background.

A second suggestion involved educational forums that teach different concepts through a video, discussion, assignment and opportunity for participants to examine each other's work. Such a format provides constant feedback and, in an expression that was repeated several times during the class, enables educators to learn from each other by "peeking into each other's classrooms."

Hang-out participants were asked to note which type of tools they know how to use. One educator mentioned the DangerouslyIrrelevant website which draws information from classrooms and educators around the country. The site keeps teachers up-to-date on new technologies and tools while emphasizing that education will always depend more on the educators than on the tools themselves. 

In summary, the question focused on the core of the webinar -- how can Jewish educators use online professional development opportunities to gain from each other?

The session ended when the group broke up into break-out groups to discuss how to move forward to share resources and information, both individually and among the larger JEBLAB community.

Etta King's group decided to look at the larger picture in deciding which gaps need to be filled so that the new PD course doesn't end up reinventing the wheel. JEDLAB should serve as a clearinghouse for learning "what's out there, especially in light of the fact that technology is always changing and educators must stay abreast of the changes. Accessing materials should be easy to ensure that teachers don't need to recreate the same materials and same lesson plans and can use the time and energy to create new materials. Tikvah Wiener, who will be moderating the November webinar has already begun to gather resources on the Frisch RealSchool blog.  

The suggestion was made to create a platform which will allow teachers to contribute their materials and lessons and will enable other educators to access those materials at will. There can be different categories including categories for beginning and advanced teachers, day schools, afternoon schools, etc.

The second group, facilitated by JETS' co-Director Smadar Goldstein, discussed the feasibility of creating a series of webinars in which each participant would facilitate a session in a specific area of expertise.  Each webinar could be given on a different platform so participants would also be introduced to different platforms as part of the program.

The session ended with the promise to set up a blog with a calendar so that all participants, as well as new people who want to join the conversation, can stay abreast of the schedule for 2013-2014 PD classes.

Educators are invited to share their knowledge at an upcoming webainr. Please sign up here.

The next PD session will be held on November 11th 2013 at 11:00a.m. EST :

  • Twitter Tests?: Using Social Media in the Classroom. Presenter: Tikvah Wiener, founder of RealSchool

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Technology in a 21st Century Classroom

How important is it to include technology in today's classroom?

This question was recently examined by the New York Times which recently printed acritique of ipad education by Carlo Rotella, director of American studies at Boston College. Rotella, who himself doesn't even allow laptops into his university classrooms, set out to examine the effects, both positive and negative, of using tablets for students' class work, homework and educational games.

Rotella travelled to Guilford County, North Carolina, where the school district has embarked on an ambitious program that will provide all of this year's middle school students with a tablet device.  He spoke to district teachers and elearning facilitators and then moved on to speak to other individuals who are involved in online education in America' s schools. These included conversations with Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York Public School System and presently the head of the company that makes Amplify tablets, representatives of the United States Department of Education, educational research psychologists, experts on education and technology and even a neuroscientist specializing in the study of adolescent brain development.

Rotella admits that he is a skeptic of elearning, especially as it relates to elementary and young teen learners. But he noted the benefits of tablet learning which include:
·         Elearning makes personalization possible in the classroom. It provides the possibility for immediate feedback to both student and the teacher who can then make timely decisions about how to proceed with the lesson, when to work with individuals and when to work with groups, etc.
·         Entire units of curriculum can be loaded on the tablet in advance of a lesson or can be sent out as an instant update. This accommodates students as they work at their individual paces.
·         There is a wide variety of educational tools available for research, discussion, practice and demonstration of mastery to allow students to approach their studies from various angles. The teacher can then move into the role of a mentor who provides each student with individual assistance as needed
·          School districts spend less money on textbooks
·         eGames support personalized learning. Personalized learning matches game logic respond to what a player does. A game is arranged in series of increasingly difficult challenges to fit the sequencing of curriculum. (i.e. When you conquer the fractions level, you move up to the algebra level.)

One of Rotella's concerns related to the "discussion" aspect of tablet learning as opposed to real-time face-to-face conversations that would occur in a non-elearning class. As many teachers have discovered however, blended learning addresses this concern by incorporating elements of online learning with traditional frontal teaching, group activities and classroom interactions.   

Rotella examined tablet learning in a general format but for the Jewish classroom,elearning has many similar applications. Students can engage in core curriculum subjects such as gemorrah, chumash and Jewish history or may expand to explore subjects such as tikkun olam, Contemporary Jewish Issues, the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, varying Jewish communities and even questions about Basic Judaism through interactive online lessons. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are You Team Zakkai or Team Saccari?

Who should rule over the Land of Israel? What should the Jewish government's relationship be with foreign powers? Does being a Jewish patriot mean that one should agree with everything that the leaders say? What is the "right" Jewish leadership anyway?

Interestingly enough, these questions have been debated by Jews throughout the millennium and students can now take part in this discussion via today's distance learning framework.

Kadima, a St. Louis Jewish Day School, has brought these and other issues into their Jewish history class as the students examine relationship between the Sacarii -- a Jewish group of rebels who terrorized the local population into revolting against the Romans -- and the followers of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who led a more moderate faction in 1st century C.E. Jerusalem.

After learning about the origins and philosophies of the two groups the students were encouraged to put their own spin into the discussion.

Why did the Sicarii believe as they did? Were they right to take their struggle to the extreme "in the name of G-d." How might the Sicarii be called today?

Using a wide range of online tools the Kadima students have begun to delve into the history, and the dilemmas, of the era. Students participate in an online poll to decide how to describe the Sicarii -- political assassins? Terrorists? Fascists? Zealots?  -- and to think about what they would do in such a circumstances. They share their thoughts and ideas on the Haiku board which the class uses as a Learning Management System for the class.

The students studied Yirmiyahu's letter to the exiles and then were encouraged to compose their own letter with advice and warnings. The class compared Yirmiyahu's letter to an early 20th century writing by Rebbe Meir Simcha of Dvinsk and then reviewed the Roman expulsion of the Jewish from Jerusalem to subsequent expulsions and persecutions.

The Kadima class is unique in that the school's boys and girls learn separately. Using online tools however, the classes can participate as one unit. The class meets with the boys in one room and the girls in another as they all have access to the teacher simultaneously and can study, explore, provide feedback and comment on the same online forum.  

The course evaluation involves a choice of writing a skit about the historical period, creating a history game for the class, creating a wikiproject or creating a multi-media project. Students may also suggest their own final project based on the approval of the instructor.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Jewish Distance Learning

I doubt that the old Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks movie "You've Got Mail" ever considered the possibilities that could arrive in one's inbox every morning. After all, the move was made in 1998 when email was basically communication between two individuals.

Today we get a little bit of everything in our daily emails that we can mull over with our morning cup of coffee. This includes, I recently discovered, daily tips and crowdsourcing advice for online educational strategies and techniques.

Using the Haiku Learning Management System (LMS) the JETS year-long PD course is now underway as educators check in to learn what new tips are available for their online classes and how their colleagues manage various Internet tools to increase class effectiveness.

Every time a participant posts in the Haiku room the rest of us receive a "You've got Haiku Mail" notification so that we're notified that there's new data which we can investigate and  explore as well as comment on our colleagues' posts.

I took the basic No Teacher Left Behind course last year for an overview of online educational methods. During this course I learned how to manage online blackboards and other learning tools that would motivate the students to look at old material in new ways.

Now I've signed up for the year-long course which is where my morning mail comes from.

A learning management system, such as Haiku, organizes and administers information for an online class as the class progresses through the semester, or through the year. Rather than try to commit all of the past posts, comments, information, documents, homework assignments and other data to memory the Learning Management System tracks and reports this information for us. In the same way that we learned how to manage an online blackboard by actually experimenting with the process during our first PD course, we are now moving on to develop the ability to manage a LMS by activating it during our year-long course.

The course started in early September. It is a combination of a review of information that we had previously learned as well as new ideas and concepts.  We began with a review of the Linoboards, a great interactive online learning tool for students of all ages. The course instructor, Smadar Goldstein, provided links to show some of her own Linoboards that she's used in her own courses as well as some of the linoboards that other students have created.

We have also reviewed how to make an Animoto video and looked at one that Smadar made for a class on Tikkun Olam.  I can hardly believe that it could be so user-friendly, especially for non-techie types (like me) but the instructions seem straight-forward so it's  worth giving it a try.

I particularly appreciated the other teachers who shared their lists of resources and web tools-- I have always promised myself to make such a list but never did so these lists and "how to" tutorials will be very useful.

Next on the agenda is to crowdsource some good lesson plans for my next unit. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Web-Based Education in the Jewish Classroom

 So "what's the big deal about online education?"

It's true, that sentiment is heard less and less as increasing numbers of educators, parents and students become aware of benefits that come from including online education as part of an educational program. However there are still people who wonder, if schools managed nicely for so many years without computers, why the introduction of distance learning is of value.

This is particularly true in the world of Jewish education, both for day schools and for afternoon enrichment classes. Jewish schools tend toward tradition and that seems to account for many schools' reluctance to rely on the Internet for their educational programming. As administrators, teachers and parents see the benefits of online and blended learning programs their presence seems assured to grow within the Jewish educational system.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Education study analyzed blended education and reported that "in recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective." The potential for blended and other forms of online education in the Jewish classroom increases the program's effectiveness, taking into account the unique needs and opportunities of the Jewish educational system.

Recent advancements which involve including blended learning in Jewish schools include:

The Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJE) presently includes three Jewish schools, Yeshivat He’Atid of Bergen County which launched in September 2012 and Tiferet Academy and Westchester Torah Academy which are just opening their doors this September. These schools rely heavily on blended learning to provide their student population with a high quality Jewish and secular education as they keep the tuition costs well below that of mainstream Jewish Day Schools. Long-term studies of this project will not be available for several years but in the short-term the school's supporters believe that the framework enables them to provide their students with a high quality learning environment which enhances student learning as it provides educators with tools to provide the students with a personalized learning experiences and evaluations.  

A three year study is underway at both Frisch and Yeshivat Noam to evaluate the effects of technology on Jewish education. The schools are committed to blended learning and find that it offers a high quality learning model for the majority of their students. At Frisch, via the RealSchool curriculum, students in every grade participate in a Wiki platform that integrates the various disciplines into broad themes and enables them to use this platform to create learning content while the students interact with their peers. The project includes the use of ipads and ibooks for both limudei kodesh and secular education.

The JconnecT Learning program is aimed at Jewish adolescents and pre-teens who would like to have a Hebrew School enrichment experience but either don't live in close proximity to a congregational school or have not integrated into such a framework. JconnecT students, including homeschooling Jewish students, meet every Sunday morning for a Sunday Morning Live class in which they are exposed to Hip Hop Hebraics conversational Hebrew and thoughtful introduction to and analysis of Conventional Jewish Issues. The JconnecT program partners with the Margolin Hebrew Academy of Memphis and students are invited to spend two Shabbatons at the Academy to meet and enjoy a Shabbat experience with their peers.  

Jerusalem EdTech Solutions (JETS) partners with Jewish Day Schools, afternoon schools and other public and parochial schools to present a wide range of Jewish and Israel-themed synchronous and asynchronous classes. The classes include subjects such as an analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tikkun Olam, Hip Hop Hebraics, the Ethiopian community in Israel, Jewish environmentalism, Jewish and Israel history and overviews of Jewish cultures and traditions. The program also pairs Israeli classrooms with North American classrooms in a "Shutafut" program which allows Israeli and North American students to "meet" each other virtually as they complete assignments and share ideas, concepts and impressions.