The immediate impact of COVID-19 thrust teachers and learners into newly imagined online learning spaces. Mandel Teacher Educator Institute (MTEI) faced this reality while transitioning a summer face-to-face seminar to an online experience. MTEI is an immersive 2-year learning experience for educational leaders responsible for leading professional development in their organizations (Dorph, 2011). Building on our principles for professional development, we faced essential pedagogical challenges in creating learner-centered, relational and inquiry-based Jewish text study opportunities (Raider-Roth and Holzer, 2009) in an online synchronous space. In the summer of 2020, we piloted an online adaptation of a line-by-line method for text study (Holzer, 2007; Holzer with Kent, 2013). Now, we are revisiting this version of online text study in a new iteration and through a research lens to better understand its effectiveness and impact.
Starting from the theoretical perspective that student-to-student discussion over text is essential to comprehension, this study sought to examine how it unfolds in the novel context of a full-time remote, synchronous early elementary classroom. Education historian Larry Cuban, in his work on the grammar of schooling, writes about desks in rows versus desks in a circle. The desks in rows signal a teacher-centered classrooms while the desks in a circle signal a more student-centered classroom. What about in Zoom boxes? How does a teacher-centered Zoom classroom distinguish itself from a student-centered Zoom classroom? And in the latter, how does a teacher foster the student-to-student connection necessary for meaningful and respectful text discussion on Zoom? To explore these questions I embarked on teacher-research, becoming the pre-K-1st grade Judaics teacher in one Jewish K-8 school, in their full-time remote track. This research is being conducted with the Student-Centered Religious Learning and Literacy Lab (SCRoLL Lab) team at Brandeis University.
The Shalom Hartman Institute’s sudden shift to online learning, coupled with the intensive nature of that instruction, in which key faculty quickly accrued a significant number of hours of online teaching experience, offers an opportunity for reflection about the nature of this teaching. SHI faculty are master Jewish text teachers who have a robust and mature language for discussing the craft of teaching Jewish texts. This study aims to illuminate how the online setting transforms the pedagogy of these select master educators and tease out the unique qualities of online Jewish text instruction. This study aims to contribute to the body of work focused on Jewish text teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, moving the discussion beyond the curricular focus of teacher orientations to explicate pedagogical approaches and, more broadly, the ways the medium mediates the teaching process and teacher thinking. It will also investigate the extent to which practitioners’ technological pedagogical content knowledge facilitated perceived success or growth as they entered this new domain of teaching online.
Hillel’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) is one of the most widely taught Jewish educational curricula, with an average of over 1500 students worldwide participating each semester. These classes focus on building an in-person community and designing physical spaces to promote social connections among students. COVID forced JLF to quickly adapt to an online format for the spring 2020 semester. By fall 2020, educators could plan with greater intention and more experience.
This project seeks to understand how the move to online affects the teaching and learning of JLF in the Fall 2020 semester. How do educators apply the emerging signature pedagogies of Hillel educational work — authentic use of self, curating space, and artful facilitation — to a virtual space? How might the educational work of JLF change when it takes place in a time of pandemic? How might it take students’ social-emotional wellbeing into consideration? How does the movement to online cohorts alter the meaning of social capital, cohort and community? Are these terms still operable? What new meanings do they take on?
Fall 2021 Update
In Spring 2020, Hillel’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF), a 10-week text and discussion-based learning program for Jewish college students, suddenly moved online. Most JLF classes continued to be offered online throughout the 2020-21 academic year.
“The Mic Drop,” or closing moments of a class session, which was already emphasized as an important component of JLF in lesson plans and educator trainings, took on even greater importance online. In an online class, the faces of educators and classmates instantaneously disappear at the end of a session. There is no opportunity to linger, to walk back to a dorm room with a classmate, to continue a conversation.
This conference talk will explore how educators “dropped the mic” online. It will examine four JLF classes at four different types of universities--a private liberal arts college, a large public university, a selective private college, and a public commuter campus--during the Fall 2020 semester. Data came from recordings of class sessions, direct observations of class sessions, and interviews with educators.
Four different types of mic drops emerged from these recordings, observations, and interviews:
- Educators offer a charge or blessing to students to live out the ideas in Jewish text
- Educators share of themselves to model how to be inspired or motivated by Jewish text
- Educators make connections between current events and the texts to highlight their timelessness
- Educators invite students to think explicitly about learning so they can continue to learn outside of JLF
Rabbi David, the senior Jewish educator at Chester College, the commuter campus, will join to share his perspectives on offering a Mic Drop. For example, his quote in Chester College’s session about Shabbat exemplifies the third type of Mic Drop:
If you’re in this room, either you have gone through the transition of your college
experience from being something that was in a place where you went to being
something that happens on a screen, or you finished high school in the same situation
and have now begun college. The amount of things, change, stride, the amount of stuff
that you all have accomplished in the last seven, eight months is mind boggling. It’s
literally mind-boggling, you have made it through this. You can all make it through
anything for yourselves in your life. And self-care I hope can be on that list. God needed
to create the idea of rest for God’s self and rest for us is a big deal. And you can do that.
Because of the pandemic, Rabbi David can identify a concrete accomplishment for all of his students—the rapid transition to a completely new and unexpected way to be a high school or college student—and offer the Jewish idea of Shabbat as a way for the students to care for themselves. In our Q&A discussion at the conference, we can explore questions raised by our presentation such as if this charge takes on more weight when connected to this specific, shared pandemic experience.
One of our curricular goals in Israel Education is to introduce students to complexities in Israeli society while reinforcing a love for Israel. Experience teaching and learning in a grade 12 elective on Israeli culture and society has allowed us to identify a number of hotbutton or sensitive texts. While each group of students is different and what might trouble one group might not another, these texts consistently elicit strong reactions and transformative conversations. We are studying whether shifting the site of learning to a remote environment will lead to a different way of relating to these texts and to the complexities of contemporary Israeli society. The research is important as we try to understand the ways that online learning can best be conducted in order to ensure that meaningful and enriching education is provided.