A person sits on a chair working on a laptop on a white table, doing online learning.

5 ways Hebrew schools benefit from online learning

Online learning offers an array of learning options for students--along with a way to explore areas of personal interest

The traditional educational “classroom” has changed in ways that no one could have imagined thanks to the web and continually evolving technology. Secondary schools have been challenged, as they search for ways to provide more customized educational options for students who are seeking to discover their own passions and interests. This has presented challenges for all secondary schools, but even more so for Jewish day schools with an already full day of dual curriculum courses.

Westchester Hebrew High School is a Modern Orthodox co-educational high school in Westchester County, New York. As a smaller school, we pride ourselves on offering a customized academic program for each student, with opportunities for independent study and electives. Consequently, we embraced VHS Learning (VHS) option early on.

Related content: 6 things I learned bringing online learning to international schools

We kicked off our online offering with a handful of honor students, one of whom had an interest in the legal field and wound up taking four different law-related classes successfully online.

Here are five ways we’ve found online learning complements what we’re doing at our Hebrew high school:

1. Allows students to learn valuable life skills. I’m a huge proponent of students getting involved with online learning at the high school level. And quite honestly, earlier would be even better. As a small school, the content is of course important, but for me the biggest takeaway is that the kids learn time management responsibility. Using an online platform like the one we selected, our students are learning with a teacher who they haven’t had for two or three years in a row, and who doesn’t know them personally. It’s a teacher to whom you have to explain why you can’t be online for this specific Jewish holiday, for example, and advocating for yourself. To me, those are way more important skills than any content. I didn’t go into it knowing that when I started with online learning, but I came to the realization afterwards. They are life skills, that—no matter what the students do—they’ll take wherever they go, to college and well beyond.

2. Levels the playing field for shy students. We have some students who, regardless of educational level and skill level, are extremely shy and prefer not to speak out in class. They don’t raise their hands and they’re reluctant to volunteer any information. The online learning world helps to level the playing field for these students. In the asynchronous learning environment, for example, these shy students are all “equal participants” with the more outgoing students who are in their classes. This is an invaluable tool that we only learned about as we dove more deeply into the online learning space.

3. Provides a predictable and structured offering. When we were selecting an online learning partner, I really liked the predictability of VHS’ courses. If it’s a standard class, for instance, the course is developed with a certain number of hours per week that a student is expected to complete. And if it’s an honors class, then there’s a different set requirement. Every week, students have a chart to follow that shows what’s expected of them. The long-term projects are also broken down logically and easy to follow. For a writing class, for example, week one is the intro paragraph, week two is the body of the story, and so on; there are no surprises and learning objectives are clear.

4. Introduces our students to a worldwide audience. In any small school, rural school, or even a small school district, the kids you go to school with are a lot like you, give or take. Here at our Hebrew school, our students have a relatively sheltered existence. With our online provider, they “meet” students from around the world. If the kids are really interested and the teacher manages to facilitate it, they even have conversations that go beyond the coursework. There’s an area in each class where kids can just have general conversations. This helps expose them to other worlds, other people, and other life opportunities.

5. Allows you to integrate Judaic studies. Through the Online Judaic Studies Consortium (OJSC), our community of Jewish day schools works collaboratively with the online provider to develop and deliver high-quality online Judaic studies courses throughout North America. As the writer of VHS’ History Makers of Israel class, I know that we have students who might be more interested in their Judaic studies than in their secular studies. And while our school’s courses satisfy their secular needs, some students may have a specific interest in a Judaic studies area or in a particular Jewish course. Now, these courses may not speak to a career interest, but they’re no less interesting for the students who want to explore them on an intellectual level. Being able to offer them in the online format helps to fill that gap nicely.

Eyes wide open

When adopting an online learning platform, day schools need to go into it with their eyes wide open. Don’t just expect to sign students up, have them take courses, and do it without anyone ever checking in with those kids. It takes time for them to get used to this platform, which is why we found having a hands-on local site coordinator is really important (especially in the early stages).

Ultimately, day schools will find that it affords them a tremendous amount of flexibility in offerings while giving students an opportunity to learn in a different environment and attain knowledge they’ll carry with them going forward.

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