Jewish Day Schools Look For Online Savings

July 14, 2011

Source: The Jewish Week


Julie Wiener, in the first article of a series on technology in Jewish education, writes in the Jewish Week of the first US Jewish school to offer all of its secular studies via a fully accredited (and state-funded) virtual charter school — enabling it to keep tuition at $7,500, less than half the cost of most American Jewish high schools. Judaic studies at Yeshivas Ohev Shalom in LA are carried out traditionally in face to face classes and hevruta learning. But each afternoon the students log on to their online high school, Kaplan Academy of California, to communicate with their online teachers and learning resources.


She writes:
"As rapidly advancing technology transforms virtually every sector of society, a diverse group of Jewish educational institutions — not generally thought of as early adapters — are increasingly turning their attention to digital tools and resources.


Whether distance learning or online gaming, Skype or Twitter, Google Earth (and a plethora of other free educational apps available at the click of a mouse) or iPads, SMART boards or Smartphones, QR codes or robotics, Jewish day schools and supplementary schools — and their funders — are struggling to sort the useful, cost-effective and engaging from the gimmicky, expensive and simply overwhelming.


Technology has headlined almost every major Jewish education gathering this year, from the North American Jewish Day School Conference (“The High Performance, High-Tech Jewish Day School of the Very Near Future”) to the Conservative movement’s Jewish Educators Assembly (“From Sinai to Cyberspace”) and Reform movement’s North American Association of Temple Educators (“Imagineering Jewish Education for the 21st Century”).


In June, both the Avi Chai Foundation, a major supporter of day schools, and PELIE, a group seeking to improve “complementary” Jewish education (better known as Hebrew school), for the first time sent delegations of teachers to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference. Avi Chai also sent 10 educators to Games For Change, a conference promoting the use of computer games in education.


Rachel Mohl Abrahams, a program officer at Avi Chai, told The Jewish Week that the foundation’s sponsorship of participants, mostly Jewish day school teachers, at ISTE and Games for Change, is part of a larger stepped-up focus on technology. That includes helping to fund an East Brunswick, N.J. startup Jewish high school that uses a mix of online and in-person learning, training day school leaders in the use of social media tools, and working with Tel Aviv University to develop online Judaic studies classes for North American day schools."


The article also points out some of the issues raised by adopting technology in Jewish schools as teacher training, curriculum development, expenses of developing infrastructure and hesitance of school administrators to expose students to undesireable internet content.


The Ohev Shalom students interviewed for the article expressed satisfaction for being able to choose their courses, learn at their own pace and acquire computer skills.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2011