Monday, March 21, 2011

Satisfying The Hunger

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to feed people. I enjoy coming up with a menu, cooking, and the satisfied murmurs of people who can’t put another thing in their mouths and stomachs! And my guests are obviously getting pleasure out of it as well. It’s an even greater experience for both my guests and me when everyone is actually hungry.

Right now, it appears that there is a great hunger out there among Jewish educators. The hunger is not for food however, of which, thank G-d, we have enough (sometimes, as one might guess from looking at my rather large belly, we even have too much). The hunger I refer to is for knowledge and understanding about the transformative impact of technology on Jewish education. For those of us educators who are digital immigrants, we want knowledge and information about the technologies that are out there, ready to be used and embraced. We want to learn how to use them, and we want to figure out how they can be applied to Jewish education – both in the classroom and in our own professional development and responsibilities. And all of us educators, including the growing number of digital natives, want to understand the potential that technology has for transforming how Jewish education is delivered/acquired. After all, we’re the ones that can and should be in the forefront of envisioning the future and leading the charge.

The good news is that there are many resources through which people can gain knowledge and understanding, as well as join in discussions about what it all means and where it’s all leading. Just 2 months ago, both JEA and NATE devoted their annual conferences to this theme, and it was a major piece of the recent RAVSAK conference as well. While I am not certain about the NATE figures, the JEA conference drew its largest attendance in several decades. Prior to these two conferences, both PEJE and JESNA had conferences dealing with these same issues. There are several groups and websites dealing with some of these issues as well, such as the Jewish Education Change Network, and my good friends at Darim Online (who even run a technology “boot camp.”

And now, thanks to the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship and the Lookstein Center, there are online Communities of Practice (CoP) dealing specifically with technology and Jewish education. My friend and colleague Eliezer Jones from Yeshiva University began a CoP called YU 2.0 only several months ago, and it already has over 200 members and very active and engaging discussions and opportunities to learn.

My own CoP, which for the near future will be limited to JEA members, was launched only 2 weeks ago. Through only one announcement on our listserve, we already have over 35 members and are growing every day. With the help of my very talented and knowledgeable design team (Deborah Nagler, Sara Shapiro-Plevan, and Peter Eckstein), we have decided on our approach. First, we want to concentrate on teaching about tools that not only have classroom applications, but appeal to potential CoP members self-interest (after all, there has to be something in it for people if they are going to invest time and energy into being an active member of a CoP). So we are starting with the overall subject of “Collaborative Tools.” As our first topic, we have chosen “wikis,” as we now have a JEA Wiki for posting program ideas, templates, etc… We have posted 6 or 7 articles and videos on our CoP website about wikis, and have asked our members to read and/or watch them. I am posting a discussion question every few days. So far, we have had an amazing discussion, involving quite a few of our members, over the concept of “Darwikinism” – that is, in relation to the ability for anyone with permission to edit a wiki, the concept of “survival of the fittest.” In several weeks time, we will be running a webinar for the CoP members who are interested in hands on instruction on how to use wikis.

So, there you have it. If you’re hungry for knowledge about many different aspects of integrating technology into Jewish education, there are lots of different “restaurants” opening up. Go out and try some of them!!

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