Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Occupy Jewish Education

Something has been bothering me lately. Where are all the congregational educators? Let me back up. If you've read my previous posts, you know that I've been taking part in on-line conversations about Jewish education. They've been great. They've opened doors that lead to a bevy of potential Jewish futures. But there's one element that is noticeably absent. My colleagues. Congregational/complimentary Jewish educators.

 Don't get me wrong. There's been a relatively large cohort of complimentary educators participating in the webinars I've "attended". There's a lot of irony here. Webinars are becoming "old school". They're "formal" learning environments in cyberspace - a lecture in the cloud. Sort of passive (though one can chat). They're like frontal teaching in a classroom. L'havdil, the twitter and google+ based conversations that have popped up (#edchat, #jedchat, Hangouts) represent a new type of "informal"and "experiential" learning. And it's here that we find a dirth of synagogue educators. Why?

Okay, I know - we're out there. Of course we are. The majority of students that are enrolled in some type of structured Jewish educational program attend supplemenatary/congregational schools (at least according to Jack Wertheimer's "Recent Trends in Supplementary Jewish Education"). And yes there is some very very important work being done to transform the way the majority receives their Jewish education. One great example is The Coalition ofInnovating Congregations, in the New York area. This community that has taken on Cyd Weissman's "Lomed Challenge" will ultimately change the face of complimentary Jewish education. Kol HaKavod. My issue is that a disproportionate amount of attention is being lavished on full time Jewish education, even though it does not service most of the students. PLEASE NOTE: This is not a critique of the Day School movement, which serves an incredibly important purpose. I'm commenting on a state of affairs that relates to (mostly) synagogue based education.

At the last two #jedchats, I attempted to ascertain if any congregational educators were present in that portion of the cloud. I asked the question: "Any congregational/complimentary educators here?" The virtual silence was deafening. All of the other participants were Day School/yeshiva educators. A couple of weeks ago, educational technologist Sarah Shapiro-Plevan (@shaplev)hosted a google+ hangout geared specifically to synagogue educators. The turnout was...well... underwhelming. Why does it seem that we are so underrepresented in the emerging Jewish cloud. Where is our digital footprint? We teach the majority. Why aren't we present?

Day Schools, like their mostly secular counterparts (both public and private) are beginning to devote a larger proportion of resources integrating technology into their programs. Most synagogues are not able too. Their leaders are too concerned about paying the electric bills. I know of very few synagogues (actually I've only heard of one or two) that have any type of specialist devoted to Information/Education Technology. Usually it's the innovative teacher or education director who will explore the cloud, usually on an antiquated PC or laptop. It's an issue of time and money. And that's the problem. We need to draw attention to ourselves. We need the world to see that "Hebrew school" isn't the same as it was. It's evolving. And it's worth investing in, like Day Schools. Jewish public money from Federations as well as from private funders stream into the Day School movement. Why shouldn't the majority receive a proportional level of this largess?

We complimentary Jewish educators need to raise our voices. We need the movers and shakers in the Jewish world to start noticing that we are transforming part-time Jewish education, creating a climate that will encourage our students to engage in a pluralistic Jewish life tomorrow. We must stretch ourselves, take a risk, enter uncharted virtual territory and raise our profiles. Let's participate in #jedchat (Wednesdays at 9:00 EST). We can join videoconferences such as the Google + Hangout #jewpronet, hosted by Darim Online's Miriam Brosseau (@miriamjayne). The next one is at 2:30 pm EST on Thursday, December 1. Of course, last but certainly not least, we can appear at the next congregational educator Hangout (#congedchat) taking place on December 6, at 12:30 pm EST. Contact Sarah Shapiro-Plevan (@shaplev) to "rsvp".

Maybe now is the time to take a cue from the OWS movement as it's being evicted from physical space. 
Maybe now is the time to Occupy Jewish Education - at least in the Cloud. All in the name of Complimentary Jewish Education.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Big Bang - Adventures in Cyberspace

The universe is expanding.  That’s the core of the Big Bang Theory. As the cosmos gets older, everything in it moves apart.  Not to delve too much into such esoterica like Hubbles Law, I need to affirm - אני מאמין - I'm a believer.  In the last week I experienced something akin to this phenomenon in my own universe. Let’s call it the Virtual Big Bang.

Last Wednesday I participated in the first #jedchat., organized by  Dov Emerson, Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt and Rabbi Meir Wexler. What was special about this was its synchronicity. Dozens of Jewish educators from around the globe simultaneously came together on twitter to build a new professional learning network.  This  real-time inaugural conversation focused mostly on introductions and general brainstorming about how to use twitter to grow this nascent PLN.  Suggestions for the topic of this Wednesday’s (November 2nd at 9:00 PM eastern time) were thrown out.  We are all anxiously awaiting the result of the online poll that will ultimately determine what we’ll tweet about.

Then, earlier this week I took part in a Google+Hangout, initiated by Miram Brosseau, focusing on the bridge that is being constructed between technology and experiential education.  If you haven’t yet experienced a G+Hangout, you should.  All it requires is a Google+ account, a quick and painless browser plug-in download, a webcam and yalla…you’re in.  Video conferencing is old news, I know, but what G+ seems to have done is created a free and seamless environment for folks (up to 10 at one time, according to Google!) to come together to explore and learn together. What was exciting about this hangout experience was that it expanded my PLN that has, up to this point been, in a large way twitter based. Now, these tweeting encounters are being enhanced by virtual f2f encounters that deepen the educational experience. And it’s always fun to see the face and hear the voice behind the tweet.

We’re in the midst of a process of learning and development.  As we all know, technology has the tendency of not working at the most inopportune time. At a hangout I facilitated last week we found ourselves gazing at each other while using the phone - one of our participants had microphone issues.  But you know, that’s okay.  Let’s call it growing pains.

For the past few years there has been a lively discussion about the nature of community in the 21st century.  What does it mean to be part of a group of people who may never physically meet?  What are the ramifications of non-f2f encounters that take place in the cloud?  Paradoxically, as social networks evolve and expand, (like galaxies moving through space), we individuals are drawing closer. The technology that expands our worlds is becoming the very tool that brings us together.