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Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The #SiyumHashas, #140Edu and the importance of creating our own #PLN (personal learning network).

               
Kaddish on the Siyum by Mr. Jay Schottenstein
              
Dancing after the Siyum.























These last two days, I had the privilege to go to two events that on the surface seem to have no connection whatsoever, the Siyum Hashas at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey and the #140Edu Conference at the 92nd Street Y, in New York City. The Siyum Hashas was a gathering of over 90,000 people to celebrate the completion of the Daf Yomi, the daily study of a page of Talmud that thousands of Jews participate in throughout the world. The #140Edu Conference was a gathering of hundreds of teachers and social media enthusiasts to discuss the role of Twitter and other social media platforms to transform education.

Some of the themes of the Siyum Hashas were the primacy in Jewish life of the Torah and more specifically the Torah SheBeal Peh, the Oral Law, whose backbone is the Talmud; the resurgence of Torah Jewry after the devastation of the Holocaust; and act of Achdut, Jewish togetherness in gathering almost one hundred thousand Jews of many different stripes for one purpose in the largest Jewish celebration in two thousand years. Some of the themes the #140Edu Conference were the primacy of Twitter to connect teachers throughout the world; the importance of making student learning matter to them through self directed and inquiry based learning; and the role of technology in transforming the teacher into a facilitator of learning rather than the primary source of knowledge.

However, both these events shared one common thread, the importance of building a personal learning network. One film shown at the Siyum about the history of the Daf Yomi was particularly noteworthy. It described the progressive vision of Rav Meir Shapiro, who at the age of thirty six first proposed the idea of learning Daf Yomi some 80+ years ago. Rav Shapiro imagined a person traveling by boat from Eretz Yisrael to the United States, a twenty day journey at that time. He takes with him his trusting Gemara and studies each day one page of Talmud as he travels. When he arrives, he walks into a synagogue and attends a Gemara shiur where they are up to the same page that he is. This is the vision of the Daf Yomi. Jews throughout the world all learning individually or in groups but all connected to each other since they are all literally on the same page (and all doing this without the aid of the Internet and other modern communication devices). This is what I call every Jew's personal learning network. By learning the same page on the same date he creates a global network with his fellow Jews.

In many ways, this was also the vision of the #140Edu conference. Just the way the conference was presented illustrates this. It was attended by hundreds who gathered face to face in New York City but live streamed to thousands more online. The message of this conference was quite similar to the message of the Daf Yomi. Teachers need to network with each other even when they cannot be physically connected. They need to create online communities to share and learn together. These communities are known as PLNs, personal learning networks, in educational technology circles.

Ironically, it was a rabbi who lived over fifty years prior to the Internet who developed one of the first of these learning networks through the Daf Yomi. Today, as noted in a Washington Post article on the Siyum, technology is being used to assist in amplifying this network as it is being used similarly by networks of teachers from the #140Edu community. Daf Yomi learners watch and listen to shiurim streamed online, they download podcasts to listen while they commute, they participate in online forums, and now are even starting to use iPad apps.

There is one thing that I think the Daf Yomi learners can still learn from the #140Edu community, the value of Twitter. Currently, there are online teacher communities on Twitter who converse for one hour a week using hashtags like #edchat, #jedchat, and #pblchat. Maybe it's time to make a #DafChat where Daf Yomi learners can get together in this virtual world one night a week to discuss topics stemming from the week's Daf. In this way, we can marry Rav Meir Shapiro's global vision of the Torah learning network with the modern Twitter vision of the #PLN. Anyone else interested in helping to start one? I would be eager to become a participant in this next step in the Daf Yomi.

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