Letter from the Editor

by: Zvi Grumet

Technological advances have given us unparalleled control over our environment and have helped us conquer space. The world is a global village; we can physically travel to places unthinkable previously and digital communication enables instantaneous communication between the far reaches of the planet.

At the same time, the ever-quickening pace of change has made us increasingly uncertain over our future. Once upon a time people would imagine both the past and the future as being fundamental unchanged from their own reality; today we understand that next year might be dramatically different from this, and we can only begin to imagine what our world will look like in a decade or two. People not only change jobs more frequently than they used to, trends indicate that changing careers is becoming more normative. Learning information, or even particular skills, can no longer suffice, as we need to be prepared for continually changing environments.

Four skills identified as critical for the twenty-first century – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration – step in to address this sense of insecurity. These four skills can essentially be divided into two groups:

  • The skills of creativity and critical thinking will equip students to deal with an ever-changing world. This stands in contrast with traditional methods of teaching information, which only prepared them to live in their present.
  • The skills of communication and collaboration both focus on the increasing need for interaction with others. On the technical side, with the explosion of information it is impossible for any individual to know all that it necessary. Only crowd-sourced knowledge – the kind that drives Wikipedia and Waze – will possibly yield enough data. On a more profound level, however, the lack of stability in an era of peripatetic transition drives us to seek out what is stable, and that is other people. Everything around us is being constantly transformed, but the fundamental nature of people has stayed the same. Communication and collaboration with others become essential tools, not just for productivity, but for our very sense of selves as we seek comfort with fellow drifters in a world we cannot rely on.

This issue of the journal addresses challenges of twenty-first century learning. For many, when they hear of 21st century learning they immediately think of technology. That is understandable, but as Gary Hartstein writes in the opening article, the technology is nothing more than a tool – like a pencil or a whiteboard – and needs to be harnessed properly with educational thought to move education forward. In our Research section Chana German provides both theory and practical guidance for schools looking to include online courses, Ronit Ziv- Kreger translates 21st century learning into a Jewishly-grounded project-based learning, the AVI CHAI Foundation presents a broad view from a funder’s perspective, Jeffrey Schrager explores a conceptual approach to Tanakh based on cognitive theory, and Eliana Lipsky together with Jennifer Shah explore the implications of glocalization and critical literacy. Rounding out this section is a detailed plan for creating a Jewish blended learning program presented by Elchanan Weinbach.

The Applications section opens with Estee Fleischmann’s thoughts on the need for 21st century learning in Jewish studies. Esther Feldman and I present initial reflections on a Lookstein Center program to train teachers in Flipped Learning, Jamie Mason Cohen shares his award winning format for using online resources and tools to bring archaic texts to life, and Naomi Stillman presents all-new tools included the NETA’s Hebrew language program. Rounding out this section we have reflections of veteran educator Shaindy Zudick’s first-time venture into the world of online teaching, Reuven Margarett’s description of his school’s venture into the world of gaming to teach Jewish history, and Karin Schreier Hallet’s perspective from the changing role of a school librarian. There are also two online exclusives – Moshe Shulman describes how online learning enabled him to offer courses for both boys and girls in a gender-separated school, and Claudia Marbach shares how she integrated technology into her Mishnah class.

In the Features section we have an interview with Susan Yammer, who helped develop and taught a number of online courses for JOLTT, the forerunner of The Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy. Levi Cooper’s column exposes a relatively obscure rabbi from Djerba who was decades ahead of his time in his thinking about developing tools for Rabbinic decisors, and Jon Mitzmacher shares his thoughts in the Perspective page.

As with all the issues of the journal, we see this issue not as the final word on 21st century learning but as an opening for further discussion and exploration.

Bivrakhah,

Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Ed.D.

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