From the Professional Staff

New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative

By Renee Rubin Ross on September 4th, 2012

Last week, I attended parts of a two-day work session of the New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative. The Collaborative, headed by Columbia Jewish Studies Professor Jeremy Dauber and documentarian Sam Ball of Citizen Film, is a recently funded Jim Joseph Foundation grant program that is engaging a cohort of ten Jewish Studies professors from around the country to incorporate new media and digital storytelling into their teaching, student assignments and scholarship.

Bringing new media into Jewish Studies could be a game-changer: A recent study found that almost half of Jewish college students took at least one Jewish studies course by the time they were seniors. Other studies demonstrate the deep impact that New Media has on college-age students; as “digital natives,” today’s students are naturally drawn to sharable, online projects with a creative component.

Image utilized by Collaborative participant Samantha Baskind of Cleveland State University in a course about Jews and Comics (Look Magazine article, February 27, 1940)

At one of the presentations, Cleveland State University’s Samantha Baskind described how she uses images and video to teach her students about Jews and Comics. Baskind began with historical background: The majority of the illustrators and publishers of the comic book industry that developed in the 1930s and beyond were Jews. Baskind shared a powerful panel from a 1940 Superman comic book in which Superman grabs Hitler by the neck and overpowers him. Baskind explained how she encourages undergraduates in Art History and Jewish Studies to look at the aesthetics of images in order to better understand their messages and historical context.

The presentation sparked fruitful conversation. Baskind described how her students often are familiar with comics, but know little about their history. So Baskind uses Youtube videos, which include archival footage and audio from the time, to present images within a cultural and historical framework.

Other Collaborative participants encouraged Baskind to consider how she might deepen and broaden the learning experience by creating a class blog or wiki in which students could share these images along with their own discussions and analyses. This led to a discussion about the role and legitimacy of multimedia blogging, and the guidelines that professors might create for this medium in academic settings. The University of Washington’s Jewish Studies director Noam Pianko challenged his peers to think of new ways of sharing images and multimedia beyond the classroom. For example, he would be interested in sharing these images and the analysis of them in his Jewish Studies courses.

As I listened in, I thought about how the project is already exceeding our expectations. We know that technology is underutilized in Jewish education and that we need to remedy that problem. The question is “How?” This challenge was explored in creative and thoughtful ways over the course of the work session. Each Collaborative participant is a specialist in his or her area of Jewish Studies.  By collaborating with one another, as well as media artists and digital humanities experts, the scholars are learning to incorporate digital storytelling and sharable multimedia into Jewish Studies research and teaching. They will share expertise with students and give students the opportunity to share with their peers.

The project aims to reach 2,000 students directly over the next two years through the integration of new media assignments into Jewish Studies courses. Through partnerships with institutions on and off campuses, the Collaborative could potentially introduce many thousands of people to Jewish Studies research and themes. This is only one of numerous initiatives that the Jim Joseph Foundation funds as part of several experiments focusing on New Media in education. As the Collaborative continues to learn and share best practices, New Media will help professors to broaden and deepen the level of engagement of Jewish Studies students.

The New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative was developed by Dauber and Ball in collaboration with the Jim Joseph Foundation, building on an ignition grant awarded by the Covenant Foundation to Citizen Film.

Read more about the New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative.

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