Grantees Explore The Power And Promise Of Digital Media

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“I had no idea this existed,” she said. “Yes, I know about Twitter and Facebook and some of the more widely used tools. But seeing all these other tools, my mind is full of ideas of how we might be able to integrate them into our educational and outreach efforts.”

Aronson, who works on the Jewish Food Educational Network at Hazon, was one of nearly 30 participants from Covenant Foundation grantee organizations who gathered here for “Engaging Learners: Games, Virtual Worlds and Social Media,” a Foundation-sponsored day of learning and exposure to some of the most effective digital tools and strategies revolutionizing educational and non-profit environments.

“Digital advances are non-stop and continue to provide us as Jewish educators with new ways to enhance our work and to make a positive impact in our classrooms and communities,” said Harlene Winnick Appelman, the Foundation’s executive director. “As educators, we dream big. With what we are learning and seeing today, we can dream even bigger.”

With just that in mind, the Foundation teamed with Global Kids, a New York-based non-profit organization that shares its knowledge about how digital tools and educational missions can intersect powerfully and effectively and how they are shifting the landscape.

The nearly 30 participants from across the country who gathered here represented a diverse blend of Foundation grantee organizations, from Jewish day schools to synagogues to educational non-profit groups.

“None of us can afford to ignore the digital reality,” said Melissa Balaban, executive director of IKAR, a Jewish community organization and school in Los Angeles. “This has ramifications for us within our classrooms and beyond them.”

The full-day symposium specifically touched on gaming, virtual worlds and social media – three significant and ever-evolving digital arenas that, organizers said, give Jewish educators, non-profits and organizations powerful and effective ways to teach values, impart knowledge and engage students and communities for lasting impact. Hands-on training, workshops and discussions of case studies filled the day’s program.

If the number of digital mediums, platforms and tools presented and sampled seemed overwhelming at times, this was by design, said Rafi Santo, senior program associate at Global Kids.

“There are many ways that these tools can be useless,” he said. “So we have to be all about identifying where they can be useful and where they can add value. And this comes from knowing your mission and knowing your audience.”

Participants said that although financial and human resources are an issue for any organization, there is no choice but to utilize the tools that make the most sense. And the symposium, they added, went far in laying out the options and their promise.

“None of us are experts at this,” said Mark Horowitz, Director of Early Childhood Education at the Jewish Community Center Association of North America. “You never know what is out there. So it was incredible that the Covenant Foundation set the table. No one else is doing that for us.”

By H. Glenn Rosenkrantz