Sunday, December 11, 2011

Deborah Harris

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

Deborah Harris is a technology coordinator at Solomon Schechter Middle School in Northbrook, IL and teaches religious school at the Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism. She has been teaching kids – and fellow Jewish educators – how to maximize the use of technology for the past 14 years, during which time she has witnessed and participated in the ongoing revolution of the field.

Can you describe what “network” means to you?

If I were creating a curriculum unit before there were computers, I’d call colleagues I’d had face-to-face interactions with and ask for advice. That hasn’t changed; I still go to those people if I want to talk things through. But if I’m researching something and throw it out on Twitter, I could have dozens of responses from people I’ve never met. I’ve made some really fascinating connections and now have a network of hundreds of people. After a while, I’ve gotten to feel like I really know these people, but I could be standing behind them in the store and not know it.

What does “network-weaving” mean to you?

It means intentionally forming networks, and then getting together in same virtual space at the same time for a very specific purpose. For instance, a group of us came together to decide whether or not to have a conference on technology in education. But I feel like I like it better when it’s very organic – it feels forced, otherwise.

What is the impact of a networked approach on the field of education?

Take Salman Kahn’s concept of the flipped classroom. It’s been all over the Twitterverse, with educators talking about their attempts to flip their classrooms. That’s an example of a form that used to have taken a long time to catch on – instead, you find out about those things immediately. There’s also an increased opportunity for students to be networked. I became friendly with an educator in Haifa, and we created a closed network for our students to communicate. Kids got really excited about it; I saw them posting at 10 pm.

How do you think the power of networks can be further harnessed in education?

I have this dream that we can use technology to transform education. It makes so much sense to say to students: let’s look at what it is that you’re really passionate about. Can we look more at the skills we’re trying to teach as opposed to the hard knowledge and use technology to teach those skills? We’re testing this with one 6th-grade class. In language arts class, they will research anything they want for the month of February. They’ll be assigned to a faculty mentor and create a product. Our 8th graders are making book trailers. All along we’ve been teaching them how to work collaboratively, sequence, and write narratives. Technology gives us new ways to do it using multimedia. I’m also very interested in the field of game-based learning, and how can we use the tools that are out there to infuse education.

How do your students approach the use of technology?

The Internet has been around the entire lives of the kids I teach. Their access to info is mind-blowing. It has made the world in some ways much smaller for them. We go online and find an interview with the author of the book they were assigned, and they watch it on the smartboard. We had an awe of these kinds of tools, because we saw how transformative they were. They have no awe; they’re now walking around with phones that can do the same.

What skills do you have to teach the new generation of learners when knowledge is so easily accessible?

We’re teaching our kids how to approach online access from a Jewish values standpoint, through digital citizenship classes and in rabbinics and language arts classes. We teach them to ask: Where did that information come from? Do you have permission to use it? Most important is assessing the overwhelming volume of information they’re exposed to. They have to become critical curators of information.

Deborah tweets as @tktchr and blogs at

No comments:

Post a Comment