HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Distance Learning… Local Benefits
As class is about to begin, I can hear the familiar music that lets me know we are technologically connected. I go to the TV, push in the videotape and press the record button. Suddenly I see my classmates as we unite to video conference together. They are in West Palm Beach, Florida; Houston, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Kansas City, Kansas and Miami, Florida. We greet each other with a “Shalom, Ma Ha inyanim?” (What’s up?) just before our professor in Cleveland lets us know that it’s time to work. We have so much to discuss in our two hours together.
Times have certainly changed for me as a student. I find myself back in college after a thirty year respite from college life. At fifty-one, I have decided to get my master’s in Jewish education. This inspiration came from my participation in RAVSAK’s pilot program, Project SuLaM, sponsored by the AVI CHAI Foundation. I was so fortunate to be one of sixteen participants from Jewish day schools across the United States and Canada to have a spectacular Jewish experience at Brandeis University for two summer sessions. With the help of inspirational mentors and outstanding professors, the goal was to help general studies leaders learn more about Judaism so that we could better understand the importance of integrating the Judaic studies with the general studies curricula within our schools. The impact upon me was profound! I was given a taste of learning and when the opportunity presented itself to get a master’s degree in Jewish education, I jumped at it.
While participating in the initial two year commitment with Project SuLaM, we were asked to participate in a distance learning computer class about Jewish pluralism. It was a thirteen week session where we would share articles of interest, make comments, and dialogue via email. The challenge became when to find the time for this commitment. As a full-time educator and having a family life, I had to try and find at least two hours on a Thursday night to read and summarize articles. Then as my ‘Sulamite’ peers commented, we could continue to dialogue if we wished. It wasn’t the personal dialogue I had become accustomed to, yet, I was able to connect with my peers’ thoughtful minds again, even if only in writing. This was my first experience with distance learning.
You may be wondering how distance learning works. For me it involves a commitment of time and some travel. I made up my mind to try to complete the program in two years. This means that I will need to take two courses per semester plus, over vacation, some intensive classes. (Classes that condense the required credit hours into four eight-hour days of study.) I travel forty miles, one or two times a week (in notorious Miami traffic) to the Jewish Federation building. Classes are two hours each. In class we meet face-to-face by teleconferencing. Each of us in our respective classrooms can see the other class as our TV screen is broken up into several sections. We speak into a microphone and all can hear. We can participate in ‘Chevrutah’ or group learning, one city to another. Technology is amazing. There are several assignments, papers, and readings to accomplish each week. The workload can be quite strenuous. There is also a large financial commitment; however, Jewish educators in my community have provided me with very generous financial assistance.
How has this affected me personally? I’d like to say that I am very fortunate to have the love of a marvellous husband and dear friends. They often don’t see me for days. My husband has given up all computer rights until late at night. I tell my friends we’ll do Sunday breakfasts over spring and winter break (if I’m not taking the intensive class). They assure me they’ll wait and that they are proud of me for this effort. It is a lot of work! I am learning to retrain my mind as a student. What does my professor want and from what perspective should I be considering the twenty page essay I am writing?
It has also allowed me be a more compassionate teacher. I think twice about my homework assignments. Do they have meaning and purpose, enough to take time from my students’ lives once they finish their workday at school? This experience has brought about a profound change in me and who I am to my students, my Judaic studies educational peers, and my school community. I now truly understand what my school’s mission statement is trying to achieve and I can play a more cohesive role in its fulfilment. Our mission statement affirms that we are committed to inspiring Jewish values in our students, and to providing our students with the tools necessary to develop and fulfill their greatest potential for becoming life long learners.
The future of the Jewish community belongs to our children. How we teach them to understand our Jewish heritage will determine their ability to preserve and become active members of the Jewish community and secular environment. I can do this now from a well rounded perspective. By taking on this distance learning program, I have been provided with the opportunity to grow, learn and effect change. I believe I have become a more sensitive and involved educator and I have been told by my peers that the excitement I share for this learning is contagious. What a great local benefit for all of the distance learning!
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