edJEWcon- A Visual Reflection of a New Kind of Conference

I am slowly coming down from an incredible high this past week.  I was part of a team (Andrea Hernandez, Jon Mitzmacher and myself), that envisioned, organized and ran an education LEARNING conference. This was a first  for me, since I have only been a participant an/or  a presenter at such conferences.

We were inspired by the educon conference, run by Chris Lehman, his faculty, students and parents at the Science Leadership Academy . We envisioned, not a technology conference, but a conference about teaching and learning.

A prerequisite for being able to connect, communicate, collaborate and create during the conference, our attendees would have to be equipped with tools that would act in a way that made technology as “invisible, ubiquitous and necessary as oxygen”(Chris Lehman). Each one of our attending school teams, received a toolkit, containing an iPad, an iTouch, a Flip camera and a paper and pencil.

The focus of the conference was NOT going to be the tools though, but how the tools could encourage and support:

  • the CREATION of media and documentation of learning
  • the PARTICIPATION of attendees during conversations NOT lectures
  • the LONG TERM creation of a learning community

John Dewey said that “we do not learn from experience, but we learn from reflecting on experience”. REFLECTING on the learning experience during the conference and the SHARING of that reflection has been an INTEGRAL part of  our vision.

Andrea Hernandez, already shared her first reflection post-edJEWcon describing our first steps of making edJEWcon  a reality. She pointed out that while there was an extraordinary amount of work from all the people involved, it was the attendees, presenters and students who brought the theory behind our vision of learning and teaching to life.

Jon Mitzmacher in his reflection  explains and elaborates on his feelings of being ” equal parts “proud parent”, “exhausted midwife”, “exhilarated student”, and “inspired principal” after the physical edJEWcon conference had concluded.

Mike Fisher, another key player in making edJEWcon all and more than it could have been, takes on the aspect of student involvement during edJEWcon as the topic of his post on ASCD Edge titled “Strategic and Capable“. He addresses the school’s Middle Schoolers directly by pointing out although they did not know it…” this was an assessment, one that happened in the moment but allowed you to prove your skills. You gave a performance, a recital of your capabilities…and you SHINED!”

More and more reflective posts from our school teams and partners are pouring in on their own professional blogs as well as on their edJEWcon school blogs, we created specifically for that purpose. Take a look at Shira Leibowitz’s posts A Day With Angela Maiers, Comfort With Discomfort, and The Purpose of Ed Tech, as well as Akevy Greenblatt’s post, or the Gray’s Academy of Jewish Education’s blog to share just a few.

Now it is my turn

  • to be reflective
  • to be transparent
  • to add my reflection to theirs
  • to weave a web of reflections and multiple perspectives
  • to connect my learning to others
  • to continue a conversation that started face to face
  • to allow others, who were not able to be at edJEWcon physically, to learn with and from our experiences and thoughts.

I am a very visual learner, so I used my cell phone to sporadically take images during edJEWcon in an attempt to facilitate my post conference reflection on the experience. I will let the images guide my train of thought and hopefully they will also make the experience for the reader come alive. It can serve also as just another example of transmedia learning and storytelling.

21 school teams and 14 partners were registered to attend edJEWcon 5772.0. We knew that each team was bringing members who were at various comfort levels with the tools they were about to receive and the platforms we were about to ask them to explore, play and use over the span of three days. We needed to bring in speakers like Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Angela Maiers and Mike Fisher, who would be able to:

  • share a vision
  • tell a story
  • inspire participants to WANT to grow and learn
  • make connections between the shift in the real world to the realities in the educational world
  • address how professional development for educators MUST change in order to allow change in the classroom to happen
  • talk about the moral imperative of sharing among educators
  • practice what they preached
  • show that they are approachable and willing to connect with their audience
  • lead a conversation, not just lecture

After receiving their toolkit, we ushered our teams to a location where they could unpack, set up and connect their devices with the help and support of a tech team if necessary. We had prepared a suggested app list to guide them as they were setting up an iTunes account and make choices about their first few apps.


Among the apps listed, was an edJEWcon conference app (created with Yapp.us) , which allowed attendees to receive updates, browse the schedule with room assignments and conversation descriptions, click on links we were pushing out, images, and Twitter feeds (@edjewcon & #edjewcon).

Tool set up went smooth and participants  were getting to know each other or reconnecting over lunch before heading to the first keynote. The conference had begun…

Mike Fisher, explained it well in his post Strategic and Capable, how MJGDS Middle School students worked behind the scene at the keynotes. They became the teachers, as Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked them to disperse, find an adult among the audience, sit with them and coach them in using their tool (iPad, laptop, iTouch)  to participate in a backchannel.

Backchanneling was nothing new to these students. Over the years, they have experienced using a backchannel  for academic purposes on a regular basis. (ex. movie watching, learning styles & collaboration, assessment of learning, Skype conferencing)

Image used with permission from Talie Zaifert

The concept of a shift in roles and defining who is a learner and who is a teacher was beautifully illustrated throughout the conference. As attendees AND presenters called upon our students to show, coach and participate as valued members of a conversation. In my mind it became clearer that any conference about education MUST include our students.

One of the main take aways, we wanted attendees to leave edJEWcon with, was an acute awareness of learning as being social, collaborative, connected and participatory.

We are not alone in our learning journey but can, should and must rely on a learning network to filter, contribute and add perspective.

Attendees were reminded throughout the conference to document their learning. Many took notes in  (paper) journals we provided in their toolkits. Several were spotted using word processors on their laptops to take notes. Some used  Google Docs to amplify by collaboratively taking notes and sharing them with colleagues.

Many brought their own iPads or used the iPad that was given to each team as part of the tool kit.

It was thrilling to see a Twitter newbie to discover the connected note taking capabilities of Twitter, by using not only summarizing their own thoughts but using #hashtags and RT (re-tweets).

It was equally thrilling to see attendees using their tools  to go beyond text based note taking and documenting. Thousands of images were taken during edJEWcon, they were shared via Twitter, blogs and Flickr.

Image by Talie Zaifert

There was undoubtedly a buzz in the air…

A buzz…

  • how “edJEWcon was nothing without the people. People who came. People who helped. People who shared and learned and tweeted and connected. People are the magic that breathe life into an idea”.- Andrea Hernandez
  • and “a Burst of educational excitement”- Gray Academy
  • of “magic happening”- Mike Fisher
  • where “we together explored topics that matter, not technology, but rather relationship and community”- Shira Leibowitz
  • of “an environment where everyone was willing to learn and  grow and move out of his or her comfort zone”.- Akevy Greenblatt
  • of  being “uncomfortable, in brain pain, and petrified of what I don’t know.  And I couldn’t be more excited or invigorated about it”.- Julie Lambert
  • of learning “this week that blogging and tweeting are the “new” forms of communication that expand our world – that make it global”- Valeri Mitrani
  • where “All leadership is collaborative, co-creation. No one can create anything extraordinary without tapping into the brilliance, hard work and passion of others. There is no creation without people”.- Andrea Hernandez
  • “Through Twitter, I have connected with incredible people with invaluable resources.  These people have many more followers and much better insight than I and they can now lend their collective voices to mine”. – Jessica Nathan
  • to “get everyone excited about these new concepts and ideas we are beginning to embrace”.- Metro West Jewish Day School
  • that “It is not necessarily about using technology in the classroom it is about transforming learning with the assistance of technology.”- Jessica Jundef

As Heidi Hayes Jabobs points out, we need to strategically upgrade the areas of school structures, assessment and curriculum content review. edJEWcon was just the BEGINNING. edJEWcon was a about making educators AWARE and planting a SEED with concrete ideas how one one school is pushing for change.

The buzz was high… now the real work begins of ACTING on the awareness and growing that seed. We set ourselves the goal of edJEWcon being a conference, where

  • the CREATION of media and documentation of learning
  • the PARTICIPATION of attendees during conversations NOT lectures

would be a PRIORITY! Mission accomplished!

Now we move onto the challenge of LONG TERM sustainability of the learning community platform that was started DURING edJEWcon.

I am asking myself questions such as:

  • How do we sustain our own level of excitement?
  • How do we continue (or start)  to share what we learned with others?
  • How do you enact change in your own school?
  • What are your next steps?
  • How will you CONTINUE to participate?
  • How do we COLLABORATIVELY create a platform that becomes a source of reflection, resources and documentation of CHANGE in Jewish Education?
  • How do we translate the COMMITMENT of PARTICIPATION (not just attending) during the conference into becoming more than a LURKER in a virtual community platform.  (Wikipedia defines a lurker as: “In Internet culture, a lurker is a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chatroom, file sharing, social networking site, listening to people in VOIP calls such as Skype and Ventrilo or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.”)

My challenge to you is to reflect on these questions above…come up with your own questions…take the time to respond openly

  • on your edJEWcon’s school blog
  • in response to another blog post
  • as comments on my Langwitches blog
  • on your own professional learning blog
  • in 140 characters or less on Twitter (including the #edjewcon hashtag)
  • in a video
  • as an audio post
  • or any other way how you can express and share your thoughts

The important part is to get it out…in a digital form… to be able to connect it to others…to be part of a learning conversation that is CHANGING eduction.