The Potential Effects of Educational Technology On the Jewish Learning Environment

Aharon Frazer

This project examines the possibility of improving the learning environment through the use of educational technology. It explores current trends in general education and considers how they could be applied to Jewish education. The author's professional experience is in the design of online educational systems for collaborative learning. Many of the considerations which he raises are important for both the design of educational software as well as the selection, by educators, of appropriate educational software solution to meet their goals.

The paper distinguishes between the use of technology in narrow, local contexts, designed to address particular problems, and the use of technology on a wider scope in order to deliberately change the character of the learning environment. The author's primary interest is in the latter. He explores the characteristics which institutions with effectively implemented educational technology tend to manifest.

Several important trends are discussed. The author notes that the teacher's role seems to be shifting, from the "sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side". He explains that lessons are increasingly capable of being tailored to each student, and the student is increasingly controlling the pace, content, and objectives of his studies. He identifies new classes of skills, such as "information literacy", which are today being deemed worthy of explicit treatment. He explores how to bring these changes to Jewish education.

Currently available Jewish educational technology is also surveyed, if only in broad strokes. The author identifies products which go beyond addressing a particular detail and begin to directly impact the character of the learning environment. He shows that while some such products do exist, there is still much room for improvement in this area.

The central reform proposed in the paper is the shift to more open learning environments. The openness of the learning environment is the extent to which students have control of the learning process. It is argued that this encourages students to take initiative and to develop a positive attitude towards learning. It also involves changes in the role of the teacher and the character of the educational institution.

The author considers the broader ramifications of these changes on the culture of the educational institution. He argues that an increasingly democratic, less authoritarian institution will result as control is shifted to the hands of the students. He also notes that the level of control over what material students access may decline significantly. While conceding that these may be viewed as drawbacks, he argues that they can have a positive impact on the learning environment, increasing student motivation and sophistication.

Special consideration is given to the compatibility of such an open environment with the traditional and even doctrinaire nature of religious education. The threats which such a liberal style may pose to the system of halakhic authority, reverence for sacred texts, and deference to Torah scholars is treated. The author defends his opinion that the benefits of an open environment outweigh the drawbacks. He also asserts that such a liberal environment is, to a great degree, an embodiment of genuine ideal native to Judaism, not an artificial marriage between two incompatible constructs.

The paper presents practical suggestions for implementing such an educational environment. It proposes several specific uses of technology in the specific context of Jewish education. The use of online student communities is recommended as a means of encouraging dialogue between diverse Jews. The preparation of flexible, multimedia lessons is recommended as a means of accommodating multiple intelligences and visual or auditory of subject matter. The use of the word processor to make reading into a more active process is also discussed. All of these are viewed as changes which can create a fundamental shift in the character of learning, not just provide a bit of added value.


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