After working mostly in Jewish education for the last 15 years, I recently had the opportunity to attend the “International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. This is the largest gathering of educators from around the world. The conference, which this year took place in San Antonio, Texas was an opportunity to meet, share, and collaborate with fellow educators from every educational circle imaginable. During my three days at the conference, I had a chance to discuss true educational challenges with educators from every corner of the globe and to embark on some true collaboration experiences.
After three days immersed in this conference, my brain is still racing, trying to process all of the amazing interactions and experiences. I have already been in touch with three of my new conference friends to discuss how we can continue to work and collaborate.
For some, this conference experience may not see all that unique. In various business fields, international collaboration is a standard part of the work process. After spending most of my career though in Jewish education, I think that we can learn some important lessons from the rest of the world.
The first thing that struck me as special was how almost everyone I met was so willing to discuss opportunities for collaboration. As an online/distance learning provider, I happen to think that my company’s services are unique, but online learning is a crowded field with a lot of providers. Yet, every school district superintendent and educational vendor with whom I spoke were eager to discuss how we may be able to work together.
How often do Jewish educators “reach across” the isles to see what is going on in the rest of the world? How often do schools in the US or Israel try to open dialogue or partnership opportunities with the rest of the global educational community? While Jewish education has taken amazing leaps in technology integration, there is still more than we can and should be doing. When I was the technology director of a large Jewish day school, I remember convincing my school’s administrators that technology was not just another fad, that it was indeed an important part of the educational process. I was privileged to work for principals who believed in the advancements that technology could help bring, and I was allowed to build some top tier programs. Some schools though, are still not crossing that line to take advantage of the global possibilities.
Jewish education has a lot of great qualities, and thankfully a lot of philanthropists who have supported various Jewish educational technology initiatives over the years. Some of the existing resources are truly amazing and have helped to ensure that Jewish students everywhere can receive a quality Jewish education. There is still however a great deal of money being spent trying to “reinvent the wheel” rather than trying to engage in meaningful collaborations and partnerships.
ISTE showed me firsthand how much can be accomplished if we work together. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the largest online providers in the world. They offer courses in an extensive list of foreign languages, but not in Hebrew. They have explored the possibility of creating their own Hebrew language program, but they came to the realization that there are already a lot of great resources available. So, rather than start from scratch, they are looking for partners that can help them to create this new offering. We instantly struck up a conversation and a follow-up meeting has already been scheduled. Who knows what (if anything) will come of this, but these types of partnerships can only help our students.
In Jewish education, there are no fewer than eight major Hebrew language curriculum options (that I can count). Schools are using these resources, but none of the options have really become the universal solution for teaching Hebrew. Some of these programs have even been funded by the same organizations! Did we really need 8 separate projects? What if all of the funding and resources for these projects was put together? Imagine what could happen if schools/ students had all of the combined resources available. Imagine what could be created if all of the Hebrew experts sat and pooled all of their experiences and knowledge together. The possibilities would be limitless!
Since returning home from San Antonio, my email inbox has become full of ISTE follow-up emails. Some of them are about general topics, but some are from what ISTE calls “PLN’s” or professional learning networks. These groups have been designed so that educators, content providers, and vendors can ask questions, collaborate on innovative ideas, and listen to the needs of the educational communities. Many of the discussions already taking place in these networks remind me of why I became an educator. The energy and innovation is these groups is nothing short of amazing. Hopefully, ISTE’s initiatives can serve as an example for education and educators everywhere!