Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Monday, August 11, 2008

Google and Education

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly asks: Is Google Making Us Stupid? This was then the subject of a NY Times article:

Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?


Published: July 27, 2008

Is the Internet the enemy of reading, or has it created a new kind of reading, one that society should not discount?


Here are further resources from the NY Times:

Further Reading on Reading


Published: July 17, 2008

What does it mean to read in a digital age? Here are links to some studies, speeches, reading tests — old and new — and other resources.


This sparked a fascinating Lookjed discussion which I participated in on the Internet and Talmud.

Personally, I do believe that the Internet has been detrimental to traditional reading. Students today probably find it much more difficult to read a full length novel than a century ago. However, I am not sure if it is much worse than 30 years ago when children were watching television instead of reading. By that criterion, the Internet youth culture of today might be a vast improvement over the TV watching culture that I grew up with. The reason is that TV is a fundamentally passive medium. You sit on your couch watching TV and vegetate, thus the term couch potato. The Internet is anything but passive. You are actively engaged in a dialogue with members throughout the globe. Using Internet, you seamlessly transition from reading, to writing, to watching, and back again. This active medium might encourage critical thinking although this would require a great deal of research to prove or disprove my theory. As they say in the rabbinic literature, Tzarikh Iyun, it requires in depth investigation.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Talmud and the Internet

Below are my comments to a fascinating Lookjed discussion on Google and Education started from a query by Larry Kobrin. The entiring discussion can be read here: Google, the Internet, and Education.

August 3, 2008
Dear Shalom and List:
Regarding Larry Kobrin's fascinating question about Google and Education and how it relates to Gemara study, Aharon Frazier, Avraham Walfish, and Zvi Grumet all make worthwhile points.

The book, The Talmud and the Internet which Zvi referenced was the first to point out this similarity. One of its most cogent points is to view every Daf Gemara like its own homepage with hyperlinks to dozens of other sources including other places in Talmud (Mesoras Hashas), Tanach (Torah Ohr), and Halachic codes (Ein Mishpat, Ner Mitzvah). As with the web, there is no true beginning or end. One can start at any Daf and it will eventually lead one to the entirety of Torah. It is a Yam HaTalmud, as another famous analogy goes and a beautiful poster made by the Diaspora Museum illustrates, where one has different beaches or entry points but ultimately it is the same sea where one can jump in to start enjoying its pleasant waters. I believe that for our students who find learning Gemara so different than any other educational excercise that they have embarked upon this analogy is a very strong one and can really help them conceptualize Gemara study.

Now for the differences... Besides the ones already pointed out here are three.

1) The anonymous nature of Internet discussion. This to me is the most alarming difference. While the Gemara is meticulous in reciting the names of Sages going back to the source (see the famous quote, "Whoever brings a source in the name of its author brings the redemption to the world") the Internet culture often celebrates using anonymous pseudonyms or actively tries to misinform with false names. The dangers of this culture which now has a name 'trolling' was elaborated on at length in a recent NY Times Magazine article by MATTATHIAS SCHWARTZcalled The Trolls Among Us which can be found at

2) This leads to my second difference, the authority of the Sages quoted. In an Internet discussion, everyone can claim to be an expert on anything while the Sages quoted in the Talmud are all Chachamim of the greatest stature. The assumption in the Gemara is one of tremendous Emunas Chachamim where entire discussions revolve around how each Sage would hypothetically have answered the other Sage's comments and objections. You are learning a hyperlinked text composed by intellectual and moral giants, most Internet discussions are anything but.

3) The third difference is the lack in many Internet discussions of a strong editor or moderator. Lookjed notwithstanding, most Internet discussions have little editing or moderating where people talk endlessly or say things that are inappropriate or worse. The Gemara, especially the Talmud Bavli, benefits from very strong moderators or redactors Ravina and Rav Ashi. As Rav Yehudah Hanasi did when compiling the Mishna, they decided what exactly what to put in and leave out, added important puctuation in the form of keywords, and made parenthetical comments to help the flow of the discussion. It is exactly because the statements in the Gemara are all edited with such meticulous care that every word can be examined and analyzed requiring "slow and careful study" as Avraham Walfish points out.

In summation, I think the comparision between the Talmud and the Internet is a strong one that can help our students learn. However, they must recognize that one is the Chachmas Haboray, the wisdom of the Creator, while the other is merely a discussion often misguided created by anyone who chooses to be involved. We should encourage our students to join in the discussion of the Gemara much as they are excited by the discussions online and they too can become a part of our beautiful mesorah.

Kol Tuv,

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Malwebolence The World of Web Trolling

I read this fascinating article from the Sunday NY Times Magazine:

Published: August 3, 2008
A growing subculture has a fluid morality and a disdain for pretty much everyone else online.

As a Director of Educational Technology, I have had experience with students who posted other students personal information online as a "joke" but I never realized that there was an Internet subculture devoted to this. Very interesting and alarming...