There is this guy I know is trying to convince me that the solution to Jewish Education is a curriculum for video chat. He has a fantasy that Skype can be upgraded to a Cisco System to allow for multiple video inputs simultaneously.
However, the command of commercial technology isn’t the problem. The real problem is the syllogism:
- Students don’t want to go to Hebrew High school.
- Students love to use technology
- Replace the Hebrew High school classroom with a technological interface and you will serve more kids, better.
At the heart of my concern is the word “or.”
The question is not how to replace the gathering of students with a teacher, but using technology to expand the contact and conversation that community can have. Richard Solomon and Paul Flexner have been writing about this as blended learning.
What we know is that less than 10% of possible students are involved in post Bar/Bat Mitzvah education (Survey of Heritage and Religious Identification, Tobin and Groeneman).
We are dealing with a minority of students and while my guy fantasizes that on-line opportunities will greatly enhance that number, I would rather turn to technology to increase engagement and expand impact. I am old-school enough to believe that
- a dating pool,
- previous good experiences, and
- parental pressure
are the motivations behind involvement. I just don’t see the other 90% logging on just because it is a technological opportunity. There are way too many of those.
F2F Matters. A Lot.
The real point is that real life still offers some unique opportunities: classroom community, love-interests, caring faculty and a speed and spontaneity that you don’t get pounding away a keyboard with your thumbs.
Virtual community makes it possible to participate with less exposure. It often feels safer. Yet Solomon and Flexner bring a whole bunch of research sources that suggest participation is higher in blended circumstances.
A friend is part of a heavily funded online dialogue. The story I got from this friend was that at first, before they ever met, their online dialogue was full of posturing and pontificating. Once the online group shared a retreat together, the dialogue shifted. It became real people talking to real people.
Social media can be important.
As available time shrinks for Jewish schooling, as carpools and commuting become more of an issue, stuff that can be done at home in available time becomes useful. But, it is not a replacement for snacks and recess, moments of silence, good group laughter and the other things that can make a classroom come alive. The question we need to ask is a “plus” question. How can we add value to the relationships we already have, and those we can build? It is not how can we replace the intimate with technological.
Sometimes there is a value is being something that is not their public school, not their regular life – not a Jewish version of what already is.
We can make an impact, by being uniquely caring and personal.