The fall semester has officially ended, but online courses are making it possible to keep learning about Israel from leading Israeli professors. This opportunity is available not only to college students but to anyone in the broader community with access to the internet.
By Dr. Ariel Ilan Roth
Where to go for quality learning opportunities about Israel is a challenge for many members of our community. Many college campuses have a limited number of courses that tackle Israel in any capacity, much less in a comprehensive, multi-faceted manner. For adults who have long since graduated from college, finding good sources for understanding Israel is even more difficult. Technology offers a partial solution. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are one model that can help address the community’s desire for in-depth, nuanced information about Israel that is accessible to a diverse cross-section of community members – from college and high school students to Jewish educators, other Jewish professionals, and simply members of the community interested in learning more.
Over the past few years, MOOCs have emerged as a popular form of learning in a range of disciplines. This alternative education model, which offers easily accessible and often free university-level course content, is an excellent resource that lowers the physical barriers to learning and opens the door for a wider audience to participate in robust study. MOOCs can thus be particularly advantageous to the growing field of Israel Studies, given the challenges many potential students, both on and off campus, face when seeking high-caliber content on modern Israel.
As part of our mission to advance knowledge of Israel, the Israel Institute, with the generous support of the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation, has worked in partnership with a number of leading Israeli universities to launch two MOOCs on the topics of Israel’s history, politics, and society. The goal of these MOOCs is to present academically rigorous information on Israel from multiple angles and perspectives – political, social, economic, and cultural – and, in so doing, expose both new and more seasoned scholars of Israel to high quality research on the country. These courses were launched through Coursera, an online platform housing courses created by accredited institutions of higher learning.
Our inaugural course, “A History of Modern Israel: From an Idea to a State,” was launched in the fall of 2015 in partnership with Tel Aviv University and explores the evolution of Zionism leading up to Israeli independence. To date, over 8,000 students have enrolled in this course, which has received excellent user reviews. Following the encouraging success of our first foray into the world of MOOCs, Part II of the course was launched in October 2016, examining the “Challenges of Israel as a Sovereign State.”
We also partnered with Hebrew University’s Faculty of Social Sciences to release a political science survey course this fall on “Israel: State and Society.” Over 13 different sessions led by different academic experts, the class explores various aspects of Israeli statehood and society, including Zionism, demographic trends, Israel’s economy and political system, multiculturalism and social stratification, and Israel’s place in the Middle East, to name a few. For this course, students can choose from two enrollment options, including an option to earn credit from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Both of these courses are available on the Coursera platform for free, making them easily accessible to anyone with an interest in Israel’s domestic politics, historical challenges, and more. We believe that these courses are an important resource in expanding the reach of Israel-focused information and hope that interested members of the community will take advantage of them to enrich their knowledge of modern Israel.
Dr. Ariel Ilan Roth is the Executive Director of the Israel Institute.
About: The Israel Institute is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to promoting knowledge and enhancing understanding of modern Israel by strengthening the field of Israel Studies. Founded in 2012, the Israel Institute works with universities and other research institutions to increase opportunities for the study of Israel and catalyze deeper engagement with the country in the academic, cultural, and policy sectors. The organization does not participate in advocacy efforts, but rather aspires to promote a flourishing and expansive field of Israel Studies through the sponsorship of visiting faculty programs, artist residencies, research grants for junior and senior scholars, online courses, public discourse events, and other initiatives. To learn more about the Institute’s work, visit: www.israelinstitute.org.