#JEDCHAT: The NetWork At-Work – Thoughts on the Washington Post Article

Well, we hit the big time today.

In a matter of speaking.

The Washington Post had an article  in their Saturday edition, entitled “Teachers take to Twitter to improve craft and commiserate,” and it was all about how more and more teachers are turning to Twitter to connect with other educators for resource sharing, camaraderie, and support through tough times. In particular, educators are discovering a “community of mentors offering inspiration, commiseration and classroom-tested lesson plans,” through weekly twitter chats on a variety of education topics, the granddaddy of them all being #edchat.

And then, in the middle of the article, #jedchat got a shout out. This amazing community, a group that has only been chatting regularly on Wednesday night’s at 9 EST for a little over 3 months, made it into the Washington Post.

Now, we could all stop here, content that we as a community (and perhaps the larger Jewish educational community) got our 15 minutes of fame, and move on.

But I think there is more at play here, and it bears some reflecting.

A network is a powerful tool. In the age of the internet and social media, it has become something that is infinitely more far reaching and stronger than before. Starting with little more than an idea of “hey, we can do this too!” a group of Jewish educators came together on Twitter to have a conversation. And all of a sudden, it became a “thing,” something real, a destination.

It became a network.

With this transformation, ideas were shared, and people were inspired to bring these new ideas back to their own classrooms and schools. To me, this all culminated with the tweeting frenzy that took place during the North American Jewish Day School Conference last week in Atlanta, GA. Through Twitter, educators and other educational stakeholders were extending the ideas and messages of the conference beyond the walls of the hotel, with the #jedchat hashtag being one of the primary ones used to spread the knowledge (alongside #NAJDS & #NAJDSconf, of course!).

The people in our network are truly wonderful and inspiring educators. They are the ones, in the words of the Washington Post article, who “tend to be creative, motivated people with high standards for their own performance — the type who would rather try something new than pull out the yellowed lesson plans they’ve been using for years.” And when all these people come together through the internet, the network goes on hyperdrive.

I am reminded of a famous TED talk by Chris Anderson, entitled “How Web Videos Power Global Innovation.”

In this talk, Anderson notes how YouTube has revolutionized the development of dance worldwide, as dancers now find themselves with a global audience. He quotes Jon Chu, a movie director: “Dancers have created a whole global laboratory online. Kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while dancers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it to create a whole new dance cycle”

Chu actually harnessed this increased power of the network to put together an all-world troupe known as the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. These performers were all recruited through YouTube, and the result is, well, “Extraordinary.”

The idea is that, through the power of the internet and the talented people that participate in the global sharing process, dance innovation moves at a much faster pace, as new moves and techniques are spread, copied, and improved upon at lightning speed.

Is it any wonder you end up with amazing feats like this?

This is what technology is doing to networks in all sorts of fields. Education, and specifically Jewish education, is no exception. #JEDCHAT is one of the ways that we, as Jewish education stakeholders, are capitalizing on the incredible talent and power of connectivity that Twitter affords, in spreading innovation in our field.

How many Jewish educators are in situations not so different to Nineteen-year educator Ron Peck, who, as profiled in the Washington Post piece, “teaches in a small public high school tucked up against the rugged Klamath mountains in southern Oregon, hours from the nearest big city. Resources in his district are limited, he said, and innovation is slow. He said Twitter has been a lifeline to the larger world, infusing his classroom with new ideas and technologies that he wouldn’t otherwise know about.”

So at the end of the day, it is wonderfully exciting for #jedchat to be included in an article by the mainstream press, especially in a publication as respected as the Washington Post. But to me, and to many others in our growing community, the real excitement lies in who will learn about #jedchat through this and other articles and references, and in turn, help the network grow and create even stronger connections. Because as much as we look around and see a network of educators looking to share and learn from others online, we must remember that we are still the minority. Within the world of Jewish education, most educators do not even know what a hashtag is, let alone know that something like #jedchat exists.

Kol hakavod to all of you who have brought us to this point, participating in the weekly chats and sharing resources throughout the week.

What you are witnessing is the network “at work,” and it is indeed a beautiful thing.

(cross-posted on the #JEDCHAT blog, jedchat.edublogs.org)

Advertisements

So what is #JEDCHAT anyway?

I hope that something historic will happen on Wednesday night.At 9 PM, the very first Twitter chat devoted to Jewish educators (as far as I am aware) will take place. There are many people out there on Twitter and in social media who are quite excited about this development.But, at the suggestion of Ken Gordon from PEJE, I would like to take a step back and briefly explain what #JEDCHAT is. Twitter is a phenomenal tool for learning from others across all backgrounds (to learn more about using Twitter, check out Ken’s excellence tutorial post here). Personally, Twitter opened my eyes to a whole world of outstanding educators, both in the Jewish community and beyond, who are doing wonderful things in their schools. Reading their posts and communicating with them has been both inspirational and practically rewarding, as I  am constantly learning about new approaches to education. It was a particular thrill to meet some of the Twitter educational “rock stars” in person at the ISTE convention in June. There was a real sense of greeting a friend, even though we were meeting face to face for the first time. I consider my connections on Twitter to be part of what is called a “PLN” or Personal Learning Network. These are the people I can turn to with a question large or small, and who are always interested in sharing what they have learned with me.So what is #jedchat? Well, one fairly common activity on Twitter among educators is the “Twitter Chat.” The most famous of these is called #edchat. It is so named because that is the hashtag that is used by people participating in that chat. It takes place on Tuesdays at noon and 7 pm EST (the 2 times accommodate participants in the US and Europe). If you would do a quick search on twitter for “#edchat,” you would see a whole bunch of tweets centering around an eduction discussion. Check out this page from Cybraryman for a list of all the regular education chats happening each week.

Well, that’s what we hope to accomplish with #jedchat (I am honored to be working with and inspired by 2 absolutely phenomenal educators and technology rock stars, Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt and Rabbi Meir Wexler, in trying to get this project going). Scheduled for Wednesday evenings at 9:00 PM EST, the vision is that twitter can become a place for Jewish education stakeholders of all backgrounds and denominations can come together to collaborate and share stories of success from their own communities. Through coming together, we create an even more tightly knit network of Jewish educators, and as you expand your PLN, you can come to rely on these fellow educators for support and advice.

The ground rules are simple:

We agree we will:
  • Be honest and respectful with people of all backgrounds.
  • Welcome all Jewish education stakeholders
  • Provide quality and professional Jewish education related tweets/posts/links.
  • Tweet in a respectful and professional manner.

Every week, we hope to focus the chat on a particular topic. For the opening chat, the topic will be: What can we do with #JEDCHAT and how can we develop a Judaic PLN with active participants? So, at 9 PM EST on Wednesday night, get comfy in front of your laptop or iPad, and join us in connecting Jewish educators from the around the world. It is recommended that you use a twitter client like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite which will keep the chat more organized, but twitter.com works as well.  Be sure to tweet using the #jedchat hashtag so that your voice can be heard in the chat! See you there!

My #YouthCon Session – Working With “Digital Natives”

Thanks to everyone who attended my #YouthCon session today. I apologize that the original link I assigned does not seem to be working at the moment.

I am going to post links here, please pass along.

Here is a link to the PREZI – http://prezi.com/ilaxl0r7rsea/youthcon-11/

Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (word doc)

Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (google doc)

Here is a link to the recommended blogs and web sites symbaloo.

Reflections from the Scholastic iPad event – On EdTech and Smartboards: Are we barking up the wrong tree?

IMG_3052

Today I had the pleasure of attending an event in the Scholastic Administr@tor “Live Tech Series.”  The event focused on iPad implementation in schools and the Common Core set of academic standards. The program was held at Scholastic headquarters in Manhattan, which has a kind of a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory vibe to it, if you substitute kids books for candy. As I walked past the giant Harry Potter and Clifford sculptures as well as the Dinosaurs from the “How Do Dinosaur’s….” series, I kept thinking my kids would kill to be in this building! I also had the privilege of making another IRL (In Real Life) connection to someone I have connected with on Twitter: the excellent Ken Royal (@kenroyal), a Senior Editor at Scholastic who puts out a wonderful blog called The Royal Treatment . It’s always great to put a real person together with the great tweets and posts, and it was a pleasure meeting Ken.

Photo Aug 18, 10 24 12 AM

In the iPad presentation, the architects behind the now well known Roslyn school districts’ rollout of a 1:1 program, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner and Plainedge Superintendent Dr. Ed Salina, Jr., spoke about their experiences in distributing iPads to faculty and students in a pilot program. They unveiled a really comprehensive new web site that discuses the Roslyn program in detail, including access to all the documentation they utilized in designing it and communicating with school stakeholders. (See this video from their web site about the roll out). They shared many valuable ideas, but the items that stuck out the most with me were the following:

1)      We say it until we are blue in the face, but training is crucial. In the Roslyn district, they distributed the iPads to faculty members a full six months before they were given to students, to allow the teachers to get comfortable using the devices and to engage in extensive training. In a follow up conversation at lunch, Dr. Brenner went so far as to say that for every one dollar spent on technology, we must spend THREE dollars in professional development, or else it is simply a waste of money. That figure may sound strange to some people, but it indicates how important training is towards getting tech tools actually used in the classroom.

2)      The “cools apps” are definitely cool and fun, and they definitely draw people to a device. But they don’t generally improve the education. As Dr. Brenner writes on the program web site,  “It’s not about a cool application. We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom.” Instead, they chose to focus on practical and efficient uses of the device, including the iAnnotate  app for submission and grading of assignments, and utilizing the (often untapped) power of Outlook to automatically route assignments to correct folders for particular classes and students.

3)       This shift to the iPads was not forced upon the faculty (apparently, due to union rules, they would not have been able to anyway). Instead, they solicited volunteers to participate in the pilot program, and they were pleased to note that several of the faculty that fell in love with the iPad had actually never used a computer before.

4)      During the lunchtime conversation, Dr. Brenner contrasted his district’s approach to the iPad rollout to the standard school district approach to Smartboards. While many schools simply bought Smartboards for their classrooms, either because of a general desire to utilize technology in the classroom, or because they would be perceived as “behind the times” if they did NOT, the training of teachers to actually utilize the interactive white board was generally not sufficient. As a result, said Dr. Brenner, we have a very sophisticated technology tool sitting in many of our classrooms, and in most situations, it is being used as a glorified electronic display to show powerpoints or videos.

This last point got me thinking. Have we been barking up the wrong tree when it comes to Smartboards and classroom technology? Over the last decade, I have seen Smartboards installed as a matter of course in my own school and many other institutions. Is this the best use of our technology dollars? To be clear, I am not suggesting I know the answer. I consider myself a solid Smartboard user, but I know that I am not even scratching the surface in terms of what it can be used for. So I ask you: In terms of how teachers actually use the board, would it make more sense to invest less than half of the approximately $5,000-$6,000 it costs for a Smartboard  and simply install a projector and whiteboard for display purposes? Should our tech funds be utilized for devices that encourage student generated content, like iPads? Drs. Brenner and Salina emphasized that when they directed funds to be utilized for the iPad program, it did not require securing additional money. It came from budget savings, like not having to reinvest in new machines in a computer lab, and being able to reclaim the computer labs as regular classrooms. In terms of prioritizing funds, in an age where we are trying to encourage student directed and project based learning, might those funds be better spent on devices like the iPad?

Again, I do not know the answer to this question. There may be a whole army of teachers out there who feel that the smartboard (instead of a standard projector display) is really being utilized fully in their classrooms, is essential to effective instruction, and I am way off base here. And I really am not a Smartboard hater. I enjoy using in the classroom, and I find that it helps my instruction. But so much more than a projector and screen? Not sure.

That’s why I am asking the question. Are we barking up the wrong tree here? I look forward to your thoughts.

My Dining Room Table Conference – Reflections from Edmodocon ’11

Whew! Was I tired! It was hard to believe that I could have been suffering from post conference exhaustion when I spent the day sitting at my dining room table, but it’s true. Last Wednesday, I spent the day conversing with 400+ people from around the world and expanding my mind at Edmodocon. The online conference, run by and about the education social network platform Edmodo, was really quite the marathon of speakers, with presentations taking place from 10 AM EST until 9 PM, pretty much back to back to back.

The good news is, I think I am getting a badge for participating (if you know your Edmodo, you know that badges are big stuff!). The better news is that the conference was really excellent. While I am still processing many of the resources showcased by the presenters (of which I  hope to discuss in future posts) I had a few initial take aways that I wanted to share.

I’ll take 2 seconds to briefly outline what Edmodo is, in case you are not familiar with it. It is essentially a secure social learning platform designed for use in schools and classrooms. It is essentially Facebook for schools. It takes all of the social media connectivity of a Facebook, and creates closed secure classroom sites where students and teachers can interact and collaborate around the curriculum. It is free, and I highly recommend checking it out, even if you have no immediate plans to use it in the classroom.

1) Edmodo, as a company, is IMPRESSIVE. The staff involved with running the conference, introducing and moderating sessions, etc, seemed to all be senior staff members, including at times, the co-founder and head of programming. They all seemed truly humbled to be part of the sacred endeavor of teaching, and I guess that makes sense, considering many of them have backgrounds in education. And of course they put out a great product. But what was most striking to me was how dedicated they were to improving the site, and to really listening to and incorporating feedback from the teachers using it. They introduced several new features either implemented over the summer or coming out shortly, including good docs integration, a more robust gradebook, quiz builder, badge creation, and even a super secret chat option. Over and over again, I saw teachers enter their suggestions into the chat window during the webinars, and the tireless VP Betsy Whalen (@betsywhalen) responding during the session that such a feature was already in the works or “that’s a great idea, we are going to work on that.”

You have a company that has promised never to charge educators for using the service (how they are going to make money seems to be a secret that they are not revealing for now), and yet their customer service to the people they are servicing for free is astounding. In fact, people today seemed genuinely suspicious about the company’s motives, along the lines of “why are you doing this for free? When are you going to pull a Glogster and start charging us?” I believe such suspicion is indicative of how good a job they are doing on the site.

2) On Demand PD: While I have used Edmodo as part of a classroom environment, I was really pleasantly surprised to learn about how much teacher interaction and “on demand PD” is taking place on the site all of the time. I made quite a few teacher connections today on Edmodo, and joined a few groups as well. This is why I would heartily recommend the site even to those who are not going to be using it in the classroom. It is simply a great learning resource.

3) Training:  I learned ALOT about teacher training and school implementation. Obviously, this is a huge step. If your teachers are not getting comfortable using Edmodo, it simply will not be used in your school. To that end, Edmodo has some incredible resources for admin and faculty charged with training in the school, as well as for teachers. The Edmodo support section (help.edmodo.com) has TONS of resources, from FAQ’s and tutorials, to ready-made powerpoints for administrators to use during training sessions with staff, to templates and letters to use when rolling out Edmodo across a school or district. I was also introduced to the help.edmodo.com/ideas section, where videos of real world applications of Edmodo in various disciplines are posted. These videos do a great job of concretizing the role of the Edmodo platform for teachers. It answers the question of “What would Edmodo look like in my math class?” etc.

Several presenters spoke about strategies for helping teachers. One theme that emerged was the notion of using Edmodo as a platform for internal professional development, utilizing the network to share presentation files, comments, etc., both during a program and after. Besides Edmodo being a good platform for this in general, this will also “train” the teachers in a much more effective and positive way, as they will be learning by figuring it out on their own.

The other idea regarding teacher training that resonated for me was the importance of not trying to cover too much. The general rule for the goal of training was to get the faculty to log on, to setup a group/class, and to invite students to join. Once that happens, and students start to see what they can do with the site, it will naturally encourage the teachers to progress and try new things.

 

4) Mobile Learning Options: With free (and frequently updated) mobile apps for iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod), Android, and a mobile browser version for any web connected smartphone, Edmodo is a great option to “pull it all together” in a classroom that is utilizing a “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) or 1:1 approach. It’s a great way to distribute assignments, questions, even polls in real time. And even if you aren’t using these devices in the classroom, having Edmodo accessible to students on their devices is great for working from home as well.

5) Game Based Learning:  Finally, I was absolutely blown away by one session in particular, given by Hal Daley, on “Game Based Learning.” I have seen many posts in my Twitter and RSS feeds about gaming in schools, and I must confess that I have mostly ignored it. But this presentation changed my perspective in a major way. Hal is clearly an excellent teacher, as well as an accomplished gamer, and he is apparently using several of the ideas of Lee Sheldon in “The Multiplayer Classroom” to “Gamify” his classes. Hal discussed how Edmodo is a natural partner for gamification. I hope to discuss his ideas in more detail in a future post. For now, here is a link to his presentation.

In short, I entered Edmodocon ’11 already an Edmodo fan, and I came out of it with even more respect for the service and what it can offer educators at all levels. Be sure to check it out!

ISTE11 Reflections – Resisting the Urge For the EdTech Silver Bullet

The ISTE11 conference in Philadelphia was really a sight to behold, on a variety of levels. I had certainly never been to a conference this size before, and aside from some sporting events, I don’t believe I have even inhabited a space with over 17,850 people before, let alone so many educators who were passionate about educational technology. I had certainly never been around so many iPads before!But one thing that stood out for me was the marked contrast between two areas of the convention: the presentations and meetings among educators on the one hand, and the exhibit hall on the other. Simply put, it appeared to me many of the products being promoted by the vendors were good for the vendors, but not really consistent with the ideas and ideals presented by the educators a few rooms away. Yes, I get that at the end of the day, these companies are there to make money, but seeing this distinction for the first time so clearly was jarring.

Great Divided Reflection, by John Holzer

The presentations were really incredible. My biggest problem was finding the speaker to choose out of the 5 or 6 per time slot that I wanted to go to, a sentiment I  heard echoed by others throughout the conference. In most presentations and in conversations with other educators, I played the part of sponge, sucking up information about this app and that web tool, one time even getting 60 resources in 60 minutes. The common denominator among these resources were that they were mostly free or very low cost, versatile, and easy to implement on the fly. Perhaps most significantly, they all fit in well with the current trend of “Bring Your Own Device,” where schools utilize the prevalence of laptops, tablets, and smartphones owned by our students to create a built in, low cost, EdTech platform (instead of making costly investments in laptop carts and the like).

There was a slightly different theme in the Exhibit Hall. Nothing could prepare me for the first time I entered it.

ISTE 2010 Exhibit Hall

“This must be as big as….”

Words to describe its enormity failed me. Thanks to a follow up email from ISTE, I now know that the exhibit hall was the size of 5.5 football fields, featuring 1,423 booths of companies selling all sorts of EdTech services, tools, and supplies. There were not one, but TWO full size coach buses inside the exhibit hall, as part of company displays (don’t ask me how they got them in this second story level of the convention center!).

You ever have that experience where you go to the supermarket without a shopping list, and you just find yourself aimlessly wandering the aisles, slack jawed and starting at the latest variety of BBQ chips? That was how I felt as I made my way through that exhibit hall the first time. It was too big to have a plan, to figure out where to go next. You just walked along, collecting a free T-Shirt or a squeeze ball every few booths, and you kept going.

So where was the contrast, the dichotomy, you might ask? Weren’t these exhibitors selling products that were supposed to more tightly integrate the concepts being taught during the presentation sessions?

Well, yes. There definitely were quite a few exhibitors pitching products and services that frequently come up in the context of effective EdTech. I felt this need to walk over to the Evernote table and just thank them for existing! Same with Google Apps for Education. Lego for Education was full of Lego awesomeness. C-Span was promoting an absolutely incredible service that allows teachers to access a full archive of video going back to the 80’s. Great stuff.

But so many of the products that many companies were touting were single use, and very proprietary. I  saw specialized ebook readers, clickers, and word processors. These devices would let you read a e-textbook, select an answer, and type an essay.

And that was it.

I kept finding myself thinking, over and over, why not just get an iPad, and find the proverbial “app for that” function that you are looking for, whether its to respond to test questions or read an ebook?

Now, these businesses are not stupid. They would not be selling products that there was no demand for. So now, I  turn the question around on us, the education professionals: Why are we buying these products? Why are we investing all of this money in devices that have very specific, limited uses?

I saw an article recently which discussed Malcolm Gladwell’s recent presentation at the TED global conference, and, after offering some historical examples, he asked a fundamental question:  “Why do people place so much faith in technology…to solve problems?” His question I think speaks to the phenomenon of the great divide between the ISTE presenters and the vendors in the exhibit hall. It is human nature to seek a silver bullet, that all encompassing quick fix that is going to powerfully and simply solve all of our problems.

I believe that the underlying marketing message of many of the vendors was playing on this human tendency. “If only I had this interactive white board, or these software programs, my school/class/district would be rocking!” And while it would be wonderful if that were true, I think we all know that this underlying assumption is wrong. You know how I know this? Because in all of the presentations, the focus was on teacher’s learning about new tools, about using flexible devices, and about utilizing EdTech as a tool to help teachers continue to do what they do best, and not as a means of replacing them. THAT was the great divide at ISTE, and the refreshing thing that I observed was that most people at the conference understood this concept clearly.

As Josh Stumpenhorst eloquently wrote about the other day in a blog post titled “The Real Game Changer in Education,” the technology in and of itself is not the game changer. He went so far as to say that in his opinion, social media and the connections he and countless other educators have made using it, was not, in fact, a game changer for him.

It’s the people that change the game.

It’s the teachers stretching themselves to learn new skills and applying them in class even when its uncomfortable.

It’s the administrators that have the vision that things can move forward, and do the work in the tranches to ensure that there is a foundation based in a strong school culture and intensive faculty training and support.

As an aside, I think this is one of the reasons the Khan Academy has become somewhat of a lightening rod in conversations among educators. In my opinion, there are well meaning educators that are fighting what Khan is doing because it is being interpreted by many in the mainstream media as a savior for education, when we know that video can never replace a teacher, and the flipped classroom is simply one of many strategies that a teacher can employ in running an effective classroom.

Pills

Pills, by Keith Ramsey

My bottom line?

We, as human beings, need to be aware of our tendency to try and find that magic pill, so that we can a) exercise appropriate skepticism when something is put forward as the be-all and end-all, and b) focus on using the amazing resources that are out there as tools on our educators tool belt to continue to change the game.

Why Exactly, Do We Push All This “EdTech Stuff”??

I had a conversation last night with someone who was asking me how I might respond to school stakeholders who question the need for integrating educational technology in our schools, especially if I did not have any empirical evidence that “any of this stuff helps.” While I had some of my own answers to that question, I happened to come across an excellent blog post this morning by Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt on twitter for those of you with a PLN!) that I think really addresses this issue head on. As she writes, it’s less about the technology itself and more about “partnering” with the students, seeing what they need and want in an educational experience, and providing a framework that works within that. Increasingly, as our students continue to enmesh themselves further in technology, the best way to do this is through the use of EdTech.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post…it really resonated with me.

Here’s the link to the blog post.

Reflections from #ISTE11 – Part 1: Widening Our Invisible/Visible Networks

(Cross-Posted on AviChai’s EdTech Blog)

“Technology in schools should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible” 

@chrislehmann

AKA Chris Lehmann

Principal, Science Leadership Academy (Philadelphia)

These words were part of the last presentation that all 18,000 or so of us at ISTE 2011 attended, the final keynote. Judging from the amount of tweeting Chris’ keynote (and this line in particular) generated, the presentation was very impactful. For me personally, I think it was a really great way to conceptualize a framework for all that I had learned over the last 4 days, and really all that I have learned in the area of EdTech over the last couple of years.

At ISTE, a conference devoted to technology in education, the technology did, ironically enough, feel invisible. Ideas were flying hard and fast, in both sessions and in the hallways. I heard over and over, as someone would take out their iPad (which apparently EVERYONE has!), “here, let me show you…”

It wasn’t a big deal.

It wasn’t like “oohhh, look at the whiz bang effects!”

Rather, it was with the understanding that this is a tool like anything else, with the goal being to advance the level of learning.

As I walked through the cavernous Philadelphia Convention Center, I was struck by the fact that networks were being developed and strengthened in real time, right before my eyes. And again, the technology that helped enhance those networks wasn’t being touted as the main thing here. It was, like the wifi, invisible. One of the most powerful experiences for me at this conference was meeting members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) in person. These are educators from around the world that I have connected with over the last 15 months or so, primarily via Twitter. My PLN is another example of technology being invisible while having the power to create connections in ways that would be impossible before. While it was a little intimidating to walk over to some of these EdTech “Rock Stars” with their thousands of twitter followers, I found them to be exceedingly humble, and genuinely interested in sharing and learning. These were not online “personalities” using social media to promote a brand, these were first class educators who have recognized how vital the process of sharing is to improving education. As Joan Young wrote on her blog 

“My most favorite part of the conference has been meeting people that I have learned with, collaborated with, shared deep conversations with through Twitter, blogging, online conferences and Skype sessions.”

See this post by Tom Whitby for another take on this new element of connection that social media has added to conferences like ISTE.

While my connections with members of my PLN have admittedly not been as deep as Joan’s, meeting people like George Couros, Michelle Baldwin, Lynn Hilt, Tom Whitby, Kyle Pace, Beth Still, Adam Bellows, Mary Beth Hertz, Eric Sheninger, Scott Newcomb, and Josh Stumpenhorst, in person, has given me the resolve to communicate and share on a closer level in the future. Meeting these people and seeing their genuine desire to grow firsthand has also given me the confidence to share more with them, and not just simply benefit from the incredible array of resources they tweet out and blog about on a daily basis. On the Jewish Ed side of the coin, it was great to see Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, Eliezer Jones, Caren Levine, Eli Kannai, and to meet Adam Simon, Dave Weinberg, Rivky Krestt, Debbie Harris, and others.

Looking at the tweets of others from the conference, I can see that many people have come away inspired by meeting up in person with members of their PLN, but I think as a Jewish educator, I have a bit of a unique perspective that I can share. Within the world of Jewish day schools, educators tend to form networks based on shared affiliations, which is a wonderful thing. My sense, however (and I may be wrong), is that we Jewish educators tend to turn to others within our affiliate network to the exclusion of those educators in different settings. If you are a consumer of the “Mainstream Media,” you would get the impression that many if not all public school are abject failures, and that the system is broken beyond repair. Perhaps this bad rap has been the reason that many of us in the world of Jewish education have not reached out to those in public school world. Or perhaps we simply did not have a vehicle to make such connections, or it could be something as simple as the very human tendency to associate with those who we are already comfortable with and know. I think that having colleagues that work at schools similar to ours is vitally important. After all, we share many of the same issues and challenges. However, I also think that we miss out on something very important when we turn inward exclusively. There is a tendency to share the same old ideas – if it worked in Day School A, let’s try it in Day School B. Or if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we may feel the need to reinvent the wheel because none of our fellow schools have dealt with this before, and we may overlook the fact that solutions exist.

In my mind, the power of the PLN for Jewish educators is that it opens up our network in a huge way, allowing us to interact with really excellent, thoughtful educators doing great things around the world. I have connected with, primarily through Twitter (and subsequently reading their blog posts), educators in public schools, independent schools, and all types of Jewish schools. I have learned so many new things just by seeing resources that get shared, and my PLN is a reliable source of support and advice when I have questions. I cannot encourage your enough to get on Twitter and start exploring the world of educators that are on there. The names that I listed above are some great people to start with (here is a link to my PLN Starter Kit, a list with all of their twitter names ). On the Jewish Education front, search for #JED21 on twitter, and you will see many amazing educators tweeting their ideas and visions for the future of Jewish Education, or check out this list, my JED21 PLN Starter Kit. And of course, please say hello to me so we can connect and share: twitter.com/dovemerson.

A final thought in the realm of expanding our networks: I really have to commend Avi Chai for understanding the importance of this concept. I consider myself a pretty tech/EdTech savvy guy, but I have to admit, before about 3 months ago, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as an ISTE conference. Avi Chai got the word out, and sponsored a group of 10 Jewish Educators from North America to attend ISTE. I am grateful to them not only for selecting me to attend, but moreover, for recognizing the power of what can happen when you bring Jewish educators from different backgrounds, schools, and communities together. Many of the fellow Avi Chai attendees were people I would probably not encounter in my usual local network of Jewish educators from similar types of schools. Going to the conference with this group, especially sitting in evening sessions with them and reflecting on what we learned that day, added an entirely new and very powerful layer to this conference. In the summer of 2008 I had the privilege of attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education program for principals, with a group also sponsored by Avi Chai, and I had a similar experience of engaging Jewish educators from outside my ‘traditional’ network. I sincerely thank Avi Chai for having the wisdom to bring Jewish educators together, and especially for following this model of assembling a Jewish Educator “team” to attend a larger conference like ISTE together.

The Power of Video (Editing)

I remember quite vividly the first time I got my feet wet with digital video editing. I was working for NCSY and was preparing a curriculum for a shabbaton/convention. I was looking for a little extra ‘oomph’ at  the Saturday night “Kumsitz” program. I borrowed my sister’s lime green iBook, and put together a slide show/video that incorporated the Wu Tang Clan rap about the Holocaust “Never Again.” Here is a YouTube clip with the rap and scenes from Schindler’s List (NOT my video). Alas, this was in the days before YouTube (what? such a time existed?), and I did not publish the video. I’ll have to look around and see if I still have the tape.

In any event, the response to the program was powerful. People had not seen this sort of thing before. And I  was hooked. I  started putting together more videos and learning more tricks of the trade. One of my early videos was about Shabbos, and I recorded responses of people in the street that I stopped to ask about the day of rest. Here was the result.

I also had the opportunity to watch some true masters of the medium of videos in informal education, first among those being our own Dr. Eliezer Jones, who was simply a game changer in the field of Jewish multimedia presentations.

Alas, as time went on, I got busier in my formal teaching career, I had to start paying tuition bills and went for a cheaper Windows machine instead of a replacement for my aging Mac, and I largely became an observer. But today, as I was putting together a short video on iMovie for my YU Edtech 102 course assignment on visual tools, it all came back to me.

Videos are incredibly powerful. They can call attention to themes, open up people’s thoughts and emotions, in ways that other mediums simply cannot. The incredible thing about the times we live in is that tools for creating powerful videos are plentiful, often easy to use, and not very costly.

What Kind of Twitter User Are You?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his classic book “The Tipping Point,” explores the different ways that trends develop, and how ideas rapidly spread in ways not often anticipated by their originators. In discussing this phenomenon, Gladwell identifies different types of personalities that serve to help spread ideas as they go viral, including the “Maven” and the “Connector.”

The Maven represents a personality that likes to get into the nitty gritty details of specific areas. He would be the person that you would turn to when deciding what kind of camera to buy, as well as where to get it and how to get bonus American Express points by using a specific web link. The Maven enjoys the search for the perfect whatever, but is not content to simply amass knowledge. He lives to teach others, to spread the knowledge he has  gained and share it with others.

A Connector, explains Gladwell, is notable because he is fascinating with learning about the people he meets, “and he finds the patterns of acquaintanceship and interaction in which people arrange themselves to be endlessly fascinating.” Connectors are powerful because they are able to, as their title connotes, ‘connect’ different types of people who would probably not have interacted with each other normally, allowing for all sorts of new ideas to be shared and collaborations to occur. 

Both Connectors and Mavens are important characters in the ecosystem of information, because they each play a specific role. Writes Gladwell: “Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it.”

I had read Gladwell’s book a while back, and I recently saw this blog post that reminded me of it, as well as how Gladwell was really ahead of his time in terms of introducing concepts that are quite relevant to the world of social media influence. The post also referenced a chart that categorizes social media users, Gladwell style, but in more detail and with an eye towards current Web 2.0 uses. The list includes “Creators” who publish blogs, upload videos, and generate new content in general. ” On the other end, right above “Inactives” (which I think the title makes clear what they do), are “Spectators,” this users who read the blogs, watch the videos, and in general consume the content. In the middle are people who comment and collect information in a variety of ways.

 I also came across this blog post from the NY Times that was published this week in the wake of the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal. The post makes the interesting point that utilizing social networks like Twitter is quite similar to how one would would play “a complicated strategy game. Like World of Warcraft and Halo, Twitter is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, but with higher real-world stakes. It is grounded in the first principles of game theory, including variations on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. You have to give to get; you have to get to give. Managing these ratios — deciding how much of your attention to expend to win attention to yourself, say — is the lion’s share of the Twitter action.”

Finally, Klout, a social media service that has been making alot of noise lately as they unveil a revamp of their system, provides a series of really interesting analyitcal data that you can use to determine your reach as a social media user, as well as what kind of social media user you are. My Klout profile can be seen here. You can be a “thought leader,” one of the industry big wigs with hundreds of thousands of followers, defined by Klout “You are a thought leader in your industry. Your followers rely on you, not only to share the relevant news, but to give your opinion on the issues. People look to you to help them understand the day’s developments. You understand what’s important and what your audience values.” Or perhaps you are a “specialist,”  as I am, which Klout defines as:  “You may not be a celebrity, but within your area of expertise your opinion is second to none. Your content is likely focused around a specific topic or industry with a focused, highly-engaged audience.”

These different types of descriptions got me thinking about how I  use twitter, and if it mirrors my IRL (In Real Life) types of social engagement. In my IRL dealings, I see myself as a “Maven,” with specific focus areas that I tend to like exploring in detail and sharing my findings with others. But on Twitter, while I definitely focus on specific areas, one of the things that I really enjoy doing is connecting people. I love the fact that there are people who I have known for a long time, who don’t necessarily share the same exact interests as me, who are now following people that I have learned about on Twitter. I also really enjoying connecting the broader world of #EdTech and Jewish Educators. I feel quite passionately that we in Jewish education too often try and reinvent the wheel in our attempt to establish something meaningful, and often, there are many elegant solutions out there in the greater world of education that can be applied with little or no tweaking. Seeing this was one of the major eye openers for me as I got more involved in using Twitter as an educator. One of my “Go to moves” as a Twitter user is to Retweet interesting items I find in the area of #EdTech, but when I do, I add the #JED21 hashtag to it. Often, the tweet itself may have nothing specific to do with Jewish Education, but my goal is to try and share some of these ideas with Jewish Educators. 

What kind of Twitter user are you? Does it mirror your IRL self? Have your usage patterns changed over time? I’d love to hear your thoughts!