Thursday, October 29, 2009

Serious Approaches to Learning


My friend Josh Mason-Barkin gives a great review of the new Coen Brothers' film A Serious Man from the perspective of a Jewish Educator. I found one section particularly relevant given my experience this week with the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows and my previous post. Read Josh's whole review at http://tapbb.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/a-serious-ennui/. (Full disclosure-Torah Aura Productions publishes some of my work from time to time, and is owned by people I consider to be part of my family. That doesn't make them wrong!)

Jewish schools need to strategically and thoughtfully integrate technological tools into their classrooms, and publishers need to create materials that are congruent with these efforts. For the past several years, Jewish educational publishers (ourselves at Torah Aura included) have been trying to offer computerized tools that are basically digitized (or computer-gameified) versions of textbooks. Furthermore, publishers have seen educational technology as the next frontier in publishing, a new way to make a buck by selling software that claims to make Jewish learning “exciting.” That’s the wrong attitude. Instead of trying to use software to answer the same old questions (“How do I get kids to properly decode Hebrew?”), we need to be asking a new set of questions.

How can we utilize new technologies like Google Wave, twitter, and YouTube to allow for collaborative (hevruta for the new generation!) learning? How can computers help us to maximize our financial resources? How can the internet help us engage (and empower!) parents and families in new ways? How can we use technology to open up the world of Jewish education to better integrate the arts, science, and communication?

Lots of smart people are thinking about these issues, and we (both publishers and our customers, Jewish schools) need to listen. A bureau executive told me recently that Jewish education is miles behind secular education in these fields. That must change, and we as publishers must be leaders, not followers. We need to help teachers and students think about using tomorrow’s technologies, not provide them with hokey and simplistic “educational” games or digitized flashcards for iPhones.

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