Online Judaic Studies Learning: Lessons from the Field
By: Galli Aizenman
Since 2010, AVI CHAI has been working on developing online and blended learning in Jewish day schools. Our interest in this area is both because we believe in the potential for education innovation which exists with this kind of learning and also because the online learning model could offer cost savings to the schools.
Within online learning, one of the areas of great interest to us is stimulating the development of online Judaic studies offering at day schools. We recently brought together day school professionals and Judaic studies online course providers for a one-day meeting in our office. The purpose of the meeting was to better understand the needs and interests of day schools with respect to online Jewish courses and to see first-hand some Judaic courses being developed. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation, mixed in with a little apprehension, palpable during the meeting. Excitement at the idea that vendors are developing rich, interactive courses which could supplement or replace the Judaic classes currently offered by day schools and possibly offer cost saving to the schools. Apprehension because it’s still unclear how day schools will integrate online courses into the school day and the kind of “disruption” they will create. Here are a few “take-aways” from our own observations and feedback from the participants at the meeting:
- The field of Judaic online courses is in its infancy and right now there is a disconnect in the market. There are suppliers and buyers but little meeting of the minds. The vendors are developing courses based on what they are good at without much input from the schools and without communication with each other, while the schools are trying to understand their own needs in this area.
- The current field of online Judaic course providers does not have core standards or assessments. These need to be developed if we are to truly enhance the field. Meanwhile, Jewish day schools lack a standardized curriculum for vendors to focus on.
- There is a need to distinguish between using technology for cost savings and as a way to enhance and supplement learning. At the same time, we need to explore the benefits of technology for both.
- The needs of newly-forming virtual or blended schools, which are at the revolution phase of online learning, are very different from traditional schools that are trying to supplement an existing curriculum and are at the evolution phase.
- There was interest in a consortium model approach with teachers from different schools developing online courses to be shared with one another.
- Online learning may cut costs if schools will be able to serve more students with fewer teachers. However, at this point heads of schools are not finding adequate offerings in the online Jewish studies course market to even begin this process.
We at AVI CHAI will consider these observations as we think about our next steps in helping to develop online Judaic Studies courses.
Jon Mitzmacher, the Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, wrote a blog post afterwards. In his post, he wrote that even though there are plenty of families who cannot afford his school’s tuition and are choosing public school, there are also plenty of families who can afford their tuition but are choosing to spend it on elite secular independent schools. He makes the point that lowering the tuition is not going to attract those families but that increasing the quality of the school hopefully will. Mitzmacher is making a choice to focus on increasing the quality of the school and not on lowering tuition. Our hope is that schools which embrace online learning will see both an increase in the quality of the school and a lowering of the tuition.
Galli Aizenman is a Program Officer at The AVI CHAI Foundation.