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In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times (October 2, 2011), Bill Keller, the Times' former executive editor, discussed the growth of online education offered by universities. "The day is growing nearer," Keller wrote, "when quality higher education confronts the technological disruptions that have already upended the music and book industries, humbled enterprises from Kodak to the Postal Service . . . and helped destabilize despots across the Middle East." Keller focused on the remarkable phenomenon of a Stanford professor named Sebastian Thrun, who is currently teaching an online course, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, without charge to a student enrollment of 130,000 students around the world. Yes, that is not a typo: 130,000 students. I'll return to that extraordinary number in a moment, but first a word about online courses in higher education.
The new world of online education, like any new field, is characterized by a number of different terms used with sometimes overlapping definitions. A few words are used to mean more or less the same thing: online learning, distance learning, digital education, e-learning. E-learning has become the term somewhat more favored recently because it encompasses a variety of possibilities: not only Internet courses, but also the use of webinars, CDs, digital downloads, animation, videos, smartphones, etc.
It is useful to distinguish among a number of different uses and contexts when we talk about e-learning. First, courses can be either asynchronous or synchronous. In a synchronous class, students are interacting with one another and the teacher or they are listening to a lecture or presentation—and the class is happening in real time. What makes the class an example of e-learning is both the mode of delivery and the location of the students. One simple version of synchronous e-learning might mean that students are sitting in a conventional classroom or lecture hall, but the teacher is using a variety of digital components to enhance the educational experience—SMART Boards, PowerPoint presentations, video, etc. But for the sake of simplicity, I would prefer to set this type of classroom aside and just refer to it as the standard model of teaching with extra digital elements involved.
What makes the synchronous model really different is the fact that students can participate while being located in a variety of physical places. I have, for example, taught a group of students via conference call, Skype video connection, and webinar. The students can be across the country or around the world while I am sitting in my office or home. Or I might be teaching a class of "live" students sitting around me, while other students are "Skyped in" from their home locations. If this approach uses the best technology available (that's a big if because not every place has the right amount of Internet access or hardware to succeed at doing it), from the teacher's point of view, this is very similar to teaching a regular class in a traditional way. You can lecture, you can write on a board, you can call on students who "raise their hands" virtually (various webinar systems allow this to happen), take questions, and even run a discussion. When most people visualize distance learning, this is the model that they are thinking of. It is a kind of sophisticated and complex video conference call. And in fact, changes in technology are already bringing high-definition video conferencing down to reasonable prices. (One can even use an Xbox game console to do it.)
But in fact, when we read about distance learning in higher education, we are mostly not looking at synchronous learning. Far more common is the asynchronous model. In this approach, students do not have to log on all at the same time, as in the synchronous version; rather, students can take the course almost any time they want. They sign up for the course, log on at their leisure, and view the course, though sometimes these courses do require students to post responses to readings and lectures in regular fashion. By and large, such courses are lecture courses and the students are essentially watching a video of the professor's lecture. Many universities are now effectively giving away this kind of education, though some certainly charge. You can, in some cases, get lectures notes and additional materials. And that is why one can have 130,000 students in a single class. It is not terribly different from watching a film on your DVD player or computer.
Let's say you want to take that physics course you never took in college. Why not take the course at MIT? You can take a course on metaphysical poetry at Harvard with the famed Shakespeare scholar Marjorie Garber (though it will cost you money). For many of the courses on the Harvard site, you can sample one lecture for free to see if you like it. And you can get a nice overview of many free online courses by looking at Open Culture, which offers hundreds of free classes. Many universities have linked up with iTunes U; see what you can find there. These options are all asynchronous, and many of them go beyond merely watching lectures. In some cases, you can send in exams and have them graded.
But, educationally speaking, how much are these experiences similar to what one would get sitting in a conventional classroom? At The Davidson School we have had distance learning (DL) students for a number of years. Some complete most of their course work via e-learning courses, though no one is allowed to do a degree completely through distance learning. All Davidson School DL students take at least four courses on campus, usually in the summer. Other in-house students take occasional courses through DL offerings. What we have tried to do, however, is to create a specific e-learning pedagogy for anyone who takes a Davidson School distance learning course. Our faculty takes advantage of the resources of online learning. We try to use the various discussion boards and other interactive elements available for our online courses. Faculty members design exercises that allow students to comment on one another's work and comment on one another's comments. Students can even work in virtual, online groups. Contrary to what Bill Keller wrote in the Times, the fact is that really good e-learning involves a different and new kind of pedagogy. It is not simply posting lectures on artificial intelligence and having multiple-choice tests graded by machines. It is certainly true that this new mode of education is going to grow over the next few years as the technology evolves and as the economics of higher education continue to be constrained by the financial situation in the country. We at The Davidson School will continue to evolve our own approaches to this mode of education. But we need to do it in the way we know best: focusing not only on the convenience of distance learning, but on what we at The Davidson School have always cared about—the enduring challenges of what constitutes good teaching and learning, and how we can best provide that for our students.
—Dr. Barry W. Holtz, dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, JTS
The Davidson School welcomes 33 new MA students and nine new EdD students for the fall 2011 semester. Eleven students began the new master's in Experiential Jewish Education; 11 students joined the Day School track and seven students enrolled in the Synagogue Educational Leadership track. Five students are taking their courses through the distance learning program. Ten students are going to Israel for the 2012 spring semester Kesher Hadash (New Connection) program.
The Master's Program in Jewish Experiential Education, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation, welcomes its first cohort of 11 students. During the first year, the students participate in an experiential learning seminar and visit settings where Jewish experiential education occurs, including the Jewish Farm School at Eden Village Camp, Columbia/Barnard Hillel, 92YTribeca, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Throughout the seminar, students discuss core themes of Jewish experiential education and how they interplay in various educational environments.
Heidi Moore is a rotorcraft loads and dynamics engineer, working in the Rotary Wing Loads and Dynamics Branch at the Naval Air Systems Command. She specializes in the design and development of helicopters and tiltrotor aircrafts flown by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. For the last 15 years, Ms. Moore has served as the technical lead for the structural development of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps rotary wing crashworthy seat system installations and is considered to be the Navy's subject matter expert in rotary wing structural crashworthiness. Ms. Moore received a bachelor of science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Rutgers University, a master of science degree in Aerospace Engineering from George Washington University, and a graduate certificate in Rotorcraft Engineering from the University of Maryland.
In addition to her civilian career with the Navy, Ms. Moore volunteers her time as the religious director of the Hebrew School and congregational lay leader of Beth Israel Synagogue in Lexington Park, Maryland, where she also serves as vice president. She does volunteer work for the Girl Scouts, serves as co-captain of a fund-raising team for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, acts as treasurer of the St. Mary's County Science and Engineering Fair Board, and is one of the associate editors of the Journal of the American Helicopter Society.
Ms. Moore is presently in her first semester of distance learning at The Davidson School and is pursuing an MA degree in Jewish Education. She lives in southern Maryland with her husband and two daughters. Here's her story in her own words:
"I credit my rabbi, Hannah Greenstein, for inspiring me to attend The Davidson School. Last spring, she pulled me aside to tell me that she saw how much I love what I do and that she thought I was ready for something more. She couldn't have been more correct. The reason I had not pursued a formal degree in Jewish education before was because the timing seemed off. But with Rabbi Greenstein's encouragement, I came to realize that this is the perfect time in my life. Not only am I ready, but I also feel a need and a calling to pursue advanced studies in Judaism, Hebrew, and Torah to make myself an even more effective and integral part of my Jewish community.
"I immediately felt a connection to The Davidson School when I started my search for graduate programs. The school's philosophy speaks precisely to the tenets of what I want to be as a well-rounded Jewish educator: a learner, teacher, leader, inquirer, and, most important to me, a religious literate. I am no longer content to explain WHAT we do as Jews; I want the breadth of knowledge in order to explain WHY we do what we do. This education will provide me with the tools to speak with more confidence on matters of Torah study, teaching Hebrew language skills, and interpretation of prayer. I want both the children and parents to see me as an authoritative resource of whom they can ask questions about all aspects of Judaism, whether those questions are about religious, cultural, or national concerns. I am sincerely inspired by the academic programs at The Davidson School and I honestly feel that I have found the "right fit" MA program to help me reach my personal goals."
Dr. Meredith Katz is the new Jim Joseph Senior Scholar at The Davidson School. After serving as an adjunct for the past three years, she is pleased to be a full-time instructor and to teach several courses to the diverse students of The Davidson School: master's, rabbinical, cantorial, and dual-degree students. Dr. Katz completed her doctorate in 2010 at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her dissertation, Mature Love Is Complicated: Israel Education as a Microcosm of Challenges to Educators in Liberal Jewish Day Schools, focused on teacher decision making in an Israel education curriculum-development project. She has considerable teaching and administrative experience in both the day school and congregational school settings and draws on these experiences in her work with Davidson School students. Dr. Katz also looks forward to continuing her involvement in Israel education research and pursuing her interests in citizenship education in Jewish schools and teacher education.
Dr. Sarah Tauber, assistant professor at The Davidson School, received a bachelor's degree in History, magna cum laude, from Yale University; a secondary school teaching certification in English from the University of California, Berkeley; and an EdD in Jewish Education from The Jewish Theological Seminary. She also studied Jewish history in Paris at the L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Dr. Tauber has taught in a variety of secondary school settings in the Jewish and general educational world, both in the United States and in Europe, and was the education director of Congregation Beit GIL in Geneva, Switzerland. Most recently, she has taught Judaic studies, history, and tefillah at the Upper School of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester. She is also the book review editor of the Journal of Jewish Education.
Dr. Tauber's dissertation, The Role of the Congregational Rabbi as a Teacher of Adults in Non-Orthodox Synagogues, explored the role of the congregational rabbi as a teacher of adults, and she looks forward to integrating this research with her practical experience in the field of Jewish education. She is excited at the chance to guide and mentor JTS students on their paths toward becoming knowledgeable and inspired educators in the Jewish world. At JTS, Dr. Tauber is delighted to be working with dedicated and reflective colleagues who bring a tremendous range and depth of talent and experience to their teaching and scholarship. She finds it personally and professionally meaningful to help prepare a new generation of Jewish educators who will then go out into the world with the talent and expertise to share their passion and creativity in communities throughout the United States.
Abigail Uhrman is the research assistant for the Experiential Learning Initiative at The Davidson School. She is also an advanced doctoral student in Education and Jewish Studies at New York University. Ms. Uhrman graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a major in History and a minor in Education. Following graduation, she spent two years as a fellow at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. She then worked as a fifth-grade teacher at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and, later, as a literacy coach and new-teacher mentor. Upon completing her doctoral course work, she was a program officer at the Steinhardt Foundation and adjunct faculty at New York University. In the short time she has been at The Davidson School, Ms. Uhrman has enjoyed getting to know the faculty and students and is excited about the year ahead. She lives in Long Island with her husband and daughter.
The new Etgar Yesodi curriculum for grades three through five in congregational schools is being tested at five sites. Etgar Yesodi is a project of the Melton Research Center for Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary. The project is generously funded by a grant from the Covenant Foundation. Dr. Deborah Miller serves as the project director, while Debra Kerschner serves as the project manager. The Etgar Yesodi writers are Shira Hammerman and Shirah Rubin.
This May, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) held its eighth annual Cornerstone seminar at Capital Camps Conference and Retreat Center in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Davidson School graduates showed a remarkable presence in facilitating Jewish experiential learning sessions.
Cornerstone was initially conceptualized and directed by Naomi Less (DS '00) while working at FJC. She brought together bunk counselors from 45 nonprofit Jewish camps as fellows to strengthen their skills as experiential educators, reinvigorate Jewish programming, and provide professional development and networking opportunities. At the seminar, Davidson School alumni, including Ms. Less, Josh Lake (DS '97), Mara Berde (DS '09), and Sara Beth Berman (DS '09), led a variety of learning sessions. Samantha Staley (DS '11), whose Davidson School practicum was at FJC this past year, designed and led a preview program. The foundation invited representatives from six Jewish camps to the seminar. Ben Greene (DS '09), currently the program director and staff liaison at Camp Ramah in New England, participated as a staff liaison. Mr. Greene guided the fellows from Camp Ramah in New England throughout the week and will be supervising them during the summer. Directors from participating camps, including Geoff Menkowitz (DS '01), director of Camp Ramah Darom, were invited for the seminar's final day.
Cornerstone is a prime example of what is happening right now in Jewish experiential education. Davidson School alumni are proud to be at the forefront of such innovation and to be motivating the next generation of Jewish experiential educators.
The Davidson School's Experiential Learning Initiative recently partnered with the National Ramah Commission in Ramah's first cohort of the Ramah Service Corps (RSC). The RSC included 20 college-age or postgraduate Ramah leaders.
Dr. Jeff Kress and Mark Young, who collaborated with Amy Skopp Cooper (assistant director of the National Ramah Commission) and Dr. Zach Lasker (the RSC coordinator and director of Camp Ramah in California), designed and facilitated three webinars covering experiential learning and leadership. Webinar topics included: "Jewish Experiential Education: Bringing the Magic of Ramah Home"; "Effective Organizing and Recruitment for the Ramah Leader"; and "A (Very) Brief Introduction to Program Evaluation."
This mutually beneficial partnership enabled Ramah to study educational theory and to share how they are translating theory into practice, thereby becoming reflective educational practitioners. For The Davidson School, the partnership served as a pilot for developing a longer-term and comprehensive certificate program that is geared toward professionals in accord with experiential education.
The first annual YouthCon, a one-day convention for informal Jewish youth educators, was held on Sunday, August 21, in Stamford, Connecticut. More than 350 youth professionals from across the Jewish educational spectrum attended. Mark S. Young, program coordinator of The Davidson School's Experiential Learning Initiative, led a roundtable during the conference entitled "A Career in Jewish Experiential Education," providing attendees with tools and ideas to help them navigate their own career journey. Mr. Young also discussed this topic on the conference's blog.
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The Davidson School is happy to applaud the achievements of two of our doctoral students, Yigal Kotler and Daniel Held, who each led a session at the 25th Annual Network for Research in Jewish Education (NRJE) Conference on June 13. Ms. Kotler facilitated a presentation entitled, "Challenge of Jewish Education for the American Russian-Speaking Jewish Community." Mr. Held presented on the topic, "Judaic Knowledge of Experiential Educators." His session focused on fostering a better understanding of the full-time experiential Jewish educator, concentrating on the types of Judaic knowledge they have and employ.
Dr. Ofra Backenroth, Dr. Carol Ingall, and Dr. Sarah Tauber also represented JTS by leading individual sessions at the 25th Annual NRJE conference. Dr. Backenroth conducted a session entitled "Artist Beit Midrash: The Intersection of Art and Jewish Education." In her presentation, "Transcendence Across the Curriculum," Dr. Ingall suggested that educators approach the task of nurturing students' inner lives through teaching for transcendence across the curriculum. Dr. Tauber explored the role of the contemporary congregational rabbis in her program, "Portrait of the Congregational Rabbi as Teacher of Adults."
Two Davidson School faculty members, Dr. Shira Epstein and Dr. Carol Ingall, are part of a JTS committee of women faculty members that is planning an exciting day-long event—"What to Wear: Women, Clothing, Religion"—that will take place at JTS on Sunday, March 11, from 10:15 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Both interreligious and intergenerational, the event will feature keynote speaker Dr. Valerie Steele, director and curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology, who will explore the cultural and political power of clothing.
What to Wear will bring the scholarship and life experiences of JTS faculty to a special lunch and discussion for teens—"OMG: She Shouldn't Have Worn That, Right?"—co-facilitated by Dr. Epstein and Jennifer Groen of Moving Traditions. In addition, Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Irving Lehrman Research Associate Professor of American Jewish History and Walter and Sarah Schlesinger Dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies, will present "From Jewess Jeans to Juicy JAPs: Clothing and Jewish Stereotypes; Dr. Edna Nahshon, professor of Hebrew, will examine "Jews and Shoes"; and Dr. Stefanie Siegmund, associate professor of History and Women's League Chair in Jewish Gender and Women's Studies, will explore "Earrings and Hats, Ermine and Silk: Legislating Dress in Renaissance Europe." Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, will lead a study session titled "Clothing and Adornment: Sartorial Insights on Gender Definition in the Talmud." This program will also feature an intergenerational panel on bat mitzvah clothing for teens and their families, and an evening lecture by American Jewish cultural historian, Dr. Jenna Weissman Joselit.
Dr. Barry Holtz's article, "Teaching the Bible in Our Times," appeared as a chapter in the new International Handbook of Jewish Education, and his review of the recent book The Benderly Boys and American Education appeared in the Forward in August.
Dr. Carol Ingall participated in the NRJE conference in Toronto, June 12–14, chairing a panel on reflections on the 25th anniversary of the network, responding to the publication of the DeLeT alumni survey of day school teachers and job satisfaction, and offering her reflections on "Teaching Transcendence Across the Curriculum" on a panel chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Kress. The panel focused on spirituality and social-emotional intelligence in Jewish schools.
Dr. Jeffrey Kress convened a panel on "Spiritual, Social, and Emotional Elements of Jewish Education" and participated in a session on "Pluralism" at the NRJE conference. He authored the chapter "Parents and Jewish Educational Settings," which appeared in the International Handbook of Jewish Education. His plenary session about the publication of the handbook was written up in the Canadian Jewish News.
Dr. Deborah Miller facilitated Moreh L'Morim, which took place at Siegal College in Cleveland, Ohio, July 31–August 3.
Dr. Alex Sinclair published the following articles: "The Demagoguery of Ridicule" (Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, June 27); "Israel Engagement Is Israel's Responsibility Too" (Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, September 21); and "Practitioner Enquiry and its Role in Jewish Education (International Handbook of Jewish Education. Eds. Miller, Grant, and Pomson, 2011).
Join the Alumni of The Jewish Theological Seminary group on Facebook and connect with fellow alumni from the five schools at JTS.
Assistant Professor of Jewish Education
Assistant Professor of Jewish Education
Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, JTS
Professor Emerita of Jewish Education
JJF Scholar Assistant Professor of Jewish Education
Chair, Department of Jewish Education
Associate Director, Melton Research Center for Jewish Education
Director of Programs in Israel Education
Assistant Professor of Jewish Education
Director, Jewish Day School Standards & Benchmarks Project
Director, Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor High School
Assistant to the Associate Dean
Director, Matok Project
Coordinator, Etgar and Etgar Yesodi
JJF Administrative Assistant
Executive Assistant to the Dean
Director, Leadership Institute for Congregational Educators
Research Assistant, Experiential Learning Initiative
Director, Day School Leadership Training Institute
Coordinator, Experiential Learning Initiative
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