Planning For Disruption: A Use Case in Digital Learning

The following is not directly museum-related but I wanted to repost it here because the digital learning innovations I address have relevance for us all.

For many years I have worked with the Covenant Foundation to bring digital learning into Jewish learning contexts – day schools, summer camps, congregational school, museums and more. Today they posted a series of important articles and interviews about the impact the Foundation has had in this area over the past 25 years. Two of those articles talk about my recent work with digital badges for learning within the congregational school at my local temple.

The larger piece – The Near Future: Digital Badging in Jewish Education – puts that work in context while my piece, re-posted below, talks about how meaningful disruptions can put within reach opportunities for learning which previously seemed inaccessible.

Planning For Disruption: A Use Case in Digital Learning

When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way.

This doesn’t mean everything that’s difficult is worthwhile. There are myriad challenges facing educators–and sustaining innovative practices which require additional resources is just one. But if the disruptions to on-going practices and expectations are anticipated and strategic, they can open up space for future innovations. When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.

For example, take Project 613, a new optional learning opportunity offered by my synagogue, the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. Last year, with support from the Covenant Foundation, the religious school at RTFH introduced a new program to its 120 or so students. Project 613 offered almost three dozen digital badges organized into 5 Jewish-learning themed categories, and challenged students to complete missions (amongst a list of hundreds) and submit evidence. While it was far from perfect, the pilot year produced over 500 pieces of evidence, generating scores of photographs, drawings, Minecraft builds, and more, each demonstrating a connection made by the students, between something in their lives and some Jewish content or value.

For many of the stakeholders involved, however, Project 613 caused confusion. This was anticipated, as it didn’t fit into any existing box. In other words, it challenged – or disrupted – their idea of what learning is supposed to look like.

Project 613 is an interest-driven project, an opt-in system predicated on the passions of the students. This raises lots of questions for teachers. Should (or would) they be held responsible if their students didn’t participate? How would they find the time in their busy schedules to review (and provide feedback on) evidence submitted by each of their students?

Parents were held responsible for setting up their children’s online accounts. But if this wasn’t homework, should parents feel pressure to get their child to participate? Inversely, if their children were pursuing a badge, were they supposed to help, and spend their limited family time on this activity? How much help could, or should, the parents expect from the school?

And then of course, there were questions from the participating students, too. This wasn’t homework. And while the badges were certainly related to Jewish learning, they also connected students with their personal and often non-scholastic activities, like playing video games, watching movies, and eating at delis. Students needed to figure out for themselves why they should pursue a badge and why they should care if their peers knew of their achievements. Equally important, they needed to figure out how to choose a badge and select from the infinite pathways available before them to pursue one.

These are questions raised specifically by Project 613, which is now in its second year. The program might be working. Or it might not. But to the extent the school tackles the questions it raises at a broader level – not just about Project 613 but about digital learning strategies in general – then the implementation can have impact far beyond the goals of any one particular project. If the disruptions are addressed not as problems but as opportunities for growth, then the extra effort put towards addressing them can help everyone involved see the promise of new ways of learning in the digital age.

I think anyone interested in digital learning will find something of interest within the full series.

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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One Response to Planning For Disruption: A Use Case in Digital Learning

  1. Roger Brown says:

    I found your post most intriguing. Project 613 has a lot to do with a project we recently finished but comes at things in a very different way. It’s interesting to me to see the same challenges and concepts behind our project in yours, but which take a much different form.

    Our recent project is “The History of New Mexico,” a 300 pg digital high school and college history textbook app for non-traditional and distance learners in New Mexico. It was done according to concepts of critical digital pedagogy.

    Project 613 is no longer kids-sit-and-the-teacher-pours-in-knowledge (monologue a la Friere) but education is found all over, outside of the classroom. Across generations. Even to the Ellis Island Museum. And so it also is in “The History of New Mexico.”

    You say, “…meaningful disruptions can put within reach opportunities for learning which previously seemed inaccessible.” And, I might add, opportunities for learning among student groups not well served previously. Reaching new minds in new ways. Disruptive. Involving the students in the creation of the media. Figuring some things out along the way. Much like our project.

    Varied voices, engagement, immersion, and collaborative work are the core of our ebook, which is being used in a growing number of venues.

    You mention in the “The Near Future: Digital Badging in Jewish Education” article that Dr. Abramovich is now, “developing a project exploring how lessons learned from digital badging in Jewish education can be applied to traditionally underserved minorities with strong cultural and ethnic identities.” That is exactly what we do in our ebook.

    Information resources included the faculty author, local and national experts on New Mexico History, Native American and Pueblo Indians, African Americans, Hispanics, Anglos–the whole profile of the non-majority state of New Mexico are included. New Mexico history is a tale of intertwining stories, based on various perspectives, which make the state what it is today…. Multi-voiced, multi-faceted and multi-cultured. Echoing Friere, our ebook gives voices to the oppressed–and access to the underserved.

    Our team used a unique method of design and production which involves a high level of collaboration between staff, students, and vendors, with agencies and offices both inside and outside the school, and with organizations on the state, national and international level. It’s very much a team-based development approach.

    It used student employees in digital media to provide internship and production experience. Our ebook converts a long haul read into an immersive, interactive adventure.

    More importantly, it’s also not just a one-off, but was from the start designed as a reusable template and document set. Now that we have the template built, additional projects can be more quickly and inexpensively done. This kind of development is not common in field.

    I look forward to hearing how things with Project 613 eventually settle out and will happily put Dr. Abramovitch in touch with the instructional designer for whom we worked, to explore reaching underserved minorities and groups with strong cultural identities.

    BTW, here’s a link to a short article about critical digital pedagogy:

    It was great reading your post and seeing how others are finding their way through this complex, swiftly changing forest.


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