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Date: 2017-06-07 Hour: 15:15
The Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy has once again been named one of North America’s top 50 innovative Jewish organizations in the twelfth annual Slingshot Guide (2017). Lookstein Virtual brings substantive Jewish learning opportunities to students in Jewish day schools, synagogue schools, and public schools worldwide.
Lookstein Virtual is a new model in Jewish education: an innovative, financially sustainable online school that teaches a broad range of high-quality Jewish studies classes to a wide variety of students. Lookstein Virtual seeks ways to harness technology to improve and democratize Jewish education. It is dedicated to bringing quality online Jewish education to students everywhere, regardless of geographic location or ideological orientation, and to supporting Jewish schools, synagogues, and families by providing affordable, innovative, and flexible instruction.
In the mid-1990s, a few dozen intrepid high school students enrolled in what were likely the first fully online high school courses. Fast forward twenty years later. It’s hard to think of students who take online courses as educational pioneers anymore. Taking an online course to fill a Biology, Math, or even Talmud credit seems run of the mill. After all, adults enroll in online courses all the time—to pass the DMV requirements, to learn how to use that new software for work, or to study Renaissance poetry in a MOOC. It’s only commonsensical that schools would harness this mode of teaching as well.
In fact, over 2.2 million K-12 school students enroll in online courses annually. The vast majority of the students come from the public system, but hundreds of thousands of students from private and charter schools also enroll. Jewish day schools sign up their students as well, though on a smaller scale. While 4% of all American public school students take an online course, less than 1%t of Jewish day school students enroll in an online course for either General or Jewish Studies. Jewish day schools began experimenting with online learning less than a decade ago, and at this point, several thousand Jewish day school students participate in online learning courses every year. This number is steadily growing.
Jewish day schools choose to supplement their instruction with online learning for a range of reasons. In North America, the close to 900 schools cater to communities of different sizes and denominations, varying degrees of wealth, and entirely distinct missions and visions. Each school, of course, has its own unique motivations for using online learning, but their reasons generally fall into two overarching categories: 1) resource extension and 2) instructional solutions.
What does that mean exactly? Many day schools, especially in large metro areas, are blessed with a robust set of curricular, instructional, and financial resources. They do not “need” online learning per se. However, administrators have come to realize that online learning presents them with opportunities for students that are rarely found elsewhere. For instance, when students from different backgrounds, perspectives, and geographic locations, come together to study Jewish texts and ideas week after week, they are not only building their analytic skills, but they broaden their worldview and gain a deeper understanding of the global community in general, and the Jewish global community in specific. Another opportunity that large schools are often excited about is immersing their students into 21st century environments with a Jewish twist. In an online classroom, students develop crucial skills that will prepare them for the future, skills that cannot be mastered in a purely face-to-face classroom.
Schools with small student populations or limited resources find that online learning can be truly transformative in their institutions. With online learning, these schools can transcend their natural limitations and provide Jewish studies at multiple levels, in varying learning styles and with a range of course content. For a relatively small financial outlay, they can create individualized learning paths for their students.
All Jewish schools, large and small, face a unique set of circumstances including curricular, scheduling, staffing, and differentiation challenges. These challenges require solutions that will not only resolve the situation at hand, but will address long-term issues of sustainability and affordability. Every school we speak with has students who are in need of something different, be it a different subject, level, schedule, or learning style. By adopting online learning to overcome specific problems, schools expand their resources and can be sure that they are meeting the needs of each and every student.
So how do schools actually make it happen? There are many models for implementing online learning that serve to meet various needs. We suggest that each school carefully evaluate their exact goals in order to determine which model will work best. Piloting with a small group of strong students is a great way to move from the theoretical, and see if and how it can succeed in your school. In our work at Lookstein Virtual, we see the range of schools–those that enroll one student, those that enroll a small group of students, and those that enroll a full class of students. Often, the solutions that they select to incorporate are some combination of asynchronous learning (not-live) and synchronous learning (virtual sessions with a live instructor). Many schools opt to blend online learning with traditional classroom methods.
Online learning in day schools is still in its infancy. About 10% of the school community uses online learning for General and Jewish Studies learning. Many Jewish educators are still skeptical about online learning, but the tides are turning. As educators research the field, separate the pedagogic rationale from the bells and whistles, and begin to experiment, they will recognize that online learning is a tool that can be harnessed to build on their successful programs. If used strategically, online learning can build on school strengths and can reduce their challenges. When schools think strategically about how online learning can best be used to achieve the mission of their schools, that skepticism will diminish. Online learning is but one tool that has the ability to contribute to a revitalization of the Jewish day school space, bringing student-centered opportunities and resource extension to the forefront.
Chana German is the Director of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy, an online school of Jewish studies for grades 6-12.
To see the original posting featured in MOFET JTEC, Click here…
By Chevi Rubin
In part 1 of this series we put our tech in check and discussed what technology can and cannot do for our students, our teachers, and our classrooms. We shared Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model, which provides a practical framework for teachers thinking about ways to infuse technology into their lesson plans, and we shared three ways that technology has the power to transform our teaching capabilities.
Read part 1 on Increasing Access to learn about the global resources available in every location and for every budget, the power of widening the audience for student work, increased accessibility, and practical classroom tips. Read below for more on Maintaining and Extending Connections, and stay tuned for our next blog post on Improving Quality with Technology.
The Hadassah Foundation has provided generous support to Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy for the creation and implementation of In Their Footsteps: Women’s Leadership in the Bible and Today, a new online high school course for girls. This new course will provide girls across North America with a first-ever opportunity for Bible study with an emphasis on female leaders, combined with hands-on leadership training.
*While not mentioned explicitly in this article, the SAMR Model is commonly used to enable teachers to design, develop, and infuse technology into teaching.
By Chevi Rubin
We have been engaged in conversations with Jewish school teachers, administrators, and funders about educational technology since the early 1990s. We have learned firsthand of schools’ hopes, excitement, and apprehensions with regard to EdTech.
Lately we have started to hear something different.
We are starting to hear tales of disappointment and frustration. Schools were too quick to implement new technologies, too-quick to abandon what was tried and true. It’s almost as if some are just realizing that “technology will never replace great teaching.”
By Ilana Lipman, Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy Director of Curriculum Development
It was about 30 seconds before the bell rang to signal the beginning of class when Matan approached me. “Mrs. Lipman?” I held my breath. Poor Matan. He was such a curious, thoughtful, hard-working student. I knew he had spent more time than any other student studying for the Shmuel Bet test. It seemed almost unfair to write that B- on the top of his exam, yet rubrics are rubrics and Matan had failed to satisfy the requirements that were demanded to attain an A or an A-. Matan knew that many of his peers had likely scored better grades than he, yet he still came to class full of enthusiasm. I mentally prepared myself for Matan to ask how he could improve his grade and how I could answer him without discouraging him. But his comment surprised me. He did not ask me about his grade.
Date: 2016-03-08 Hour: 12:49
Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy, a project of Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, has been named one of North America’s top 50 innovative Jewish organizations in the eleventh annual Slingshot Guide, released this week.
“Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy is honored and inspired to be selected for this year’s Slingshot Guide and recognized as one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in America today,” said Chana German, Director of Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy. “Our team has demonstrated that innovation, passion, and perseverance can be transformative in the Jewish educational landscape. We are thankful to Slingshot, and thrilled to be joining a growing network of organizations that are deeply committed to innovation and bettering the Jewish community.”
There has been much discussion lately about blended learning and its potential promise for day schools. Chana German, who directs the Lookstein Center’s Virtual Jewish Academy and Russel Neiss, director of educational technology at G-dcast, a website that disseminates educational Torah materials, are at the forefront of this debate. Their extended conversation on the Lookjed website for educators is presented here in an edited and condensed format.
By Chevi Rubin
Bringing meaning to online Jewish learning
In our last post we argued that flashy uses of technology alone will not get students to learn material in a deep and meaningful way. This sentiment begs the question, what does? How can online Jewish studies elicit real thought, reflection, and excitement in students?
As Jewish educators we have all taught students who simply love learning. We have been the lucky teachers of classes that eagerly read the Torah portion, anticipate the commentators’ questions, and relish in the centuries old and ongoing conversations that ensue. But we also know and love the students who struggle to connect with the material and want so badly to find personal relevance in their learning.
By Chevi Rubin
Why bells and whistles don’t work and how Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy uses multimedia to enhance learning
A chocolate coating will not get kids to eat broccoli! And in the world of online Jewish education, all the bells and whistles imaginable won’t motivate kids to learn.
As creators of online courses in Jewish studies, Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy is driven by one goal:
To create engaging courses that inspire students to learn the subject matter in a deep and meaningful way.