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"TEC" Center (Technology, Education and Cultural Diversity): Using ICT to increase equity and intercultural competence



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The TEC Center
Shonfeld, M., Hoter, E., & Ganayem, A. (2013). Connecting cultures in conflict through ICT in Israel. In R. S. P. Austin & W. J.
Hunter (Eds.), Linking schools: Online learning and community cohesion. New York: Routledge.
Miri Shonfeld, Elaine Hoter, and Asmaa Ganayem
Israel is considered a high-tech country, but it is also considered a country "in conflict."
While these two subjects may not seem related, they actually offer an opportunity to battle the
culturally diverse conflict while using technology. Since the development of the
Internet, attempts have been made to use technology to bring people from diverse backgrounds
together online. The potential for using the Internet to build bridges and connections between
cultures in conflict has wide implications for changing attitudes, prejudice, and stereotyping.
This chapter reviews cultural diversity in Israel; the attempts to bring conflicting groups
together; and finally, trust building in online collaborative environments (TEC), a model
developed by the founders of the Technology, Education, and Cultural Diversity Center (TEC) to
bridge cultures in conflict in Israel and its implementation in various academic programs and
Research on the TEC Center's programs indicate that structured information and
communication technology (ICT) intervention can reduce bias, stigmas, and ethnic prejudice
among project participants and help them become proficient technology agents of technology-
based social change.
Israel is a culturally diverse society with many divisions. The three main cultural segments
composing the Israeli society are: secular Jews, religious Jews, and Arabs1. However, it is
important to note that each of the three segments is subdivided, and within each group there is a
diversity of cultures and ethnic groups. For example, within the Arab sector there are Muslims,
Christians, Druze, Bedouins, etc. Within the Jewish sector (religious and secular), there are many
cultures and ethnic groups due to Jewish immigration from many different countries (for
example, Russians, Ethiopians, Ashkenazi Jews, and Sephardic Jews, etc.). Therefore, the
conflict in Israel is multifaceted. It includes a territorial conflict (both sides claim the same
territory), a religious conflict (Muslim and Jewish), ethnic conflicts, and a cultural conflict
between East and West.
<A>Distribution of the Israeli Population
In 2010, about 7.7 million people lived in Israel, of which 75.4% were Jews, about 20.5%
were Arabs, and 4.1% belonged to other groups (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010).
<B>Jewish Society
The Jewish population consists of a wide range of political ideologies and levels of
observance: secular (42%), traditional (13%), religious (12%), and Ultra-Orthodox (8%; Central
Bureau of Statistics, 2010). Understanding religion plays a key role in understanding the
differences among the Israeli systems. Tensions exist between the different Jewish religious
subgroups, especially regarding the extent of religious practices in the public sphere.
In the cities, one can find a large variety of Jewish affiliations. However, quite a number of
religious Jews choose to live in separate communities where they share a similar political and
religious outlook with other members of the community. In the ultrareligious segments, social
norms restrict interaction between men and women as well as interaction with other religious
<B>Arab Society
Arabs constitute the largest non-Jewish minority in Israel and are distinguished nationally,
religiously, and culturally from the Jewish majority (Al-Haj, 2003; Ali, 2006). Arab society in
Israel consists of more than one subcultural group and is heterogeneous in terms of religion:
about 82.5% are Muslims, 9.5% are Christians, and 8% are Druze. These numbers do not include
Palestinian Arabs living in either Gaza or the West Bank who are under the auspices of the
Palestinian Authority.
Many Arabs live in the peripheral areas of Israel (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2011), and
their lifestyle is substantially different from the Jewish lifestyle. However, a great number of
Arabs in Israel live in four main citiesJerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acreeach of which has a
mixed population of Jews and Arabs; however, in most cases, the neighborhoods within the city
are separate (Ali, 2006; Al-Haj, 2003). Socioeconomic gaps exist between the Arabs and the
Jewish society in Israel (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010; Ganayem, 2010). Ali (2006) has
identified a strong trend of a return to religion in the last two decades, mainly among Muslims.
The more devout Muslims become, the more they oppose direct relations between the genders,
let alone social relations with the Jewish population.
<A>Separate Educational System
The national Israeli educational system is divided into two subgroups: Jewish and Arab,
and the Jewish system is further subdivided into secular and religious (Orthodox). In accordance,
from kindergarten onward, children study in a particular education stream (secular Jewish,
religious Jewish, or Arab) and do not usually interact with children from the other streams within
the system. The core curriculum in the three educational systems is, in essence, the same.
However, the Arab schools use Arabic as the language of instruction and dedicate more hours to
the Arabic language and Arab issues. The religious Jewish schools designate more hours to
Jewish religious studies.
The exception to the separate educational systems can be found in four bilingual schools
that have been established over the past 30 years. In these schools, Arab and Jewish pupils study
together, and for each subject they have two teachers, Arab and Jewish. They learn to speak both
languages, celebrate holidays and festivals of both cultures, and share their cultural norms with
each other. Such initiatives are not common and have not spread throughout Israel (Bekerman,
2004; McGlynn, Zembylas, Bekerman, & Gallagher, 2009).
There have also been initiatives to join secular and religious Jewish children within the
same school and classes, and a number of these schools exist today in Israel. The curriculum is
adapted so that the children study religious subjects separately. However, this is the exception
rather than the rule, and most Jewish schools belong either to either the religious or the secular
<A>Policy Regarding Intercultural Education
There is no official national policy regarding intercultural education in Israel. However,
projects and initiatives promoting intercultural education have regularly been supported and
financed by the various governments.
Inherent in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948) is the commitment to extend equal
rights to “all inhabitants.” Israel's educational system demonstrates such a commitment by
allowing the opening of schools according to a religious and cultural affiliation. These schools
enhance the mandatory educational curriculum with national, religious, and cultural subjects. As
a result, the majority of schools have a specific religious and cultural orientation with little or no
interaction with other cultures.
In 1996, the Kerminzer report recommended that schools teach social studies from
kindergarten to 12th grade and within this framework encourage interaction between the
different segments which compose Israel's pluralistic society. However, at the commencement of
the Intifada2, these student interactions, as described below, ceased.
<A>Educational Projects and Initiatives
Over the last 40 years, there have been numerous initiatives in Israel to bring together
diverse groups in a variety of educational settings. From the start of this century, the integration
of ICT in these projects has gained momentum, because it enables asynchronous meetings from
different locations while at the same time conceals external appearances, thus allowing for an
unprejudiced first impression.
<B>Past Initiatives and Projects
In the 1980s, the Ministry of Education included a study unit on democracy and coexistence in
the curriculum of formal, informal, and higher education schools (Maoz & Ellis, 2001). Over the
years, the Ministry of Education has set up various programs to bridge Arabs and Jews, such as
joint teacher seminars. However, with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, the majority
of these government initiatives petered out. There have been numerous educational initiatives
between Arabs in Israel and Israeli Jews involving face-to-face meetings and discussions, mainly
between secular Jewish schools and Arab schools, with the objective of fostering contact and
intergroup dialogue (Abu-Nimer, 1999; Sonnenschein, Halaby, & Friedman, 1998; G. Salomon,
2006). Most of these projects were based on the Contact Hypothesis (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew &
Tropp, 2000), which was further developed and applied in Israel by education and social
psychologist Yehuda Amir (1969). As explained in Chapter 1, this theory suggests that
intergroup contact tends to contribute to the reduction of prejudice, if and when certain
conditions are met.
There are also educational initiatives to bring religious and secular Jews together to discuss
issues and differences between the two groups. The most popular of these initiatives is the
Gesher ("bridge" in Hebrew) organization, which was founded in 1970 and is dedicated to
bridging the gap between diverse segments of Israeli Jewish society. Each year, 70,000 Israelis
participate in Gesher programs.
As mentioned above, there are four intercultural schools in Israel with a policy of equality
of language and status. There are also a number of teacher education colleges, predominantly
secular Jewish, which are intercultural in nature. Research has shown that there is little social
integration and students stay within their own culture and social group (Shamai & Paul, 2003).
Universities are open to all students but more secular Jewish students study at the universities
than other groups.
<B>Online Initiatives and Projects
Online cybermeetings have existed in Israel since the beginning of the Internet in the early
1990s. There are numerous advantages to online meetings between cultures in conflict and
people not within the same geographical area. Furthermore, relationships between Arabs and
Jews can be built gradually in a secure online environment where there is minimum anxiety,
geographical distances are cut, and costs are significantly lower than face-to-face meetings. In
addition, the online environment allows for more equality of status, intimate contact, and
cooperation (Amichai-Hamburger & McKenna, 2006; Hoter, Shonfeld, & Ganayem, 2009).
Hundreds of short-term projects have been carried out since the year 2000, mainly between
secular Jews and Arabs in Israel, with mixed results. Often the Internet is used as a follow up to
face-to-face meetings where the conflict and identities are discussed. Chat rooms, blogs, and
websites are used to post reflections and impressions of the conflict (Katz & Yablon, 2003;
Kampf, 2011). Since 2007, Internet-based workshops have gained momentum in Israel and the
Middle East since the Internet is both attractive to young people and is regarded as neutral
ground for meeting. The following are some of the online initiatives launched in Israel:
Yad2Yad is an integrated educational and research project aimed primarily at fostering
dialogue between Jewish and Arab children in Israel in order to promote a culture of mutual
understanding and tolerance. Bekerman & Horenczyk (2009) named the project “computer-
supported collaborative intercultural education” (CSCIE).
Interactive games have been developed and put online to help pupils think about the
problems and complexity of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A
much accredited example is Peacemaker, a computer game developed by Impact Games which
allows players to take on the role of a Palestinian from the Palestinian Authority or an Israeli
leader in order to solve the conflict through tools such as diplomacy. Results on the influence of
these games are encouraging (Gonzalez, Kampf, & Martin, 2012). Another example of a role-
playing game is called SafePassage, which is based on Flash-animated video clips and blogs
(Kampf, 2011).
More recent projects use social networks to join Jewish and Arab youth in Israel in
discussions on mutual interests. The youth movement Yahla targets the age group of 15 to 30
and strives to enhance future leadership, further coexistence, security, economic development,
and social issues. Its first virtual online council took place in January 2012.
Online courses are taught in various teaching colleges that include Jews (secular) as well as
Arab Israeli students. As part of the study, students are required to do group work and thus
interact with their peers. Schools Online3 is a project in which Jewish schools engage in online
activity with Arab schools in Israel. This initiative was funded in 1998 by the business sector and
is now part of the Ministry of Education’s activities to foster collaborative learning.
Although the extent of Internet-based encounters between Jews and Arabs within and
outside of Israel has gained momentum in recent years, the number of studies evaluating these
encounters is relatively limited and they have produced contradictory results. Several of these
studies have indicated that the Internet can serve as an effective space to promote learning and
understanding of the "other" (Molov & Lavie, 2001; Hoter et al., 2009).
<A>Theoretical Models of the Projects
Maoz (2011) has divided the different types of projects into four different model types:
Coexistence model: This type of program seeks to promote mutual understanding,
tolerance, and the reduction of stereotyping, fostering positive intergroup attitudes
and advancing other goals in the spirit of the Contact Hypothesis. This model
emphasizes commonalities and similarities, and supports notions of togetherness
and cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Israel (Maoz, 2004). The model was
adopted in Israel in the 1980s and has been the dominant model for peace
Joint projects model: This model has been in Israel since the 1980s. It is similar to
the coexistence model and is based on Muzafer’s (1966) study showing that
working together to achieve a superordinate common goal can increase sympathy
and encourage the formation of a common identity. Examples of this model
include choirs, study groups, mixed soccer teams, and online courses and projects.
Confrontational model: This model was first presented and applied in the early
1990s by Arab facilitators in Israel who felt that the previous models did not
express their needs and desires as a national minority group. The projects and
programs using this model emphasize the importance of discussing the roots of
the conflict and power relations between the sides. The goal of the model is to
modify participants’ perceptions of the identity of the other and to encourage
greater awareness of the asymmetrical relationships in Israel (Halabi &
Sonnenschein, 2004). The model is based on the Social Identity Theory and
emphasizes intergroup interaction as a means of transforming attitudes (Tajfel &
Turner, 1986). The number of studies on the confrontational model is very limited
(Ellis & Maoz, 2007).
Narrative storytelling model (Bar-On, 2010): This model combines aspects of the
previous models using a narrative approach where participants use storytelling to
share their personal and collective narratives, experiences, and suffering with
regard to the Middle East conflict. The assumption of this model is that in order to
achieve reconciliation, groups in intractable conflicts need to work through their
unresolved pain and anger by using storytelling. In contrast to the confrontational
model, this model succeeds in fostering acceptance, mutual understanding, and
constructive dialogue between rival groups via personal stories (Ellis & Maoz,
2007; Weiss 2008).
Based on the narrative model, Stock, Zancanaro, Rocchi, Tomasini, Koren,
Eisikovits, Goren-Bar, & Weiss (2009) conducted a study focusing on cooperation between pairs
of young Israelis of Arab and Jewish origin, where the participants were required to create a joint
narrative based on photos showing positive and negative aspects of the conflict, reflecting the
points of agreement and disagreement between them. Initial findings are encouraging, and it will
be interesting to see how the narrative model works online.
The use of virtual environments, such as Second Life, as a neutral place to carry out
dialogue and discussion between the groups, looks promising for all four models, and a few
experiential projects have been carried out in this area (Kampf, 2011; Shonfeld, Resta, & Yaniv,
<A>Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Intercultural Education
<B>Integration of ICT in School Curriculum
The Israel Ministry of Education has been implementing computerized learning in schools
since the early 1990s as part of the Science and Technology curriculum. Schools received
computers, and new books with learning software were produced. However, the OECD report on
PISA scores has previously placed Israeli students under the average score in most ICT skills
tests (OECD, 2011a). In response to the relatively poor achievement of the students in national
scores, the Ministry of Education launched a new program in the 2010/2011 school year to adapt
the education system to the 21st century through the use of innovative pedagogy that integrates
ICT. This ongoing program aims to equip pupils with the relevant skills for optimum functioning
in the 21st century (21st-century skills): teaching is adapted to suit the diversity of the students;
to break down barriers between the school and the outside world; and to make maximum yet
enlightened use of technology to promote the teaching processes, both at the pedagogical level
and at the pedagogical management level (Ministry of Education, 2011).
<B>Integration of ICT in Teacher Education Colleges
In Israel, in order to become a teacher up to grade 9, one attends one of the country’s 24
teacher education colleges for a period of four years. The degree granted at the end of the four
years is a B.Ed. and a teaching certificate with a teaching license. Research carried out in 2009
(Goldstein et al., 2011) indicated that while most preservice teachers entering teacher education
colleges had basic ICT skills, they used mostly traditional methods in their teaching practice,
even during their ICT-integrated courses. Furthermore, innovative models of ICT integration,
such as collaborative learning, inquiry, web-based synchronous and asynchronous distance
learning, were rare. The students received little experience in using learning management
systems and course websites; therefore, they were not sufficiently exposed to the advantages of
learning management via technology. These findings lead to the conclusion that Israeli teacher
education programs did not provide preservice teachers with adequate skills and competencies to
teach while using technology in the classroom.
ICT integration in teacher education colleges began as a top-down process initiated by the
Department of Teacher Education in the Ministry of Education, followed by a bottom-up process
a few years later, when innovative teachers initiated ICT-based projects with the support of the
Department of Teacher Education and the teacher education colleges. The MOFET Institutean
umbrella institute of professional development serving all 24 teacher education collegesplayed
an important role in the diffusion of innovations within the teacher education settings, being a
central node in the communication of innovative ideas and novel experiences for teacher
educators (Goldstein et al., 2011). As a result of the national program, a revised and innovative
program was created to better prepare teachers to implement ICT in teaching and learning
(Melamed, Peled, Mor, Shonfeld, Harel, & Ben Shimon, 2010). This program is in its initial
stages but has already stirred discussion regarding the most effective implementation under
budget restraints.
<A>Learning ICT: Practicing Coexistence
The TEC Center develops and implements a collaborative learning model based on
advanced technologies for lecturers, teachers, preservice teachers, and pupils from different
ethnic groups and religions, yielding constructive dialogue and cooperation between diverse
groups and eventually tolerance and mutual respect (Shonfeld, Hoter, Ganayem, et al., 2008;
Hoter et al., 2009; Ganayem, Hoter, Shonfeld, & Walther, 2012).
The TEC Center was established in 2004 and is based in the MOFET Institute. It is a
collaborative initiative of three highly diversified teacher education colleges in Israel: Seminar
Hakibbutzim College of Education (a secular Jewish college), Al-Qasemi Academic College (an
Arab Muslim college), and Talpiot College of Education (a religious Jewish college). The
MOFET Institute's mission is to serve as a professional meeting place for teacher educators and
to facilitate an educational dialogue among colleagues both in the teacher education system and
in other settings in the education system.
The TEC Center brings together individuals and groups who normally would not have the
opportunity to meet, such as pupils, students, and lecturers from different ethnic, religious, and
cultural groups who connect with others outside of their own religious and political affiliations.
Whereas many projects involve two cultural sectors, the TEC Center brings together three
distinct cultural groups (Jewish secular, Jewish religious, and Arabs in Israel). These groups
meet, mainly online, not to talk about conflict or to discuss differences, but to advance a joint
educational mission. Through these online interactions, they get to know each other as
colleagues on an equal basis.
<B>The TEC Center's Main Objectives
1. the development of innovative educational models that bridge cultures, using and
applying advanced technologies;
2. the training of teachers from diverse cultural backgrounds to use the Internet and other
advanced communication technologies as teaching tools while becoming acquainted
through collaborative small group learning;
3. the development of online teaching units that encourage acceptance of those who are
"different" and make them part of the curriculum in teacher education colleges and
4. the creation of an intercultural online community comprised of the teaching staff of
education colleges and schools;
5. the generation of ties among teachers, preservice teachers and students from different
cultures; and
6. the stimulation of cooperative intercultural ventures among educational institutions and
nonprofit organizations, as well as with the Ministry of Education in Israel and
organizations in other countries facing culturally diverse challenges.
<B>The TEC Center’s Target Audiences
academic staff in the teacher education colleges;
students in the teacher education colleges;
teachers in schools; and
pupils in schools who collaborate on educational projects.
Figure 3.1 Populations and the relationship among them
Academic staff
TEC center
<B>The TEC Model (Trust Building in Online Collaborative Environments)
The activities in the courses, all developed by the TEC Center, employ advanced Internet
technologies and are based on a collaborative learning model called the TEC model. The TEC
model is derived from the Contact Hypothesis (Allport, 1954; Amir, 1969; Pettigrew & Tropp,
2000), collaboration theories (R. D. Johnson & D. W. Johnson, 1994; Slavin, 1989), and models
of online collaborative learning (Austin, 2006; J. E. Salomon, 2011).
TEC is implemented by the educators of the participating groups, within small teams from
diverse cultures, progressing from online communication (written, oral, video) to face-to-face
interaction, in order to gradually build trust between participants (Hoter et al., 2009). The model
works through online collaboration via joint assignments over a period of at least one year with
preservice teachers in their second or third year training. Team members get to know each other,
develop mutual respect, eliminate stigmas, and reduce mutual prejudices. Thus, when the
preservice teachers become teachers, they serve as major agents of social change, having
influence on generations of children.
Figure 3.2 TEC model
<A>TEC Programs
The TEC Center has developed and implemented a number of programs within the
education system, directed at different populations as described in figure 3.1. All the projects are
based on the TEC model, which can be categorized within the Joint Projects model described
above. The TEC Center’s mission is to ensure that the online multicultural collaborative learning
course is available and accessible to every preservice teacher in teacher education colleges in
Israel. In 2011, a new course was inaugurated focusing on biology where participants from
different colleges work using the TEC model.
<B>Programs for Academic Staff
The programs for academic staff and faculty include: conferences, building a community
of practitioners, webinars, and workshops. In addition, the TEC Center provides online and face-
to-face support and training for lecturers teaching in the programs throughout the academic year.
<B>Programs for Preservice Teachers
In 2005, the TEC Center initiated a multicultural IT teaching course in 3 culturally diverse
teacher education colleges, which soon evolved to 10 teacher education colleges (out of 24 in
total) working together using online collaborative teaching and learning methods.
These culturally diverse virtual groups collaborate online throughout an academic year,
during which they complete a number of group projects and tasks. The course is delivered online
synchronously and asynchronously based on team teaching and group projects in a cooperative,
noncompetitive environment. The multi-collegial IT course focuses on computerized tools and
online teaching methods (including forums, blogs, wikis, film-editing programs, and more).
Teachers-to-be learn how to utilize technology in teaching, and they jointly practice the
implementation of such acquired technological tools through a given topic or discipline of their
The participants work in small culturally diverse groups of six members (Walther & Bunz,
2005; Mortensen & Hinds, 2001); each member comes from a different college, and each pair of
colleges are affiliated with one of the different cultural sectors, that is, secular Jewish, religious
Jewish, and Arab.
The communication among the groups begins with text-based forums, but as the course
progresses, the online educational platforms enable audio communication. Initially, there is a
lecture with two-way communication between the lecturer and the trainees. Later, the groups
begin to communicate directly through audio programs. After a few months of meetings through
the Internet almost every week, the students meet either through a video conference or face-to-
face. At the end of the academic year, the students meet to socialize and present their group
project exhibitions. At that point, the groups’ interests have become paramount and the cultural
differences have become minimal (Ganayem, Hoter, Shonfeld, & Walther, 2012).
Course topics reflect subjects taught within the formal education system, such as science,
environmental studies, special education, nutrition and health, mathematics, current events,
drama, music, etc. In addition to reading articles, the management of and participation in
discussions, and online instruction, the collaborative Internet teaching and learning include the
collaborative creation of online and multimedia educational materials. Examples of this include
development of an educational game; creation of a video clip; involvement in Internet research,
including use of various databanks; using collaborative online tools such as VoiceThread,
Mindomo, and Google Docs; participation in activities incorporating understanding and the
implications of safe and secure Internet use; reflection via personal blogs; building of treasure
hunts and Web quests; working and collaborating on a wiki and social network.
The course is based on online units in which part of the work is asynchronous, coupled
with synchronous lessons that take place every 2 to 3 weeks. Its unique format allows trainees to
learn and interact at their convenience in a learning management system (Moodle), which
includes learning materials, tasks, and discussion forums. The communication component
provides a virtual café where participants can get help, feedback, and support on group
assignments from their peers. The webinars are conducted through the Elluminate program.
A checklist of graded criteria is given for each assignment. Such criteria include the
evaluation of individual and group cooperation and collaboration, influencing both the individual
grade as well as the group grade. In order to achieve the maximum grade, participants need to
collaborate with their partners.
Teachers are potentially major agents of social change and dialogue among cultures in that
they are charged with the important task of training the future generation. Therefore, it is vital
that students in teacher education colleges be exposed to courses on cultural diversity or to
exchanges with sectors and groups other than their own. This is true not only between Jews and
Arabs but also between secular and religious Jews. As a result, when these students become
teachers, they will reflect their new and moderated point of view of the other among the children
they teach, and thus help diffuse the ongoing stereotyping of the other.
<B>Programs for schools
The TEC-Amirim Project, a collaboration of the TEC Center and the Ministry of
Education’s Division for Gifted and Outstanding Students, is an enrichment project within the
Amirim program for gifted children, which utilizes ICT to start a dialogue between religious
Jews, secular Jews, and Arabs in Israel. The participants include children aged 11 to 12 from
nine schools, who work in clusters of three schools (i.e., Arab, religious Jewish, and secular
Jewish), selected by the regional advisor of the Ministry of Education, considering the existence
and availability of the required technology for the project.
The project activities designed for the school year are based on a series of specific ICT-
related tasks that the TEC project team created. These tasks use the virtual learning environment,
a social network developed for the course, and a range of software including Audacity, Voki,
VoiceThread, Photostory, and PowerPoint to enable the children to gradually connect with one
another, first through written exchange in the online forums, then through audio work, and
finally through a joint multimedia activity. It was agreed that the main language of
communication would be Hebrew, backed by extra support for language in the Arabic-speaking
The supervising teachers from each school participate in an accredited in-service training
course tailored for the project. They meet face-to-face for a training session before the beginning
of the school year and again in the middle of the school year, in order to prepare the joint
implementation of the forthcoming activities and to be updated regarding new technology. In
addition, throughout the school year they meet online twice a month to discuss ongoing issues,
learn new technologies, and develop a teaching unit. Participation in this project enables the
teachers to become involved in similar programs in the future.
At the end of each school year, the children and their teachers meet at an amusement park
or a museum. The main objectives of this encounter are to have actual social interaction among
the children through games prepared by the team, summarize the learning process that took
place, and to celebrate the collective achievements of the teachers and the children.
Because the children's feedback was so positive, a similar experimental project has been
set up in junior high schools including three schools (one from each of the three sectors) in
which the pupils work together on environmental issues. The goal is to further implement the
model in the school system from elementary school to college, so that the project can have a
significant social impact.
<A>Feedback Analysis on the Impact of the TEC Projects
<B>Programs for Preservice Teachers
In order to evaluate the TEC model and the various projects, questionnaires were given and
interviews were conducted. Questions regarding attitudes among the three groups were given to
the students before, during, and after the course. For example: “To what extent are you willing to
meet (Arabs, religious Jews, secular Jews)?” “Would you be willing to visit . . . ?” and “Are you
willing to help . . . ?”
With some minor fluctuations, the students’ answers indicated that participation in the
course reduced students’ prejudicial attitudes toward the other groups, and in particular between
the Jewish religious and the Arab group, to a statistically significant extent (see Ganayem,
Shonfeld, Hoter, & Walther, 2011). Among those groups, the wall of preconceived notions,
mistrust, and lack of readiness to even listen to the other declined significantly for the
participants from the beginning to the end of the course.
Such change in attitude was movingly reflected in the words of a religious Jewish
I am leaving this course with an important contribution. Tomorrow, when I teach my students, I will be
able to say that we are all equal human beings, even if we have our differences. When I say the word "an
Arab" to my students, it will sound different from what it sounded like prior to the course.
From the ongoing observations conducted, it was also evident that an attitude of tolerance
and acceptance of differences was developed, and there was a noticeable decrease in the
preconception of the otherthe religious, the secular, the Jew, and the Arab.
The atmosphere in the face-to-face meetings was at most times pleasant and sympathetic.
Feedback from the projects' participants indicates that the projects enable communication
between students from different cultures who do not communicate on a daily basis. The
collaborative work presented an opportunity that otherwise would not have existed to get to
know the other side. For example, M. (from a secular college), stated:
After participants have worked together, the understanding of the other sector changes. The work together
during the course narrows barriers and stigmas, allowing the other side to get to know the other and breaks
down prejudice. The positive experience allows us to view the other culture somewhat differently.
There were initial concerns about cultural and religious differences among participants.
One of the students, N. (from an Arab college), reported: “It was difficult for me at first. I had
doubts until I got to know my Jewish friends. It was the first time I got to know people from
another school.”
T. (from a Jewish religious college), stated:
As an observant woman from the ultra-Orthodox world, I initially thought that I would run into
communication difficulties with other course participants, as we are all from different backgrounds, but to
my surprise, I got along with everyone during the course. . . . The course exposed me to a great deal of
information regarding people from other ethnic groups.
As for the creation of new friendships, a distinction can be made between social
connections formed during the participation in the project and those that lasted beyond the
duration of the project. Although friendships were developed during the course of the joint
cooperation, they did not continue after the course was over. As a result, and in order to
encourage the continuous collaboration and dialogues, a social network for alumni activity was
recently set up (
<A>Impact of the Project in Schools (TEC-Amirim)
In the school projects, the pupils appear to have enjoyed taking part in the online project
and said that there were a number of positive outcomes including “meeting new friends,”
carrying out the ICT activities, and improving Hebrew skills (in the case of the Arab children).
Several children commented on the improvement of their ICT skills and on the gaining of a
better understanding of different cultures.
In general, children who had little contact or knowledge of children from the other cultures
before the course noted their gained appreciation of festivals, traditions, language, and food of
the other. One of the pupils said that “they are like us but different.” In the Arab school, some of
the pupils have had contact with Jewish children before but not a close connection. For these
children, the sustained contact in the course over the school year enabled them to gain a better
understanding of the other. In one of the Jewish schools, the teacher said that he had been
pleasantly surprised that his pupils, who started out with an assumption of superiority in the
realm of ICT studies, quickly came to see that the Arab children were just as good at ICT as they
were. In this school, the pupils talked about how they had learned more about the other children,
that they were “the same but spoke a different language.”
This is a very important finding in the wider context of relationships within Israel and
suggests that the use of ICT as the focus on work is creating an even playing field where prior
assumptions about status and hierarchy are left behind (Austin, 2011b).
<B>Objective Challenges
Despite the success of the TEC Center, it is faced with many challenges. Perhaps the most
crucial is the continuous political tension in the area, topped by a lack of a clear and formal
educational policy to encourage online bridge-building projects, thus making it difficult to
expand the activities of the TEC Center. Faculty and teachers are required to invest much time
over and beyond the payment they receive for working in the project, and ways to compensate
the instructors are required. In addition, a common language of instruction, despite recent
advancements in technology, is still a barrier for equal participation in the projects.
<B>Subjective challenges
While satisfaction was reported in interviews, problems were reported as well, and lessons
were learned for further improvement of the courses’ format. Most of the problems evolved
around cultural differences, language barriers, different study habits, intercultural
competitiveness, and the selection of "hot" topics to study where there is inherent disagreement.
In the school project most of the problem areas evolved around connecting between the groups in
the schools and the resulting frustration when not receiving timely responses.
There were also ideological and psychological barriers. For example, there was resistance
to participating in the TEC projects by many Orthodox Jewish schools and colleges which are
opposed to mixed-gender online collaborations, and therefore it was difficult for male Orthodox
Jewish students to attend the face-to-face meetings, as they included both men and women.
Secular Jews also had reservations about collaborating with Orthodox Jewish students as well as
Arab students, many of whom look and dress differently and espouse different religious beliefs.
For the Arab students, the barrier was one of language and fear of facing inequality in the group
(varying technological levels, different learning pace and style, etc.).
To overcome the challenges, to implement lessons and feedback and in order to offer
courses of the highest academic level, the TEC Center's projects have undergone pedagogic,
technologic, and structural changes, adaptations, and improvements over the years.
The TEC Center believes that it can stimulate social change and impact future generations
through its culturally diverse collaborative ICT projects and programs.
Israel is a culturally diverse country; it is home to people from many different cultures and
religions that hold a variety of ideologies and beliefs. There is no doubt that some of Israel's
outstanding achievements since its inception in 1948 can be attributed to such cultural
abundance. But what seems a gift is also its greatest challenge, as cultures, religions, ideologies,
and beliefs tend to clash, especially when a territorial conflict is added to the equation.
Out of the many groups that exist in Israel, the three main cultural segments composing the
Israeli society are secular Jews, religious Jews, and Arabs. As the relationship between these
sectors is often charged and tense, it has created a division in many aspects of life. One notable
aspect is the separate education system. Although the Israeli education system dictates a core
curriculum, each sector has its own schools where it includes additional studies that are related to
its ethnic, cultural, and religious orientation. Attempts to create intercultural schools in Israel
exist but are not in its mainstream. The lack of an official policy regarding intercultural
education, dialogue, and cooperation has brought about many private initiatives and projects
from nonprofit organizations and other concerned entities. These projects and initiatives
promoting intercultural education have been regularly supported and financed by the various
governments in power.
Most projects and initiatives regarding intercultural interaction, whether held face-to-face
or online, have facilitated attempts to bring together members from two opposing groups. But
over the last decade, the TEC Center has introduced innovative programs that allow three distinct
cultural groups to interact in a life-changing learning experience, while improving their
technological skills. Secular Jews, religious Jews, and Arabs meet, mainly online, not to talk
about conflict or to discuss differences, but to advance a joint educational mission. Through
these online interactions, they get to know each other as colleagues on an equal basis.
The TEC Center is strongly aware of its potential to stimulate social change and impact
future generations through its culturally diverse collaborative ICT projects and programs, and
continues to be impassioned with a drive to make a true difference. After eight years of activity,
the TEC Center has become a sustainable center responsible for the creation of programs
employing advanced Internet technologies for teacher education colleges as well as for schools.
Analyses of its various courses in addition to ongoing research have indicated that the TEC
model yields outstanding results (Ganayem, Hoter, Shonfeld, & Walther, 2012). More online
projects and initiatives of this caliber will surely lead to deeper understanding and acceptance
among the cultures in the region.
1 The word Arabs refers to the Arab population that resides in Israel. This group has various
names which mainly reflect a specific political point of view, such as Palestinians in Israel,
Israeli Arabs, Arabs 48, etc.
2 A period of intensified PalestinianIsraeli violence, beginning in September 2000 and ending
around 2005.
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