During the past year, I have had two opportunities to teach a Judaic studies course online. I hope my personal experience will be informative to those of you who are currently engaging in this kind of teaching, and motivating to those of you considering broadening your teaching to include the online classroom.
The most enlightening and exciting part of this experience was the singular focus on student work. The two courses that I taught were fully prepared before I entered my online classroom. Each day my task was to respond to my students, guide them in their discussions, comment on their assignments and assess their work. All of these tasks were student centered and so my role as a teacher was totally focused on my students and their work in my online classroom.
The interactions between students and me were frequent and meaningful. I was delighted to experience thought provoking and rich interactions with students in schools across North America. Students asked excellent questions to which they wanted serious answers. They also shared personal anecdotes in an open and connected way with me and with their classmates.
The News items, a regular part of OJSC courses, enabled me to share personal information with my students, inspire them with words of Torah, or make them smile with a graphic or story that related to our studies.
The Private Topics allowed me to communicate with students one on one and are an excellent vehicle for building personal relationships with students. I found students to be very forthcoming and open in their Private Topics and to share important information with me in this space. The online classroom requires students to post and communicate, and those students who do not always participate in their face-to-face classroom often become full participants and find their voices in the online classroom.
I was delighted to observe the students interacting with each other and responding to their classmates’ work with respect and concern for each other. In their blog posts and discussion forums, Jewish day school students who never met shared their views on the meaning of a Mishna, research on the Tannaim, and Pesach traditions unique to their families. Their conversations were rich and personal, and they exchanged ideas while showing concern and consideration for their fellow students in that exchange.
Assessment in the online space is a wonder of technology which has a lot to teach us in our face-to-face classrooms. I often had difficulty keeping track of student participation in class discussions in my face-to-face classroom. The online classroom records every conversation, comment, and response to a classmate and helps the teacher to assess these student comments and share his or her feedback with the students.
I felt empowered by the assessment tools which I was using, and found myself often commenting on work each student completed in my online classroom. Perhaps because my students could not see my smile at their response to another student, I wanted to share mthoughts and words with them more extensively than I ever do in the face-to-face classroom.
Differentiation of learning is part and parcel of what happens in the online learning environment. Site coordinators in the schools informed me about student learning styles in advance so that I could modify assignments and expectations for those students. Students who had difficulty with a particular assignment reached out to me in the Private Topics and I was quickly able to modify the assignment to best suit their learning styles.
The ability to communicate privately in the online classroom allows room for everyone to speak up and articulate what he or she needs without any compromise to their personal dignity. This made a huge impression on me, and as a result, the students seemed to push themselves to do their absolute best work.
Lisa Micley, program director of the OJSC, has been working in Jewish education for close to three decades in positions ranging from teacher to program director. She is excited to be working with VHS Learning on this AVI CHAI funded project. The OJSC is designed to offer Judaic studies courses online to help schools enhance their curriculum, and expose students to online learning.
Contact Lisa Micley firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-450-0435 to learn more about teaching for the OJSC, and offering high quality online and blended learning opportunities for your students