Editor’s Introduction

by: Zvi Grumet

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that computing power would double every 12-18 months. That observation, commonly known as Moore’s law, has held true for 45 years. The pace at which technology has permeated nearly every of our lives has roughly paralleled Moore’s law, and even “late-adopters” – those who wait for technology to mature before using it – carry smart phones and PDAs, check their e-mail regularly, and use the Internet for commerce and research.

In the world of education, what was a novelty ten years ago is now de rigueur. ASCD, a highly respected professional organizations for educators, publishes a daily digest of education news. Barely a day goes by without one of the articles relating to technology, with topics including iPods, iPads, cell phones and clickers in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools for teachers and students, Twitter and Facebook as educational tools, and Skype and videoconferencing to broaden students’ horizons. A recent issue of The New York Times Magazine raised the tantalizing, and perhaps frightening, possibility that the future of education is in gaming.

All this raises challenges for Jewish educators. Can we keep up with the frenzied pace of technological and educational change? What is the cost of keeping up, and what price will we pay if we do not keep up? Even beyond the technical issues, there is a potential fundamental clash of worldviews between the technological world and the classical world of Jewish learning.

In the classical world of Jewish learning, we pore over texts – the earlier the better. Authority rests in those who have mastered ancient wisdom; a teacher’s authority is based on his or her breadth and depth of that knowledge. In stark contrast, the technological world is based on the notion that the latest model is the best – by the time we actually buy the device we covet it is already on the way to obsolescence. Teachers’ (and parents’) authority is diminished because they know less about using technology than their children. Rarely has the balance of knowledge between generations been so dramatically altered. The fundamental conceptual underpinnings of the two worlds could not be different.

There are two possibilities for Jewish education. One is to strengthen the barricades and protect the system which has maintained us as a Learning People, reaffirming our bonds to the books we so dearly love. The other is to take a deep breath and embrace the New World – either because we have no other realistic option or because it offers us so much more than what we have now. This current issue of Jewish Educational Leadership assumes that the first option is not an option, and explores both the possibilities and the dangers offered by the revolution sweeping across our landscape.

Our Research section opens with a mapping of the issues by Jonathan Woocher and colleagues. Eli Kannai explores visions of the future of education; Judy Cahn and Rona Novick examine some of the social implications of new technologies; Devora Preiss shares highlights from her doctoral research on using technology to enhance spirituality in tefillah. Closing out this section is a short, insightful essay by Shifra Kaufman on how classical Jewish studies address some of the intelligences deemed necessary for the emerging new era.

Our applications section is rich with ideas from the field. Sholom Eisenstat presents an overview of the integration of hardware and readily available, often free, software into educational settings; Lookstein’s Esther Feldman shares insights from five years of experience using distance learning for Jewish studies; veteran educational technologist Meir Fachler introduces the latest software from Gemara Berura to aid in the study of Mishnah. Efraim Feinstein introduces us to the Open Siddur project, Yechiel Hoffman describes how technology integrated into and enhanced a high school Jewish thought class, and Avital Drory shares some of the pioneering work being done in Israel in Jewish educational software development.

Our Features section opens with Howard Blas’ description of the challenges, successes and lessons of creating an online Community of Practice. Selections from John Palfrey’s Born Digital provide significant food for thought, and Contributing Editor Levi Cooper continues to tantalize with a fascinating perspective on a previous technology revolution. Finally, our Perspectives column features Sam Lehman-Wilzig, a professor of communications, whose research at Bar-Ilan University focuses on the impact of future technologies on society.