Posts about online and blended learning to spark some innovation.
Blended Learning and Torah Education
It seems to me that the crux and essence of Blended Learning is that, using the powerful new technology at our disposal, the student attempts to teach himself.
One advantage of this approach is that the student has more responsibility for the learning process, and more control over it as well—both important ingredients in successful chinuch. A second advantage is the ability of the teacher to use data from the students’ efforts to focus instruction.
This perforce causes a shift in the role of the teacher. Instead of introducing the material, the teacher 1) helps the student with difficulties encountered, and 2) deepens and broadens his understanding.
Could Blended Learning be used to advantage in Torah education?
It could be said that every rebbe’s fantasy is to be able to clone himself to be able to work individually with each talmid. Ideally, if the right type of programming could be created, could it be like each talmid having his (or her) personal rebbe to teach him at his own pace. Rather than teaching to the middle of the class, having the excellent students bored and the weak ones lost, each one is working to his full potential.
The superiority of this method over straight, impersonal frontal lecture to a large class must be acknowledged at once, and can be seen statistically from the success of the Carpe Deum schools. I have heard of schools in which Torah is taught in a lecture format, and the potential benefit for such schools could be great.
One concern I have about blended learning is that a given set of lessons created by one person will of necessity have a particular style. That style might work for some classes and not for others; it might work for some students within a class and not others. Blended Learning removes the freedom that every teacher has (and every good teacher uses) to say, “O.K., the way I am teaching this is not working—let’s go back to the drawing board.” There may in addition be some students for whom BL doesn’t work at all.
Another concern is over what effect BL will have on student questions. Many times students ask excellent questions dealt with by commentaries not yet prepared by the teacher. When learning together in a group, these questions can evoke spontaneous answers and new understandings had by both teacher and student. The effect of BL on this dynamic is not clear to me. On the one hand, there must perforce be a loss of spontaneity and group dynamic. On the other hand, the recording of the conversations, additional reflection time and wider opportunity to participate would certainly be interesting to witness.
There is not currently an infrastructure of excellent educational materials to use; they will have to be created. So for now much of this discussion is hypothetical.
How might the Blended Learning movement gain traction in the Day School Movement?
I think the most logical first step is to educate Judaic studies teachers in how to create digital educational materials—video presentations, feed-back exercises that can provide data about student progress, creating blogs and the like. The drive we have to help our students succeed will compel us to experiment, generate ideas, and create a plethora of new educational materials with very little incentive necessary. (This phenomenon can be seen most recently in the widespread use of Smartboard.) If teachers who use these materials are successful, others will use these materials as well as creating their own. Ultimately someone will start cataloguing and categorizing the large amount of materials available, and a Blended Learning revolution will be upon us.