Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Building a Jewish EdTech Community

The EdTech community, namely those educators who use technology on a regular basis in their classrooms, who reach out to each other through various social media, and who are sincerely interested in how technology can help to improve educational practice, is a well-established group. Whether they are convening at weekly Twitter chats such as #edchat, or meeting live at conferences such as ISTE, or sharing their thoughts via their blogs, there are many ways in which this ever-growing group of dedicated educators learn from one another and constantly work to improve their practice and the field as a whole.

Within Jewish education, the group is somewhat smaller and still in formation. I wrote a couple of months ago about #jedchat, a weekly Twitter chat focused on issues in Jewish education; Yeshiva University's Institute for University-School Partnership has started several very active nings, such as YU2.0 and HSChinuch Community that bring together many educators to discuss a wide range of issues; and the Avi Chai Foundation has been sponsoring Jewish educators' attendance at conferences such as ISTE for a number of years, asking them to follow-up their conference experience with posts to a Jewish EdTech blog. However, as technology continues to move forward faster than anyone can keep up with it, there is certainly a need for more opportunities for more and more Jewish educators involved in technology to meet, live or virtually, to discuss how so many of these changes affect the world of Jewish education.

A small step in that direction has taken place a couple of times recently, thanks to the efforts and initiation of the TechRav himself, Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky. A couple of months ago, Tzvi contacted me and Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz of Ramaz to put together a small evening for local educators focused on making and using videos in Judaic Studies classes. Approximately 20 educators from the New York/New Jersey area joined us, and the three of us took turns showcasing the various videos we had created and describing how we were making use of them in class to advance learning and to give our students more opportunities for independent and self-guiding learning.

Last night, I was privileged to play host to the second such conference, this time focused on the use of ipads in education. As schools have begun exploring the educational possibilities that ipads may offer students, and as ipads offer several advantages over laptops (size being a significant one), we felt that the time was ripe to discuss this issue with some of the leading Jewish edtech individuals gathered together.

In a change from the first conference, we added a virtual component to this seminar. One of our three presenter teams was broadcasting live from Baltimore via Webex (thank you to WebYeshiva.org for the use of their platform), and several people joined us live from their homes across the country. While we were able to gather roughly 20 talented educators from the local area in one classroom, there are key voices that live across the country and we felt that the time had come to try to include as many people as possible, while still keeping the total number of participants at a managable number that would allow for real discussion.

The three presentations on the evening each added a different component to our understanding of how ipads can be helpful in the classroom. Dave Marra, an energetic and dynamic Apple systems administrator who deserves every bit of the title "genius" that Apple uses for its employees (and an old friend and colleague of Yavneh's Tech director Chani Lichtiger), began the evening by showing us some of the many featuers of the new ipad3 and particularly iBooks author and iTunesU. He described how these tools will make it simple for a teacher to create dynamic textbooks, namely online books that include video and other media within the books, and to make them available to their students, thus optimizing the learning experience. Clearly, such books will be an upgrade from the standard worksheets and workbooks that teachers currently create, and the sense in the room was that this would be a boon for Judaic Studies teachers, who often spend summers creating their own materials as it is.

Following our "Marrathon", Noam Davidovics and Elisheva Erlanger of Ohr Chadash in Baltimore stepped before the video camera to share with us their experiences of giving an ipad to every 5th and 6th grade student in their brand-new school. Through slide and pictures, they showed how the ipads opened up new vistas in what teachers taught and how the class was conducted, and showed as well that the ipads worked with Hebrew, thus allowing the teachers to teach Limudei Kodesh subjects in the original.

Finally, Rabbi Joey Beyda and David Galpert of the Yeshiva of Flatbush High School took to the stage to discuss their very recent ipad program. Due to a generous gift, they were able to provide two of their freshman classes with ipads beginning at the end of January. Rabbi Beyda noted that they saw four possible reasons for introducing ipads into class: student engagement, collaboration, creativity and research. However, he noted that a key to a successful ipad program is the teacher - that in rooms where the teacher remained at the front of the class, the chances of students being off task on their ipads rose, while teachers who circulated had a much lower incidence of off-task behavior taking place in their classrooms. Furthermore, he noted that the ipads served as a non-threatening way to begin moving some teachers towards better models of teaching - away from frontal lecture and towards more student-focused teaching. They also discussed some of the technicals of their program, including the agreement that every student was asked to sign before receiving an ipad, as well as some of the difficulties and costs of having such a program, such as the need for greater bandwidth and some less-than-smooth aspects of integrating Hebrew.

The night ended with Tzvi giving a call for such sessions to be more regular, and with a hope that some day a larger conference of Jewish edtech individuals could be convened. While many of the issues we face are the same as in the world of general education, there are some topics that are specific to Jewish education, whether content-based or more broadly related to our community's attitude towards some of the challenges that the 21st century poses, and they deserve our time and focus. As more and more events such as these take place, both live as well as online, I have no doubt that the momentum will move us in the right direction.

(Tzvi has also blogged about this evening on his Tech Rav blog.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Webinar on Project-based Learning

I gave a webinar recently for Yeshiva University's Institute for University-School Partnership and the HSChinuch online community. Below is the archive of the webinar. Many of the ideas that I covered were ideas that I had blogged about, but I was able to give them a little more expression in the freer format of a webinar.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A thought-provoking infographic to tide you over

Between Purim and report card season, I regrettably have not had much time to compose posts. In the meanwhile, I was sent the following infographic - quite relevant in the wake of the news that the Encyclopedia Brittanica will cease publication after 244 years.

Your thoughts?

Via: Open-Site.org