By: Galli Aizenmann
Over the last few years, AVI CHAI has been interested in stimulating the development of online Jewish studies offerings for both middle and high school students at day schools.
To that end, we have been funding the work of the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (LVJA), an online school dedicated to providing quality Jewish education to Jewish day school students as well as to select motivated Jewish learners throughout North America. A project of the Lookstein Center, LVJA (previously known as JOLTT—The Jewish Online Learning, Teaching, and Training Center) has been developing online Jewish studies courses since 2011 and to date has brought these courses to nearly 40 Jewish day school and over 450 Jewish day school students.
By enrolling in a LVJA course, a school accesses an excellent, high-quality course that their students participate in asynchronously. The course is fully delivered by experienced educators who form one part of the LVJA course development team, which is comprised of master educators, academic advisors, educational technologists and multimedia specialists. Students engage in both independent and collaborative coursework through the use of a learning management system (LMS) and web conferencing. LVJA regularly runs multiple cohorts of each of its classes in order to ensure that each school and/or student is able to find a class and instructor that match their level and interests.
An evaluation of these courses – funded by AVI CHAI and conducted by two online learning experts, Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt – found that the course design is sound and rigorous. Student evaluations, too, were positive. 92.3% of students in one of the courses “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they “learned more in this course than from other school classes in the same discipline.”
The courses provide an academically rigorous examination of a range of topics to supplement and differentiate day schools’ curricula. This affordable and innovative form of instruction also serves the goal of bringing quality Jewish education to Jewish students everywhere, regardless of geographic location or ideological orientation. One example of the courses available is “The Emergence of Modern Israel,” a popular course developed by David Bernstein, Dean of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. It is described in the course catalogue: “In this modern Israel history course, students will study the history of modern Israel from the rise of the Zionism movement to the present. Following an exploration of the historical and ideological foundations of Zionism, students will then trace the political and institutional development of the yishuv, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the events of the decades following. Issues discussed will include the evolving Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflict, relationships with world powers, the political system, religion and society, the place of minorities in Israeli society, and the quest for Israeli identity. Through the study of scholarly texts, primary sources, and virtual field trips, students will gain a richer understanding of modern Israeli history and its current position in international politics and the Jewish community.”
LVJA has developed seven new courses and four new mini-courses which will begin in the fall. Please see the LVJA course catalog for a list of all the courses and contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to enroll for the fall.
At AVI CHAI, we believe that the educational opportunities afforded by blended and online learning are an important piece of providing a strong 21st century education to day school students. We are excited that Judaic offerings are being made available as well. We hope that your school is able to take advantage of this opportunity.