In this age of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), flipped classrooms, blended learning, and other active digital education media, it is natural for the Jewish community to turn to the virtual classroom. Jewish leaders have always valued education, both spiritual and lay. The broad net cast by online learning makes, living through these values ever more possible – provided, of course, educators know how to leverage virtual tools effectively.
Benefits of Education Technology
Research backs up the benefits of using virtual classrooms to advance the effectiveness of teaching models. To begin with:
- Studies show that eLearning models in higher education increase students’ motivation.
- Research also indicates that when all other factors are equal, learning outcomes of online and traditional learning are similar too; when no effort is made to keep learning methods constant, however, online education outperforms traditional instruction.
- We have known for years that intelligent incorporation of technology makes learning more effective.
Thus, engaging in efforts to increase digital education and offering students greater access to online learning through the virtual classroom can only benefit the community.
Using Virtual Classroom to Deliver Live Instruction
Understanding what comprises the virtual classroom model is the first step in making the most efficient use of it. Simply put, a virtual classroom offers education in an online sphere, allowing participants to communicate, view instruction (via text, audio-video, and multimedia), and engage with teachers and tutors alone or in groups. The face-to-face interaction in a virtual classroom may occur entirely over the internet or be integrated into traditional instruction.
An efficient Virtual Classroom will have such features as:
- A smart interactive whiteboard with two-way controls for annotating, illustrating and drawing
- Live classes (HD audio-video quality) with live class recording functionality
- Chat and discussion boards
- Polls and survey functionality
- Uploading content in any format functionality
The Jewish Classroom – Expanded
The study of religious texts are a venerable tradition of Jewish life. A central component of Jewish education is the study of Jewish texts in yeshivas, day schools, kollels and Talmud Torahs.
The results of these efforts are heartening: according to the Jim Joseph Foundation, 29 percent of Jewish students attend day schools and yeshivas, 24 percent attend a Talmud Torah that meets more than once a week, and 25 percent participate in some form of weekly schooling. These numbers may be compared to only 12 percent of adults who attended yeshiva, and 21 percent of Jewish students who receive no Jewish education at all.
By blending 21st century digital methods into more traditional approaches, we can boost these numbers further. Efforts are already underway. Foundations such as Avi Chai are currently working to instill digital methods through existing schools, new schools, and online Judaic studies. New homeschooling models offer a comprehensive Jewish education for parents who want to keep their students out of public or private systems. The virtual classroom is one of the eLearning tools through which Jewish educators are reaping the benefits of being able to reach to students online with face-to-face interaction.
Useful Online Teaching Tips for Jewish Educators
Online educators have many of the same challenges that traditional classroom educators do, in the sense that they are always looking to make education more affordable and accessible. Luckily, by going digital, it makes it easier to increase enrolment, reduce costs and reach out to more students.
First and foremost, growing enrollment requires getting the word out about learning through a virtual classroom. Most Jewish educators, luckily, work within a community rather than a vacuum. Communicating with administrators and peer educators can help raise awareness of virtual classrooms. Moreover, transitioning pre-existing courses to a blended or flipped model can make an extant course more appealing, thereby increasing enrollment, without requiring new marketing efforts.
You can efficiently manage your digital courses when using Learning Management System (LMS) software. Educators can update, alter, delete or create new content without hassles. Usually, LMS and Virtual Classrooms have an online content library with a structured content or course builder. The instructor can take advantage of these pre-existing frameworks to create meaningful content for his/her learners.
There are many ways in which digital content is shared with enrolled students. You may email content, deliver it through an educational institution or use live/virtual classrooms to hold live lectures. You may even create self-paced and scheduled courses for providing content to your students on your LMS. Use videos, audio, PPTs, PDFs to make dynamic content. The virtual classroom should support delivery of the learning material in an on-going virtual class.
Student progress can be measured using polls, surveys, tests, assessments, and report analytics. These tools provide insight into the progress of the students in an online learning setup. These assessments also give feedback on how the course is doing and if the instructor may have to make any changes in the content structure to engage students better.
Reaching a Wider Audience
Lastly, digital courses make it easier for educators to cast a wider net. The array of digital resources available today means instructors can not only offer scalable, affordable instruction online, they can also provide resources (textbooks, workbooks, worksheets and more) over the internet as well.
Typically, online courses are already cheaper than in-person classes, because they are easily scalable to a more significant number of students. Plus, much of the content is self-paced, meaning instructor-time goes down, and instructors can focus on a wider variety of courses for the same salary.
Learning Models to Incorporate the Virtual Classroom
The virtual classroom may be included in the following learning models such as:
- Blended Learning: In this learning model, students have access to both online and in-person education, combining face-time with the instructor and self-paced work. This model offers students an element of control over where, when and how they complete their learning and is easier to differentiate based on student needs than models that rely entirely on whole-class instruction. Here, the virtual classroom may be a part of home-based online education or any other location apart from the physical classroom.
- The Flipped Classroom: The flipped classroom is based on the idea that an instructor proves more beneficial to students when available, to help with work, than when merely providing instruction. In the flipped classroom, virtual learning materials offer students the necessary guidance outside of school, while the physical class is used to help students with what would otherwise be “homework.”
- Unsupervised Versus Supervised: In the unsupervised model, the role of a Jewish educator is to design course materials and make them available online, and then allow students to complete them at their own pace. Following this method drastically increases the amount of time the educator has to create new curricula and resources. The supervised model is still instructor-led, carried out in real time, but the education can even take place online through the virtual classroom.
Each Jewish educator should choose the model or models that work best for them, depending on their location, goals and the locations they serve. For instance, when serving a mostly rural and homebound population, a fully online, supervised or unsupervised model may be best.
No educational model is without its challenges, of course. However, Judaism, which has been the global vanguard in bringing education to its youth for centuries, and has already proven itself adept at adopting new means of teaching. Adding in the virtual classroom can only boost this preexisting success, ensuring future generations of educated Jewish youth.
Vivek Singh is Content Manager at WizIQ – an EdTech company that offers online learning delivery platform to businesses and educators. She writes about eLearning, education technology and the role of the cloud in education. Follow WizIQ on Twitter and LinkedIn.