Tel Aviv University
Arabic is the language of the Arab minority in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the neighbors of Israel (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon). Hence learning Arabic and Arab culture is very important to promoting understanding between Arabs and Jews. In order to encourage learning Arabic and understanding the other in Israel, the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem initiated a digitization and updating of a very important Arabic-Hebrew dictionary published originally by Professor David Ayalon and Professor Pesach Shinar. The project will last about 5 years. By the end of 2004, the original dictionary will be free on the internet, then it will be updated. By using ICT technology, we hope to encourage Jewish high school students in Israel to learn Arabic.
The concept of using the internet to promote learning and communication between students in the field of Islam and the history of the Middle East is not a new one. Dr. Corinne Blake from Rowan University in New Jersey became interested in this subject a few years ago and published an article named “Teaching Islamic Civilization with information technology” in the Journal of MultiMedia History in 1998. A short time afterwards, I published a Hebrew version of this article in the periodical of Levinsky College of Education. The implication of the method came after and is described in the following lines.
For the last several years, I have lectured in the Arabic Department of Levinsky College, teaching two courses on a regular basis
1. Introduction to the History of the Middle East in the Modern World, and
2. Arabic Sources in the Internet.
In both courses, my students were an approximately equal mixture of Jews and Arabs. Due to this situation, several didactic issues were raised.
1. In the introductory lessons, there was no basic common knowledge between Arabs and Jews, raising contradictions and differences in emphasis according to the national narrative. For example, I realized that the “Operation of Kadesh” in Hebrew, was known as the “Triangle of Aggression” in
Arabic. And the “Nakba,” the disaster of the Palestinians in 1948, is a word not known to the Jewish students, and, to my surprise, even some of the Arab students were unfamiliar with the word. As a basis to the teaching of Islam through the internet, I used Blake’s (1998) article.
2. During the lessons, I dealt with actual Middle Eastern issues with historical background, in order to make the linkage between the historical material covered and actual events. When we learned about the Muslim Brothers movement in Egypt, it was natural to deal with the Hamas movement in the disputed territories. If there was a tension between Arab and Jewish students, or empathy to one of the sides, I would use a mediation technique to bridge the gap.
3. At the beginning, using the computer was difficult for both groups, but reading Arabic texts was of course more difficult for Jewish students. So Arab students helped the Jews to understand the texts in an atmosphere of cooperation.
4. The lessons were given in a computer classroom, and all new “material” was applied immediately by the students. The material was taught in five steps.
The students learned to use the email. For this purpose, each of them signed up in an Arabic portal (arabia.com) and got an email box of 10 MB with a personal user name and a password. Students could use an Arabic virtual keyboard to send letters in Arabic. From this point on, there was no need for paper or pen, and the communication between the students was through the Web. Each had a list of email addresses of the students and me.
The students learned to use search engines like google.com (for English) or ayna.com (for Arabic). They also learned to recognize the Arab portals and sites and to find the relevant information and narrow down their searches to make them more effective. In a short time, the students found a lot of interesting sites, and the most popular ones were those of Arabic music. They could use the speakers to hear popular Arabic hits. Any time students found something interesting, they would send a link to their friends, strengthening the communication and enthusiasm among the members of the group.
The students learned to use hypertext and were asked to send me attached files. One of the files was a very well known poem of a popular Syrian poet named Nizar Qabbani. Then each student was asked to find information about a different
country and to write a summary of a few pages about that country, using hypertext. In addition, they were asked to mention two or three relevant written sources on the same subject.
The students were asked to make a personal dictionary of Internet terms, a lexicographic area which is still developing. Creating the dictionary was done by each student personally, and the work was sent in an attached file, using hypertext. This task was a challenge for Arab and Jewish students equally.
The students were asked to prepare a corpus of texts on a specific subject from Arab sources on the Web. For example, one of the students focused on the subject of Fatwas. Another decided to deal with the dilemma of identity of Israeli Arabs. The work was sent to me in the format of attached file through email.
In summary, teaching Islam and Arabic through the Internet in the classroom, or virtually, is not only possible, but also effective. Learning is exciting, especially when part of the time students are free to incorporate the tools they have acquired for the purpose of finding information of personal interest (e.g., music, films, and books).
Blake, C. (1998). Teaching Islamic civilization with information technology. Journal of MultiMedia History, 1 (1). Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.albany.edu/jmmh