Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From So. Flo. to San Fran. - The Impact of a PLN

Last night at around 6:30PST and 9:30EST something unique and exciting happened. I had the opportunity to lead a PD session with a cohort of Religious School educators from area congregational schools in San Francisco. You may be asking yourself "did he really fly all the way to the West Coast just to turn around and fly back in time to deliver finals to his classes in South Florida 9 hours later?" Not exactly. But with a little pre-thought and pre-planning, tools like Skype and iwork enabled me to deliver a 2 hour presentation on project based learning in a Religious School setting. And the entire endeavor resulted directly from my Personal Learning Network.

On a recent #jedchat conversation on Twitter @debbyj18 (Her real name is Debby Jacoby, a recent co-classmate graduate from our YU-IUSP Ed. Tech. program, whose role in the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Fran. is Director of the Center for Educational Leadership and NESS) posted she was looking for an educator to lead a presentation for religious school educators. In San Fransico. California. I've been really gung-ho this year on expanding my PLN while at the same time giving back to my PLN. With a simple Skype connection and a few other 'tools' it was technically possible to run a trans-continental PD session. When I told Debby I couldn't make it in person but would be happy to Skype in she didn't even flinch; she was very excited for the endeavor. That was a little over 5 weeks ago ago. 

Between then and last night I worked on a keynote slide show with embedded live links to videos and  websites uploaded to the web with access links sent to Debby (just in case our connection was severed during the session.) I also e-mailed a PDF of the slides which would be used as copies for the educators and sent a few links of materials for the educators to view prior to the PD session. That was the 'easy' part. One of my biggest challenges would be connecting to educators who were attending a PD session at night and after school. Couple that with the fact that I needed to develop a connection with them via a Skype screen. And finally- remember the 3 hour time differential! My presentation wouldn't start until 9:30pm EST- after a full days work! How would it all play out? 

The night of the presentation my adrenalin was pumping full force and energized me. We tested the Skype connection (pictured above) and the screen sharing feature and everything was working smoothly. There was a little static at my end at first but it dissipated after a few minutes. 

I tried to make the presentation as interactive as possible with the educators, 'switching gears' every 7 minutes or so. Off the bat Debby did a great job making the introductions and setting the mood/tone for the evening. PD sessions are notoriously challenging for educators and I opened my presentation as I do with all my PD presentation- explaining to the educators that they matter and that I value them and their time (I realy do). It was only slightly weird delivering a presentation through a computer screen and I tried to act as naturally as possible. For me it was nice to see how professional everyone was acting in the room- like they had been skyping with other presenters for years.

Starting with my opening piece, a KWL chart exercise, to the actual slide show (kudos to whose materials were used for my presentation) and different activities in between like creating an open ended driving question, (see picture below to see how the ideas were discussed, developed and then proposed on the board- Thank you Debby for writing them on the board!) the educators seemed engaged and were actively participating in their learning. Educators directed challenging questions to me and addressed me like I was there in person.

Looking back the time really flew to the point where we had to hasten the end of the session to allow for educators to reflect and articulate their takeaways from the presentation. Their responses were positive. Debby and I touched base after the sessions and we both felt like the experiment had been a success (full disclosure- we're actually skyping tomorrow to further think through and reflect on the experience and tweak as seen fit moving forward.) 

We concluded with each educator reflecting on what they learned from the session (The "L" on the KWL chart) Here's a video snippit of the educators sharing what they learned:

Not 12 hours later did I receive an e-mail that one of the educators who attended was already thinking about how to apply what she learned for her upcoming classes! I am still thinking through the entire experience but it seems with today's technologies coupled with a PLN and a little pro-activeness, well, 21st Century learning is truly limitless. 


  1. Meir,

    I enjoyed reading about your online professional life. I share many of the same challenges you mention, but on a weekly basis! Engaging learners online, pumping up adrenaline to do this after a full days' work, utilizing both new age (PLN, skype, twitter) to engage students and old fashioned ones (asking someone to write highlights on the board). Kudos to you and others who are open to learning in different ways. I'm happy to touch base and share experiences.

  2. Meir,
    Greetings from your old second grade Rebbe! I am interested in you doing a similar program in Columbus, Ohio (where I live) for synagogue educators. Please contact me at
    Thank you!