When the pandemic hit, suddenly, everyone went online. Teachers had to learn new technology such as Zoom and figure out how to effectively communicate with their students throughout the crisis.
Director of Community and Online Learning at The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning Yael Weinstein needed to adapt pretty quickly so that her students would stay engaged.
“We were doing some online learning before [the pandemic], but really our online learning burst at the seams during the early days of COVID,” she said. “It was quite early on that I recognized within our experience that we were going to need to think about hybrid learning.”
Melton, which hosts classes for over 50,000 students all over the world – local partners include Beth Shir Shalom, Stephen Wise Temple, Temple Etz Chaim, and Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center – began pursuing hybrid learning. With this model, some students attend a class in person, while others watch it virtually.
Weinstein, who is a historian who has taught many classes for Melton, ran a pilot program in 2021 with the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando “to help all of our sites and our community partners within the Melton sphere see [what] hybrid learning was,” she said.
“They’re not necessarily wanting Zoom education only and they’re not necessarily wanting only in-person education.” – Yael Weinstein
Through this program, Weinstein came up with best practices for teaching in a hybrid classroom. What she discovered was that while students are yearning for more education, “they’re also yearning for more accessible education,” she said. “And that means that they’re not necessarily wanting Zoom education only and they’re not necessarily wanting only in-person education.”
Some best practices include disabling chat on Zoom; if teachers enable it, then only Zoom learners can participate. Teachers also need to look at the camera, but also at in-person learners, while making sure that Zoom learners can still see them. It’s a good idea to incorporate props and use polling apps like Mentimeter instead of running polls on Zoom so both kinds of students can use them. Teachers should provide physical materials that can be printed out at home as well as for students in the classroom.
According to Weinstein, Zoom whiteboards are helpful, because if teachers use a whiteboard in the classroom, people online won’t be able to see what’s going on. Teachers can encourage in-person learners to participate as well as Zoom students to raise their hand on the app if they have something to say.
“Make sure that you have the right technical support, especially if you’re a faculty member [who is] uncomfortable with technology,” she said. “You can really provide a comprehensive experience for those who are not in person.”
While Weinstein learned about hybrid teaching through videos, it wasn’t until she implemented the best practices and taught a hybrid class to her daughter that she truly learned how to improve.
“She was the one who first started telling me, ‘Mom, you have to look at the camera’ [or] ‘Mom, you have to look at the students,’” said Weinstein.
Now, she’s recommending that all teachers do practice runs to figure out what’s working and what’s not, because one thing is for certain: hybrid learning isn’t going away anytime soon.
“There are so many opportunities, [and] technology is constantly advancing, changing and growing,” she said. “Those new technologies can be integrated by us, as educators in the classroom, in ways that we can’t even imagine.”
Weinstein sees this as a positive when it comes to learning in the Jewish community.
“We are at a renaissance right now in Jewish education because of COVID actually, and I really am excited to see how we learn,” she said. “There is an inclusive, equitable learning happening in a dual modality experience for everybody. There’s going to be an amazing future with that in the Jewish world.”