This was my first experience with this rather diverse group of Jewish educators, Jewish communal workers, and lay leaders all interested in educational technology. I found the presenters and discussion to be stimulating. You can read highlights of it on Twitter using the hashtag #je3conf.
Here are my initial thoughts about what I learned.
- There is a strong interest in creating rich online resources for Jewish textual learning. This is not just true of the Orthodox Jewish population as many participants from various religious backgrounds expressed this same desire. They don't just want to read articles about Jewish learning. We have enough of these online on various websites like Aish.com or Torah.org. They want resources to learn text. For example, they desire Hebrew text which can be hyperlinked to translations, cross references, video, and audio files when clicked and the ability to use this text in real time chavruta learning using annotations on the page and skype.
- The presenter who best illustrated this was Daniel Sieradski . His examples are featured on http://jewityourself.org/bje.html. It seems that many others shared Daniel's sentiments. This would obviously assist many different types of learners both formal learners in Jewish day schools and Yeshivot, as well as independent learners for whom the Internet might be their primary source for Jewish information.
- One challenge that was expressed in connection with this was the need to create free open source platforms for Jewish digital text to build these rich applications. Even ancient text like Tanakh and Talmud becomes copyrighted when digitized on websites like Mechon Mamre. The Jewish community needs to invest in a database of free digital text created in the latest formats like XML (I don't know what this is but it was Daniel's format of choice) so that developers can work on this.
- One of my English teachers was learning a poem with her class that used the words "host" and "bliss". In the context of the work, these obviously were (Christian) religious references that were designed to elicit very specific imagery in the minds of the readers which our students would not know. Rather than teaching these references frontally, the teacher asked her students many of whom had laptops in class what they thought they symbolized. They quickly looked up these words online and were able to share with the class their significance. This was faster, more efficient, and more student-centered than the traditional instructor method for presenting the significance of these references.
- Just today, I took away a cell phone from a student who was texting during morning prayers. I asked the student after davening was over how he could be texting others at a time he should be focused on talking to God. He told me that he was texting his mother to get the names of some cholim (sick people) that he wanted to daven for during his Shemoneh Esray. Because I had quickly confiscated his phone rather than first investigate the reason for its use, I deprived him of helping others through his prayers.
- For example, in our school we have created wikis to serve as virtual communities where students can work together on educational projects and communicate using asynchronous online discussion forums. We find that these interactions outside of class allow for students in different classes to connect with each other, something impossible in the typical high school day. They also help students, who might have much to say but who are afraid to speak, to express their thoughts in writing through the online discussions.
- Our wiki has also allowed us to collaborate on projects with sister schools in Nahariya and Gush Eztion. In this case, the wiki technology allows for students in different parts of the world with different time zones to work together in the same "classroom" even if they are not working at the same place or time.