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What can this tree teach me?

I am not a botanist or a horticulturist, just a keen and irregular gardener with a passion for plants and trees.  I  am reflective by nature and often draw on my experiences outside formal education, as well as scholarship,  to reflect on and enrich my educational philosophy.

This post is about something that happened in my garden this summer. I won’t be answering the question in the title but I’m hoping that writing this post will take me a step along the way.

Photo of Handkerchief tree showing large white bracts that look like handkerchiefs
Davidia Involucrata, Handkerchief/ Dove/ Ghost Tree taken at the Kenwood Estate in Hampstead Heath. by Garry Knight CC BY 2.0

In May/June of 2002 or 2003, I visited Newby Hall Gardens where there is a glade of Handkerchief trees. The day of my visit some of the white handkerchiefs were fluttering to the ground and I was smitten. I longed to have one in my garden and was delighted when I found a sapling small enough to fit in the car at a Nursery. I brought it home, planted it carefully and waited for it to ‘flower’*.

I waited.  10 years later, it flowered.

Photo of Handkerchief tree in my garden in 2014 showing a few large white bracts that look like handkerchiefs
Handkerchief Tree in May 2014 by Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA

I thought that it was mature enough to flower and would do so each May but no – it seemed to have been a one off.

This summer we have had the worst drought in nearly forty years. Many shrubs and plants have suffered, some of them dying.  In the last week of July, I noticed that the leaves of the Handkerchief Tree started to shrivel over a few days. I consulted a local nurseryman who told me that this was the tree’s response to the stress of the drought. Trees lose moisture through transpiration at the leaves.  He said the leaves would fall and a second growth of smaller leaves may come in September. The good news was that we were unlikely to lose the tree.

The same day, the drought broke with storms and most of the leaves came off the Handkerchief tree. And the nurseryman was right, we have noticed new leaves growing in the last week or two.

September small leaves and white bracts on Handkerchief tree post-drought 2018
September leaves and flowers by Frances Bell CC BY NC-SA

And to my astonishment there were flowers!

I think this tree has  story to tell me about self-care, protection, recovery, re-growth and blossoming.  I’m listening and watching.

* They are bracts rather than true flowers with petals.

#ALTC Preconference Walking Tour details and contact

Whitworth Gallery by the picture drome CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Are you in Manchester for ALTC 2018, and free on the afternoon of Monday 10 September? Then please consider joining me for a walking tour, taking in the Whitworth Art Gallery, and back to the Conference Venue in time to register. You will be free to go around the Gallery on your own or with others. Details of other activities, registration and Monday evening meetup are here . Currently, the weather forecast is 18 deg C, Light cloud and a gentle breeze, but you never know with Manchester.

Here is what I said my  ALTC Blog Post of 2 weeks ago.

If you are in Manchester on Monday 10 September, then you are welcome to join a walking tour with me at 3pm – …..  we will walk down Oxford Road with a brief detour past the Pankhurst Centre, former family home of Emmeline Pankhurst where the first suffragette meetings were held (open Thursdays 1000-1600). The Whitworth Art Gallery (our destination) is a beautiful recently refurbished art gallery situated in Whitworth Park. The art collection includes textile and mixed media art as well as paintings and sculptures, as you can see from the current exhibitions. We’ll leave time for refreshments in the magical cafe in the trees before walking back to the conference venue for registration.

Please contact me to let me know if you will be attending, and ask any questions either via Twitter @francesbell or by completing the form below. I will share my mobile phone number if you contact me, and it would be good if you reciprocated.

I will be waiting at the entrance to Cafe Muse, right opposite the Conference venue, University Place from 1450 on Monday 10 Septemeber, hoping to set off at 1500.

Looking forward to seeing you on the day.

 

Reflecting before #ALTC : Rear view mirror and forward vision

Objects in Mirror are closer than they appear by Aniket Thakur CC BY 2.0

In preparation for our interactive presentation at ALTC 2018 A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018, Catherine Cronin and I are sharing blog posts of our personal and feminist histories in education and technology that are sometimes coincident with each other and with the history of ALTC. Here is Catherine’s post.

I first became aware of feminism as a movement in the 1960s and began to think more deeply about it in the early 1970s when I read The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer.  This and other reading provoked a lot of thinking about my upbringing as one of four children with three older brothers and a secondary education in an all-girls grammar school where subjects like Maths and Science were less popular but still seen as doable by girls. My first experience of feminist thought came much earlier as I remember reacting to a nursery rhyme that contained the line

“My face is my fortune, sir,” she said.

Well, that made me sit up – I didn’t like the idea of my face being my fortune, as the young me thought I had a lot more to offer. I reflected on this a few years ago, and reflection has been a friend to me in my teaching and learning over many years.

On my Mathematics degree at University of Manchester in the early 1970s, there were approximately 10% women, 90% men and I was struck by the variable quality of lectures and reliance on PhD students for small group teaching. This experience influenced my educational/ learning philosophy in my practice in industry and in education, as teacher and learner.

I was lucky to be graduating and seeking employment after Equal Pay legislation but the mid-70s job market was slow. Finding employment as a COBOL programmer/analyst with the Ministry of Defence in Liverpool where we lived was a relief. Strange to say, I learned a lot in my COBOL programming experiences about learning by doing, and learning where to find rather than memorise detailed information. A 48 hour turnaround for card punching and programme compilation concentrated the mind on precision of syntax and logic. A missing full stop could cost you 2 working days. Computer memory was a real limit and minimising programme size was a matter of necessity and personal pride. My boss was a woman and I suspect that protected me somewhat from the experience of being in a tiny minority of women in a 1970s Computing work culture.

My next job was with Lancashire County Council, where presenteeism and long hours culture in Computing was the order of the day. Tired of working late to complete unrealistic deadlines, I asked to code an urgent programme amendment over a weekend at home. My time sheet entry was reduced to one third of my honest report of work done away from the office. Though I had some great male colleagues, sexism was present too. I realised shortly after I arrived that women wearing trousers was frowned on. I was good at my job but it seemed incompatible with the family life we planned so I took a PG Cert in Education at University of Liverpool.

This period of study and teaching practice gave me the opportunity to explore a range of theories and start to develop an educational philosophy that has evolved through my teaching and learning in different settings and sectors. What I learned from reading and applying ideas from authors like John Holt about how we learn and why some ‘fail’ fostered my interest in Active Learning that I first applied teaching Maths in a mixed sex secondary school and subsequently developed teaching Computing in FE, learning in my own postgraduate study and teaching IT and Information Systems (IS) in HE for 25 years. I also applied a coding technique that I encountered on the PGCE, and was surprised to find that I was more likely to take answers from boys than girls, reflecting on my own actions and school cultures.

As John Holt showed us from the 1960s, and is still relevant today, learning an algorithm is not the same as achieving deep understanding. Being a full-time mother to three children and observing babies and young children learn taught me a lot about the social and cultural aspects of learning.

Alongside my career break, I taught part-time then full-time in FE Colleges in Hertfordshire in the 1980s, even managing a network of BBC computers as part of my job description.  I took the opportunity of a move back North to study MSc IT. Stimulated by my Masters project on Classifier Systems, I began to explore the possibilities and limits of Machine Learning. Though teaching in a Computer Science department, I became convinced of the importance of human and organisational factors, influenced by my experiences as programmer and analyst, resisting technological determinism before I knew the term existed.

My journey in the 1990s brought me to the discipline that suited me, IS, that has evolved from technical systems that automated repetitive tasks, to technologically- realised social systems within and beyond organisations. I found space and colleagues to help me develop ideas and capabilities in Research and Teaching.

Research:

I started doing research before I arrived at Salford but realised that Salford offered more support and opportunities than previous institutions. I registered for a part-time PhD but, not unusually, struggled to combine the study with family life and a full-time job. Reduced workload was only available in return for publlications and projects which became my focus as a strategy to obtain more time. My publications and project participation grew in the 1990s and into the 2000s, starting with internally funded projects and conference papers in the late 90s and journal papers and book chapters in the 2000s. Funded projects, notably VMART EC IST project 2000-2003, MINERVA – Collaboration across borders 2003-2005, ESRC ICT, the digital divide and habitus in the self-management of heart conditions 2005-2007, ESF Know and Network (KAN) 2007.

The strategy proved useful when I abandoned my PhD (after family health issues), leaving me with more tangible outputs than an unfinished thesis.

Teaching

The 1990s was an exciting time in IS teaching as the Internet extended the scope of IS, prompting us to develop curricula that required additional input of ideas from sociology, media studies, philosophy and other fields, as issues of ethics, gender and power appeared in our curriculum. In 1996, I found that I could practice Open (OER) by Accident influencing my teaching and subsequent research in education and learning technology. For many educators, technology was a route into Open Education but for me technology was an opportunity on my path through from active learning prior to Internet technology to new visions of education. Others were also looking back with Vygotsky’s socio-cultural approach enjoying a renaissance in the Internet era.  Other influences for me were Lave & Wenger’s Community of Practice, Constructivism, the work of CSALT at Lancaster (eg this JISC-funded project) and research into community and other informal learning approaches. In 1998, reading Digital Diploma Mills by David Noble was an object lesson in a critical approach to educational technology, alerting me to its possible use in casualisation and labour exploitation in HE.  Currently Hack Education by Audrey Watters is my go to critical space.

ALT and me and you

The Association for Learning Technology was founded in 1993 as a professional association and learned society. Learning technology hadn’t started in the 1990s, as Tony Bates short history shows us, but the arrival of the Internet and World Wide Web as mainstream in Higher Education in the 1990s influenced those of us who could create web pages to be producers as well as consumers. I firat encountered ALT through reading its journal ALT-J in the late 1990s, and I think that the first ALT-C that I attended was in Edinburgh in 2001, thereafter attending in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 (where I gave a welcome on crutches after breaking my leg in Iceland :), 2011 where I was part of a fun and critical symposium , 2017 where I looked at resistance. ALT has been a great part of my learning technology story and I hope that I have given back through being co-editor of Research in Learning Technology (bringing an IS perspective), reviewing, authoring, contributing to programme and research committees.

I am so looking forward to the next stage of our work, where Catherine and I can continue to draw out the threads that emerge from our reflections (and those who participate in person and online in our ALT-C session) and trace them through the emergent themes from 25 years of ALT-C. As Catherine said, the personal is political, and history matters. Let’s learn from the history of ALT and make the next 25 years matter.  Can’t wait to hear from you all – sooner or later.

References

Holt, J. (1969). How children fail. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

 

Lurking and platforms: old conversations in changing contexts

I have recently participated (after a fashion) in a Twitter conversation about lurking, with a sense of déjà vu. I feel as if I have been in so many of these conversations over the years, and familiar themes play out whilst social and technology contexts shift. So what are the useful ways of investigating lurking, or learning by onlooking,  in the present, and where and how?

lurk

Lurk by Betsy & Ian F-R CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I remember a discussion 20 years ago in the context of an online list server called ITForum (now defunct). Fortunately, a summary of the discussion was posted by Steve Draper.  This discussion played out similar themes to those I saw in the Twitter conversation but, of course, in different contexts.

As I recall, there were ca 850 members of the ITForum list server who posted (or not) to the server that sent all, or a digest of messages according to member preference. If all members had posted frequently or a few had posted daily, I would have immediately unsubscribed, this being an example of one of the ways in which sustainability in a virtual community is lost “when the cost of participation exceeds the willingness to participate” (Steinmuller 2002).  Mass participation by frequent posting is not necessarily feasible or sustainable for the group as a whole.

I thought of all of this during my experience on the recent Twitter thread at the #HEdigID #OEP discussion.  I ‘lurked’ on the thread once I realised it had become a snowball thread (partially through my own actions). I then posted a blog post linked to the Twitter thread and carried on a (for me) fruitful conversation there with two people. From a learning perspective, I made a contribution with links on Twitter to published work that may have encouraged reading and reflection by other participants – who knows?

For me, the missing element in the Twitter discussion was the agency and motivations of platforms.  Of course it matters how people engage and encourage others, how they share information but the platform is also shaping who and what is more likely to be seen and it certainly had an impact on my and others’ experiences (even if the impact was not always visible).

The second condition that Steinmueller gave for sustainability to fail was platform failure and that is an interesting consideration in ways that he may not have imagined in 2002. When do we have rich discussions about how platforms may be failing their members even if they are economically viable?

Why would we assume that social media platforms are a given as learning locations? I feel really uncomfortable with any suggestion that the more people contribute visibly, eg via posts and replies, the better; and that minimal/absent visible contributions is necessarily a problem. It’s much more complex than that. In our research (Bell, Mackness & Funes), we found that some experienced digital learners stood back in certain contexts for very good reason.

I’d love to hear other views on this.

References

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24. https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Steinmueller, W. E. (2002). Virtual Communities and the New Economy. In R. Mansell (Ed.) (pp. 21–54). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Connectivism and Twitter snowball threads

This will be a quick post but I wanted to capture a few ideas sparked by a Twitter thread that probably started here.

I started reading at this point

I was on my phone on a car journey and didn’t notice that were already 4 people in the stream. I replied to Sue because I vividly remember my first encounter with the concept ‘legitimate peripheral participation’  (LPP). By this time there were 5 people in the thread. I was interested in what Sue Watling had to say about Jean Lave’s work on Situated Learning and went to look at the Wikipedia page that suggests that Wenger ‘moved on’ from LPP to dualities in his later work. As that work tends to focus on online communities of practice (CoP) it would be interesting to look back at how ideas from Situated Learning fed in to the initial concepts of CoP and LPP.

I then reflected on LPP in the context some work I did with Jenny Mackness and Mariana Funes a couple of years ago (Bell, Mackness & Funes 2016), and mused about how the affordances of algorithmic streams might impact on LPP and vice versa.

I included my co-authors Twitter handles for the purposes of attribution but as the stream grew very fast I slightly regretted it – sorry you two. Mariana and Jenny have written an article ( Funes & Mackness 2018 with open access preprint available here) that seems relevant to my experience on this thread. The discussion moved quickly on to Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism, like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls. I decided to jump out of posting to the thread at this point, and to be honest that has happened quite a lot since Twitter changed to include all those mentioned in the reply. You can uncheck them one by one and/or mute the thread but I am not keen on the change myself.

via GIPHY

From that point on, I lurked on the thread and sighed a little as every like and reply of every post clogged up my notifications. There were posts on Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism that I might have replied to at a blog or on a forum but for me the thread was too distracting.

One of the beneficial side effects of my experience was that I reread my own work on CCK08 (one of the original MOOCs an Connectivism and Connective Knowledge) and Connectivism (Bell 201o, Bell 2011), a paper that compared blogs and forums on CCK (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), and a blog post shared by Stephen Downes on the thread.

“The actual physical descriptions of these theories vary from network to network – in human neurons, it’s a set of electrical-chemical reactions, in social networks, it’s communications between individual people, on computer networks it’s variable values sent to logical objects.” Downes blog post)

This reminded me of the issue that this (for me) conflation of these three sets of network descriptions  within Connectivism and its principles. It seems to me to impoverish experiences  – leaving a lot out. Since that time, I have read Mejias’ work who champions the paranodes, the space beyond the logic of the network, here’s my take.

In reading (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), I was reminded of an incident on CCK08 where the facilitors removed the ability of participants to unsubscribe from forum topics and posts to the justifed exasperation of participants,  many of whom left the MOOC in frustration. It occurred to me that this action has something in common with the Twitter thread functionality change – agency of humans and non-humans 🙂

References

Bell, F. (2011). Connectivism: Its place in theory-informed research and innovation in technology-enabled learning. IRRODL, 12. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/902/1664

Bell, F. (2010). Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, & T. Ryberg (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. Retrieved from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Bell.pdf

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Funes, M., & Mackness, J. (2018). When Inclusion Excludes: a counter narrative of open online education. Learning, Media & Technology, 43(2), 119–138.

Mak, S., Williams, R., & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html

 

Femedtech -curation and what next? #femedtech

Femedtech network at time of writing

Femedtech (see brief history) currently comprises a Twitter handle @femedtech and a hash tag #femedtech and a network of great people who engage variously with femedtech. There was some great collaboration in evolving the concept of femedtech – much work done behind the scenes by talented and busy women. Over the last year the interaction was confined to #femedtech and my curation of @femedtech, and we knew we could reach further.

In April 2018, Helen Beetham, Maren Deepwell and I worked on the concept of shared curation inspired by @IndigenousX. We started with ourselves, and invited people to join us. We were delighted with the response and are evolving the process of curation along with our volunteer curators who experiment, share reflections and tips in our curation space. The chart below reveals how the number of tweets, follows and followers has grown thanks to our lovely volunteer curators.  They have also shared their thoughts on who to follow, retweeting and linking tweets to current relevant events and topics in the curation space.

Tweets , follows and followers during shared curation

We have curators for the remainder of 2018 and the current process is sustainable as the work of changing and sharing passwords is once a fortnight, and curators have time to settle into the role.

We are keen to extend collaboration on the process of curation and what else we might do. With that in mind, we are holding a participative webinar 1200-1300 GMT 19 July link to time converter : UPDATE <link to webinar>. All interested in #femedtech are invited to participate so that we can reflect on recent volunteer curation of @femedtech and #femedtech and consider what plans we might have for femedtech.

If you would like to contribute but are unable to attend please share your ideas in this document and/or at #femedtech.

Looking forward to lots of bright ideas and useful advice, at webinar or elsewhere.

 

Femedtech – you are invited to a work in progress

Femedtech 18 May 2018

In early 20187, building on connections, in some cases friendship, and ideas, a group of women practicing and researching in educational technology launched femedtech – a feminist network for people working in education. It appeared via a Twitter account @femedtech, a hashtag #femedtech and a (now defunct website femedte.ch powered by WordPress) and was very much a volunteer effort. Our early vision for femedte.ch as a conversational space where people operated under their own identities within conversation proved difficult to achieve. Women (and most of our supporters were women) in educational technology, have many goals and challenges, and networking has to be done in the interstices of the daily struggle to do the work, look for the job and be the person who is and who looks after others.
This quote from the recent book created by many staff and students from Edinburgh University (and a few from elsewhere) captures gender inequality present in UK higher education.

The ivory tower, like other stately homes in the UK, might present a grand façade to the world but closer inspection reveals a dark, spidery basement full of inequalities. Men from disadvantaged social backgrounds might never make it to the ivory tower in the first place, and men who do get there are less likely to do well. Women students are more likely than men to suffer from mental health problems and encounter sexual harassment during their university lives, and even as graduates will earn less pay for the work they do during the course of their careers. Women staff are less likely to have permanent contracts, and considerably fewer of them ascend the career staircase of the ivory tower to professorial or senior management levels. Those who do make it there are paid less than men. The occupants of the ivory tower no longer sip port and think deep thoughts. Instead they drink Red Bull and fill in spreadsheets. They work long hours under stress to serve conflicting, crushing governmental agendas of excellence.

Femedtech has persisted in a quiet way on Twitter, and encouraged by support from people like Maren Deepwell, @femedtech and #femedtech have begun to grow by sharing the task of curating them for a two week slot.  So why don’t you check out femedtech on Twitter, and think about whether you would like join in by reading, tweeting, re-tweeting or curating?

Here’s how Maren found the experience of curation.  You can find out more details and sign up here.

Robertson, J., Williams, A., Jones, D., Isbel, L., & Loads, D. (2018). EqualBITE: Gender equality in higher education. Rotterdam, Boston Taipei: Sense Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.sensepublishers.com/media/3373-equalbite.pdf

Resistance as a Digital Capability #udicap

Kerry Pinner invited me to give a presentation at the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capability Conference at University of Warwick. My presentation was based on some work I have being doing on Digital Trespass and Resistance as a Digital Literacy.

I approached the UCISA event (my first contact with the organisation) with a slight sense of trepidation, as I knew very little about Digital Capability and my presentation seemed a little different (well quite a lot different ) from others I saw on the programme.  I decided to treat my role as providing a provocation for discussion on compliance and Digital Capabilities.

As I told the audience, I was relying on them to provide the knowledge of digcap.  I was greatly helped by having attended a talk by Safiya Noble in Manchester last week, based on her excellent book ‘Algorithms of Oppression’, see links in presentation.  I introduced the audience to earlier work on Resistance in Information Systems, that explored the more positive aspects of user ‘resistance’, see http://usir.salford.ac.uk/855/1/2004.2.pdf. I think we need to reinvent this in our changed landscape of technologies and platforms in use in learning and teaching.

In the event, my presentation connected to some of what Donna Lanclos said in her keynote about a practice perspective, and was kindly picked up by Farzana Latif in her talk later in the day.

Here is my presentation, and thanks to the audience for picking up the provocation and tweeting about it later.

Reflecting on death as a friend of life

 

New growth through dead leaves
New growth through dead leaves

Jenny Mackness wrote a beautiful blog post Death is a friend of life on her return from a 4 day course with Ian McGilchrist that explores the divided brain.

But Iain McGilchrist’s view is that life is literally on its way out in relation to the way in which we live our lives and behave as social animals in today’s society. Birth, sex, the body and death are all suffering.  Jenny’s post

Jenny’s own mother died recently and she says she hoped that this attendance on the course would provide some thinking space on this bereavement.

I have been profoundly moved by Jenny’s post and it got me thinking about my own experiences of death. My first significant bereavement experience was at 17 when my father died suddenly of a heart attack after returning from a walk. He was retired and when he died, I had been off school for four months with an illness that wasn’t life-threatening but required surgery (a few weeks after he died).  During this time we got know one another even better, talking about ‘adult’ topics like the General Election that was held that year. After his death, this time provided many precious memories. The way I became aware of his death was my mother coming downstairs and asking me to phone for the priest (to give my father the Last Rites). I was shocked by my mother’s request and asked if I shouldn’t call an ambulance first. She asked me to first phone the priest and then phone for the doctor. Knowing he was dead, she rejected the drama of the ambulance, and attended to his and her spiritual needs first.

Next, I thought of the only two deaths at which I have been present. In 1981, I found out, relatively late in my pregnancy, that I was expecting 2 babies, one of whom would die before or shortly after birth:  I have described the background in this post. I had 8 weeks to come to terms with the idea that I was carrying a baby I hadn’t known about and wouldn’t know for very long. I was very relieved that my baby Martin lived to be born so we could love him and say hello and goodbye to him. The unexpected event was the discovery that both twins had cleft lip and palates, and I spent the next four days coming to terms with what this meant practically in terms of feeding and in future surgery and treatment for the twin who lived. I very soon realised that Martin’s brief life and death really helped me to come to terms with his twin’s less serious condition. Martin had no aggressive medical intervention and I can honestly say that I regard being with him while he died to be a privilege. This was helped by the lovely agency nurse who cared for us all and allowed us to acknowledge his death when it happened.

I was also present at the death of one of my brothers a few years ago. He had a heart attack, was resuscitated and put on life support but tests revealed that he had suffered brain death. It was a terrible shock to his family and all of us, and I was privileged to be invited to be present when he died.

When I read what Jenny said about death, it chimed with my experience of my brother’s death surrounded by machines.  They can intrude, I think- tolerable when saving a life but out of place in a death that is inevitable.

Now death is often surrounded by machines. Unlike elephants and other animals who know how to mourn death (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/elephants-mourning-video-animal-grief/), Iain McGilchrist believes that we no longer honour the reality of coming face-to-face with death, as we did in the past. Elephants seem to know and understand the reality of death.  Jenny’s post

We hear about the sad cases of decisions on babies’ life support when they come to court.  We don’t know how the medical staff and parents got to that point and it would be difficult to lay down rules I think.  In an earlier draft of the this post I wrote “The less said about the obstetrician the better” but on reflection, I want to say more about the role of medical professionals in my experiences of death. I was, I think, fortunate that at my 30 week hospital  check-up when the midwife detected more body parts than would be indicated by a single foetus, my double-barrelled name consultant was on holiday. The alternative consultant who supervised my scan gently helped me understand that though I would actually give birth to two babies, I would only go home with the one I had expected all along. In subsequent appointments , Mr double- barrelled name was reluctant to talk through the process of  Martin’s likely life and death – it seemed to make him uncomfortable.  He met me in the corridor after the twins were born, and spluttered something about ‘babies like that’ being put on ventilators in Liverpool, not something that I had ever requested.  I was fortunate in already knowing and trusting the paediatrician caring for my twins, from her care of my first son, whose life was saved with a ventilator. It must be very difficult for medical staff to predict outcomes when a baby is born with a disease that reveals itself later, and life support may be given then turn out not to be in the best interests of the child. Parents will naturally and rightly want their child to have the best life possible and it may be very difficult to relinquish hope.  Obviously, everyone wants to strive to heal a sick baby, but when healing is not possible, then quality of life becomes paramount.  I really believe that the dignified life and death that Martin and we experienced is a beautiful thing but it was fragile and depended on enough of the right people being around.

In the case of my father’s death, my mother chose to avoid the medicalisation of my father’s death by not calling for an ambulance.  Our GP arrived and certified my father’s death (though the Coroner’s office was later involved) without the need for him to be transported to hospital and medicalised in death.

How can death can be as good as it possibly can be in medical contexts?

There is a heroic narrative present in medical care that can get in the way of the humanity and trust needed for families and medical staff to act and make decisions on the care of the sick and disabled. Reading Jenny’s post, and reflecting on our experiences, it seems to me that not only can death be a friend to life but life can also be a friend to death.

Share stuff on #femedtech for International Women’s Day 2018 and beyond #IWD2018

Rainbow stripes superimposed with #femedtech
Femedtech image created by Maren Deepwell

It’s International Women’s Day today * and there are events, celebrations and protests , archives all across the world and on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and other social media. Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT , has already linked International Women’s Day to Open Education Week and #femedtech in a blog post that highlights the role of open practice in promoting equality.

#Femedtech is a hashtag on Twitter that can link feminists who practice in education technology (and that is an expansive category) and who have an interest in supporting each other and how things might be different.

Here is something you can do today and in the future – please tweet (including #femedtech) links to :

  • resources and examples that help us wrangle the tech in a feminist sort of way
  • research that casts a feminist perspective on learning technology
  • feminist who make a difference in edtech
  • or anything that you think may be of interest

*Aware that some UK colleagues are striking today and may not feel able to participate today, I hereby extend Internation Women’s Day to 2 days – just like that !