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. 

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