In keeping with the spirit of the JE3 (Jewish Education 3.0) project which we conceptualized as a conversation with numerous voices, we offer not one, but several conclusions to this core narrative, each representing the thoughts of one of the quartet of individuals who spearheaded the project. We invite you to add your own thoughts, draw your own lessons, and share your own take-ways on this revolution in the making.
Like the printing press hundreds of years ago, today’s technologies are supporting shifts in many systems that impact our lives. In such revolutionary times, old paradigm models either evolve or die, and new paradigm models emerge to push the systems into their next phase of alignment. Education is no exception.
If we sit back and do nothing, over time Jewish education will adapt to this new technology-empowered world. My guess is that it will take 2 generations for old models to die (however painfully) or be phased out, and for new models to be designed, funded and built to the extent that they represent a new status quo. The cost will be not only measured in the dollars invested in dying institutions, trying to fortify them against the storm of time, but also in the loss of many young Jews – children and families (and potentially their descendants too) – who have not been well served, educated, inspired or given the gift of passion for Jewish learning and living. I think we can do better.
Adapting to the digital age does not simply mean putting lessons online, or shifting religious school to a distance-learning model. The recent changes in the newspaper industry have taught us that “putting the same content online” alone does not make for success in this revolution. The systems in flux are not limited to the medium through which we deliver the same content in the same top-down way. Aligning our work with 21st century realities will require us to reexamine our goals and question assumptions, to take risks and experiment, to listen closely to the practical needs of the people we aim to serve, and to look outside the Jewish community to learn from successes in related fields which have already undergone significant change.
Innovation does not simply mean using the same tools in new ways, or developing new tools to do the same business more efficiently. Innovation means looking at the world with fresh eyes to see new possibilities. Success will mean that all parties involved – teachers, students, parents, Rabbis, donors and others – have coalesced around a shared vision that has integrity, meaning, convenience and the nimbleness to continue to adapt as necessary.
Experts estimate that the next 50 or so years will be marked by constant and rapid change as technologies evolve and social, cultural, economic and political systems respond to these changes and to each other. We cannot, from where we stand now, predict what the world will look like in 50 years, let alone the field of Jewish education. But we can know that it will very likely look radically different than it does today.
For those of us interested in Jewish education, these 50 years represent two generations to work with here, just in these decades of “change”. The students of today are the parents of tomorrow, and it is only their grandchildren (if the experts are correct) who will experience a new, perhaps calmer, status quo. In the meantime, we are naïve if we think there is a clear answer just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. And we’re foolish if we think today’s status quo will continue to be successful and help us meet our communal goals. Therefore, let us embrace a culture of change, and take advantage of this opportunity of rapid evolution to create a richer and more successful ecosystem of Jewish education.
If we are correct in our argument that technology is central to the changes that Jewish education is experiencing and will experience over the next years, then behavioral implications flow from this proposition for all of Jewish education’s stakeholders.
For educators: There is no need, nor place, for technophobia. Educators should embrace technology not just as the inevitable idiom of the day, but as a positive asset in delivering more engaging, enriched, and empowered Jewish learning. Educators who feel that they need it should be demanding opportunities to enhance their technological literacy. Educators should enthusiastically adopt an experimental mindset as they seek out and assess new ways of using technology in their work.
For administrators: Keeping up with rapidly evolving technologies is challenging and not inexpensive. But, investing in technology and in the training that is needed to ensure its effective use is a necessity, not a luxury. Competitive pressures from other providers to do so may not be as great in the Jewish educational arena as in other domains. But, consumers of Jewish education are increasingly going to expect to find state of the art technology, and they have other options.
For institutional leaders: Be prepared to support professionals as they try to adapt to a technology-infused world. Don’t expect that this will be a one-time proposition or that the impact of technology will be confined to a few evident changes. Once the commitment is made to embrace technology as a core element in the educational process, effects will ripple through the entire institution. Customary ways of doing business may need to be profoundly altered.
For funders: Many of the efforts made thus far to harness the power of technology to enhance Jewish learning and teaching have foundered or failed to reach their full potential because they were under-capitalized. Investments in technology-based initiatives are inherently risky because we have little track record to go on, and the Jewish market is still too small to expect most ambitious projects to be self-sustaining. But, if technology-based initiatives do not attract the investment capital they need (and so far, this has been a tough sell), Jewish education as a whole will suffer greatly. We need to find ways to fund Jewish educational technology projects.
For learners: You have been empowered, but that doesn’t mean that you know everything, don’t need teachers, and don’t need institutions. The technology revolution in Jewish education will be more user- and consumer-driven than any previous process of change. That power needs to be used wisely. The opening up of vast new opportunities for self-directed learning and for connection to others is a huge potential boon. These opportunities should be seized with vigor, but also with thoughtfulness. Not all content is equally worth learning and not all experiences are equally educative. Be judicious and continue to look for relationships that matter.
For parents and others who stand behind the learners: Expect technology to be used intelligently as part of the overall learning-teaching process, not as a substitute for good education or a panacea. Don’t fall into the trap of nostalgia (things really weren’t better in the old days). But, ask tough questions about how technology is being used, for what purposes and under what circumstances. Understand that you won’t understand everything that’s going on with your children – even digital natives will have to keep learning new languages.
For all of Jewish education’s stakeholders, the most important implication of the technology revolution we are living through is this: We can use it to make Jewish education better. Technology can help us improve the things we already do, and it can help us to do new things, to reach new constituencies in new ways, to transform the learning process. This will not happen automatically; we will need to make it happen. We will need to use this new Promethean gift wisely and thoughtfully, to resist being dazzled when we should be pensive and cynical when we should be enthused. We will need creativity, persistence, playfulness, and humility. We will also need resources.
We will need these, but we also have these. The challenge now is to put them to work, to embrace this revolution and to use it in order to continue with even greater energy and impact the timeless journey of Torah.