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Saturday, May 30, 2015

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Exploring the world of Jewish MOOCs

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Do you MOOC? More properly, have you ever attended a MOOC?

A MOOC – massive open online course – is an online course that is available without charge to an unlimited number of people.

Although distance learning is not new, MOOCs are different because they allow (some) interactivity between student, teacher and other participants. Most offer short video lectures and readings, and even quizzes, which are graded automatically. Upon completion, many institutions offer a certificate verifying participation in the course.

Is a MOOC right for you?  The Open University of Israel has created a great checklist. In a nutshell, you should love learning, be comfortable with technology and be self-driven. And you don’t expect personal feedback from instructors or require academic credit for your work.

As for the quality of the courses, they’re often offered by stellar universities and first-rate professors. Which brings us to the Jewish part of MOOCs. As the number of courses has exploded, so have the ones on Jewish topics, both inside and outside Israel.

Please note that you’ll need to check the timing of courses. In cases where the course has already taken place, you can sometimes sample most of the course materials at your own pace. Others allow you to join a “watchlist” for notification of upcoming opportunities.

For example, the University of California, Santa Cruz has offered a MOOC titled The Holocaust. Taught by Murray Baumgarten and Peter Kenez, this 10-part course “traces the destruction of the Jews and Jewish life in Europe by Nazi Germany, drawing on major works of history, literature, and film. The lectures outline the work of the Nazis as well as Jewish responses.”

Bernard Dov Cooperman of the University of Maryland, College Park, presents Practising Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and the Jews in Italy. From the syllabus: “What social and ideological mechanisms allowed Jews to survive and even flourish in Catholic Italy? And under what circumstances did the practice of tolerance break down? This course takes a different approach to the idea of tolerance, as well as to the long, complicated history of the Catholic Church and the Jews.”

Also check out MIT’s Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times. Although the course hasn’t been offered in several years, much of its material is available online.

The three biggest providers of MOOCs in Israel are Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Open University of Israel. They offer an eclectic mix of courses that range from history “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem” (Tel Aviv University) to the social sciences “Educational Psychology” (Open University of Israel) to the life sciences “Synapses, Neurons and Brains” (Hebrew University).

Most Israeli courses are offered in English with some in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic. (See below for full listing of Israel-based courses.) And to search for worldwide MOOCs on practically any topic under the sun, check out Coursera and edX.

The Technion made headlines recently when it announced that it was offering a MOOC on Nanotechnology and Nanosensors in Arabic presented by Prof. Hossam Haick. As Thomas Friedman noted in the New York Times, Haick was flooded with emails from all over the Arab world. “Are you a real person? Are you really an Arab, or are you an Israeli Jew speaking Arabic, pretending to be an Arab?” Prof. Haick is an Israeli Arab from Nazareth.

Well, it seems that MOOCs can allow anyone to ignore borders they would never consider crossing in the real life. Some 4,800 students signed up for the Technion course in Arabic, including registrants from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and the West Bank. Students from Iran signed up for Prof. Haick’s English-language MOOC.

A list of MOOCs offered by Israeli universities

Tel Aviv University (All in English; all starting in October 2014)

• The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem - Judah under Babylonian rule (6 weeks)

• The Emergence of the Modern Middle East (9 weeks)

• What a Plant Knows (and other things you didn’t know about plants) (7 weeks)


Hebrew University of Jerusalem (In English except where noted; start date TBA)

• Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thought (6 weeks)

• A Brief History of Humankind (17 weeks)

• Invitation to Mathematics (Hebrew) (12 weeks)

• Introduction to Tissue Engineering (10 weeks)

• Synapses, Neurons and Brains (9 weeks)


Open University of Israel (Courses have concluded; classes archived.)

• The Modern Middle East (Hebrew- 9 weeks)

• Genocide (English – 9 weeks)

• Educational Psychology (Arabic – 9 weeks)

• Jews and Christians in Western Europe (Russian - 9 weeks)


Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

• Nanotechnology and Nanosensors (Arabic and English – 10 weeks)

(Course has concluded; join a “watchlist” for notification of upcoming opportunities.)


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