Brave New Tech World Awaits Jewish Education

August 17, 2010
David Bryfman, Director of New Center for Collaborative Leadership (NCCL) at BJENY-SAJES, writes of his vision of how Jewish educators can utilize technology to transform and revitalize Jewish education. Technology in the 21st century has radically changed the way people live, and in doing so education has had no choice but to adapt accordingly. These changes are also reflected in the Jewish world, with Jews “doing Jewish” in very different ways. Some Jewish educators are beginning to modify their practices. And despite taking place in cyberspace, for many of these learners, the experiences are very real.
Bryfman predicts that three emerging digital tech trends will become very important in Jewish education settings in the near future.


In one congregational high school program a teacher conducts a weekly Jewish quiz with students using their cell phones to find information and texting their responses to a central response system. In a community-wide supplementary school in the Northeast there are discussions about creating and conducting scavenger hunts of their local Jewish community utilizing the GPS capabilities of their cell phones. 
Students in these schools are engaged learners, largely because what they are being asked to do fits into the context of the rest of their lives. 


The role of the educator, the rabbi and the text all take on very different roles when students are motivated to search the Internet rather than rely on a single source of information. The educator is transformed from the source of all wisdom, to the facilitator of meaningful interactions between people, organizations and information. But this is ultimately a far more extensive, powerful and enduring role in the lives of our learners. 
No more has this been apparent in classrooms where contemporary Israel is being discussed. Students who treat with disdain textbooks that espouse a black-and-white view of Israel prefer to be guided through thousands of websites that provide a multiplicity of views. Together, with their peers and facilitated by their educators, students are empowered to reach their own conclusions on what we all know is a very complex and nuanced topic. 


In some congregational schools elementary-age students are encouraged to create projects utilizing animated PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, YouTube videos — and some are even considering having students develop the early stages of online video games. In doing so, today’s youth are being transformed from consumers of information to producers of knowledge. 
Technology enables everyone’s words to be heard and shared by the masses. By becoming active producers rather than passive recipients, the literally thousands of Jewish YouTube videos, Jewish Facebook pages and Jewish tweets are creating relevant and meaningful Jewish life for thousands of Jews today.
What will the world of Jewish education look like in 50 years time? Look at what you, your friends and colleagues are currently using in terms of technology — and then let our imaginations run wild with endless possibilities.
Updated: Aug. 22, 2010