Sandra Rosenfeld Katz has worked at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies for over a decade, and the last five years within the e-Learning Department. An ed-tech specialist fluent in several languages, Katz has, alongside e-Learning Department Director Dr. Naama Shik, headed the team that recently created a new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled "Teaching the Holocaust: Innovative Approaches to the Challenges We Face."
The course is a joint venture with the University College London (UCL) Centre for Holocaust Education. Over the past few years, the Centre has conducted extensive research in order to identify some of the most important trends, concerns, challenges and achievements in teaching and learning about the Holocaust. This reservoir of knowledge, and the pedagogical and historical expertise of Yad Vashem, has enabled the development of this brand-new resource. In advance of the launch of the course this November, Katz shared some of her insights:
Why do you think MOOCs such as this are so popular among online learners today?
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in general are a great tool for online learners. There are many different platforms with a range of options, many of them free of charge. You can find them on almost any subject and really enhance your knowledge. As an in-depth learning experience to an academic level, students at universities and colleges can take MOOCs for credits, but what is great is that it is an open platform for anyone who wants to learn.
This has been proven with our previous MOOCs about the Holocaust and Antisemitism – over 200,000 users so far have been registered on these courses, and they are far from being all teachers and students: We've had dentists, dancers, platoon commanders, politicians, television and radio presenters, designers, and surgeons – so many people from all walks of life are interested in expanding their horizons, and MOOCs allow them to do this from the comfort of their own homes.
During the current situation worldwide, many people have been quarantined or locked down, so a MOOC is a great way to pass the time, while gaining new information and skills. While of course we could not have foreseen this particular course being launched during a global pandemic, many teachers are currently teaching remotely and looking for enrichment training, which this course provides.
How is this MOOC different from other online courses?
This MOOC represents a unique collaboration between Yad Vashem and a leading British institution in Holocaust education. This is the first time that such a partnership has led to a such a far-reaching and critical tool for audiences around the world.
Previous MOOCs created by Yad Vashem have been of exemplary standards, exploring Holocaust history as well as the evolution of – and ongoing struggle against – antisemitism until the present day. Both courses have proved very popular. This MOOC contains history and research, but also practical teaching components: Over the course, participants actively learn how to intertwine providing historical content with effective teaching methods, with a focus on using survivor testimonies and Holocaust-era artifacts. There are educational exercises built in to the course, which means that by its conclusion, the learner will feel more comfortable with the subject matter. This is also important because often teachers shy away from the Holocaust, as they consider it too weighty a subject and don't know how to approach it. This course can help educators and other opinion-shapers find their feet, so to speak, and feel confident that the right information and messages are being passed on.
Why is it still important to teach about the Holocaust now, so many decades after the end of WWII?
Teaching the Holocaust is more important than it has ever been. With global studies pointing to a worrying lack of awareness about basic facts about the Holocaust, and rising antisemitic expressions and acts in so many countries as well as online – we have seen conspiracy theories abound, especially connected to COVID-19. The meanings of the Holocaust – what can happen when racist ideology, hatred and xenophobia go unchecked – are more relevant today than ever before. And of course, sadly the survivor generation is dwindling fast, so our firsthand witnesses are fewer and far between. This is the time to amplify their voices. The new course addresses many of these challenges, and more.
Who is this MOOC aimed towards?
Everyone! This course has been specifically designed so that anyone who wants to talk about the story of the Holocaust – formal and informal educators, community leaders, in-service instructors, trainers of teachers, youth workers, clergy, influencers, and more – can. It is offered on an open platform, anyone curious about the challenges of teaching this topic in today's complex society is welcome to register and expand horizons.
In what ways do you think this course will benefit people who teach the Holocaust?
I believe that once they complete the course, they will have gained more historical knowledge, some new and innovative tools, great material from both UCL and Yad Vashem, and even a component of interactive practical experience. Participants will definitely be more equipped to teach and should feel more confident and less overwhelmed with the subject matter.
What has been your personal highlight of working on this MOOC?
It sounds funny, but I actually feel like I assisted in creating a kind of new life form – from conception onwards, through development via research, filming, structure, editing, and production, until its "birth" on the FutureLearn platform. It has been so satisfying to see the course come to fruition, and the entire team hopes that participants benefit from taking it as much as we have benefitted creating it.
To register for "Teaching the Holocaust: Innovative Approaches to the Challenges We Face" on the FutureLearn platform, please click here.