“The challenge facing the Jewish Community is to rally its resources for education because it is through education that it can renew and revitalise itself,” he said. “The fruitful collaboration we have built with World ORT allows us to view the future with optimism and greater confidence.”
Dr Odelia Liberanome, Coordinator of the Pedagogic Centre of the Department of Education and Culture of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, which organised the Rome Seminar together with World ORT’s Education Department, agreed.
“We know our needs but ORT provides us with the tools to allow teachers to have more possibilities in what they do,” Dr Liberanome said. “It’s important for us because we’re a small community and what we give to the students is more than simply Jewish education – we need to be very strong to transmit Jewish identity. These technological tools enable the students to feel part of this.”
Last week’s Seminar featured guest Israeli speakers Dr Elaine Hoter, Head of ICT at the Talpiot College of Education and an expert at the MOFET teacher training institute, and Noya Sagiv, of the Centre for Educational Technology. Both of them are leaders in the field of creating practical and positive synergies between education and technology.
As Judah Harstein, Head of Jewish Education at World ORT, said: “The beauty of what we can achieve is that by using our contacts we’re able to bring over experts involved in Israel’s high quality development of new ICT-related learning techniques so that teachers can benefit from direct contact with them. These people are actually doing pioneering work and we’re able to bring them straight to those who will most value their expertise.”
Dr Hoter, who participated in a previous de Gunzburg Seminar in South Africa, led the Italian teachers through a podcasting workshop, introduced them to Google sites through which they can share material on an on-going basis and showed them the beauty of digital storytelling.
“I found the teachers to be very creative and very dedicated to their pupils,” she said. “It was a pleasure to work with them. The Seminar was a wonderful opportunity for me; it gave me more understanding of the work teachers are doing in the Diaspora to make Judaism come alive.”
Ms Sagiv described how technological advances had created the potential for new, personal connections between individuals and traditional Jewish texts.
“It’s not only an Orthodox treasure; it’s now open for everybody,” she said.
The availability of such texts on-line meant that even the inexpert could appreciate texts which had been far less accessible just a generation ago when they were available only in books and a certain level of expertise was required to establish contextual understanding with reference to other sources and commentaries.
“Now you don’t have to remember sources because they can be accessed through hyperlinks in the text you are studying,” Ms Sagiv, who participated in a previous de Gunzburg Seminar in Argentina, said. “Now you don’t only read and learn a text but you can also create new ones.”
This de Gunzburg Seminar was the first at the ORT Renzo Levi school which was able to take advantage of the Interactive Whiteboards and other technological aids which were recently provided by World ORT. However, while the technological infrastructure was in place, some of the teachers had some way to go to catch up with its potential – hence the importance of the Seminar.
“I think the Seminar is an amazing idea,” Ms Sagiv said. Not only did it bring teachers up to speed with the latest innovations in educational applications of technology but it also brought teachers and school together as well as building bridges between the Diaspora and Israel.
The possibilities thrown up by World ORT’s internationalism were encapsulated in a new programme proposed by Mr Harstein at the Seminar. The Junior Leadership Challenge would see children in ORT schools in different continents collaborate on the creation of projects based on their choice of Jewish leaders through the ages.
“Using video, graphics and the Internet, teams would draw lessons from the lives of these great people and explore how they could be applied to their own experiences and activities,” he said.
World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg said the series of seminars which had taken place over the past two years in Argentina, Moldova, South Africa and Italy was due to continue with one in Mexico later this year.
“This clearly demonstrates for me how apposite this initiative has proven to be and how, once again, World ORT has shown that it is in tune with the educational needs of Jewish communities,” Dr de Gunzburg said.
“The educational landscape is in constant flux,” he continued. “Today’s students and their families have come to expect educators to embrace new technologies and to transform classrooms into modern learning environments where computers, multimedia and the Internet provide a rich source of information presented in ways that engage students and encourage them to participate as active and involved learners. This is true for general and scientific subjects and it is also true in the field of Jewish studies.”
Rina Lund, a Hebrew and special education teacher at the Angelo Sacerdoti Junior High School, which is situated in the same building as ORT Renzo Levi, said she felt privileged to have been able to participate in all three of the Italian de Gunzburg Seminars.
“Each time there is at least one thing that I have learned which I immediately put to use in the classroom,” Ms Lund said. “I have learned about the websites where I can easily access material and how to create on-line cartoons. This year was also very rich in ideas and I have already started using the digital storytelling techniques we learned with Elaine [Hoter]. If only I had known about this before it would have been perfect for a Shoah project we did recently.”
Ms Lund said the de Gunzburg Seminars were providing the means by which she, as an older and less technologically adept person, could adapt her lessons to appeal to modern students.
“Today’s pupils are not like the pupils of 40 years ago,” she said. “We can’t pretend that they will be sitting there, backs straight, passively listening to the teacher. You have to meet them where they are and they live in a technological world. This means using technology so that they are interested in the lessons. Everybody today needs to be motivated and stimulated and you can do this by using instruments like the computer, which is their daily acquaintance.”