For years the Jewish community has lagged behind general society in creative and effective use of technology and new media. This observation (and personal frustration with it) was the genesis of Darim 10 years ago. There are many obstacles – skills, staffing, design, willingness to take risks, or to know where to take risks. And of course, money. In recent years a number of creative, and largely independent, social entrepreneurs in the Jewish community have taken matters into their own hands, building and launching interesting applications on a shoestring, sometimes at night while holding down a full time job to pay the bills. But in general, the organizations, their audiences, the designers and programmers, and the funders haven’t been speaking the same language. Some people are preaching open source and others and pressing CDroms. Where do we go from here? Three of the nation’s largest Jewish foundations – the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – have announced the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund to help energize the community to focus on the need for new media innovations, and to help bring them to life. While a pool of $500,000 injects important dollars to jumpstart new and support developing projects, I think this fund — and the role of three prominent foundations — is a critically important statement to the community. This is not optional anymore. This is our present, and our future, and there is no time to waste. I know a lot of people with some very creative ideas, and this is a tremendous opportunity for us to recognize the talents that exist within the Jewish community, and to take advantage. The fund intends to support interactive, digital efforts that are creative and impactful, and which and engage with Jews and Judaism in ways that promote moremeaningful and vibrant Jewish life in the 21st century. The Fund will support individuals, 501c3 non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and for-profit businesses. Collaborative projects are welcomed and encouraged. All the details and the application form are here. Deadline is November 22, 2010. Funding decisions will be made in February, 2011.
Originally published in RAVSAK's HaYidion. Spring 2010
Social media and Web 2.0 resources can facilitate the ways in which we create and share educational resources. There is a developing trend towards a new openness in learning regarding access to people, content, and other resources. The power of new social media lies in its ability to help forge connections between people and other people, ideas, resources, and content. Characteristics of this new learning culture include transforming information and resources, creating one’s own resources and building on others, developing and participating in personal/professional learning networks, and personalized learning.
Originally published in URJ: Technology at the Center. Spring 2009
The Internet and digital media are changing the landscape of professional learning. New technologies are making available different opportunities for learning, reflection and collaboration. The Darim Online Learning Network for Educators is a professional development and knowledge sharing program funded by the Covenant Foundation to help educators learn about, experiment with and share their knowledge about using various social media as tools in their curriculum. The Learning Network is built on a community of practice (CoP) model, a process of social learning where participants interact to help achieve their common goals. The multifaceted nature of the program is a useful model for illustrating some key variables that make online professional development attractive for Jewish teachers.
The Darim Online Learning Network has been experimenting with both synchronous learning (participants interact together in real time; for example, at conference calls, webinars) and asynchronous learning (participants engage at different times, according to their availability; for example, through online discussion lists, archived webinars). As an example, we use webinars (think “audio-visual conference call”) to gather a group in real time and present material, such as a PowerPoint presentation, or walk through a case study by sharing one’s desktop. These live events also serve to create a sense of community and shared experience as participants ask questions, exchange stories about their work and support each other. We also archive the webinars so that those unable to join (or those who want to review the material) can replay the event. In addition, we use email and social networks to keep the conversation going between webinar events. New topics often emerge from these discussions, which we integrate back into future webinars.
Our teachers, especially those in complementary settings (who often have full-time jobs in addition to this position), are generally over-extended, with very limited schedules and little discretionary time to invest in ongoing professional learning. We have found that it is essential to provide asynchronous learning opportunities for congregational teachers, as these activities tend to be a better fit for their busy lives. By removing the logistical barriers of having to be in a particular location at a particular time, online learning can increase the total available opportunities for and, thus, the total consumption of professional development.
Social media facilitate the building and strengthening of relationships, which can lead to immediate and long-term transmission of knowledge, experience and support. In many cases, Jewish teachers are relatively isolated in their particular domain (only one third grade teacher in a particular congregation, for example). Teachers develop personal learning networks and share ideas through online discussion groups, blogs, virtual communities, virtual worlds, social networks and special interest networks. Members of the Darim Online Learning Network for Educators have access to a private social network developed on the Ning platform. In this password-protected network, each teacher creates a profile, with space for blogging and sharing photographs, videos and documents. Members can create and join groups defined by particular shared interests (for example, digital storytelling or b’nei mitzvah preparation). The platform helps those with similar interests to efficiently find each other and share knowledge, ask questions and support each other.
Another way of professional learning and sharing is through the creation, dissemination of and access to content. Podcasts, wikis, social bookmarks, presentation sharing platforms such as Slideshare or Google Presentations, online video platforms such as YouTube and TeacherTube, and videoconferencing tools such as ustream.tv are all mechanisms for creating and sharing resources.
Beyond the technologies themselves, the online models for learning are increasingly social and attuned to the real human needs of the learners. Furthermore, many of these tools are free or very low cost, making professional learning opportunities more accessible than ever. If you have not had the opportunity to engage in online learning, come try it out. No technical proficiency is required, simply a computer, an Internet connection and a thirsty mind.Want to get started? Find out what your professional development organizations offer. Learn about social media tools through short videos by Common Craft (www.commoncraft.com/show), read Liz B. Davis’ blog about developing personal learning networks online (edtechpower.blogspot.com/search/label/ PLN), browse through jlearn2.0’s bookmarks on delicious (delicious.com/jlearn2.0), and check out our blog, JewPoint0 (jewpoint0.org).