Thursday, July 28, 2011

ISTE Conference: Supporting Ed Tech Leadership

(cross posted on The AVI CHAI Foundation blog)

Last month AVI CHAI sponsored 10 Jewish educators at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia. I joined the group for this huge 4 day event, which had about 18,000 people in attendance, including over 1100 presenters and an exhibit floor the size of 5.5 football fields. AVI CHAI is interested in cultivating day school leaders who are exploring the potential use of technology in their schools. We were pleased to be joined by the PELIE group of fellows who were interested in technology in congregational school settings. Both groups enjoyed the first night dessert reception together sharing ideas and comparing plans for the following days. Our group was also part of the larger group of Jewish educators who were in attendance, which you can read more about in Caren Levine’s post.

A couple of the “overstated” observations from the conference were:
  • Email is dead, long live Twitter, which was also noted as the primary vehicle for professional development amongst many ISTE members
  • Use student’s mobile devices as interactive response systems in class – no need for a smartboard
Those insights and others were discussed at the AVI CHAI group dinners, when each of the educators shared their reflections on the day’s events. Some of these were tweeted then and there, others are on this  blog.

Here are a few examples from the blog:
Dov Emerson found those educators he follows on twitter who form part of his PLN (personal learning network). Tzvi Pittinsky lists his top ten free educational technology applications from the conference. Rivky Krestt and Mallory Rome wrote about the reasons to use technology in education: “progress for the sake of progress”, or “progress for the sake of learning”.

This is only a sample of what the group shared online, and more posts keep coming – so stay tuned. As always, your comments and insights are welcome.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ISTE11 Reflections - Resisting the Urge For the EdTech Silver Bullet

(cross posted on my blog)

The ISTE11 conference in Philadelphia was really a sight to behold, on a variety of levels. I had certainly never been to a conference this size before, and aside from some sporting events, I don't believe I have even inhabited a space with over 17,850 people before, let alone so many educators who were passionate about educational technology. I had certainly never been around so many iPads before!But one thing that stood out for me was the marked contrast between two areas of the convention: the presentations and meetings among educators on the one hand, and the exhibit hall on the other. Simply put, it appeared to me many of the products being promoted by the vendors were good for the vendors, but not really consistent with the ideas and ideals presented by the educators a few rooms away. Yes, I get that at the end of the day, these companies are there to make money, but seeing this distinction for the first time so clearly was jarring.

The presentations were really incredible. My biggest problem was finding the speaker to choose out of the 5 or 6 per time slot that I wanted to go to, a sentiment I heard echoed by others throughout the conference. In most presentations and in conversations with other educators, I played the part of sponge, sucking up information about this app and that web tool, one time even getting 60 resources in 60 minutes. The common denominator among these resources were that they were mostly free or very low cost, versatile, and easy to implement on the fly. Perhaps most significantly, they all fit in well with the current trend of "Bring Your Own Device," where schools utilize the prevalence of laptops, tablets, and smartphones owned by our students to create a built in, low cost, EdTech platform (instead of making costly investments in laptop carts and the like).

There was a slightly different theme in the Exhibit Hall. Nothing could prepare me for the first time I entered it.

ISTE 2010 Exhibit Hall

"This must be as big as...."

Words to describe its enormity failed me. Thanks to a follow up email from ISTE, I now know that the exhibit hall was the size of 5.5 football fields, featuring 1,423 booths of companies selling all sorts of EdTech services, tools, and supplies. There were not one, but TWO full size coach buses inside the exhibit hall, as part of company displays (don't ask me how they got them in this second story level of the convention center!).

You ever have that experience where you go to the supermarket without a shopping list, and you just find yourself aimlessly wandering the aisles, slack jawed and starting at the latest variety of BBQ chips? That was how I felt as I made my way through that exhibit hall the first time. It was too big to have a plan, to figure out where to go next. You just walked along, collecting a free T-Shirt or a squeeze ball every few booths, and you kept going.

So where was the contrast, the dichotomy, you might ask? Weren't these exhibitors selling products that were supposed to more tightly integrate the concepts being taught during the presentation sessions?

Well, yes. There definitely were quite a few exhibitors pitching products and services that frequently come up in the context of effective EdTech. I felt this need to walk over to the Evernote table and just thank them for existing! Same with Google Apps for Education. Lego for Education was full of Lego awesomeness. C-Span was promoting an absolutely incredible service that allows teachers to access a full archive of video going back to the 80's. Great stuff.

But so many of the products that many companies were touting were single use, and very proprietary. I saw specialized ebook readers, clickers, and word processors. These devices would let you read a e-textbook, select an answer, and type an essay.

And that was it.

I kept finding myself thinking, over and over, why not just get an iPad, and find the proverbial "app for that" function that you are looking for, whether its to respond to test questions or read an ebook?

Now, these businesses are not stupid. They would not be selling products that there was no demand for. So now, I turn the question around on us, the education professionals: Why are we buying these products? Why are we investing all of this money in devices that have very specific, limited uses?

I saw an article recently which discussed Malcolm Gladwell's recent presentation at the TED global conference, and, after offering some historical examples, he asked a fundamental question: "Why do people place so much faith in solve problems?" His question I think speaks to the phenomenon of the great divide between the ISTE presenters and the vendors in the exhibit hall. It is human nature to seek a silver bullet, that all encompassing quick fix that is going to powerfully and simply solve all of our problems.

I believe that the underlying marketing message of many of the vendors was playing on this human tendency. "If only I had this interactive white board, or these software programs, my school/class/district would be rocking!" And while it would be wonderful if that were true, I think we all know that this underlying assumption is wrong. You know how I know this? Because in all of the presentations, the focus was on teacher’s learning about new tools, about using flexible devices, and about utilizing EdTech as a tool to help teachers continue to do what they do best, and not as a means of replacing them. THAT was the great divide at ISTE, and the refreshing thing that I observed was that most people at the conference understood this concept clearly.

As Josh Stumpenhorst eloquently wrote about the other day in a blog post titled "The Real Game Changer in Education," the technology in and of itself is not the game changer. He went so far as to say that in his opinion, social media and the connections he and countless other educators have made using it, was not, in fact, a game changer for him.

It's the people that change the game.

It's the teachers stretching themselves to learn new skills and applying them in class even when its uncomfortable.

It's the administrators that have the vision that things can move forward, and do the work in the tranches to ensure that there is a foundation based in a strong school culture and intensive faculty training and support.

As an aside, I think this is one of the reasons the Khan Academy has become somewhat of a lightening rod in conversations among educators. In my opinion, there are well meaning educators that are fighting what Khan is doing because it is being interpreted by many in the mainstream media as a savior for education, when we know that video can never replace a teacher, and the flipped classroom is simply one of many strategies that a teacher can employ in running an effective classroom.


My bottom line?

We, as human beings, need to be aware of our tendency to try and find that magic pill, so that we can a) exercise appropriate skepticism when something is put forward as the be-all and end-all, and b) focus on using the amazing resources that are out there as tools on our educators tool belt to continue to change the game.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Games for Change: Follow up thoughts

I am now back in South Africa, where I am working on a game for UN Women on Gender Violence, which attempts to address negative gender stereotypes and teach young people about healthy relationships. We are currently grappling with the issue of evaluation, which was one of the key points that I took away from Day 1 at the Games for Change conference.

In order for social issue games to gain real attention and credibility, and thus become a mainstream medium, the community needs to keep working on proving, beyond doubt, that in order to bring about a specific change, a game is the most powerful and cost effective intervention -- bar none.

It sounds obvious, but in fact evaluating the impact of a game -- especially ones that seek attitudinal and behavior change -- can be extremely difficult. While proving efficacy above all other alternatives is even harder. It will require a form of clinical trial, where the game is pitted against other types of interventions taking into consideration things like cost of production, reach and final impact. While a game may score well reach (through Facebook or on mobile), it may not be as effective at ultimately changing behaviors as a physical focus group with an informed speaker. A traditional media campaign on the other hand may trump the game on reach, but not on cost.

I feel like these are the sorts of issues that need to be addressed in order to fully evaluate a game.

In the sphere of education, this is no less pertinent an issue. There are thousands of years of experimentation and testing with different pedagogical methods. Games and simulations are not new in the field of education. However, the types of virtual simulations and digital games that are currently being developed are new and thus will require a holistic approach to evaluation before they are to become fully mainstream.

Comments and feeback: @philg1

Thursday, July 14, 2011

... or progress for the sake of learning?

Rivky’s July 5 post addresses a concern I had throughout the ISTE conference. For obvious reasons there were many moments at ISTE when the discussion seemed to be about “TECHNOLOGY in education” rather than “technology in EDUCATION.” Ed tech can so quickly become about the gadgets or the process rather than about the educational goals – it’s fun, it’s new, it’s exciting, it’s appealing to applicant families and donors – and distract from what really matters: excellent teaching to support deep learning.

As Rivky points out, though, technology can also be transformative, where the “better way to do things” that Rivky mentions makes such a difference that the educational goals themselves can change. One area where I see this is in supporting learning differences.

The range of tools, from simple to elaborate, now available to support every student’s learning dazzles me sometimes. LMS systems and such free tools (usable by individual teachers or entire institutions) as Google Sites and Blackboard Coursesites easily allow the distribution of electronic versions of everything – class documents, notes, presentations, student work, peer and teacher feedback. All of the “stuff” of coursework can still happen in person but also be available as audio files for the student who benefits from hearing material, as readily and repeatedly downloadable documents for the student who loses track of information, as an archive for a student who for health reasons misses class or the student who loses her notebook or the parent trying to help his child review a confusing unit. And then there are all the tools in class which can support a student – whether it’s a laptop to take notes, a LiveScribe pen or iPad app such as Notability to track audio with notemaking, an interactive whiteboard to archive entire lessons.

What’s significant about this, I think, is how it changes the standard for teachers – how it allows teachers with little or no training in learning differences to support students in a myriad of ways. No training, low or no financial cost, and very little investment of time. Here, as in so many other areas, tools that can support specific learning challenges (auditory processing, executive functioning, reading disabilities) really support all students, whatever their learning strengths and challenges, by allowing educators to reach students in different ways, more flexibly, more creatively. Technology allows us to change what we ask of teachers, and thus what teachers can ask of students. This kind of technology is not a gimmick.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thank you Avi Chai Foundation

Video by alex treyger. photo by david weinberg and kevin jarrett, music by iste

Avi Chai Foundation,

Thank you for choosing my grant application

that made me realize the value in my units

Thank you for providing thorough information and detailed coordination

that allowed me to plan better

Thank you for offering me the opportunity to meet leaders in the field

that allowed me to grow wiser

Thank you for the delicious dinners

that nourished my tired body and overwhelmed mind

Thank you for the amazing group of Jewish Educators you selected

that facilitated for deeper understanding of technology in Jewish Education

Thank you for a single room accommodations

that allowed me to decompress and gear up for the next day

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be inspired

that will allow me to come back to CJDS with new ideas and goals

alex treyger

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Putting it all together...

Hard to believe that it was a week ago that I returned home from ISTE. Here I am, getting ready to leave Krakow in a few hours and head to Vienna. For the last few days, I’ve been somewhat immersed in pre-war life and how to use Centropa’s vast resources (historical information delivered using 21st century technologies) to help my students. Before that I was spending time learning about technology and how to deliver instruction using it – and where it’s taking us.

Today I really started putting some of this together. I’m thinking that it wasn’t just an accident of timing that put me in Philadelphia last week with the AVI CHAI folks at a 20,000 attendee tech conference and then sent me to Eastern Europe with some 60-120 teachers from all over the works to delve into the resources of the Centropa organization.

For instance…last week, Adam Simon spoke with us about using QR codes to direct his students to relevant online materials when creating timelines. This week, I spoke with Lauren at Centropa about that idea, and she took it to a different level – linking Centropa material to maps via QR code. Imagine your students being able to access multimedia material while looking at maps.

I’m sure there are other places where I’ll experience this interesting intersection of ideas!

L’hitraot…more from Vienna…

Cross posted from

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Progress for the sake of Progress?

ISTE was an exhilarating, thought provoking, and transforming experience. I’ve never been a part of a conference that big before; Jewish education is too small a field for that! I learned new things, met new people, and thought about things from a fresher perspective. What I found most grounding about the whole experience was the foundational message of the conference was to refocus us educators on the children.

Perhaps, however, we ISTE bloggers haven’t been advocating for why technology is such an important part of education. Today, Rabbi Aaron Ross, wrote the following on his blog:

It seems that we have reached at least the third level of computer involvement in education. Once upon a time, computers were more or less for typing up papers - glorified typewriters, if you will. The next level was computers as a communication tool (email) and then sliding into a role as a classroom aide (smartboards, etc.). The current level is computers being used as a more collaborative medium, as blogs, wikis, googledocs and so on allow students and students and/or students and teachers to work together on projects, lessons, and an ever-widening variety of educational experiences.

However, I write this post as a necessary caution for myself and all other like-minded educators who willingly embrace the next wave in education, and particularly if technology is involved. To my mind, much good has already been achieved through our adoption of various technologies, and there is much more good still on the way. However, we have to bear in mind Rav Amital's question - what kind of children will we raise if we hand over significant portions of the education process to machines?

And I categorically agree! In fact, Rabbi Ross’ argument was made years ago by the curriculum theorist Ted T. Aoki:

“[h]ow should we understand computer technology? Is it a tool? Human activity? (Heidegger, as quoted by Aoki, 152)?” The essential tension before us is that, “[w]e acknowledge our indebtedness to technology; [but] we refuse to be enslaved to technology.” (157)

Aoki, Ted T., and William Pinar. Curriculum in a New Key : The Collected Works of Ted T. Aoki. Ed. Rita L. Irwin. Danbury: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Incorporated, 2004.

Throughout my not-so-positive SMARTboard experience in my classroom Aoki’s quote was my credo. It affirmed that even though my technology didn’t work properly and even though I never had enough time to really maximize that technology I could still be an excellent teacher. This was and is true.

There is a huge caveat to this line of reasoning and a slippery slope that ensues from it: the justification for not staying current. It is simple to dismiss those new fangled ‘whatevers’ because they’ll be replaced soon enough. The familiar: it is convenient to reuse a lesson plan because it worked in the past. We all know that it is easier to stay in a comfortable place.

I would even argue that sometimes it is better. That is certainly Professor Aoki’s cautious observation.

BUT how do you know when it isn’t better to rest on your laurels if you don’t keep challenging yourself to think differently?

Sometimes it is a better way to do things – a colleague at ISTE reported on using QR codes help students organize a timeline. I love timelines – they are so important to understanding so many of the Biblical stories I teach. I hate assigning timelines because they never come together neatly. During Rabbi Adam Simon’s description I realized that timelines aren’t really 2 dimensional and that is why using a QR code, which is ‘2-d’, to point to media which is ‘4-d’ is a genius solution!

We also have to keep in mind that we have a responsibility to ‘meet students where they are.’ This means accessing something that is meaningful to them and using those very things to draw them into whatever they are learning. Sometimes incorporating technology is precisely to begin building the relationship with your students. For those of us in Jewish Education our imperative isn’t simply to teach kids a subject that we love but to model a lifestyle that informs our identity and gives meaning to our lives. If we fail to embrace the world around us we make mistakenly allow ourselves and our disciplines to be discounted.

I’ll end by saying that I know that Rabbi Ross and I agree fundamentally. However, both sides of this conversation need to be articulated so we develop a good balance for our students and our classrooms. It promises to be an interesting journey.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Google University: Lecture 1: Searching Smarter

By Tzvi Pittinsky

The following posting is cross-posted on

A number of years ago, I had the privilege to work closely with a soft-spoken network administrator, Ken Dwyer, who seemed to have the answer to all of my technology questions at his fingertips. When I asked him how he knew so much, he answered "Google University". He was not referring to an educational institution sponsored by Google. Rather, he was referencing the power of Google as the repository of information, if you know how to find it. Since that conversation some seven years ago, Google University has greatly expanded it's "course offerings" to include a whole suite of knowledge tools all free of charge. The following, is my first in a series of postings I am planning based on information learned at the recent ISTE 2011 Conference on the power of Google University to transform our teaching and learning.

Lecture 1: Searching Smarter
Fundamentally, Google is a search engine, and every experienced user has developed their own strategies on how to find what they need using Google University. I will focus on some of the tools to refine one's search and filter the results that are less well-known.

Below is a sample Google search screen:

You will notice while typing that Google is already doing two things. 
1) It starts showing results both from the Internet and results that Google has "starred" because they appear from your online Google bookmarks.
2) Google starts suggesting other longer searches that you might be interested in. If you watch what Google suggests and click on your desired search rather than continuing typing, it will save you time.

You will also notice tools to your lower left to further refine your results.
1. Sites with images: Results can be limited to sites with images, a handy tool for finding images. (I will focus on Google image search in my next posting.)

2. Related searches: This will give you a list of searches related to your search terms. This tool will help you to perfect your searching skills. If you are not sure exactly what to search for, just type anything into Google, even a question. If you do not find exactly what you are looking for, then click related searches to see other search terms you can use. (Another great tool for refining your search terms is the Google Wonder Wheel which I will talk about later in this posting.)

3. Timeline: With this tool, you can search for items relevant to a range of years and then view your answers sorted along a time line.
  • For example, let's say you do a search for Abraham. You could be searching for Abraham Lincoln or Abraham, the first of the Avot (Patriarches) in the Tanach. Through the timeline, you can easily limit your search to Abraham from the Bible by only looking for results from the range of 2000-1500BCE. 

4. Time: You can also filter your searches by time. This is different from the Timeline because you are not searching for results about a specific time period. Rather, you are searching for websites created after a certain time. This is great for researching something that has changed in the recent past.
  • For example, let's say I want to know why the Google Wonder Wheel no longer is listed in the Google search tools. (I will describe the Wonder Wheel's great utility later in the posting based on my experiences using it just last week but for now it has mysteriously disappeared.) You can search for "Google Wonder Wheel" and limit your search to the past week.

5. Wonder Wheel: I will end this lecture by discussing the Wonder Wheel, a great tool for seeing related searches.
  • For example, let's say you start by searching for Twitter. You can refine your search further using the wonder wheel to search for Twitter Teaching tools. This will bring up, further categories to search for like flickr teaching tools, facebook teaching tools, or youtube teaching tools. Every time, you click on a category, it opens a new search and if you select to view all results, instead of the Wonder Wheel, you will then see all results for that search term. I would tell you to give the Wonder Wheel a try but for some reason it has disappeared. Hopefully it will come back soon.

This ends my first Google University lecture on Searching Smarter. Stay tuned for future lectures on Google Image Search, Google News, Scholar, and other search tools, Google Docs, and much more.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Reflections from #ISTE11 - Part 1: Widening Our Invisible/Visible Networks

(cross-posted on

"Technology in schools should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible"

- @chrislehmann

AKA Chris Lehmann

Principal, Science Leadership Academy (Philadelphia)

These words were part of the last presentation that all 18,000 or so of us at ISTE 2011 attended, the final keynote. Judging from the amount of tweeting Chris' keynote (and this line in particular) generated, the presentation was very impactful. For me personally, I think it was a really great way to conceptualize a framework for all that I had learned over the last 4 days, and really all that I have learned in the area of EdTech over the last couple of years.

At ISTE, a conference devoted to technology in education, the technology did, ironically enough, feel invisible. Ideas were flying hard and fast, in both sessions and in the hallways. I heard over and over, as someone would take out their iPad (which apparently EVERYONE has!), "here, let me show you…"

It wasn’t a big deal.

It wasn’t like "oohhh, look at the whiz bang effects!"

Rather, it was with the understanding that this is a tool like anything else, with the goal being to advance the level of learning.

As I walked through the cavernous Philadelphia Convention Center, I was struck by the fact that networks were being developed and strengthened in real time, right before my eyes. And again, the technology that helped enhance those networks wasn’t being touted as the main thing here. It was, like the wifi, invisible. One of the most powerful experiences for me at this conference was meeting members of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) in person. These are educators from around the world that I have connected with over the last 15 months or so, primarily via Twitter. My PLN is another example of technology being invisible while having the power to create connections in ways that would be impossible before. While it was a little intimidating to walk over to some of these EdTech "Rock Stars" with their thousands of twitter followers, I found them to be exceedingly humble, and genuinely interested in sharing and learning. These were not online "personalities" using social media to promote a brand, these were first class educators who have recognized how vital the process of sharing is to improving education. As Joan Young wrote on her blog

"My most favorite part of the conference has been meeting people that I have learned with, collaborated with, shared deep conversations with through Twitter, blogging, online conferences and Skype sessions."

See this post by Tom Whitby for another take on this new element of connection that social media has added to conferences like ISTE.

While my connections with members of my PLN have admittedly not been as deep as Joan's, meeting people like George Couros, Michelle Baldwin, Lynn Hilt, Tom Whitby, Kyle Pace, Beth Still, Adam Bellows, Mary Beth Hertz, Eric Sheninger, Scott Newcomb, and Josh Stumpenhorst, in person, has given me the resolve to communicate and share on a closer level in the future. Meeting these people and seeing their genuine desire to grow firsthand has also given me the confidence to share more with them, and not just simply benefit from the incredible array of resources they tweet out and blog about on a daily basis. On the Jewish Ed side of the coin, it was great to see Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, Eliezer Jones, Caren Levine, Eli Kannai, and to meet Adam Simon, Dave Weinberg, Rivky Krestt, Debbie Harris, and others.

Looking at the tweets of others from the conference, I can see that many people have come away inspired by meeting up in person with members of their PLN, but I think as a Jewish educator, I have a bit of a unique perspective that I can share. Within the world of Jewish day schools, educators tend to form networks based on shared affiliations, which is a wonderful thing. My sense, however (and I may be wrong), is that we Jewish educators tend to turn to others within our affiliate network to the exclusion of those educators in different settings. If you are a consumer of the "Mainstream Media," you would get the impression that many if not all public school are abject failures, and that the system is broken beyond repair. Perhaps this bad rap has been the reason that many of us in the world of Jewish education have not reached out to those in public school world. Or perhaps we simply did not have a vehicle to make such connections, or it could be something as simple as the very human tendency to associate with those who we are already comfortable with and know. I think that having colleagues that work at schools similar to ours is vitally important. After all, we share many of the same issues and challenges. However, I also think that we miss out on something very important when we turn inward exclusively. There is a tendency to share the same old ideas - if it worked in Day School A, let's try it in Day School B. Or if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we may feel the need to reinvent the wheel because none of our fellow schools have dealt with this before, and we may overlook the fact that solutions exist.

In my mind, the power of the PLN for Jewish educators is that it opens up our network in a huge way, allowing us to interact with really excellent, thoughtful educators doing great things around the world. I have connected with, primarily through Twitter (and subsequently reading their blog posts), educators in public schools, independent schools, and all types of Jewish schools. I have learned so many new things just by seeing resources that get shared, and my PLN is a reliable source of support and advice when I have questions. I cannot encourage your enough to get on Twitter and start exploring the world of educators that are on there. The names that I listed above are some great people to start with (here is a link to my PLN Starter Kit, a list with all of their twitter names ). On the Jewish Education front, search for #JED21 on twitter, and you will see many amazing educators tweeting their ideas and visions for the future of Jewish Education, or check out this list, my JED21 PLN Starter Kit. And of course, please say hello to me so we can connect and share:

A final thought in the realm of expanding our networks: I really have to commend Avi Chai for understanding the importance of this concept. I consider myself a pretty tech/EdTech savvy guy, but I have to admit, before about 3 months ago, I didn't even know that there was such a thing as an ISTE conference. Avi Chai got the word out, and sponsored a group of 10 Jewish Educators from North America to attend ISTE. I am grateful to them not only for selecting me to attend, but moreover, for recognizing the power of what can happen when you bring Jewish educators from different backgrounds, schools, and communities together. Many of the fellow Avi Chai attendees were people I would probably not encounter in my usual local network of Jewish educators from similar types of schools. Going to the conference with this group, especially sitting in evening sessions with them and reflecting on what we learned that day, added an entirely new and very powerful layer to this conference. In the summer of 2008 I had the privilege of attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education program for principals, with a group also sponsored by Avi Chai, and I had a similar experience of engaging Jewish educators from outside my 'traditional' network. I sincerely thank Avi Chai for having the wisdom to bring Jewish educators together, and especially for following this model of assembling a Jewish Educator "team" to attend a larger conference like ISTE together.