Monday, July 11, 2011

Variable Rates of Change

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing”.  This little piece of wisdom was uttered by Thomas Jefferson in 1787. What does this have to do with Jewish education and social networks?  Everything. 
At the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference I was immersed in a sea of digital technology.  I attended classes and window shopped at the technology expo – an open market filled with vendors selling their wares, both hard and soft.  At one of the classes I attended, educator and author Dr. David Thornburg explained how we are in the midst of a revolution that is changing the social and cultural matrices that define our society.  He described how we are living in the third of a series of “disruptive technologies” that have shaped learning and teaching. The first took place thousands of years ago, with the invention of the phonetic alphabet.  In the 16th century the world was changed through the introduction of mass-produced books. The current “mobile revolution” is impacting the way our students (who will become the adults/parents/consumers of the future) look and interface with the world.   He stressed that we educators need to recognize the new “21st Century Literacies” of our age.  Another presenter, Lee Crockett, author, artist, and co-founder of the 21st Century Fluency Project, had his own criteria, which he not surprisingly called, “21st Century Fluencies”.  Both lists are more or less similar.  These intertwined concepts can be roughly called survival skills for the future. They define how our students view their world, and how those perspectives will shape what that universe will look like. They include the ability to:
  • critically assess content and resource 
  • prioritize between a myriad of stimuli
  • participate and collaborate 
  • seamlessly integrate the different types of digital and social networks and media
  • engage in creative problem solving.
All these proficiencies are expressed within the context of living as global digital citizens.
The kids in our schools respond to a learning environment that is characterized by being relevant to their interests.  A structure has to be in place that provides the opportunity for students to create something that is their own. It also has to be authentic - touching upon their real lives. Learning happens when what is being presented matters to the student. If the kids don’t care, they won’t learn.  So we as educators need to foster a process of discovery that sticks to their souls.  To accomplish this, we must bring our school parents into the picture. We need to encourage them to participate and collaborate with their children to create a truly personal sense of Jewish engagement.  Our educational goals should relate to our families’ lives.  Lee Crockett put it best when he said that learning in the 21st century is not about the teacher - it’s about the learner. Our families need to care about being Jewish.  They need to be engaged in creating a Judaism that belongs to them.
So now we get to tachlis. How do we translate theory into practice?  Our students (youngsters and their parents) need to be comfortable with the idea that God can be found at the beach, in their neighbor’s house, on facebook, Google +, as well as in the synagogue sanctuary.  Teaching for tomorrow is defined as the art of curation and facilitation. Creating environments for self discovery, informed by our 4,000-year-old tradition as translated by Second Life and Apple, are the new roles for Jewish educators. There are no concrete answers and “how-to’s” to offer, because tomorrow someone may invent a new app “that does that” (whatever “that” may be).  That’s the point.  Change is constant.  It’s the rate that is variable.  That’s the paradigm for Jewish education today:  Adapting and designing for Jewish engagement that is consistent with this rate of change.  Let’s learn from Yochanan Ben Zakai, who was carried out in a coffin beginning the process that led to the writing down of the Oral Law, adapting Jewish life to a new post-Temple future. It’s no longer a question of what Judaism will look like next week. It’s what we, as educators, will do to make that change meaningful.
Disruption has always been the Jewish norm.  Rebellion to the Jewish status quo should not be a surprise or anathema. It’s what we learn from it that is important.  This is the challenge that will define our future.

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