Generosity and Generative Processes at FemEdTech and ALT

Frances with Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill at HLM

It was never in my plan to attend ALTC2019 as a delegate.  Being generally self-funded, I have to be very selective in attending conferences, and I had already attended the wonderful OER19 in Galway in Ireland in April.

I was involved in the ALTC conference as a member of the Programme Committee, and had seen the high quality of many of the session abstracts that I reviewed. So I expected to be a virtual participant, and I knew that wasn’t a bad thing, as I was writing a blog post on Virtual Participation.

And then in August, I discovered that I had been nominated for Honorary Life Membership (HLM) of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), and a few weeks before the conference, I found that the nomination was accepted. I was coming to the conference after all but couldn’t tell anyone why.  There are several benefits to HLM of ALT, and here’s how I expressed my gratitude:

It is a great honour to receive this award from ALT, an organisation I greatly respect, and whose work makes such a difference to Learning Technology, in the UK and around the world. Working with the #FemEdTech network is a genuine pleasure, and I see this award as being also for all our FemEdTech curators and participants who do the hard work of addressing inequalities in Learning Technology. The process of nomination is generative for all concerned, and indicative of ALT’s values and aims that are clearly articulated in their strategy. ALT Press Release

The last sentence of the quote is more than a little cryptic so I had better explain myself.

Getting an award is an honour in itself but for me, the joy was in the process. Quite a few people were involved in my nomination (you know who you are). I discovered afterwards that they had engaged in joint editing of the ubiquitous Google Doc. When I received a draft of the nomination, I was moved to see what people had to say about what I had done with and for ALT. As I wrote when I thanked them, their words were a reward in themselves. Getting the actual award was the icing on the cake.

Frances with Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill at HLM
Frances Bell with Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill HLM Award by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology rrALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.rDay two – Wednesday 4th

I am not someone who finds it easy to accept compliments, particularly in public. Reading through the nomination, I found that the word “generosity” came up a few times. This gave me pause for thought about how and why I might be seen to be generous. I had read quite a bit about reciprocity and social capital theory for the CABWEB project 15 years ago. I was familiar with the concept of generalized reciprocity and how it might operate in shorter- and longer-term online communities, and this is what I wrote  in 2005.

Generalised Reciprocity
Generalised Reciprocity

One of the issues that transpired in the CABWEB project was the issue of sustainability of online communities that emerged from fixed term funded projects. CABWEB itself survived for quite a few years after the funding ceased.  Sustainable Spaces to Explore Open is a topic we have explored at FemEdTech.  I also thought about Helen Beetham’s abstract for a presentation at OER17 (sadly cancelled due to illness), The trade and the gift: open education and economies of academic labour. In the early days of FemEdTech, we thought and talked a lot about feminism and the operation of the gift economy in open spaces, such as #FemEdTech and @FemEdTech.

Since receiving HLM, I have done some more reading around generosity and came across Derrida’s book Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money , through reading the Google Books preview. It was interesting to read Derrida troubling the relations between “time” and the “gift”. In his book The logic of the gift: Toward an ethic of generosity, Schrift identifies,  perhaps not surprisingly, that Derrida’s aspect of the gift has been taken up more by feminist writers and thinkers than by others. I note wryly that Schrift still has more male than female writers in his edited collection.

From the beginning of FemEdTech, I was keenly aware of two issues: firstly that people I knew working in education technology and in academia were increasingly short of time, particularly those in precarious employment; and secondly that I had the means to live without paid employment (I have retired on a pension), and hence more time than others. I was very reluctant to set up expectations of participation for which I had time but others may not. My gift of time shouldn’t be counterfeit money.

Kate Bowles referred to the issue of time as a finite resource in her OER19 opening keynote

In this context, we need to develop a language of crisis that is generative and open to change, and that is resolute on the conservation of human resources. Rather than understanding human labour through the measurement of outputs, I suggest instead that we consider time as an environmental resource—an input—that is capable of being exhausted. This enables us to see that when pedagogical time is already extracted and diverted by upstream demands, our capacity to craft and share initiatives, innovations and resources with our open communities downstream becomes more limited.

At FemEdTech, we have had some setbacks and learning experiences along the way, and some notable successes. After letting go of our first website, we did implement in April 2018 an early goal of shared curation of the @FemEdTech Twitter account and #FemEdTech on Twitter. This has proved to be a sustainable way to grow the network.

OER19 Conference was a significant milestone for us with two sessions directly relating to FemEdTech, both of which gave exposure to FemEdTech and have contributed to its sustainable development. From the session “But what exactly is @FemEdTech?” Defining an open distributed network , we have got some good ideas that we are putting into practice. The other session #FemEdTech Open Space has brought us the SPLOT that we are still experimenting with. We currently have two main spaces: the SPLOT and the Curation space.

The About page at the SPLOT starts:

At FemEdTech, we are a reflexive, emergent network of people learning, practising and researching in educational technology. We are an informal organisation with no funding: our resources are our passion, kindness, knowledge, enthusiasm and volunteer time.

What we can achieve at FemEdTech, as Kate Bowles points out, will depend on the conservation of human resources. We should use our volunteer time wisely. I have experienced this at a personal level when I have become aware that I could be using my time ineffectively, or in ways that time-poorer others would not be able to do. One of the projects I worked on, at Lorna Campbell’s suggestion, was to move from centrally-managed handovers to curator-to-curator handovers. We do this via a Google document that required quite a lot of work to achieve independence. It is passed from curator to curator like a baton in a relay race, edited by curators as we learn from the process. We are also exploring paired curation where two curators can share the work, support each other, cover different time zones or extend the reach of FemEdTech in other ways. I see my contribution to projects like this as investing my time in facilitating the saving of my and others’ time in the future.

We are at a crossroads in FemEdTech, with knowledge and an Open Space from OER19, and a good supply of volunteers for curation. What developments can we make? And how can we resource them? Our current consultation is happening via a Google Doc that has been shared with past current and future curators. If you would like to support FemEdTech in planning and/or carrying out changes and please contact me @francesbell for access to the document. This is an experiment in planning and making change without minute-taking, committees and funded resources. We are trying to find an approach that works for us. Our processes at FemEdTech aim to be generative, to develop FemEdTech sustainably and to benefit participants as they work to address inequality in Education Technology and support each other.

I have woven in my own experience in CABWEB with my more recent experience in FemEdTech and even more recent reading but I think that it’s important to set these within the context of ALT, and in particular how ALT manage their awards processes.  To me, ALT feels like a generous organisation, and perhaps that’s why they never lack for volunteers as Trustees, Programme committee members, Editorial Board Members, ALT Assembly Members, Special Interest Groups – the list goes on. ALT staff work hard and professionally to achieve an outstanding and innovative service as a membership organisation that shapes learning technology in education and beyond. They always keep in mind members and volunteers.

My positive experience of HLM is in line with ALT’s award processes in general, whether they are nominations or applications. People make a case with the support of others and collected evidence, whether that’s their own CMALT applications, nominations, or applications for Learning Technology/ Research individual or team awards (link to ALT Awards page). I have loved supporting a couple of LT of the year applications and an HLM nomination – so rewarding. I was absolutely thrilled to see Lizzie Seymour get the only Individual LT of the Year award this year (nothing to do with me) as, having loved her presentation at ALTC 2018, I knew as soon as I saw the slide that it was going to be Lizzie!

So what I would say is apply, nominate and support ALT nominations/applications: it’s good for all concerned, good for ALT and good for Learning Technology in general: in short generative and generous. And here are some generous tips from Martin Hawksey on applying for CMALT.


5 thoughts on “Generosity and Generative Processes at FemEdTech and ALT”

  1. I mostly want to congratulate you Frances, ever as humble as you are, for a well deserved recognition. I’m honoured to have “known” you online a long time, and having met in person too.

    Thanks too for speaking for the term I don’t often use– “precarious”– which is really an apt description of being self-employed/unaffiliated. I’ve had a few instances in online meetings with others in a volunteer organization. These are all good people I’ve worked with over years. Yet I just get a nagging voice that says volunteering is one thing when you have a salary backing you up vs when you don’t. Your elaboration on Derrida’s view on gift/time really rings home.

    Thanks for being a compassionate, considerare champion. You certainly earned the award.

    1. I do feel as if I have known you for a long time Alan:) You are a regular part of my life as your lovely pictures arrive at flickr. We really appreciated the help you gave us with our dear SPLOT. Though we have some lovely posts, we are still working out how best to use it.
      Your kind words are much appreciated. I’m interested in your comments about people lacking awareness of your situation. I think we can do this on- and off-line and it’s important to get to know each other when we work together so we can avoid the assumptions that blind us.
      I’m glad the Derrida stuff was of interest – it’s really helped me too.
      As they say in Iceland, Bless!

  2. I was delighted to see your own generosity to the ed tech community being recognised. In a world that often appears to be overflowing with toxicity and hate the generosity, love and care shown by you and our community is the perfect antidote

    1. That means so much to me Martin – thank you! I am sure that I am perceived as toxic and far from generous by some in our community:) and that’s OK. What interests me is how communities deal with difference within them. And that is difficult anyway, and made even more difficult by the polarising influences of algorithmic shaping of conversations online. I think we need generosity, love and care as practices that can permit difference, and that’s quite a challenge for humans and platforms 🙂

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