Technology creating sustainable, scalable Israel education

We know the impact that an Israel experience can have on a teen’s Jewish identity. Now multiply that effect by 5,500. That is the power of RootOne powered by The Jewish Education Project.

MANHI IS working to make Zoom teaching more interesting and effective. (photo credit: PIXABAY)
MANHI IS working to make Zoom teaching more interesting and effective.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

At 2 a.m., Emily, a 10th grader from Dallas, is opening the RootOne online learning platform. She has completed 12 points toward her $3,000 voucher, and tonight she will finish her final six. The process took about five months.

There were two Zoom cohort meetings and a few one-to-one meetings with a teen from Israel. The final points will come from an on-demand introduction to Israel and its neighbors, created especially for RootOne participants. It was a lot of extra work during a busy school year, but in six days she is leaving for her first trip to Israel.

We know the impact that an Israel experience can have on a teen’s Jewish identity. Now multiply that effect by 5,500. That is the power of RootOne powered by The Jewish Education Project. While people may already know that RootOne subsidizes thousands of Jewish teens to go to Israel – many for the very first time – what people might not know is that the Israel trip itself is only one part of the magic formula. 

RootOne is an Israel education trajectory, and no less important are the experiences that come before and after the trip itself. This pre-learning, at such a scale, is made possible by harnessing the positive potential of technology. Last academic year, RootOne participants clocked over 40,000 hours of pre-trip learning as part of our Israel Continuum of Engagement. The Continuum creates an educational experience that spans the Early Learning (pre), the Israel trip, and the Continuous Learning (post) educational experience. 

OFFERING THOUSANDS of teens across the US vouchers to Israel, on the condition they complete a pre-trip learning experience, is not simple. Managing an initiative of this size, sensitive to the interest of the learners and the diversity of the trip providers, required building, from scratch, a customized learning platform.

Higher Education (credit: JPOST STAFF)Higher Education (credit: JPOST STAFF)

The platform offers each teen a personalized mix of learning experiences that is simple to navigate, flexible enough to accommodate over-extended schedules, and meaningful enough to provide a solid foundation to better appreciate the Israel trip itself.

In partnership with RootOne, educational organizations, both in the US and Israel, created over 20 on-demand, self-paced, and interactive learning opportunities using a course-authoring platform and the Learning Management System. These courses explored key concepts in Israel’s history, the roots of Zionism, and the diversity of Jewish peoplehood.

Far from anonymous, many of these courses included discussion boards, allowing teens to connect with program participants they would otherwise only get to meet when boarding the plane to Tel Aviv. These asynchronous learning opportunities were part of a larger menu of synchronous and in-person experiences. 

With a deep commitment to the belief that connecting to Israel is as much about connecting to the people as the places, RootOne also offered synchronous, one-to-one encounters between US and Israeli teens. RootOne pre-trip learning is designed to touch both the mind and heart, with meaningful conversations and new friendships created along the way. While it could be seen as the “warm-up” to the “real” Israel experience, the teens did not see it that way. 

Our evaluation suggests that they both enjoyed and understood the value of pairing pre-learning and the trip together. In fact, hundreds of teens earned more than the required 18 points, and many parents asked to participate in the on-demand courses as well, to learn along with their children.

Plans are already underway for next year. Our agency is refining our systems, both pedagogical and technical, to provide more comprehensive learning journeys in a seamless way. RootOne expects to serve at least 20% more teens in the coming year.

Emily is closing her laptop. She just completed an interactive game on the development of the Abraham Accords. Last week she had her final meeting with Lital, her Israeli partner from Nahariya with a shared interest in STEM. On Thursday, she has her final Zoom session before her Sunday departure. Her suitcase sits half-packed in the corner of her room. She still has three days before she leaves, but her Israel journey began five months ago.

She can’t wait.

The writer is the managing director of educational technology and strategy at The Jewish Education Project. To learn more about RootOne or the learning platform that powers its success, email [email protected]