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The Intersection of Learning Environments, Educational Technology and Human Interaction: A response to Zvi Grumet

In reading Rabbi Zvi Grumet's summary of the core elements that run through this journal, this statement resonated deeply: ”The empowerment of students to be not only consumers of information but discoverers or creators, the conscious integration of communication and collaboration into learning, and the creation of environments which are adaptable to student needs and foster student flexibility are all part of this shift.”

The design of physical space and schools has been deeply influenced by technology in general and mobile device use in particular. Mobility has increased flexibility in education, making it easier to blend content, create diverse learning paths, and enable creativity for all abilities. It has encouraged a shift in the relationship between learners and educators and how they interact within those spaces, be it classroom, studio or lab. Modern learning spaces are already being designed to fulfill learners' needs - with quiet spaces, places for skype and online conversations, and collaborative spaces. These provide opportunities for interacting with virtual communities and the synergy of the physical and virtual spaces encourages creative approaches. For example, prior virtual meets help facilitate and ease physical meets and enable students to have already “broken the ice” when they meet in person.

But many teachers will never have access to the state-of-the-art classrooms described in the journal articles, often dealing with inadequate classrooms and furniture donated from decades past. At Ji we have the privilege of currently building a new virtual learning environment. We are intrinsically aware that our focus is fully meeting our users’ needs while encouraging a healthy and balanced approach to technology use. We work with a core group of teachers who work in a very broad range of environments and whose access to hardware and software varies greatly. Together we are building a virtual learning space - one that encourages all the positives discussed by the educators in this publication - accessible to all teachers.

In this context technology has become a vital lifeline - connecting teachers, sharing content and building communities of practice and support, while allowing students to learn at the pace and level they need. With the onset of AR and VR - these virtual environments have the potential to replicate physical spaces and encourage interactions between students/teachers that would never previously have been possible.

With virtual spaces as alternatives to physical spaces, our experience has taught us that students learn more effectively and efficiently in the confluence of three core elements: 1) a well-structured learning environment, 2) effective adaptive educational resources, and 3) balanced human interaction. Interestingly, the digital tools can also help facilitate the human interaction, whether between the teacher and the student, the student and her peers, or even the teacher-parent and teacher-student interactions. Watching student learning and growth in the intersection of these three factors is a truly wonderful experience.

Chana Kanzen

Chana Kanzen is CEO of Jewish Interactive. Chana is passionate about innovative teaching and enjoys nothing more than watching children’s faces light up as they experience Judaism through Ji.

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