Why I love Teaching, Technology, and Social Media: A Tu B'shvat Story

There is a famous story about Choni Hamagel which I have taught many times in honor of Tu Bishvat from the Talmud in Taanit 23a. Here is a very short summary of the story. Choni draws a circle and demands that G-d bring rain which G-d finally does. Then Choni sees a person planting a carob tree which will only bear fruit after 70 years. Choni questions the wisdom of such a long term proposition and the person responds that since his grandparents planted a carob tree for him, he will plant one for his grandchildren. Choni then falls asleep for 70 years, perhaps the source for the story of Rip Van Winkle, and then wakes up to find the carob tree fully grown. The story ends on a depressing note with Choni so distressed that he is living in a world without any of his former friends and family that he exclaims או חברותא או מיתותא, loosely translated as "Give me a chavruta, a partner, or give me death". For a very clever video rendition of this story minus the "sad" ending, you can watch a wonderful cartoon version created by G-dcast here.

Last night, in honor of Tu Bishvat, I decided to tweet a student project on this story that was created way back in 2001 as a part of a class How to learn Gemara website. One of the wonders of digital learning, a term which I believe had not even been coined when I created this project with my class, is that one creates an online portfolio that can be accessed for many years to come. Even after Yahoo's Geocities which hosted our website went defunct, a new free service Geocities.ws generously took over free hosting of our site. You can read more about this project in a previous blog post here.

So I tweeted about this wonderful project created by my students from way back in the day and within a few moments I get a reply on Twitter, "I was one those students!" from @alicht, a student who I have seen in person on only a few occasions in the last 5 years. Obviously, I was beaming, smiling ear to ear, as I interacted with my former student from so many years ago on Twitter.You can view the Twitter exchange below.

This vignette illustrates why I love teaching, technology, and social media. As teachers, we are all planting trees like in the Choni story. Sometimes, these trees can bear almost instant fruit. Other times it is a much longer and more arduous process in which we wonder if any our seeds will ever sprout. But after a few years, you never know what wonderful fruits our trees will grow. However, at times, we don't know about these momentous occasions. How many of us have the chance to meet our students years later and reflect about what effect we might have had on their lives? This is where technology and social media can be so awesome. Through technology, we can create a snapshot of our student's performance, an online portfolio for us teachers and our students to look back on for years to come. And through social media, we can continue to interact with our students as they grow into adults who themselves are influential members of our Jewish community. We don't need a 70 year slumber to wake up to our fruit trees. Through the power of social media we can continue to interact, influence, and "shep good old fashioned naches" at the fruits of our labor.

Happy Tu Bishvat to all!