Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Online Professional Development from JEDLAB

The first JEDLAB-inspired webinar occurred on Sept 16th, hosting 16 Jewish educators from around the globe. Veteran EdTech educators Etta King, Education Program Manager at Jewish Women's Archive and Smadar Goldstein, Founder and co-Director of Jerusalem EdTech Solutions (JETS), coordinated this online learning hangout to talk about how technologically-adept educators can learn from each other and bring newcomers into the elearning world.  
The group, which included both day school and afternoon school teachers, online educators, administrators, educational coaches and other professionals met for a participant-driven, collaborative discussion about online professional development in the Jewish educational community. Etta King opened the session by describing her wish to find new and creative ways to develop and implement curriculum that focuses on Jewish values, Jewish heroes and social justice. Her previous conversations about online learning have been within the JEDLAB community as well as within her own organization, and now she threw open the question of how to involve more participant-educators with the goal of creating a structured program of professional development which could establish universal objectives for online learning.
The participants expressed interest in an online class as a good way for Jewish educators to advance together. Such a class would allow for collaboration and a process learning experience that could strengthen teachers' skills for coping with varied classroom situations. In addition, the webinar participants noted that, in the same way that students learn best when they apply a skill or concept immediately, teachers will also increase their teaching skills when they can acquire new information in an online PD class and apply it in their domain within days, without having to go through a long period of planning before implementation.

The webinar participants offered concrete solutions. One idea was based on the website in which a community of people interact online for a shared goal. This type of framework could be specifically helpful to lay leaders and other non-professional educators who are teaching in Jewish educational frameworks but lack an education background.

A second suggestion involved educational forums that teach different concepts through a video, discussion, assignment and opportunity for participants to examine each other's work. Such a format provides constant feedback and, in an expression that was repeated several times during the class, enables educators to learn from each other by "peeking into each other's classrooms."

Hang-out participants were asked to note which type of tools they know how to use. One educator mentioned the DangerouslyIrrelevant website which draws information from classrooms and educators around the country. The site keeps teachers up-to-date on new technologies and tools while emphasizing that education will always depend more on the educators than on the tools themselves.

In summary, the question focused on the core of the webinar -- how can Jewish educators use online professional development opportunities to gain from each other?


The session ended when the group broke up into break-out groups to discuss how to move forward to share resources and information, both individually and among the larger JEBLAB community.

Etta King's group decided to look at the larger picture in deciding which gaps need to be filled so that the new PD course doesn't end up reinventing the wheel. JEDLAB should serve as a clearinghouse for learning "what's out there, especially in light of the fact that technology is always changing and educators must stay abreast of the changes. Accessing materials should be easy to ensure that teachers don't need to recreate the same materials and same lesson plans and can use the time and energy to create new materials. Tikvah Wiener, who will be moderating the November webinar has already begun to gather resources on the Frisch RealSchool blog.  

The suggestion was made to create a platform which will allow teachers to contribute their materials and lessons and will enable other educators to access those materials at will. There can be different categories including categories for beginning and advanced teachers, day schools, afternoon schools, etc.

The second group, facilitated by JETS' co-Director Smadar Goldstein, discussed the feasibility of creating a series of webinars in which each participant would facilitate a session in a specific area of expertise.  Each webinar could be given on a different platform so participants would also be introduced to different platforms as part of the program.

The session ended with the promise to set up a blog with a calendar so that all participants, as well as new people who want to join the conversation, can stay abreast of the schedule for 2013-2014 PD classes.

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