Center for Distance Learning at Jewish Theological Seminary
learning, the ability to study at one’s convenience, whether for
a degree or for enrichment, by logging onto the Internet from
almost any computer anywhere has become a reality. In a dedication
of The Phyllis Kaminer Center for Distance Education at the Jewish
Theological Seminary (JTS), Professor of Talmud and Jewish Law
Rabbi Joel Roth explained that education via the Internet is just
another stage in an evolution in the technologies of learning
that, according to rabbinic literature, began on the eve of the
sixth day of creation when God created writing, which made knowledge
more widespread and accessible. Plato called writing a gift of
the Gods meant to enhance memory and wisdom. Following the invention
of printing in the fifteenth century, the first books in the Hebrew
language appeared in Rome, then Spain, and then Constantinople.
Some scribes, feeling threatened, attacked the new technology
as inferior, but printing caught on and the Jewish book market
rapidly changed from mainly hand inscribed to print, allowing
for more complicated texts including commentaries. “Each era’s
visionaries have built upon the successes of the past creating
a continuous stream of improvements,”commented Rabbi Roth. “More
recently, we have marveled at new possibilities presented by the
typewriter, photography, microfilm, the telegram, TV and digital
instruments. As yet unimagined technologies will inform future
From ancient times to our day, students have
had to go to the place where their teacher is located. Distance
learning changes this dynamic, traversing both time and space
to allow interaction between student and teacher from opposite
ends of the globe. The program at JTS which began as an experiment
five years ago, currently offers two online degree programs: MA’s
in Jewish education and in Judaic studies. Non-degree courses
can also be taken for professional development and for personal
enrichment. Courses have been created that adapt the content and
standards of the classroom to the possibilities of the Internet.
Educators are being forced to think outside of the familiar box.
Formal lectures are not suitable; classwork must be presented
in small units. Logging on to the school’s website, students find
lessons which they complete and return after exploring and making
their own way through the net’s many linked materials. They interact
with teachers and fellow students via a course bulletin board.
Photos of the students are posted to humanize discussions. Everything
can be downloaded. For the first time in history, a great teacher
can reach unlimited numbers of students. A JTS course is taught
by a professor in Jerusalem. When texts are in Hebrew, translations
and comments are available.
Distance learning, a “new link in an ancient chain,” is still
in its infancy. It may change the nature of education, but careful
oversight must be applied to its development, advised Rabbi Roth.
For more information log on to http://courses.jtsa.edu/.#
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