These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on May 26, 2014 by Tani Cohen-Fraade

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From my blog:

Tani Cohen-FraadeA question that is a very hot topic right now in Jewish education is about what the role of technology should be in the Jewish classroom. It was once a given that Jewish learning was being done in physical books. Enter the Xerox machine. All of a sudden, we don’t need to carry around huge heavy books, and it’s fine, paper quite literally grows on trees, right? Wrong.

Recently, because of the improvement of technology in the Jewish classroom, schools have been given incredible opportunities, such as having classrooms where every student has their own iPad! So, what’s the deal? Is it okay for our students to learn a daf of Gemara on an iPad?

I’ll say right off, that I’m the first person to be wary of how technology is used in the classroom. I love books. I love the smell of them, i love how sturdy they are and how with books we need to make choices because we can’t just take them all with us everywhere. However, some recent developments in my own life may have changed my outlook and approach to using technology in and out of the classroom and this has to do with one of my newer purchases, a beautiful iPad mini.

A little more than a year ago, I was student teaching in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The school that I was in was pretty technologically advanced and i remember observing one lesson in particular when a gleaming iPad cart was wheeled in for the students to take out their respective devices and create presentation videos to show the class. I was amazed by what these students were able to do, albeit a bit embarrassed that i was incapable of doing the same (or anything close to it!).

When I returned to my hometown at the end of my student teaching stint, i checked my checking account balance, walked into the Apple store at Yale University, and bought my iPad mini. This experience has changed my life. I have discovered helpful apps and resources, and no longer have to carry all of my books everywhere i go. At the same time, I still am very much a book person. In fact, I look forward to Shabbat when i can put away my tablet and open a book, fully knowing that the pages can be worn down, that food stains will not go away, and that each book can be forgotten somewhere if not careful.

igemaraWhen it comes to learning Gemara, the iPad has also enhanced my experience. I recently learned a technique for breaking up and analyzing text called text-mapping. Text-mapping is done by coppying a section of text from the appropriate app (u-ve-lechtekha-va-derekh is phenomenal) and coping it into a word processor. I use CloudOn because it doesn’t mess up the hebrew fonts. The user is then able to break up the text, color code it, move it around, format it, really whatever helps them to understand the sructure and the meaning. But here’s the catch, I take my iPad with my recently mapped text, and I sit down with it AND my heavy talmud. While I think technology brings us incredibly opportunities, i think it is important that we are steeped in our history and that we don;t forget our books as heavy as they may be.

So, I would say it is totally acceptable to use an iPad AS A TOOL, but that tools shouldn’t replace our texts, no matter how heavy they may be.