MuseForJews

muse: n. a source of inspiration

Technology and the Religious/Complementary/Supplemental School

I had a great conversation with a friend and former colleague yesterday and our discussion came around to Jewish religious schools and technology. Since I’ve taught religious school for the past 100 years or so (okay, maybe it’s been 35-ish), and work with educational technology on a daily basis, integrating technology into the religious school is a topic about which I’m often asked to comment. Pretty much it’s a topic about which I comment frequently, whether I’m asked to or not.

Anyway, my friend tells me that she’s been asked by her synagogue about SMART Boards. Apparently the synagogue is interested in purchasing interactive white boards for their religious school.

My response will surprise you. I’m a certified SMART Notebook trainer, and I work with SMART Boards every day at a day school. I love, love, love having one in my computer lab and have many colleagues who swear that having one has changed the way that they teach.

My response in this particular issue, however, may sound contrary.

I asked “why?”

“What are they going to do with them?”

To be honest, my concern is that purchasing interactive white boards (IWBs) for a religious school could possibly be a waste of money. Big money. Money that you could put in cameras, projectors, iPads, iPods…

I’ve watched my day school colleagues who are using IWBs and are maximizing the interactive aspect (meaning, they aren’t just using them as projectors). It’s hard work. It’s time consuming. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to master. I see great things in science and math classes.

We don’t teach a lot of math and science at religious school.

And I question whether religious school teachers are able to put in the time. Typically, religious school teachers do their prep at home, not school, thereby minimizing their opportunity to prep using the board itself. It takes a lot to become comfortable using the board. Oh sure, there are fun games that you can use on the IWB, but I question if that’s a good enough reason to spring for them.

And there’s the issue of support. Even my teachers who are using IWBs daily have issues. They need frequent support. Religious schools typically lack that level of tech support.

So, religious schools, if you’ve decided you want to “do tech,” don’t buy IWBs.

In fact, I’m not sure that you should buy much. I think you need projectors, which have come down in price. I think you need good wifi access and you need to open it up to your staff and congregants. Encourage them to bring their technology – their smartphones, iPads and iPods. Their own laptops.

Here’s the deal. The religious school teachers who want to use technology probably have the mobile devices to use. Let them lead the way for now. Rather than trying to figure out HOW to integrate technology from the top down, put your energy into supporting the people who already want to.

Don’t impose. Support. Give people the space to use what they know.

And don’t spend the money on technology unless you have someone who will use it frequently and authentically.

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July 22, 2011 - Posted by | Technology, Thinking | , ,

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