Next year in Jedcamp Jerusalem! 3 Reflections on #JedcampNJNY

I am just beginning to process all that I have gained from JedcampNJNY this past Sunday. Wow! As I and many other participants already mentioned, it exceeded all of our expectations. I blogged about my presentation at Jedcamp a few days ago.

Below, I list three of my reflections on the event. Note, as JedcampNJNY was all about creating a personalized professional development experience, my reflections only express my own personal observations on the event. Others gleaned very different lessons from JedcampNJNY. You can read some other reflections on JedcampNJNY from the blogosphere here, here, here, here, and here.

1. Twitter and other social media platforms are key tools for facilitating sharing in Jewish education.

JedcampNJNY was not just about EdTech. Although many presentations discussed technology related topics, many others like those on using improv in the classroom or strengthening teacher/administrator relationships did not. However, social media, and more specifically Twitter, was the backbone that allowed the event to take place and structured the proceedings before, after, and during the conference. Without the global reach of Twitter, this event could never had taken place.

The whole idea of Edcamp only developed some three years ago in Philadelphia. Through social media and Web 2.0 tools, Twitter, Facebook, Wikis and the like, events quickly spread across the United States and the world. Jedcamp then piggybacked on these ideas first in South Florida, then this past Sunday in NJ, and later this summer a future Jedcamp is planned for Baltimore. Much the way Twitter has been a primary vehicle to organize against oppressive regimes throughout the world, this free mass medium has been a primary force for good in the world of education. As someone I was speaking to put it, 20 years ago an event like Jedcamp could only have taken place at great expense through the assistance of a major board of Jewish education or other major Jewish organization. The cost of the publicity alone would have been onerous. Now, a small grass roots group of volunteers can easily gather 80+ teachers to come together for such an event, כן ירבו.

However, the role of Twitter did not end with the planning stages. During the event, anyone, either across the world or just in a different session, could follow all of the Jedcamp proceedings using the Twitter hashtag #JedcampNJNY. Below is a live feed of this hashtag in real-time.



At the event, we even used a new tool that I had never seen before, http://visibletweets.com/, to create a dynamic word cloud to present tweets. You can see an example below.


The many pictures that were tweeted helped provide those watching from far away places like Baltimore, California, and Israel with a window into the event. People also used Twitter to share personal notes, live Google docs that anyone can edit, and snippets from different presentations. One of my favorites from a presentation that I was not able to attend by NY's Funniest Rabbi, appears below.
As a postscript on JedcampNJNY, #Jedchat this Wednesday night, April 24, 2013 at 9PM EDT will be devoted to reflections in #JedcampNJNY. If you do not yet know what Jedchat is or how to participate, please read the following posting by Dov Emerson: So What is Jedchat anyway?

Note, that while Twitter was an excellent medium to share before, during, and after JedcampNJNY, it was not the primary form of communication during the event. We did not behave teenagers looking down at our devices and texting the person standing next to us. However, it provided the framework that made all of the face-to-face communications possible and helped to extend and enrich these conversations beyond the confines of the physical event. This leads to my next reflection.

2. The most effective learning comes from face to face interaction.

What made Jedcamp so energizing was the ability to meet, discuss, and present to like minded educators face to face. While platforms like Twitter and Google docs are great for sharing resources and collaborating, there is something uniquely human about looking someone in the face and talking to them. Many of the sessions just involved this group discussion rather than frontal teaching. These were very fruitful.

For example, Jeff Kiderman facilitated a fascinating discussion about what a high school would look like if we built it from scratch. While this session included wonderful crowd-sourced notes which were created in real time as a public Google Doc, what made the discussion fruitful was the ability of the presenter to take a step back and listen to the contributions of all of the educators in the room.

This is something to think seriously about when implementing computer assisted models of teaching like Blended Learning. While Blended Learning can be a very powerful educational tool when used to supplement instruction and empower the teacher to work individually and in groups with students, when it is used to replace the teacher, this can be a major detriment to student learning. Ultimately, education is about developing relationships between teachers and students and, in Judaic Studies, with the text as well. This is what The Rav Z"TL calls a "Dialogue of the Generations". (You can read an article that I wrote on this for Ten Da'at here.) Anything that can help strengthen and facilitate this dialogue can be a positive educational development. Anything that creates a barrier to this dialogue is detrimental.

3. Great learning can happen organically.

One of the biggest "nachas moments" for me at Sunday's event was watching the board with all of the sessions fill up. Prior to the event, we really did not know what to expect. Would teachers volunteer to give sessions or would we begging teachers to pitch in? Within 20 minutes of the start of JedcampNJNY, we realized that this was not an issue. Every spot but three was quickly filled by teachers presenting on various topics. The other three spots were occupied by teachers who were  not necessarily planning to present but later jumped in with their ideas. You can see a picture of the board and click on a link to a typed version of it below.

Click on the Jedcamp Board to view all sessions.
One piece of feedback that we have already received is that we probably could have even opened a sixth slot for each time period since there were so many people who wanted to present.

The fact that this event was purely teacher-directed is what made it such a fruitful professional development experience. Educators presented on what they were interested in and people decided where to go and what to share based on their passions. This is something schools must consider before planning the typical one size fits all "Stage on the Sage" professional development day. A more effective and less expensive model would be to constantly have "just on time" professional development based on the teachers in the building, allow teachers opportunities to share with each other in larger groups, and only bring in outside professionals based on the needs and wants of the teachers.

One big question that I have for the future is how I can bring some of this organic learning to my students. RealSchool seems like a really good idea right now. Only can this be pulled off by most high school or middle school students? To be continued...

Next year in JedcampJerusalem!