Monday, January 6, 2014

Thoughts on Mercava

Everyone is talking about Mercava, the new app that is being developed
for Jewish education. The first time I saw its promotional ad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCCj19NYPSs),
I was too. In fact, I believe my first tweet said: "Mind=Blown". Over the
past few weeks I've had a few moments to sit down and actually think a
little more about it and there are a few key points I think need to be thought about.  Before explaining, I must mention, I am excited about Mercava.  I think it will certainly be a tool that I will add to my collection of apps I use.  Mercava's Artscroll app feel (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/artscroll-digital-library/id536661409) for free will be huge, and its ability to jump from source to source will be valuable.  However, I do have a few thoughts on the contrary as well. 

1) The app opens with a few apple like interview clips (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL0UlqpfuQc) which say, "The current educational system its not working for a generation of children..." and "by not acting we will lose at least an entire generation of Jewish children".  I think that's a bit grim and is simply not accurate. In current life without mercava, I happen to think our Jewish education is not only "not working", but it is thriving!  From the teachers I know in my school, and colleagues from around the nation, there is incredible, high-depth, interactive, and meaningful learning going on.  There are a plethora of apps that have helped us make learning more accessible and dynamic.  While I'm sure Mercava will be useful, I think the intro was bit dramatic. 

2) As Rabbi Pittinsky @techrav mentioned in his blog (http://techrav.blogspot.com/2013/12/will-mercava-take-us-into-future-of.html), education is meant to be messy.  While the animated video clips of Mercava could bring the Navi to life in a way it never could have before, students will be stuck with what is given to them.  When examples, pictures, videos and ideas are spoon fed to the students, their minds can be stuck with the way it is given to them. Our students need to work on their own re-creating of the text.  Our students need to put their own creative spin on the text to make it real for themselves.  Our students need to be involved with PBL classes.  You can't merely spoon feed everything despite it's incredible Hollywood feel.  Kids will retain material when they're a part of it.  Kids will retain and understand information when they struggle though the comprehension and application on their own. I had a few students last year that worked on a project recreating the Beit Hamildash in Minecraft (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0XuZTT2aVY). I am positive those students will never forget it, as well as all of the intricate details of the Beit hamikdash that they created. Had I created the Beit Hamikdash for them, it simply wouldn't be the same. 

3) I saw a thread of discussion on Facebook from parents who were so excited that Mercava was coming out.  They felt this was the piece they were missing to take their kids to homeschool. As Rabbi Aaron Ross @rabbiross mentioned in his blog (http://jewishedd.blogspot.com/), great teachers can never be replaced.  Just like  countless of other apps and programs, Mercava is a tool.  A tool that can not replace the love and dedication of a star teacher. True, Mercava could in fact help students that are not able to attend Jewish private schools, but in no way will it ever come anywhere close to real people, real educators, and a dynamic school atmosphere. 

Please share your thoughts!

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