Playing Like Lion Cubs

I’m recently back from 2 Jewish education conferences — #JEA59 (Conservative Jewish educators) and #NATEseattle (Reform Jewish educators). Both conferences shared a theme about technology, and I fully enjoyed the opportunity to both teach and learn. In Seattle, Charlie Schwartz and Russel Neiss of Media Midrash did a session on mobile technologies, which I loved. They demanded that we all bring our phones and ipads fully charged and ready to go. They reminded us of the educational power of the tools students bring with them into the classroom, and guided us to the productive and creative ways to use them. But it wasn’t PollEverywhere or SCVNGR that really got me excited. It was that we were all playing. That’s right. PLAYING.Lion Cubs at Play

 

Mid-text message, while the educator’s snarky responses to Charlie and Russel’s questions were popping up on the gigantic screens, and giggles were erupting throughout the ballroom, I had this vision in my mind:

We’re all lion cubs.

Children, of all species, play. They play not just because they’ve got nothing else better to do, but because they need to play to learn and practice the skills they will need to employ as adults. We play to learn balance, boundaries, social skills. As adults, we often forget how to play in this way. We’ve grown out of it. It’s natural. But in an environment where we continually need to be learning new boundaries, new skills, new tools, this kind of play is actually really important.

While we often focus on "professional development" and "training" (both of which are important and have their place), I was struck by these conferences’ ability to help us play. In my pre-conference Boot Camp at NATE, participants launched Twitter accounts, and tried their hand at blogging for the first time. Low risk, just play. At JEA, a "technology theater" gave participants permission to sample tools and dabble in a simple, exploratory way.

In our work at Darim, we often observe that the "accidental techies" are educators. "Accidental techies" are the people who are intrigued with a tool, play around, and start to accept responsibility for the organization’s social media activities. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Perhaps educators feel more permission to play. Perhaps people who like to play as adults become educators.

Regardless, I encourage you to embrace your furry playful lion-cub self. Go ahead, play a little! And thanks to Russel and Charlie for presenting your rich and educational session is such a fun and playful way. Kol HaKavod. You taught us more than perhaps you had planned to.

Learn Hebrew in the Palm of Your “Yad”

In January, Birthright Israel NEXT launched its first iPhoneapplication, Mila-4-Phone. The application (app), a Hebrew-learning program that uses flashcards and includes audio pronunciation, has been downloaded more than 3,000 times so far.

Such success signals the grand potential for Jewish organizations to use apps to reach their constituents in a new way: right in the palm of their hand.

Graphic from Mila-4-Phone App
Graphic from Mila-4-Phone App

Apps are what websites were to an organization ten years ago, Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, said. Back then, we used to joke “you are not real until you are virtual.”

Brenner makes a good point. In the web of the 1990s, websites were static and reference-focused. Today, the web is increasingly more fast-paced and social-focused thanks to the ubiquity of user generated content and the rise of social networking sites.

As apps bring the social web to phones and other mobile devices, organizations are pressed to deliver valued-added content that is more than just reference material.

Apps challenge organizations to show how ongoing, updated information from the organization is relevant to users, Brenner said.

For Birthright Israel NEXT, the key to compelling content was listening to its target base, a population that was expressing interest in returning to Israel and learning Hebrew.

We view the iPhone app as having two mission related functions one educational and one community building, Brenner said. One element of our mission is to deepen the connections that young adults have to Israel Hebrew learning certainly does just that.

But the real power of the app is that it is building a community of over three thousand young adults who share an interest in Hebrew language. Since we are involved in promoting ulpanim in ten cities and in holding ‘beit cafe’ events where Americans can meet Israeli peers and work on their Hebrew, the iPhone app serves as a magnet for folks with a shared interest and has encouraged people to meet others who want to learn Hebrew.

While the app may not be for every Birthright Israel alumni, it has attracted a large, focused following with more than 3,000 downloads from 49 countries.

Niche followings are the best type of followings, Brenner said. Knowing that over 3,000 young adults who are for the most part unaffiliated Jews and who did not go to Jewish day school all want to learn Hebrew is a very good thing.

Seeing a Jewish organization invest in a new technology and using it to reach its base in a 21st century model transcending space, time and place is definitely a very good thing.

So good that other Jewish organizations are taking notice. For instance, Mazon has an iPhone app as does the Cleveland Jewish Federation, which launched Jewish Cleveland in March.

Will apps be the new websites of the 2010s?Are you or your Jewish organization thinking about creating an app? Sound off in our comments.

Video of Mila-4-Phone in Action

To learn more about Mila-4-Phone check it out here.If you dont have an iPhone, or iPod touch, you can still join in on the mobile- Hebrew-learning fun with Birthright Israel NEXTs Hebrew Word-A-Day Text Messaging program. Just text Hebrew to 41411 to get started.

10 Blips On Your Radar for 2010: #1 MOBILE

In the coming days and weeks we’ll be sharing 10 things you should have on your radar screen for 2010. If you’re already on top of them – mazel tov. Share with us what you’re doing in the comments. If not, time to get hip to the new decade. Don’t put it off. This isn’t the future, it’s the present, so pay attention.

To kick us off, mobile mobile mobile. Everybody’s got a phone in their pocket, and increasingly it’s a pretty intelligent one. The iPhone, Blackberry, Android and others are taking over the market, and shaking up the status quo. Assume that people are looking for and engaging with you while on the go, not just while sitting at their desk.

Some things to know:

  1. Compose your emails for easy reading on a mobile device. Send a test and check it out on a Blackberry and iPhone. Some Blackberry users are reporting a lack of patience with graphic emails because it takes too much time to wade through. “Give me the bullet points and important information straight up and in brief” seems to be the attitude.
  2. Start learning about fundraising via mobile. I just made my first donation by text message to a radio show I love, This American Life, when I saw a tweet. $5 went on my AT&T bill. So easy! Check out http://www.mobilegiving.org/ to see how they do it. Sophist Productions has been hosting events (a UJA Young Leadership cocktail party, for example) where people “text to pledge” their donation, and pledges are projected on the wall. Yes, it is a new world. And it works. Read more here on text-to-give programs.
  3. Redesigning or tuning up your website? Make sure you’ve got a mobile friendly version. Check out a Google tool here to see what your web site can look like on a mobile browser. Beth Kanter iPhone-ized her blog with an easy $200 IPhone app tool. Learn about it here.
  4. Twitter was conceived of, and largely used as a mobile tool. Thus, don’t neglect this community when you are putting together a mobile strategy.

Want to learn more?

http://mobileactive.org/ is a great org with useful resources and a discussion list on how nonprofits are using mobile in their work.

http://www.mobilecommons.com/ offers services for marketing, advocacy and fundraising via mobile (and thanks to Mobile Commons for donating their services for our Boot Camps)

http://www.mobilecitizen.org/ has excellent resources for mobile use in education and nonprofits.

Great resources from Wild Apricot: Is Your Nonprofit Website Mobile-Friendly?

Examples of cool, mission-centric mobile uses from nonprofits, on Beth Kanter’s Blog

Dipping Toes into Mobile, Thanks to Mobile Commons

At our recent Social Media Boot Camp kickoff event on Long Island, we completed evaluations through text messaging on our phones. Yes, the prevalence of smartphones (iphone, Blackberry, etc.) means that more and more is going mobile. For example, the recent success of Twitter is largely due to the fact that many users participate via their mobile device, not (or more than) their computer. Like the rise of broadband made online video possible, the rise of smartphone use is driving a whole new world of mobile connectivity, information, advocacy and action.

Mobile evaluations on an iPhone
Mobile evaluations on an iPhone

Thanks to generous support from Mobile Commons, we designed our evaluations via text message to model this, help participants experience this sort of mobile activity, and to make data collection easier for us! Mobile Commons set up a short code and keyword. When participants send the keyword to that number, they got the first question. Rate on a scale of 1-5 … type 4 and hit send. Next question pops up. And so on. And on the backend, we have a spreadsheet of data that’s easy to crunch, sort, and process.

I learned about this when NTEN did their session evaluations with Mobile Commons at their last conference. I really didn’t believe how easy it would be until I tried it.

Mobile Commons does great advocacy campaigns with their product. At our “Facebook, Twitter, Mobile, What’s Next?” session at the GA next month we’ll be learning to text-to-pledge fundraising campaigns too.

As Dru Greenwood, head of SYNERGY at UJA Federation of New York said in her closing comments, “and, I just sent my first text message!” Many heads nodded. In fact a decent handful of people had just sent their first text, including some Blackberry users!

Mobile Mobile Mobile

I know mobile is the future. To some degree I experience it and participate, for example through Twitter. I use Twitter both personally (@LisaColton) and professionally (@DarimOnline), and use Twitter clients on my iphone to read and post and connect all over the place. The last 48 hours at NTEN have perhaps been the most prolific to date – there’s so many excellent nuggets of wisdom here. (Check out my twitter stream, and the #09NTC steam from all participants).

But as I think about mobile fundraising campaigns, etc. I remain somewhat skeptical. Let me revise that: I feel that the technology is still “in the way”, and as Clay Shirky said this morning, “the tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” Mobile technology just isn’t boring yet, but it is moving from awkward to interesting.

My conference session evaluation via SMS, on my iPhone
My conference session evaluation via SMS, on my iPhone

NTEN has engaged Mobile Commons to set up a text message based evaluation system for this conference. That’s right, you TEXT your rating and comments, rather than writing it on paper. Less paper, easier to compile the data, super convenient. I was at first confused how it would work, but then I just went for it — texted the session number NTC189 to the short code they gave us 68966. Half a second later the first questions popped up. I entered my rating and hit send. The next question. IT WAS SO SIMPLE and satisfying. Success. I do expect that it will take some time before the masses are comfortable with such uses of mobile, but the future will be here shortly, and thus it’s useful for us to learn what the early adopters are doing, and start to dip our toes in the water.

Other examples shared here have been integrated with video, advocacy campaigns, fundraising and more. What’s the lesson? Though you may not be using mobile campaigns now, it is the future, and thus you should be collecting your constituents cell phone numbers now. They will come in handy a few months or years down the road.