Unfortunately, few teachers are taught about the opportunities and limitations of online learning, and few understand how best to use this unique learning environment.
When I was learning to drive I found that one of the hardest yet most important rules to remember was that different roads in different areas have different speed limits. This is because each road has its own character, its own terrain and its own challenges. In a similar manner, as a global traveler, I am always reminding myself that different countries have different plugs, and that for my laptop to work in another country I need an adapter that fits that country’s plug points. Simply put, driving in different areas and traveling across different countries demands an understanding of, and adaptation to, each new environment.As we know, the outbreak of COVID-19 has demanded significant adaptations across the globe, but undoubtedly one of the sectors that has needed to adapt most dramatically has been the educational sector. Rather than lessons in a physical classroom, teachers are now delivering lessons in an online classroom – and rather than asking students to look at the whiteboard, teachers are sharing their online screens.
The problem with all this is that just as driver needs to learn and understand the specific rules applying to each type of road that they drive on, and just as the traveler needs to learn and understand how different countries use different electrical outlets, so too, a teacher needs to learn and understand the different environments where they are called upon to teach.Unfortunately, few teachers are taught about the opportunities and limitations of online learning, and few understand how best to use this unique learning environment. I know this because I am a mother of three children whose school has now switched to an online platform and whose teachers are not fully engaging their students.But in addition to being a mother, I also wear a second hat as the founder of “Zehud” which is an online supplementary school for Jewish children in Europe, so it is of interest and great importance that when my children attend their online classes for Zehud, they are fully engaged.And why is this so? Because for the teachers and students of Zehud, the online classroom is not the replacement of a physical classroom, and as a result, our teachers and our students are already highly skilled in understanding how to learn and how to teach in this unique environment. So based on what we know at Zehud, what are the possibilities and the limitations of the online classroom? Here are three things we have learned:
1. LEARNING BEYOND BORDERS: Unlike a physical classroom that brings together all its learners in one single room, the online classroom overcomes physical distance and brings students, wherever they are, into a virtual environment. What this means is that just as students in different parts of the world can learn together, these same students can take virtual tours of places and countries that they may never have visited.
An effective online teacher understands that the online classroom can operate like a bespoke private jet for their students, and they use the flexibility of online learning to “take” their students to places of interest – such as the top of Masada, the hilltops of Tzfat, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the house of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.2. CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT: Notwithstanding the possibilities of the online classroom, online learning also brings some challenges. For example, while students can travel far in an online classroom, if students are just a few feet from the camera, you cannot see them or see what they are doing. Given this, Zehud has established a clear set of policies outlining the expectations of how an online lesson must be conducted by a teacher, and what is the appropriate behavior for students in an online classroom.However, what makes an online classroom perhaps even safer than a regular classroom is that all our classes are recorded and can be seen – both by me and by the parents of the children. Our experience is that this oversight also helps ensure that lessons are of the highest level, and that students can review material after the class has ended.3. VISUAL & DIGITAL LEARNERS: All too often visual learners are frustrated by teachers merely talking and asking them to write in classes. For many of them, the online classroom – which provides teachers with an easy way to share images and videos with their students – is simply a godsend. Moreover, by teaching students how to use a tablet or laptop for learning and not merely for playing games or watching movies, it also transforms the way young people perceive the utility of the tablets and laptops that they have in their home.There is a way to harness the online world to offer unique and interactive learning that is focused and experiential. Our children are thriving in their Hebrew and Jewish learning, and you can, too. All that is needed is an understanding of the unique current of this unique platform, which pedagogic plugs to use, and how best to steer the learning to maximize the potential of online learning.The author is the Principle of Zehud Jewish Online School. For more information or to join Zehud’s online school, take a look at: www.school.zehud.com