Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Can Open Source work for
Jewish Education?

My friend and mentor Shalom Berger of the Lookstein Institute for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan share a link to Tzvi Daum's blog with a bunch of us, curious about our response to his challenge. As a synagogue rather than day school educator, I don;t believe he is speaking directly to me, but the questions are valid regardless of setting.

I have some thoughts, which I will share at another time. I am more interested in yours. In addition to his three highlighted questions, what do you think about open-source Jewish learning? Is there an upside and/or a downside to increasing our reliance on the digital lens for Jewish teaching and learning? And what should the balance be? (If you choose to respond in your own blog, please post a link in the comments to this blog and to Tzvi's.)

Quick, what do Mozilla Firefox, Linux, Moodle, Openoffice.org. Audacity and Filezilla all have in common?
Answer: They are all examples of great open source software available for free on the web. In general, open source products are developed by people around the globe who contribute their time and expertise to develop a product which is then made available for free to the public at large.

Recently there has been some discussion about exploring an open source model for Jewish education. It sounds idealistic, everybody chipping in their little part, the question is - how practical is such an idea?

As someone who has actually tried to organize an open source project or two for Jewish education, I would like to share what I learned from these experiences and what I see the challenges to be.

One particular project I tried to launch revolved around developing some Judaic Studies curricular materials. (I have blogged about it here in the past.) My thought was to start with something small that educators can collaborate on over the summer. I thought the free time in the summer and the limited materials that needed to be covered would make be a good first candidate for an open source project. However, sadly enough the project never got off the ground. I will be the first to admit that I was probably the source of the problem, however there are some lessons I took away from this. I view these as challenges which need to be overcome in the future.

Challenge #1
Are Jewish educators even online?

The first step in any open source project is finding like minded people willing to contribute their time and expertise. Where does one find such people? Techies use the internet to find each other. Where do you find other Jewish educators online? I posted invitations on Lookjed, I created a Facebook group...I even tried faxing an invitation to all schools in the Lookjed directory. However, at the end of the day, I question what percentage of Jewish educators were even aware of such a project. Many Jewish educators have ideological opposition to using the internet at home. If you can't find a big enough pool of contributors your project is almost dead in the water unless it is very small and specific. Although I thought my project was small and specific, obviously it wasn't small and specific enough.

Challenge # 2
Do educators have the time and technological expertise?

Even if we can find Jewish educators online, how many of them feel comfortable using technology collaborating tools? It is one thing for people who make their living as developers to use technology to connect and collaborate on the development of software, but can you ask them same of educators? Put another way, asking techies to use tech is somewhat different than asking non techies to use tech. Do we have any good examples of successful open source educational curricular projects out there on a national level? There is talk of open source textbooks, Wikipedia might be a close example but they are not exactly the same. I have seen some attempts for Jewish educators to get together on a wiki, but I am unaware of any great results in terms of team collaboration and project successes. With time the tools will presumably get easier to use, but the steep learning curve for contributors remains a challenge.

Another related thing to consider, is the time factor. While the average software developer probably makes a decent salary and most likely has a small family as the average American does, those involved in Jewish education are often making a minimal salary and work two jobs to support a larger than average family. That does not leave a lot of free time to dedicate to projects. Some of us are a little crazy, but the majority are not. Working on a project requires dedication and at a certain point one needs to ask themselves why am I doing all this work for free?

Challenge # 3
Who is leading and/or sponsoring the project?

Speaking of free, when you read about most of the successful open source projects you will notice two things they have in common. The first is, they are almost all led by a group at the top who are dedicated to the project on a nearly full time basis. Second, these people at the top are usually SPONSORED in some way. They are not working for free.

For example: Openoffice.org is supported by Sun Microsystems, presumably because they want to chip away at Microsoft. Moodle headquarters is supported by hosting services who use the Moodle trademark and contribute a portion of their profits to the head team. Linux developers make their money by offering support. Sourgeforge.net which hosts open source projects for free makes money by selling their platform software to businesses. Even Wikipedia has its own foundation and can easily make money by advertising. The point is, very few large projects are developed wholly by people with altruistic intentions. Filezilla was started as class project and released as open source because the developers didn't think anybody would pay money for it with so many commercial options available. Audacity is about the only project I know of that does not have a steady source of funding other than donations. It is a small project to be sure.

Thus, I think even if open source were to be used in Jewish education, at least the core team would need to be sponsored in some sort of manner and given organizational support. Sponsoring a core group would most likely get a project off the ground to the point where a greater mass of contributors can join at a later time and be guided to what their role can be.

I don't want to sound pessimistic or be the naysayer who says it can't be done, but until I see a successful open source Jewish educational project I remain unconvinced about the viability of using open source to solve Jewish educational needs. I know for example, the Jim Joseph Foundation made a grant to 14 fellows to build online communities of practice, I am curious where that will lead to after two years of training.

To be determined.

Tzvi Daum

PS I don't consider the various lesson planning sites such as chinuch.org or SJED as examples of successful open source models. For the most part these are sites where users just contribute lesson plans they created. There is no collaboration between contributers and the result is a jumble of lessons with hardly any rhyme, reason or methodology to it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

from Heather Gold via Beth Kantor

Beth Kantor is the co-author of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change and a fantastic social media blog about How Networked Nonprofits Are Using Social Media to Power Change. It is one of the few blogs I read daily. This came in today, and it occurred to me that there is a lot here that applies to classroom teachers as much as it does to people who present at conferences. Enjoy and add your suggestions!  - Ira

What I Learned About Unpresenting from Heather Gold


I first met Heather Gold when she did stand up comedy at the first Blogher conference in 2005.   In addition to comedy,  Heather is a keynote speaker and teaches her unique style of interactive performance in “unpresenting” workshops.

I do a lot of presenting and am spending to much time writing bullet points, creating slides, and practicing what I’m going to say.    I think that this puts a stop to creating conversation in the room.    I wanted to learn some conversational mechanics — so I could stop talking at people and begin talking with them.

I took one of her workshops recently.   We had a small group and each of us had to speak in front of the group while Heather coached us.   It was incredibly helpful to have another pair of eyes point out ways how you could improve to encourage more interaction.

Here’s what I learned:
  • Emotions Are More Important Than Facts: To prompt conversation, you need to make an emotional connection.  Happy, sad, angry, etc can help open the conversation.  Maybe its an opening story that sets this emotional tone.
  • Feel the Room, Be in the Moment: Do not focus on what you want to tell people, read people’s body language, make eye contact, and most importantly connect to them.
  • Know Yourself: You need to cultivate as much self-awareness as possible.  When you open up the room for conversation, the unexpected might happen.     Understand that if you’re uncomfortable, the rest of the room might not be – so sit and stay with it.   Also, self-recognition gets the most laughs.
  • The Only Thing That Matters Is That You Care: The most important thing is that you care about your topic and that you have some passion for it.  If you’re bored with what you’re saying, the audience will be too.
  • Use Call and Response with Humor: As Heather pointed out, as a stand up comic, she can tell how people are connecting – they laugh or they don’t.    One thing I learned is that if you get a laugh,  say it again in another way.
  • Vary Your Style: If your natural style is high energy, then don’t stay at the level the whole time you present.  Change volume, tone, speed, and color.
  • The Pregnant Pause: Don’t always fill the space with talk – a pause, silence can create an opening for conversation.
  • When the Group is Quiet: If the group is not responding for whatever reason,  don’t tell them they’re being too quiet.  That only encourages them to be more quiet.
  • Eye Scanning: You may engage one-on-one with someone in front of everyone in the group, but let your eyes scan the room for other people who might want to join in.   The sides of the circle or room are where there might be energy.  Giving the gift of your attention to the audience, makes it more interactive.
  • Translation Techniques: If you use any jargon, be sure to pause and ask “Does everyone know what that is?”   Try to establish relevancy in the room.
  • Traffic Cop and Threading: Keep the conversation going by summarizing points and threading through out.  Sometimes if someone takes the conversation to a place where you don’t want to go, you can use the “talk over” technique.     Some people may think it is rude, but helps you keep on track.
  • Acknowledge People: When you are threading conversations and someone shares something amazing – acknowledge it.   Also, an opportunity for threading.    Make them feel you heard them.  It’s like when a child comes to you and says, “I hurt my finger.”   You might ah …
  • Don’t Walk Out on Applause: If you get applause, wait until it is finished before the leaving the stage.
Thanks Heather for a terrific workshop!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Purposeful and Passionate:
Synagogues in the Age of Facebook

This was posted on Jvillage Network, which builds and hosts websites for Jewish organizations, and helps them use technology to deepen connections between members and the institution and attract new members as well. I have recently started following their blog, after hearing about from eJewish Philanthropy (who else?). .I think Samets presents the challenge to our congregations in a well-focused manner. How do we respond? - Ira

Synagogues lagging behind cultural change is nothing new. In fact, there are those who would say synagogues should operate from a thoughtful, process-driven perspective and adopt change slowly. In essence I would agree with that. The challenge is all in the balance.

Synagogues must be able to respond to a rapidly changing culture, while keeping themselves grounded in their mission. Not an easy task, yet we have always found a way to enhance our religious experience through the current culture of our times.

As Jews we must keep our attention focused forward - through the windshield and the dramatic changing landscape ahead. Of course, we must also be alert to the view in the rear view mirror - what we are leaving behind and what is gaining ground.

This dual outlook is what should drive us as individual Jews, just as it drives the Googles, Facebooks, Intels (all with Jewish inside), and even the State of Israel.

Synagogues have the same opportunity of using technology to build a bridge between the synagogue experience and today’s culture. Technology needs to be an outward- looking tool for greater connectedness for the community.

While there are a number of creative synagogues doing remarkable outreach and engaging more members, too few synagogues have been able to emulate their example and create an operational model that will lead them and their communities to a stronger future.

Change happens when leaders intentionally and constructively work toward a better future. Our synagogues need a modern Abraham or Moses - intentional leaders with vision and the passion to lead a movement.

Technology is only a tool. And when used to its maximum benefit, it is a tool that enhances our purpose, our mission, and our movement.

What is your purpose? What is your synagogues' purpose? Where is our passion?

What holds us together as a people, as a religion, is thousands of years old. Abraham, Rebecca, Isaac, Sarah, Moses, Ramban, Golda Meir -- each has served as a powerful connector to our Jewish roots and our religious traditions. Our challenge is to use our rich history of purposeful leadership to regain the strength and focus for our individual communities and create meaningful purpose for our lives today.

American society is constantly changing and that change has impacted our Jewish culture; yet our Jewish foundation remains firm. While our families are spread around the world, less rooted in one cohesive community, we are challenged to create a wholly new Jewish community based on the realities of our world today.

We need to understand today’s 4 P’s for synagogue prosperity, in order to reclaim our Jewish movement in today’s American culture.
  • Purpose – the higher goal, the higher calling that resonates
  • Passion – in any movement it takes firebrands to influence
  • People – those we want to join with us
  • Projects – purposeful doing brings people together
Purpose, Passion, People, Projects – the rest is all detail.

This is the time of year when synagogues have an opportunity to start fresh. The first step out of the gate for thinking fresh is to form a strategic planning task force that, with a clear focus and effective leadership, can help the synagogue better understand the community's passions and create a movement in support of them.

Strategic planning work is more about the process than it is about the outcome. Working together as a community, learning, listening to understand what others want and value, and then ultimately arriving at a common goal is key to successful community building and successful movement creation.
  • Re-identify your purpose.
  • Support it with a passionate commitment.
  • Focus it outward toward the people most interested in being drawn toward the purpose.
  • Then create projects that will drive action, and more people toward you purpose.
  • The outcome - Synagogue well-being.
And through the process you will find out the power of the potential of connectedness in the community, in the synagogue and online.

Yoram Samets, the author is the Founder of Jvillage Network. He is also a frequent writer and blogger on using digital technology to grow membership and engage and build Jewish community.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Virtual and Real Community

The Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows of the Lookstein Institute
for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University,
Ramat Gan, Israel. (l. to r.) Front Row: Howard Blas,
Rachel Meytin, Esther Feldman (Lookstein Center),
Ellen Dietrick, Barry Gruber,Lisa Micley, Joy Wasserman,
Lillian Howard. Back Row: Jonathan Fass, Elana Rivel,
Robyn Faintich, nammie Ichilov, Ira Wise,
Shalom Burger (Lookstein Center), Sid Singer, Eliezer Jones.
I am writing this on an Amtrak train from Boston to Bridgeport, CT. I have just spent two days learning about leadership styles, logic models and evaluation with my chevrah in the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows (#JJFF)[1]. This was our fourth meeting in the past 13 months. The process of this fellowship has been fascinating. While the learning has varied in quality and content – and is often quite excellent – the most significant piece has been the relationships.

There are 14 fellows.
o       We live in Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, Connecticut, Chicago, Florida, Houston, Philadelphia, New York (City and upstate), and Washington D.C.
o       There are seven men and seven women
o       We work for and identify with institutions in the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements. Some of us work in cross-denominational settings or communal agencies. A few of us work with national institutions.
o       2 of us run synagogue religious schools, 1 runs an early childhood program. 2 of us are day school heads and one has worked as Day School psychologist. 1 of us works in a JCC and 2 are in community Jewish education agencies. 2 work for a college or university. 1 is runs a summer camp for children with special needs, and 2 of us are with national educational initiatives.
o       We range in age from late 20’s (I think) to late 50’s (I think). We are American, British and Canadian citizens. One of us may also be Israeli, but I forgot to ask.
o       Our education ranges from BA to MA to PhD. Some of us grew up in synagogue religious schools, others went to day school. We have belonged to or worked for most of the Jewish youth movements in North America.

This is diverse a group of educators I can ever remember learning and working with, in terms of educational focus, religious orientation and practice age and experience. And I cannot remember learning more from such a small group of educators since my grad school days. Surely I have had amazing experiences at CAJE and NATE conferences.

And I am hoping to have more and deeper ones with the Community of Practice my NATE colleagues and I are developing: that is one of the purposes of this fellowship – to develop CoP’s with our peers. We have been learning a lot about creating these communities using Web 2.0 technology. And we have explored many different issues: educational, technical and communal ones.

Working with this chevrah has taught us all something very important. Virtual communities need more than technological connections to be communities. They need people to have relationships. And we have concluded that F2F – face to face contact, even a little bit – is essential.

Last week I wrote about how social networking was not THE solution, but was an important took in our bag as Jewish educators. Today I am talking about the corollary for educational professionals. This medium offers us opportunities for connection and consultation that we could not have even imagined ten or twenty years ago. And I am eager for us to use it in better, more robust ways. But I was reminded in Boston as we hugged and said goodbye, that it is the people and the relationships between them that make a community.

If you are and educational professional, there is a good chance that sometime in the next year, you will be invited to join an online community of practice by one of us (or by someone else). I hope you will say yes.

You may be frustrated or intimidated by the technology. Don’t be. Remember that at the other end of that broadband connection is someone just like you. And they are or were put off by the virtuality of the connection. But they, like you, have dedicated themselves to making Jewish learning happen. And you two (or two hundred of you) getting to know one another, share with one another and consult with one another, will help all of our learners be more successful engaged more deeply.

It has been and promises to be a fantastic journey. I hope to see some of you (F2F and online) along the way!

[1] The Jim Joseph Foundation established this online leadership fellowship at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. It was designed and is administered by Shalom Burger and Esther Feldman of the Lookstein Center.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Will Social Networks Change the World,
or Do You and I
Still Have to do the Heavy Lifting?

My friend and colleague Josh Mason-Barkin sent a few of us an e-mail his question and my reply follow. I hope you will add your thoughts.
"Malcolm Gladwell (in the New Yorker) says online social networks are not capable of empowering real and meaningful change. If he's right, what does that mean for attempts to make real and meaningful change in Jewish education?"
Josh - thanks for tossing this football out.

I think you reduce Gladwell's point to the level at which it might be paralyzing, or at least unhelpful. On one level, I think he is absolutely correct. The internet is changing the world. Not the way the men at Woolworth’s in Greensboro did. 

The social network is not a movement, at least not in terms that lead people to sing “We Shall Overcome” in a way that suggests the way things are done must change and change now. It is more a change in the way we perceive and make meaning. Not as dramatic as making a stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March of 1965, nor did I think we are praying with our fingers on the keyboard as Heschel praying with his feet in Selma. 

What we can do is profound, but not as dramaticly or even as profound as what Gladwell describes.

I think Gladwell has used the civil rights movement as a straw man of sorts, but one that knocks you down instead of being bowled over itself. That doesn’t mean social networking is trivial. It just isn’t going to change the world the same way as actual civil disobedience and real time advocacy will. 

At the same time, let’s look at “Yes We Can” and the Obama online juggernaut of 2008. The campaign relied heavily on social networking to mobilize money, awareness, bodies at campaign rallies and votes. They didn’t give up traditional RT campaign methodology in favor of the digital campaign. Plouffe and company’s genius was integrating the two.

One of the things I find myself saying often is that the technology is awesome. But it is not the only thing! It is a tool, not a revolution. Our success will come from integrating. Nothing will replace the value of students and a teacher sitting around a table or under a tree with texts and ideas. As Grishaver  suggests, we need technology PLUS analog/Face to Face/RT experiences, not INSTEAD of them. If the revolution means all digital all the time, it will fail as soon as the kids master the next level of the video game. He says: 
“The real point is that real life still offers some unique opportunities: classroom community, love-interests, caring faculty and a speed and spontaneity that you don’t get pounding away a keyboard with your thumbs. Virtual community makes it possible to participate with less exposure. It often feels safer. Yet Solomon and Flexner bring a whole bunch of research sources that suggest participation is higher in blended circumstances. A friend is part of a heavily funded online dialogue. The story I got from this friend was that at first, before they ever met, their online dialogue was full of posturing and pontificating. Once the online group shared a retreat together, the dialogue shifted. It became real people talking to real people.”
What social media and other Web 2.0 technologies offer is access to learners and teachers in new and exciting ways. It offers that access because they are using the technology. When we were kids (and you guys sort of still are ;-}) we went home and played with our friends, did our homework, read books and watched TV. There was not much access to us for our Hebrew school teachers when we were not in the temple. 

My sons, aged 12 and 17, now multi-task. While doing homework, they access their text messages on the phones, chat and post items on Facebook, surf the web, watch YouTube videos, etc. 

If my teachers are social media savvy, 

AND the kids let them, they can initiate or invite contacts that were unimaginable. 

AND we can entice them into other Jewish learning modes through third web sites and applications like the Embassy of Israel, the work David and others are doing in Second Life, and even blogs like Jew School and David Wilensky’s stuff. 

I am actually putting together a class called “Judaism, there’s an App for that” for our community high school. 

I am hoping to explore how we can get students to focus both their digital and analog eyes on Judaism.

So Gladwell is right. But his point doesn’t change the need for us to engage in digital forms of building learners, learning and learning communities.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lessons from J. Crew

Another fantastic piece brought to us by eJewish Philanthropy. I especially love it when someone brings a lesson from the world and figures out how to use it as a lens for what we do - without telling us just to be more like business. That would be overly simplistic and fit as well as I would in jeggings. Not a pretty picture! Enjoy. 

October 4, 2010 by Gail Hyman  

I read with great interest this past Sunday, October 3, 2010, The New York Times article, “Buy My Stuff – and Theirs, Too” by Joshua Brustein, that we in the Jewish community need to consider. The gist of the article is how J. Crew, one of the most successful online and in-store space clothing retailers, has determined that “friending” other purveyors’ goods makes great business sense for them and their customers. This is befriending – no, it’s actually community-building – taken to the max. J. Crew determined that surrounding its products with those of other fashion-related businesses, would create a more potent marketing picture for its consumers to consider and ultimately purchase that if they simply went the traditional route of merchandising their own goods.
If J. Crew has determined that offering its customers a fashion statement built on their clothing as well as related items from other retailers (think J. Crew sweater, slacks, scarf with someone else’s umbrella, hat, sports gear, healthy transportation and flavored vitamin water), you can see the potential opportunity J. Crew is leveraging to connect with consumers in a much more holistic way.
If you are a JCC, a federation, a synagogue, think about how you position yourselves to be a friendly source to those you wish to engage. In this new world of social media, where word of mouth and relationships trump any outright marketing ploy, take a lesson from J. Crew and start linking your efforts to relevant community partners … a federation appeal linked to the needs of the local synagogue education program, or the home for the elderly, or how the interests of the local JCC align with those of young families who choose to purchase “green products”, participate in organic food coops, give to the needy at their local food bank …
Successful marketing today is more and more about building both a full picture of the consumer’s life as they envision it and creating a network of authentic advocates who, without prompting or artifice, will tweet or “friend” you and offer their friends a trusted reason to buy into it. What peers say to each other about the total life experience and any given commodity that supports it, be it day school education or synagogue membership, trumps any paid advertisement or direct mail pitch. If you want to be valued for your service or product to the Jewish community, you have to ask yourself, “What are you are doing to build and nurture that community and its belief in you and your product?”
Marketing is quickly moving from traditional advertising and promotion to the more personal and trusted world of the social media world where friends honestly recommend a lifestyle and the product or service that feeds it. It is a world where individual endorsement says as much about the endorser and their commitment to a specific community as it does about the product or service they recommend.
If you want to be viewed as a contributor to that community, you have to be part of its maintenance. As Sarah Hofstetter, senior vice president for emerging media and brand strategy at 360i, a digital advertising agency said in The New York Times article, “This is a conversation, not a one-night stand. If you are in this community, make sure you are contributing to the maintenance of that community.”
For those of us in the Jewish community, the J. Crew story should suggest it is time for greater collaboration; for looking at all our “product” offerings from the more holistic perspective of how our consumers experience Jewish life. It is not about “my organization versus yours”. Rather, it is about community … where we each fit and how we all fit together to create a more powerful Jewish experience for every consumer of Jewish life … a little synagogue, a little JCC, a little social activism, a little education … put them all together for a full Jewish experience and each of us may find more buyers than if we had sold our wares separately.
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.