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.

 

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

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 !

A balanced complaint

I caught part of a BBC2 documentary, Trump’s America a Newsnight Special, last night and was appalled by what I saw.

From my armchair I tweeted, and it seems a few people saw my tweets but they didn’t seem to make much of a difference except that I probably felt a bit better for having tweeted, as part of the general head-shaking in this post-election period. Tweeting was marginally better than laughing at Have I Got News for you? but still pretty passive.

Frances Bell's tweets about Newsnight documentary
Frances Bell’s tweets about Newsnight documentary

Today I plan to watch the whole documentary on iPlayer (sorry that won’t be available to all of you). Then this morning on Facebook, I noticed that George Roberts was making a complaint to the BBC about an item on the Today radio programme.

As a tiny step towards action, I compiled my first ever complaint to the BBC, and I have included the text of it below the video.


“Last night I watched the segment of the Newsnight Documentary where Emily Maitlis interviewed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the editor in chief of the American Spectator, R Emmett Tyrrell. Emily did her best to raise the issue of Donald Trump’s racism with both interviewees. Chimamanda was articulate and addressed the points that Emily raised but Emmett Tyrrell was an embarrassment to watch. He rambled, tried to compare KKK with the Knights of St Columba to justify why we need not be concerned about Trump being supported by them, rejected Chimamanda’s valid point on why oppressed people may vote for oppressors. He clearly forgot, or couldn’t cope with the strangeness to him of, Chimamanda’s name at one point. He rejected what he interpreted as Chimamanda’s use of false consciousness as ‘Marxist’ and completely failed to address what she said about his inability to define racism.
My complaint is about the decision to include Emmett Tyrrell in this segment. Was it for reasons of ‘balance’? Surely you could have found a Trump supporter capable of reasoned argument. Even if no such person exists, you could have found someone who didn’t necessarily agree with her to listen and respond to Chimamanda. How fortunate you were to have her on the show, and her contribution was diminished by the presence of someone unsuited to documentary debate.
Please could you tell me:
why Tyrell was invited?
Is there a policy in place that requires balance at the expense of the quality of the exploration of issue?
What role does an interviewer play in choice of interviewees? ”

Whilst I was compiling my complaint, I saw that someone had posted a youtube video of the subject of my complaint which allows me to share it with those who can’t get iplayer. I contributed to the Facebook thread with this comment

My Facebook Comment
My Facebook Comment

I won’t reproduce the conversation from the semi-private space of Facebook but happy for others involved to comment here. I mentioned my guess about a white male as that was relevant to the original post. One response to me was strange. Whilst decrying people looking everywhere for someone to blame for the Trump, he appeared (in his response to  me a white woman) to blame the demographic of white women for Clinton not being elected.  What I have learned from painful reflection on my own white privilege has strengthened my feminism.

So here is what I think:

Any black or brown person who reads this post is perfectly entitled to ignore or mock my thoughts and actions. They can, but don’t have to, point out any inevitable misconceptions that stem from my white privilege because it isn’t their responsibility to educate me – I have to do that for myself. Black and brown Americans have every right to be angry about the way others voted, the Democrats for failing to deliver and the (in)actions of others, not least because it is the black and brown people who will most affected by this electoral result.

But what I learned from watching Chimamanda when she told Emmett Tyrell that he had no right to define racism, is that I don’t have to take being told by a white man that the demographic of white women prevented Hillary Clinton being elected. Because a white man being angry at white women for this is sexist.  I don’t feel anger at his comments – I’m grateful that he helped to improve my complaint, and my resolve to learn and take action (that goes beyond social media).

I will let you know of any outcome of the complaint in the comments, so subscribe to the post if you are interested. This is a tiny piece of activity but one thing that my network has shown me this week is that we need to work together and support others, particularly those who are disproportionately damaged by an outcome they voted against.

Acknowledgements
Thanks to something George Roberts said on Facebook about another BBC programme, I actually got my act together to make a formal complaint. Check out the page if you feel moved to complain about BBC programmes in future.

Personal is Political – a frame for thinking about Open Educational Practice

The OER17 Call for Contributions is about to be released but we already know something the theme of the 2017 conference, entitled The Politics of Open, chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. OER16 was my first OER conference and I loved its friendly atmosphere, and of course I learned a lot too.  The theme and chairs of OER17 were announced at the end of OER16, and I was thrilled at the boldness of the topic.  From what I know of the OER community, we will rise to the challenge.

I have been thinking for some time about the topic of my own submission to OER17, and in preparation for writing it, I started to think of the different flavours of ‘political’ that are important to Open Educational Practice (a concept explored so well by Catherine Cronin, in her 2016 keynote).  The theme of the conference is broad enough to welcome many different perspectives in policy, organisational and societal contexts, and is sure to include fun too.

My first thought was about openness in politics, and I found http://openpolitics.org.uk/ , and from there to http://www.rebootdemocracy.org/ . I wonder if there will be submissions  that are specifically about political systems but it’s not really where I think I can best contribute.  The conference themes include policy and practice in local and wider contexts, organisational politics, and issues of equality  and participation.  I think my contribution will look at digital literacies but I am starting by looking at how I can frame my thinking.

I am interested in approaches to openness that are contextual, and don’t expect openness to automatically remove existing structural inequalities. For the Networked Learning Conference this year, my contribution to a symposium with Catherine Cronin and Laura Gogia included this digital story that hopefully illustrates my approach.

A Door Half Closed from Frances Bell on Vimeo.

As I develop my abstract for OER17, my challenge is to present my ideas in a meaningful way for the audience (assuming it gets accepted). The phrase ‘the personal is political’ popped into my mind and I decided to refresh my memory of what it meant.  Carol Hanish wrote an article originally published in 1970 in Notes from the Second Year: Women’s  Liberation. Carol’s article was  renamed by the book editors as “The Personal Is Political”, and it has had widespread traction over the last 46 years. Reflecting in 2006, Carol said

It challenged the old anti-woman line that used spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and pseudo-historical explanations for women’s oppression with a real, materialist analysis for why women do what we do. ” from 2006 Introduction

A materialist analysis of Open Educational Practice seems important to me, revealing lived experiences and informing possible collective responses,  beyond an idea that the political is personal. I am still homing in on my specific topic for my abstract but I feel sure that the feminist perspective of ‘the personal is political’ can help me explore the politics of Open Educational Practice.

I’d love any feedback or discussion of this.

References

Hanisch, C. (2006, original article 1970) ‘The Personal Is Political’, Carol Hanish.org, (January), pp. 1–5, [online] Available from: http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PersonalisPol.pdf.

Check out:

Twitter – conference hashtag #OER17, Chairs @josiefraser, @atarkowski , Conference Committee list https://twitter.com/josiefraser/lists/team-oer17

Web site https://oer17.oerconf.org/

Be careful what you wish for

Peer Review Monster

Peer Review Monster Gideon Burton

 

 

 

Some say peer review of research articles is broken and needs to be changed, others that peer review needs a killer app that allows readers within a social network to vote a paper up or down. Cameron Neylon says Don’t (peer review) – the risks outweigh the benefits of publication. He says “publishing anything does no harm’ whereas peer review is costly in expert time.

jch Mary Mc Kinnon

 

 

 

Before we throw the baby out with the bath water, let’s think about what’s good about peer review and what could be improved.

Peer review can be good when:

  • it offers blind review when reviewers do not know gender/age/race/status of authors (unless this is revealed by text and context)
  • reviewers offer constructive advice for authors to improve their article/ creative work
  • it winnows submissions to journal (or other publication outlet) to improve quality of what is presented and filters content for readers

Peer review can be bad when;

  • it introduces delay in publication of work (tardy editors/ reviewers, backlog of accepted articles)
  • opinionated reviewers destroy confidence of authors

Alternatives to ‘traditional’ blind (author does not see identity of reviewer) or double-blind (neither author or reviewer see each others’ identity) reviewing include open peer review and the various recommender systems such as reviews on Amazon.com, Facebook ‘likes’, etc.

What are the risks of abandoning peer review ?

Well of course, the short answer to that is “I don’t know” but a search of scholar.google.co.uk reveals that it is a topic worthy of discussion.

“The refereed journal literature needs to be freed from both paper and its costs, but not from peer review, whose ‘invisible hand’ is what maintains its quality,” Steven J.Harnad from Peer Review : A critical inquiry by David Shatz.

What concerns me is that abandoning peer review will leave us more exposed to the gender, race and other identity biases that remain with us, and flourish in online communication where identity is key.

What do you think?

Do the benefits of abandoning peer review outweigh the disadvantages, and why?

Knowledge Transfer: old wine in new bottles or how many contentious statements can I make in one blog post?

Punning wine

Punning Wine By Mike Knell

(includes edited content from a comment I made to Stephen Downes blog post)

I have been watching a ‘debate’ unfold over the weekend with increasing mystification.  I even posted a couple of comments but I didn’t really feel that there was much idea exchange taking place. If you want to check it out, George Siemens has some useful links here .

For me the first old wine in new bottles (itself a fairly stale metaphor but I love the picture)  is the idea of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – I thought that open fora and ‘free’ courses had been around for a  long time for example WebHeads in Action since 1997, open learning environments have been under discussion since mid 1990s at least (though open learning variously defined) e.g. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/wils95 and I am sure (though I can’t find links at present) there have been free courses online (e.g. in HTML) since mid 1990s too.  Don’t get me wrong the recent crop of MOOCs has generated a lot of interest and experimentation but this will be more informed if they acknowledge their heritage.

The second old wine in new bottles is the terminology and paradigm debate.  Quite a lot of the talk was about the meaning of learning, knowledge and even the term ‘knowledge transfer’.  This one really made me smile, as the term ‘Knowledge Transfer’ has a fairly well-defined meaning in UK HE, as it refers to a funded graduate recruitment scheme where businesses, graduates and academic work in partnership to transfer knowledge between them – very contextual and processy, unlike knowledge transfer as item of ‘knowledge’ passing from sender to receiver . The knowledge transfer being discussed this weekend sounded more like ‘transmission mode learning’  about which acres of text have been written, and clearly linked back to earlier work on communication, explained and critiqued rather well here in the transmission mode of communication.

This critique also neatly demonstrates how a model originating from a viewpoint different from one’s own can still be useful (up to a point) in one’s own meaning-making.  I am very interested in how those to whom ‘learning’ means something different can still have a productive and meaningful dialogue. I think participants would have to start by trying to explain what the word means to them and then listen to what others have to say. It would also help participants (especially given the context of openness) to enter the dialogue with the possibility of changing their minds even if only in a small way.  Maybe what is important about theories of learning and knowledge is what they mean to learners and teachers, as we personally theorise the world around us. Since that can often be in a social context we need to get the knack of sharing theories in dialogue. I have observed over a long period (and on CCK08 in particular) that teachers use theories in a very pragmatic way (connectivism being a good example), sometimes thinking about transmission modes of learning, other times using constructivism and in our digitally-saturated environment, turning to connectivism to help them practice and reflect.  I spent a short time as a Maths teacher in school and saw the twin disadvantages of knowing your times tables without understanding how they were constructed and vice versa, whereas what practice of numeracy requires both that you know your times tables and understand what they mean.  This may be achieved by combining rote learning and discovery learning.

The last point I wanted to make was about the general tetchy tone of some of the contributions (notable exception being @dkernohan 😉 ) Stephen Downes using the term nonsense and David Wiley identifying a comment as the ‘snob’ response. Just what is this ?  are the writers claiming ‘truth’? ownership of ideas or concepts like MOOCs?  This seemed to me to a very ‘masculine’ debate (OK that’s my interpretation) both in terms of style and inclusivity.  I would playfully prescribe that the main contenders in this weekend’s debate assign themselves an OOC on Belenky’s Womens Ways of Knowing, since Belenky’s work challenged and grew out of Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development which emerged from a very restricted sample of white  middleclass male MBA students and was then generalised to others.

So here is my contention:

that if we want to grow and explore concepts like informal learning online, MOOCs and OERs for the benefit of all, we need to involve all – men, women, young, old, from different philosophical and religious perspectives, from countries all over the world, and acknowledge the contributions of earlier scholars.

Now that isn’t going to be easy, inclusivity never is, but I don’t think this recent ‘debate’ has contributed much – however good some of the individual contributions were, the whole left a sour taste, in my mouth at least.

International Women’s Day 2011 – make a small difference

International Women’s Day is on 8 March 2011.

Happy International Women's Day
Photo from Katkura

Although this day has been celebrated since 1910, there is always a danger that it provides a ‘warm glow’ moment and does not make any difference to what we do or think.  Not aspiring to revolution #egypt style, and partially prompted (but not managed!) by Fred Garnett, I have thought of something that we can do that can make small local differences to women, and possibly shift the tenor of online connections.  My other prompt was receiving a touching private  message from a former student, thanking me for helping her achieve promotion.  When I shared this on anonymously on Facebook, I got more props (not my intention!) and a general affirmation of the importance of positive feedback.

This left me pondering on the knotty question of Linked-in recommendations.  My personal policy on this is to make unsolicited recommendations whenever I think of them, but I have noticed recently that the number of requests for recommendations from male colleagues has been increasing (including from one for whom I had already written an unsolicited recommendation- you know who you are!!). I haven’t been able to find any research on gendered recommendation behaviours on Linked-in but would not be surprised if they are what we might expect based on what happens elsewhere – that women tend to get less glowing recommendations.  I also wonder who makes more recommendations – men or women.

So what I am asking you to do for International Women’s Day is to look at your acknowledgement behaviours  and make sure that you credit the wonderful women that you work, play and live with.  Who knows? you may already do this or you may do it in future.

Here are some concrete suggestions:

1. Look at your blogroll – are there any great women bloggers who should be there?

2.  When you visit a woman’s blog, go on – post a comment.

3. Retweet good posts you see from women.

4.  Follow some interesting women on Twitter that you see in a hashtag stream.

5.  Recommend some great women on Linked-in without them having to ask you.

6.  Tell the women in your life when they do something great or useful or that makes you happy

In general – spread the love!

Warning:  Please don’t do any of the above to me unless you were going to anyway or want to make me very embarrassed;)