This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!
Nicky Newfield is the Director of Jewish Interactive, which provides interactive digital resources, an informative curriculum, and online collaborative learning to bring children a touch closer to engaging and innovative Jewish learning around their rich Jewish heritage. She is based in South Africa.
What is a network? What is a network-weaver?
A network is a space where people who are likeminded can meet. To be able to network people is a skill similar to making a shidduch. Not everyone has that skill, to put people together, to connect, and to weave them.
How have you applied network-weaving to your work?
As a new, innovative technology company, networking can help us find out what schools need – which schools feel passionately about having technology and which schools feel passionately that they need technology. It’s also about networking with the students – instead of giving them what we want, finding out what they want. When kids use the program, they can also network between each other. Our vision is that a student in South Africa can blog their homework about recording their version of L’cha Dodi, UK- and US-based users of the same program can do the same, and they can compare it. Then they can start talking. They network themselves through a basis of understanding, around a topic, rather than randomly. It’s very powerful – there’s a lot of learning in it.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities in South Africa around networking?
The community in South Africa is very small; most people know each other. The challenge is going beyond your comfort zone to say: It’s OK to step outside my community and engage with other communities as well. More than connecting internally, the challenge is connecting externally, bringing in fresh new ideas and new energies, and perhaps sharing what innovators in South Africa have to bring to the world.
How can networked approaches be applied to education?
The field of education is changing radically. From a child’s perspective, the classroom is no longer the only place to get information. Children can access all kinds of educational programs on iPads, computers, etc. From an educator’s perspective, the challenge is choosing the material for the children that’s appropriate for their ages and reaches the elements you want to reach. It is great to “let the child be the innovator,” but we strongly believe it needs to be within a content frame. Within a constructivist theory, everything they do is with an educational aim – but by all means give them digital homework: make a powerpoint, blog it, share it, pretend it’s a facebook page, and tweet it to your teacher. The content can be digital, interactive, and fun, and networking can be a powerful tool to share and to grow. Children like to be part of a group, to connect to each other. There are natural human forces at work: the need to be heard, to be understood, to be part of something larger, to compete to be the best, to be acknowledged. As a Jewish network, it is particularly powerful to have a network with Israel and with South Africa, as children are used to living in a global world.
What networks would you like to see exist that don’t exist already?
There are so many it’s difficult to choose – we’re a little bombarded. My particular challenge is knowing which networks are out there and when and how to use them correctly. We just started a new website a week ago, and I would like to know how to network efficiently to increase the audience of the site. I’d also like to know how to reach more schools to ask: We have this program; how could we adapt it to your needs? What do you need next? Having a global network of educators in dialogue that everyone is a part of would be amazing.