Technology and Jewish Education – A Revolution in the Making
Over the past 30 years, new technologies have revolutionized our lives. The array of advanced technologies now available, from YouTube to cloud computing, IPhones to Twitter, Google to Kindle, are creating a world of empowerment, connections, customization and cultural creativity almost unimaginable barely a generation ago. Virtually every area of human endeavor is being transformed before our eyes. And, education is no exception.
JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute seeks to enhance Jewish education’s receptivity to and capacity for worthwhile innovation. In this context, the Institute began nearly two years ago to bring together – both physically and virtually – some of the most talented and thoughtful individuals working in the broad arena of technology and Jewish education to discuss their work and their visions for the future of Jewish learning and teaching in a technology-infused age. This web site is a product of those conversations.
We called the project and the conversations that find expression here "JE3" (for Jewish Education 3.0). In doing so, we wanted to emphasize that the future of Jewish education is being written and re-written as new technologies emerge and are put to new uses. We don't know exactly what that Jewish education will look like. But, it won't look like what we know today.
Technology is, of course, already a feature on the landscape of Jewish education. Many schools, especially day schools, are equipped with computers in every classroom, make use of SmartBoards and the Internet, keep parents apprised of events and assignments via email, and even produce their own videos and podcasts. Scores of web sites make Jewish content of every type available to learners of all ages around the globe. Teachers are being trained to integrate this content into their courses; multimedia curricula are being produced. Students in countries far apart are being connected to one another in real time. Efforts are underway to create sophisticated and engaging virtual learning environments for young children and their families.
Nonetheless, there is a strong sense among many involved in these developments that Jewish education is only beginning to scratch the surface of the potential boons and challenges inherent in today’s (and tomorrow’s) new technologies. It is not at all unusual that when technologies are new they are “grafted onto” existing patterns of behavior and the assumptions embedded in them. We use them to help do familiar things more easily, and we expect their impact to be contained and predictable.
What may be missed initially is that at least some new technologies call into question entire sets of structural and cultural patterns, setting off ripple effects that profoundly alter social realities and individual lives. The printing press, for example, was one technological innovation that had revolutionary impacts. By democratizing access to information, printing led to increased literacy rates, expansion of educational systems, development of public libraries, sharing of scientific findings, and dissemination of religious texts. It enabled people to formalize knowledge in books, and for that knowledge to be transported easily from one location to another. It changed structures of power and authority, as literacy was no longer limited to the elite. The printing press helped fuel the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. These profound changes to social, religious, economic and political systems resulted in a few hundred years of chaos as society established a new (and relatively stable) paradigm. What we are seeing today with internet technologies is revolutionary on a similar scale, and we've just begun to experience the instability that comes with the paradigm shift. Experts in the field estimate this will last for at least a few decades.
This paradigm shift has important implications for Jewish education. Technology is revolutionizing where, when, and how Jewish learning and teaching take place, and we are only beginning to come to grips with what these changes will mean. Technology makes it possible for Jews (and others) to enjoy heretofore unimaginable access to the riches of the Jewish heritage. Technology expands the boundaries of time and space, collapsing barriers that keep us from connecting to worlds and people beyond our immediate physical presence. Technology brings into play multiple senses and new creative skills. It encourages, invites, and facilitates new habits of communication. These capabilities demand that we re-imagine what education is and how it is conducted. They ask us to reconsider how students learn, how teachers teach, how they relate to one another, what content and skills are important to master and how we best do this, what it means to “know” something, and how living and learning are intertwined. Technology is a disruptive blessing; it has immense power to enrich what we do in Jewish education, but as with all powerful phenomena, it carries risks and even dangers as well.
We have prepared this core narrative and this site as a whole to try to answer two big questions:
1) How should Jewish education incorporate and respond to the new realities of our technology-infused era?
2) And, what would Jewish education look like if it did so and took full advantage of the technologies available to us?
Because we are in the midst of this revolution – one that shows no signs of abating – no one can offer definitive answers to these questions. But, the conversation about them is vital in two senses: it is a conversation we need to have, and it is one already underway in lively fashion. This web site and collection of documents and resources aim both to capture some of this conversation and to catalyze its continuation.
The site is itself a product and reflection of the technologies it discusses. Although it includes a core narrative (of which this is the opening section), it incorporates many voices in many stages of conversation. Some of these voices are captured in the form of articles covering a wide range of topics that form part of the kaleidoscope of interactions between modern society, technology and Jewish education today. Some can be heard in the form of brief comments captured from a Twitter conversation begun in conjunction with this project and carried forward under the hashtag #JEd 21, which includes, but now also goes beyond, a focus on technology as part of a lively dialogue on the future of Jewish education. And, of course, there are links – to more articles, web sites and videos dealing with the technology revolution and its implications for education, Jewish and general.
We have designed this site to be open-ended. We invite additional articles, which – thanks to technology – can become part of the site almost instantaneously. We encourage you to enter the conversation by blogging or tweeting – here, on #JEd21 or elsewhere. You can also comment on any section of the core narrative and articles, and you can add stories about your experiences, suggest new links, even tout your own products (if you keep it brief). We want this to be a living resource, and when the Jewish educational landscape changes to the point that it is no longer relevant, it will go into an archive so that future historians will have a window into this particular moment in time and some of the voices that made it so exciting.
A final introductory word: Although this site deals with technology and Jewish education, it is the latter that is our primary concern. As fascinating and awe-inspiring as new technologies can be, they remain means to an end – powerful and at times disruptive means, but means nonetheless. The end we seek is in this case dynamic, engaging, impactful Jewish learning, the kind of learning that can form and transform lives. If we can, in fact, use technology to make Jewish education and Jewish learning more accessible, more relevant, more content-rich, more attuned to the sensibilities and skills of diverse learners, more connected to the world around us, and do so without weakening other critical dimensions of the learning experience (like rich relationships), then we will have accomplished something truly important. This site explores and assesses that aspiration and thereby, we hope, contributes to its realization as well.
Next: Our Digital World