Traditional Hebrew school has undergone a 21st-century makeover with the introduction of Live Online Learning (L.O.L.), a new Seattle-based Jewish education program that provides an innovative way for students to study Torah online. L.O.L., a project of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth in conjunction with TorahTutors, an international program that conducts Torah study through video conferencing, plans to educate local students coming from any Jewish background in a live, hassle-free video-chat format.
“The ongoing and future health of our community depends on cultivating an authentic and relevant Jewish identity,” said Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers, Ezra Bessaroth’s rabbi, a teacher at the Seattle Hebrew Academy, co–founder and director of TorahTutors, and leader of the L.O.L. program. “Familiarity and even fluency in our classical sources goes a long way in forging such an identity. My central goal [for L.O.L.], which fuels much of what I have done professionally over the past two-and-a-half decades, is the dissemination and clear articulation of Torah knowledge.”
L.O.L.’s technology integrates video camera, microphone, instant chat, and desktop applications to allow teachers to fully engage and communicate with their students. Rabbi Meyers has been using this platform, developed by Cisco-Webex, for over four years during his work with TorahTutors and is confident the program will be successful due to the learning opportunities accessible through the video-conferencing system.
“The Webex desktop comes along with annotating tools like highlighters, arrows and other features that help students focus on the sources we’re studying,” Meyers said. “Students can offer ideas and ask questions via a privately directed chat — or share their ideas orally or by chat with the rest of the class. What’s unique about the L.O.L. learning style is that the teacher views him or herself as a facilitator. Far from giving a frontal class, the instructor introduces texts and solicits students’ response in interpreting the sources.”
L.O.L. is primarily intended for Seattle children over 8 years old who are not currently enrolled in a local Jewish day school, explained Meyers, but will eventually expand to offer adult and teen interest classes as well. Groups of any age will soon be able to solicit particular topics of interest, and the L.O.L. team will work to formulate a curriculum tailored to their requests.
L.O.L. will offer four initial courses for the fall 2012 session: “Year In, Year Out,” an overview of the major themes and holidays throughout the Jewish year, “Torah on the Tip of Your Tongue,” a weekly Torah portion study, “Love Your Neighbor,” a study of the history and applications of Jewish law, and “Beginners’ Talmud,” a weekly session on the content and structure of the Talmud. Class size will be limited to around six students per eight-week course in order to ensure that teachers are able to provide personalized attention to students’ individual learning needs.
L.O.L plans to utilize community sponsorships as the primary source of funding for the program. Rabbi Meyers is hopeful this funding will allow him to provide additional class resources and expand the menu and scope of L.O.L. course offerings for future years.