Postcard from JFN EdTech – ambitious and disruptive

Election? What election! An event likely to have a far bigger and longer-lasting impact on the Jewish world is happening this week in Tel Aviv – the annual Jewish Funders Network conference. It takes place in Israel every three years, and is buzzing with some 500 people from all over the world connecting and building on the power of the network, all with a philanthropic focus. Over the coming days, I will be posting about some conference highlights.

Today, I attended EdTech, a pre-conference event focussing on educational technology. That’s a pretty broad field – indeed, it included a session with three-minute pitches from nine educational innovators offering everything from games to addressing post-Birthright engagement, and everything in between.

This isn’t about the next Waze or ReWalk and huge exits. But it’s about using the very same technology and innovation skills and applying them to the challenges of Jewish education and engagement. It’s about transforming our tradition of education that has been the bedrock of Jewish life for thousands of years and adapting it to the new world. These “startups” use digital media, game dynamics, experiential learning and app development to teach everything Jewish from history to Talmud.

It’s ambitious and disruptive in spades.

Mercava is transforming traditional content into digital form augmented with rich visuals, maps, charts, and videos. It’s a platform for the development of content that can be delivered by Jewish day schools or online to the many young students who don’t attend them. Instead of seeking to maintain the attention of students to texts they feel are archaic and irrelevant, tools like this are bringing the educational experience to where the students are – their iPads.

They want to extend their platform to connect all Jews globally – not just educating them but connecting them to meaningful engagement points when and where they are.

Taglit-Birthright Israel has been a hugely successful program to bring young people to visit Israel. But then what? Only 4% of alumni participated in five or more Jewish activities following their visit. Bring Israel Home is changing that. It uses gamification and social media to challenge Birthright alumni to complete “100 points” of Jewish activity in the three months following their trip, and to map out their own Jewish journey. They have achieved 70% in post-Birthright engagement levels!

Consider these same techniques applied to other serious “drop-off points” in Jewish engagement amongst young people: post high-school, post extended Israel trip, and the transition from university to the workplace.

Jewish Interactive is a tool for the development of digital Jewish educational games, incorporating curriculum products like apps and mini-games, lesson planners and resource guides for teachers. It significantly reduces the effort (in time and cost) required to roll out curriculum, and does it using techniques that are far more effective in reaching the students of today. It has already been adopted by 250 schools, and their content has reached students (in and out of schools) in 840 cities.

The cost of Jewish day school education continues to rise to unsustainable levels. Pumping more money into such a system will eventually have limited benefit. One part of the solution is to use technology to significantly reduce the cost of delivering educational content to students, no matter where they are. This is where some of the EdTech initiatives can really make a difference.

About the Author
David is a public speaker and author, an experienced technology entrepreneur, strategic thinker and adviser, philanthropist and not-for-profit innovator. He has thousands of ideas and is always creating new ways of looking at the ordinary to make it better. His capacity to quickly think through options and synthesise outcomes makes him a powerhouse in any conversation. With a generosity of mind and heart, his eye is always on creating ways to help those in his community. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia and with an Orthodox Jewish education and a university degree, he started several technology businesses in subscription billing and telecommunications. He is actively involved in a handful of local not-for-profits with an emphasis on Jewish education, philanthropy, next generation Jewish engagement, and microfinance. Along the way, he completed a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is passionate about leadership, good governance, and sports. David is married with five children.
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