Sunday, May 17, 2015

Technology and Education: Challenges and Opportunities

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Jewish Studies Lecturer

I’ve been struggling with the issue of cellphones in my classes at Orot.
Last semester, Orot Israel College invited a speaker who spoke to the entire student body about our collective addiction to cellphones. Even more impressive than the truly frightening statistics and stories he told was the total command he had over an auditorium of 450 students, and his absolute refusal to allow anyone in the room to take out a cellphone. If someone took one out, he stopped his talk, and waited until the person put the phone away.
I was blown away, and convinced that I needed to do the same thing in my classes. When the new second semester began, I started each class by asking the students to put away their phones in their bags, telling them two things: First of all, their staring at their phones served as a distraction for me (which it really is – try talking to someone who’s staring at their phone). Second, I told them that, “If you’re there (on the phone) you’re not here." You cannot be on the phone and focusing on the class.
The students reluctantly acquiesced, and put away their phones, at first. For a while, I really stuck to it, and I must say that educationally, it was productive. The students were certainly annoyed, but the classes were better – more productive and focused.
But, as the semester has progressed, I have backed off – not because I don’t think that the cellphones are a distraction, but because I simply don’t have the energy to fight with my students anymore. I had hoped that the students entering my classes would, after a certain point, remember that I asked them not to use their phones in class and put them away on their own. Wishful thinking. Before each class I have to remind them – over and over – to please put away the phones until the end of class. And then there’s the laptop issue: a number of students bring laptops, and it’s painfully obvious that they’re not only taking notes. How as a teacher do I distinguish between cellphones and laptops? Why should there be any difference between them?
As part of my work at Orot, I serve as an administrator for the M.Ed. (Masters) program for Educational Administration at Orot’s Rechovot Campus. Students in the program recently participated in a site visit at Amit Amichai High School (for boys) in Rechovot. The Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Amit, Rav Avi Rokeach, explained that three years ago the school made a strategic decision to invest in technology. They recognized that the students’ lives were intimately involved in technology – not just as tools, but in the way that the kids think today. If we were able to translate the materials that they learned – Gemara, Chumash, mathematics, etc – using the technological language of the students today – then they could dramatically improve the educational experience of the school. Every student and teacher received a tablet, and they invested in putting all of their materials on the tablets so that the kids would be ready to learn.
Three months into the project, they recognized that the experiment wasn’t working. Despite the incredible investment in technology, they realized that the tools – the technology – wasn’t the answer. It wasn’t that the tech wasn’t working. It really was. But the investment didn’t really create the change that the school was looking for. It was the same school, the same students, the same learning.
We took a tour of the school and saw a number of classes in which the students were working in groups; they had projects in English, mathematics, science; many of the classes of course have frontal learning. In each class, students were working with each other on laptops and also using their phones. There was a lot of learning taking place, but also a lot of email, Facebook and Whatsapp as well. We asked school staff how the teachers prevent students from using the laptops and phones to play and waste time. The teacher said that he doesn’t make them learn or stop them from playing. Rather, he gives the both the freedom and independence to make the right choice, and not waste their time in class (and have to do the work at home).
Is tech the answer in education? It is definitely not the answer – but it’s certainly part of our students’ lives. How to use that technology, or limit its ability to distract our students represents a challenge that educators struggle with on a constant basis. As technology grows even more integral to our lives, the questions grow more pressing.
Does a school that encourages engagement with technology produce graduates that are substantially different than other schools? Today, it's far too early to answer this critical question, which will have important implications for education long into the future.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tribute to Rav Ari Shvat (Chwat) upon the launching of his new book:

The Israeli Flag and Speaking Hebrew
Orot Israel College cordially invites all Bat-Zion bogrot to join us on Tueday, the 8th of Sivan (May 26) at 8:00 p.m. at Beit HaRav Kook in Jerusalem, to an evening, co-sponsored by Michlelet Orot Israel, and the Institute for Zionist Strategies, in honor of Rav Ari Shvat.
Rav Shvat , a dedicated teacher of religious-Zionism and Aliya,  taught in the Bat-Zion program for many years and continues to teach in Bnei Akiva and other Israeli programs for close to 3 decades now.
The theme of the evening is “Zionism and Post-Zionism”, and the guest speakers will be:
HaRav Prof. Neria Gutel, Dean of Orot Israel College;
Yisrael Har’el, Founding Director of Yesha Council and recent recipient of the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism for 2015/5775;
Rav  Ari Shvat, author of “Raising the Flag”, the first book dedicated to “The Importance of Zionist Symbols in a World Transforming to Universalism”.
This will be a great opportunity to see many former Bat Zion Rabbanim and well as bogrot and friends.
We look forward to seeing you at this special event!

Orot Israel College Holds Tribute for Renowned Choreographer and Dancer Mrs. Oshra Elkayam

On Tuesday, 4 Nissan 5775 (March 24, 2015), Orot Israel College hosted a tribute to renowned choreographer and dancer Mrs. Oshra Elkayam at our Elkana campus. An Orot dance and movement instructor, Mrs. Elkayam was recently awarded the Ministry of Culture’s prestigious Arik Einstein Prize for her contributions to Israeli culture at a gala ceremony held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The tribute began with a greeting from Orot’s President Rav Professor Neria Guttel. Next, the audience was treated to a video presentation, which included short clips and photographs from some of the dances Mrs. Elkayam choreographed for the Batsheva Dance Company, the Kibbutz Dance Company, the Inbal Dance Company, and others. Mrs. Tziona Shabtai, an Orot alumnus who wrote her thesis about Mrs. Elkayam, shared several excerpts from Mrs. Elkayam’s notes about her work “I Walked Then.”
Oshra Elkayam studied under the tutelage of Martha Graham, who was known as “the high priestess of dance,” in New York and then attended the elite Juilliard School during the early 1960s. After returning to Israel, she began choreographing for all of the major dance companies, and her professional achievements are considered to be a significant milestone in the history of Israeli dance.
In honor of the tribute, Many Orot alumni, students, and faculty members wrote heartfelt letters to express their appreciation. For instance, one student wrote:
“Besides the professional knowledge, you taught us about humanity, creativity, and a love for dance and everything that surrounds us.”
Another student added:
“At various occasions, we heard people talk about you, and little by little, we realized that we are privileged to study under one of the dance world’s most respected and major figures. But with your typical modesty, you tried to keep this information from us.”
Orot Israel College extends our best wishes to Oshra and wishes her many more years of creativity and contribution to Israeli culture.

Orot Israel College Hosts Paamonim Financial Management Workshop

by Rabbanit Dr. Leah Vizel 
Dean of Students and Extramural Studies, Orot Israel College

Recently, Orot Israel College, in conjunction with the Paamonim organization, hosted another workshop on healthy financial management. The workshop was a natural extension of Orot’s belief that training future teachers includes enriching our students’ world in various contexts as well as demonstrating concern for their welfare.
Here at Orot, we believe that an educator’s role involves more than simply transmitting knowledge, and throughout our students’ training, we bring this ideal to life. Thus, Orot students and their husbands, who live in the married student housing on our Elkana campus, participated in a series of constructive and enjoyable sessions during the evening hours. Due to the large demand, we offered two parallel workshops, which were given by Paamonim’s Mr. Moti Gilboa and Mr. Shai Davidovich respectively. During the course of the sessions, the young couples were given practical tools for effective financial planning: an introduction to basic financial terms; an explanation of retirement and other social benefits in the workplace and their long-term significance; the significance of interest in reference to loans and investments; building a healthy attitude toward money; and much more. Geared specifically for couples at the same stage in their lives, facing similar financial challenges, the workshop even included a discussion of the participants’ own experiences.
The grateful couples sent the following note after completing the workshop: “We want to thank you for organizing the Paamonim workshop. This workshop is essential for everyone and especially critical and relevant for young couples. In addition, the statistics we were shown during the workshop indicate that 60% of the country’s citizens are in debt. Therefore, we feel that you ‘provided the cure ahead of the potential future malady,’ for at least some of the couples.”
Orot Israel College is proud to provide our students with the essential tools for managing their families’ finances.