New Media Development and Virtual Content Communities in 21st Century Jewish Education

by Efraim Feinstein

I enter this field as a technologist, not as a traditional “educator.” I am the volunteer lead developer of the Open Siddur Project, where we are building a web-based platform that will include a database of Jewish liturgical texts and related materials (such as commentaries), in addition to an application for choosing texts and compiling them into a customized, printable siddur. While the Open Siddur and similar resources have an obvious function as an online reference volume, its most important feature will be to allow its users to share their customized texts so that they may be found, reviewed, and built upon by other users. The aspects of sharing, peer review, and iterative development open up a new model of teaching and learning that is not limited by geographic boundaries or by a single institution’s limited resources. This essay intends to discuss briefly what role projects such as mine have in the larger Jewish educational ecosystem.

The Internet has long offered many resources that provide materials suitable for use in Jewish learning. However, the promise of currently emerging technologies is in the expansion of the Internet from a read-only resource (“Web 1.0”) to a read-write, participatory resource (“Web 2.0”): a multi-directional communications medium that has the potential to facilitate simultaneous interaction between teacher and student, and each student with other students. It also enables connection and communication between disparate real-world communities. 

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