A conversation about Third Space, Third Place, and Liminality

Photo: CC BY-SA Skyggefotografen (Flickr)

At the Networked Learning Conference 2014 in April, I began an interesting conversation with a Twitter-friend, Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen). I presented a paper at the conference on my ongoing research in the area of networked learning and digital identity, focusing on student-staff interactions in open online spaces. I cited Kris Gutiérrez’s conceptualisation of the Third Space as a useful framework for exploring the interaction of students and staff in networked publics, particularly in considering issues such as identity and power relations. Kathrine gave me some useful feedback and noted that she was using the concept of liminality in her work exploring student-staff collaboration.

This week we reignited our discussion via email and Twitter — comparing notes on Third Space, Third Place, and liminality — and quickly agreed that we should open the conversation more widely, as others had joined in on Twitter and expressed interest. Below is our conversation — please add your thoughts and ideas, links to your work, and/or any references which you have found helpful in this area. Kathrine has also shared her thoughts in a blog post Using liminality to look at student/staff interactions. We look forward to continuing the conversation :)

Kathrine Jensen:

Hi Catherine… We had a quick chat at the Networked Learning Conference about ‘Third Space’ and I am keen to develop my knowledge in terms of this as a potential useful theoretical approach to thinking about ‘partnership’ etc. I know that you are using Kris Gutiérrez as reference for the concept of Third Space and I believe you referenced this paper: Developing a Sociocritical Literacy in the Third Space.

As you may remember I was using the concept of ‘liminal space’ to explore the characteristics of the relationship between students and staff working in partnership and stepping out of their ‘normal’ role [paper forthcoming]. But I also just came across this article using the idea of ‘Third Place’: Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as ‘Third Places‘ (Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006), in which they refer to Ray Oldenburg’s (1999) eight characteristics of ‘‘Third Places’’ – this looks quite useful.

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I would be interested in hearing how you think the various concepts differ or are useful in terms of what you are doing.

Catherine Cronin:

Hi Kathrine… These 3 concepts — Liminality, Third Space, and Third Place — are all on my radar in thinking about digital identity and interactions between students and staff. Fascinating altogether!

Firstly, the Third Place concept. It seems to have been used by quite a few researchers/writers as a metaphor for computer-mediated communication and online interaction (as early as 1993 by Howard Rheingold, of course!). Rheingold, in his book The Virtual Community, was quite optimistic:

 Oldenburg explicitly put a name and conceptual framework on that phenomenon that every virtual communitarian knows instinctively, the power of informal public life… It might not be the same kind of place that Oldenburg had in mind, but so many of his descriptions of third places could also describe the WELL. Perhaps cyberspace is one of the informal public places where people can rebuild the aspects of community that were lost when the malt shop became a mall. Or perhaps cyberspace is precisely the wrong place to look for the rebirth of community, offering not a tool for conviviality but a life-denying simulacrum of real passion and true commitment to one another. In either case, we need to find out soon. (p. 26).

However, up to the mid-2000s, all of these articles pre-date the massive take-up of Facebook, Twitter, and social networking sites in general. For example, the first article I read which linked Oldenburg’s concept to networked publics was a 2006 article by Soukup; he was quite cautionary about the links between the Third Place concept and CMC — but his reference points were multi-user domains (MUDs) rather than SNSs.

The Steinkuehler & Williams article you shared is interesting — focused on gaming and quite positive about the relevance of the Third Place concept. Another recent article in this vein is Rethinking Third Places: Contemporary Design with Technology by Memarovic, et al (2013). They revisit Oldenberg’s dimensions, but explore how today physical Third Places also have a virtual element:

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Their findings are slightly different (and more temperate) than Steinkuehler & Williams, but I think this has to do with the context, i.e. combination of physical & virtual Third Places vs. online games as Third Places. So, while it is interesting, and I will reference it, at present I’m not sure that the Third Place concept is significant in my analysis of student-staff interactions in open online spaces.

This brings me to Third Spaces. The salience of this concept (as developed by Gutiérrez 2008 and Gutiérrez, et al, 1999) for my own research remains. The reason is twofold. Firstly, Gutiérrez’s conceptualisation relates specifically to learning and literacy practices in the context of schools/classrooms, rather than gaming or social spaces. Secondly, the Third Space concept addresses power relations and identity, both of which are central to interactions between students and staff in networked publics. Gutiérrez grounds her work in what she calls a “sociocritical literacy”. I’m still getting to grips with this concept, but it is powerful and holds much promise for analysing student-staff interactions across various contexts. Whereas academic literacy is often narrowly conceived along a vertical dimension (incompetence to competence), learning in the Third Space “attends to both vertical and horizontal forms of learning”, including expertise which develops “within and across an individual’s practice” (Gutiérrez, 2008, p. 149).

Students bring with them to higher education a particular set of digital and network practices and literacies, developed and applicable within various contexts. As HE staff and institutions, rather than (a) assuming that students have particular digital literacies (i.e. are “digital natives”), or (b) denying the digital and network skills — and networks — which students use for informal learning (e.g. by requiring that all online pedagogical interactions take place in bounded online spaces such as LMSs), we can consider other approaches. A Third Space approach would invite students and staff to share their practices, skills, networks, etc., and then to collaborate in identifying appropriate spaces and tools for learning, and for chronicling their learning.

Finally, I am seeking to engage with the concept of liminality, and look forward to reading your latest paper. As I understand it, liminality is an in-between state, between the pre-liminal and post-liminal states. I see how this applies to students, in general, who are learning to do as well as learning to be. Your work is fascinating, chronicling learning and personal growth for both the student and staff participants. I see how the concept of liminality applies in the case of this project. In terms of liminality as a concept relevant to online interactions between students and staff, I note a very interesting 2008 article by Ray Land and Siân Bayne: Social technologies in higher education: Authorship, subjectivity and temporality, in which they note the blurring of boundaries between social/informal and formal spaces, and between public and private spaces. I must wrestle with the concept a bit more, however. Is it possible to identify a post-liminal state when considering interactions between students and staff in online spaces? The process is individual, but is an unfolding — depending, of course, on the level of engagement of the individuals involved.

…to be continued.

Apologies: I’ve tried to find openly accessible article sources, where possible, but I’m not sure that every article cited above is openly available. A full list of references is below.

References:

Gutiérrez, Kris (2008) Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space. Reading Research Quarterly 43(2), 148-164.

Gutiérrez, Kris, D. Baquedano, P. López, & C. Tejada (1999) Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the Third Space. Mind, Culture, and Activity 6(4).

Land, Ray, & Siân Bayne (2008) Social technologies in higher education: Authorship, subjectivity and temporality. Networked Learning Conference 2008.

Memarovic, Nemanja, et al. (2013) Rethinking Third Places: Contemporary Design With Technology. The Journal Of Community Informatics, Spec. Issue on Urban Planning and Community Informatics.

Oldenburg, Ray (1989, 1999) The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Marlowe & Company.

Rheingold, Howard (1993) The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. MIT Press.

Soukup, Charles (2006) Computer-mediated communication as a virtual third place: Building Oldenburg’s great good places on the world wide web. New Media and Society 8, 421.

Steinkuehler, Constance A., & Dimitri Williams (2006) Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as ‘Third Places‘. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication 11(4), 885-909.

Photo: CC BY-SA Skyggefotografen

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>> Postscript: 26-July-2014

Many thanks to Mary Ann Reilly for creating and sharing this wonderful resource: Third Space – Curated Bibliography. The bibliography contains links to work by Homi Bhabha, Margaret Cook, Kris Gutiérrez, Edward Soja, Reijo Kupiainen, and more.

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Navigating the marvellous at #altc

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CC BY-NC-SA pascalvenier (Flickr)

On September 1st, I’ll be joining a few hundred other educators, researchers, and policy-makers at the ALT 2014 Conference organised by the Association for Learning Technology (UK). The theme of the conference this year is an ambitious one: Riding Giants: How to innovate and educate ahead of the wave.

I’ll be one of the speakers at this year’s conference, but mostly I’m excited about meeting and sharing ideas with the diverse range of people who will be participating, both in person and virtually — and, of course, getting to hear and catch up with Audrey Watters. :)  I’ll be speaking from my perspective as an open educator, sharing a few questions, as well as examples of practice and research which illuminate possible paths for us as educators. I hope, too, to include voices other than my own in the keynote. Here’s an overview:

Navigating the Marvellous: Openness and Education

Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem, I’ll explore “navigating the marvellous”, the challenge of embracing open practices, of being open, in higher education, from the perspective of educators and students, citizens and policy makers. To be in higher education is to learn in two worlds: the open world of informal learning and networked connections, and the predominantly closed world of the institution. As higher education moves slowly, warily, and unevenly towards openness, students deal daily with the dissonance between these two worlds; navigating their own paths between them, and developing different skills, practices, and identities in the various learning spaces which they visit and inhabit. Educators also make daily choices about the extent to which they teach, share their work, and interact, with students and others, in bounded and open spaces. How might we construct and navigate Third Spaces of learning, not formal or informal but combined spaces where connections are made between students and educators (across all sectors), scholars, thinkers, and citizens — and where a range of identities and literacy practices are welcomed? And if, as Joi Ito has said, openness is a survival trait for the future, how do we facilitate this process of “opening education”? The task is one not just of changing practices but of culture change; we can learn much from other movements for justice, equality and social change.

I look forward to many stimulating conversations at the conference, and in the meantime, as I continue working on my presentation and plans for the session. Do you use and foster open practices in your own learning? in your work? with students? Is an ethos of openness central or peripheral to your work? If you experience a tension between openness and your work in (higher) education, how do you resolve this? I welcome your thoughts.

Photo:CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 pascalvenier

 

A module ends, a networked community continues

catherinecronin:

My reflections on CT231 at the end of this academic year, and thanks to my students.

Originally posted on CT231:

To mark the end of the year of CT231, I’d like to begin by thanking you — all of the students who participated in the module. We’ve covered a lot of ground this year.

CT231 2012-13 image v2Many of the terms above may have seemed unclear or irrelevant last September, but hopefully you feel much more confident now about your research skills, your communication  skills (writing and presenting) and — as many of you wrote in your social media reflections — your digital identity and use of social media, especially for learning.

Working with you all this year has been a pleasure, an adventure, and a great learning experience. Exploring concepts both established (academic writing skills, referencing) and emerging (digital identity, privacy, social networks for learning), your ideas and your questions have helped me to think more deeply about my own practices, about creating learning spaces (physical and virtual), and about the always-fascinating…

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Open Education Week(s) 2014

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CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog (Flickr)

Open Education Week 2014… and an opportunity to use one of @cogdog‘s wonderful #open images (thanks, Alan). This post is a summary of what I’ve been up to in the lead up to Open Education Week 2014 — preparing an #openedweek webinar, working with other open educators, supporting students in open sharing, participating in an inspiring Irish education conference, and finally, recounting a moving coincidence.

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  • On Saturday, March 1st, we joined over 300 educators from across Ireland at the annual CESI Conference here in Galway. The conference (and CESI TeachMeet on the preceding night) provide a welcome opportunity for primary, secondary, third-level and community educators to meet, to form and strengthen friendships, and to learn from one another. The Irish educator community has a strong online presence via #edchatie, but gatherings such as the CESI and ICTEdu conferences are invaluable. It’s impossible to summarise this inspiring conference in a few words — please check the #cesicon hashtag on Twitter for updates and summaries.
  • I presented and facilitated a workshop at the CESI Conference on Becoming and Being Open Educators, inviting educators to consider their (and their students’) identities and practices with respect to open education. My thanks to all of the educators who participated and who challenged my thinking.

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  • Finally, a coincidence. One of the outstanding innovations in Ireland in the past year has been the launch and growth of the Youth Media Team (@YMTfm), a team of secondary students, supported by educators, who attend education-related events, engage with participants, and create and share multimedia reports on the spot — photos, interviews and blog posts. Two weeks ago at the CESI Conference, Dave and Finn recorded a conversation between Laurence Cuffe and myself during which we shared our discovery of a moving coincidence – spanning the years 1968 to 2014.

Photo: Unlocked, CC BY-SA 2.0 cogdogblog

 

Open education and digital identities

I’m currently in the early stages of Ph.D. research on digital identity practices in open education. I’ll be exploring how educators and students in higher education construct and negotiate their identities — social, pedagogical, civic, professional — in open online spaces in which they interact. Some of the questions I am considering are: How are digital identities enacted in open vs. bounded online spaces? What is the relationship between digital and embodied identities, particularly with respect to learning and teaching? And how are power relationships between educators and students negotiated in different online spaces?

Last week I was invited to give a seminar on this research (early stages!) as part of the IT research seminar series at NUI Galway. Below are the slides, a brief summary of my research, and a reflection on my own identity as a “digital identity” researcher.

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The recently published Horizon Report 2014 (Higher Education edition) is just the most recent of many to pose the question: How will formal learning institutions remain relevant when quality learning materials are freely available? (i.e. now). Of course, it isn’t just learning materials, but learning networks and learning experiences that are freely available in our increasingly networked society. The MOOC phenomenon is just one example: across the spectrum of MOOCs, from open, connectivist models to more content-focused, behaviourist/cognitivist models, the desire for flexible, autonomous learning is  clear. Noisy pronouncements to the contrary, open education is about much more than MOOCs, of course. Open education includes initiatives and practices such as the use and creation of open educational resources (OERs); open course blogs, websites and wikis; open sharing of student work — via a range of digital, mobile and social media;  and open communication across learning networks using social media and social networking tools.

identities & learning spaces

In most higher education institutions, after meeting stated entry criteria, student access is achieved by fee and by name. In my university, for example, students must register using the name shown on their birth certificate, unless this has been legally changed. Thus, in most classrooms and within most Learning Management Systems, students and educators are identified by their real names. To participate in open online education, however, learners need simply the will to participate and an identity. Learners not only choose their own learning paths, but they create their own digital identities. Thus individuals can choose to be identified by their name or a pseudonym, by a photo or an avatar, with a consistent digital identity across multiple networks or different digital identities for different situations and contexts. 

So how does the concept of digital identity layer on to our understanding of offline or embodied identity? Identity can be defined as a constantly re-worked personal narrative; we continually create and develop our identities through our actions and our interactions with others. But identity is not a single construct; we have multiple identities related to our different roles and contexts (e.g. daughter, mother, partner, friend, student, lecturer). This is the case for both digital and embodied identities, as Miller makes clear in the excellent Future Identities report of 2013, which explores the relationship between online and  offline identities:

As studies become more contextualised it seems that the real lesson of online identity is not that it transforms identity but that it makes us more aware that offline identity was already more multiple, culturally contingent and contextual than we had appreciated.

Miller also notes that contrary to many media claims, most studies (with the exception of a few, e.g. Turkle) oppose the notion of digital dualism, i.e. the belief that online identities are separate from and less authentic than our offline identities. Our online and embodied identities are, in fact, deeply intertwined. 

Learning involves identity transformation. In Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice work, for example, education is defined as an identity project: there is a relationship between “learning to do” and “learning to be”.  During the course of their learning, students in higher education develop new identities: personal, social, academic, professional. Both students and educators develop and enact their identities when interacting in learning spaces, be they physical or digital, bounded or open. As part of my study, I’ll be exploring three types of learning spaces: physical classrooms, bounded online spaces (e.g. members-only LMSs), and open online spaces or networked publics (e.g. blogs, wikis, discussion forums, social networking sites). These three modalities are often used in combination with one another, but my study aims to identify the specific affordances of each, particularly with respect to identity, access and equity.

The first two of these spaces, classrooms and LMSs, are private learning spaces in which learners and educators within a particular course can meet, physically or virtually, to interact and learn together. In the third category, open online spaces, educators and students in a given course can interact with one another as well as with other students, educators, writers, creators, experts, etc. in other courses, disciplines, institutions, organisations or locations. 

politics, power & privilege

Politics, power and privilege cannot be ignored in educational research. For example, in examining learning spaces, the architecture of most physical classrooms speaks loudly about power and privilege. Who is present, and who is not? Who sits and who stands? Who moves? Who speaks? Where is attention focused? Answers to these questions reveal whose voice counts, whose knowledge counts. Those educators committed to democratic practices — to creating environments for mutual knowledge construction and sharing —  often must work against the constraints of the architecture of physical classrooms.

In bounded online spaces, such as members-only LMSs, system architectures may communicate similar messages. LMS participants are typically identified by their (real) names and their roles — student, lecturer, tutor, observer, etc. Lecturers and tutors have design, creation and editing privileges within LMSs; students usually have fewer and lesser privileges (e.g. writer vs. editor). These are signals about power and ownership of the learning process.

In open online spaces, students and educators are not limited by real-name identities, nor by rigid role definitions. Students, particularly, may experiment with new identities – not just social identities, with which they may have some confidence, but learner identities and public/civic identities. The teacher-student relationship is changed, moving beyond a teacher-student dichotomy. Students and educators can have more equal roles in creating content, sharing resources, participating in and starting conversations. Educators can be learning peers in open online spaces, not just the lecturer at the head of the classroom or with privileges within the LMS. Although the technologies themselves do not create democratic environments, educators who choose to engage with students in open online spaces, who use open tools, and who engage in and model democratic practices, can foster learner autonomy and agency.

Open online spaces can be considered what Gutiérrez defines as a Third Space of learning; where students develop sociocritical literacies not in a formal learning space, or informal learning space, but a combined space:

People live their lives and learn across multiple settings, and this holds true not only across the span of our lives but also across and within the institutions and communities they inhabit – even classrooms, for example. I take an approach that urges me to consider the significant overlap across these boundaries as people, tools, and practices travel through different and even contradictory contexts and activities.

Many students already have confident social identities online, but developing identities as learners, writers, scholars, citizens — these are important tasks as part of higher education. As Etienne Wenger has noted:

If institutions of learning are going to help learners with the real challenges they face… [they] will have to shift their focus from imparting curriculum to supporting the negotiation of productive identities through landscapes of practices.

Moving beyond private, bounded learning spaces into open learning spaces, even occasionally, provides learners and educators with opportunities to discuss and develop important digital and network literacies, as well as  a deeper awareness of issues such as privacy and data ownership. Open practices allow students the potential to link formal education with their informal interests, knowledge and expertise, and to build Personal Learning Networks which reflect all of these – to the extent that they wish to do this. In these open Third Spaces of learning, learners cannot just develop new identities, but strengthen existing identities, and integrate identities across multiple settings and contexts.

postscript: my own identities

During the past few months, I’ve added this ‘digital identities’ research project to a full schedule of teaching, programme management, and my own networked learning and blogging activities. It’s been challenging, but mostly satisfying. Those cycles that people warned me about when embarking on the Ph.D.  ( lurching from “wow, this is wonderful!” to “oh, I’m lost!”, and back again) — I reckon I’ve ridden through a few of them already :)

At the start, it was the practical aspects of combining these activities that demanded my energies. How will I organise my schedule/workspace/systems to accommodate my new research commitments? And how will I manage others’ expectations of me — colleagues, students, family, friends? Lots of thinking, discussion, negotiation of boundaries.

But, of course, it’s not *that* simple. It’s not just my schedule that must be negotiated, but my own identities. Every day the balance is slightly different: dividing my hours and energies between teaching, student and facilitator support, programme management, learning and research. For the past few years, this blog has provided an invaluable space for sharing ideas and questions related to learning and teaching, for thinking-through by writing, and for connecting. Up to this point, I’ve been happy to share my learning and to share my teaching experiences. So where does “researcher me” fit?

For example, I’ve been working with Jane Davis and Joyce Seitzinger over the past 6 months, each of us writing papers and collaborating on a joint symposium for the upcoming Networked Learning conference. Throughout all of that research and writing and rewriting, I didn’t write here in my blog. I put my time and effort into writing the paper (in the “academic” voice) and engaging in discussions with Joyce and Jane. That time was productive, and it wasn’t my intention to separate these two activities — research and blogging — but that’s what has happened. Hmmm…

As so often happens, via my PLN I read a recent blog post by Bonnie Stewart in which she described this dilemma: identity challenges for hybrid scholars:

I’ve been researching hybrid scholars – people like me who are both cultivating some semblance of a traditional institutional academic identity and building connections and credibility for their ideas in online networks … I’ve been trying to be both networked scholar and proper academic, whatever that is. I’ve been trying to wear two entirely separate hats and engage in two entirely separate identity economies … If there’s anything to the premise that the potential of massiveness + openness = new literacies of participation, it’s those of us out here straddling the edges of old and new that will end up making and modelling those literacies, whatever they turn out to be worth.

Michael Gallagher, another valued member of my learning network, posted a comment to Bonnie’s post which captured this conundrum — and my perspective — so well:

My identities have oscillated all over the place depending on where the projects reside (scholar one day, project manager the next, teacher the following, that sort of thing). I find a certain joy in that disequilibrium, as if I dance between these ambiguous spaces and identities long enough, something new will emerge. And it will just emerge, as you said, by walking the road. And if I contribute at all, it will be through my blog and that emergent identity.

As I noted in my response to Bonnie’s post, I’m often comfortable in boundary and hybrid spaces — I’m a New Yorker living in Ireland, a feminist working in technology, an engineer doing research in education, and I’ve taught/teach in both higher education and community spaces. So being a hybrid scholar feels right — most of the time. Most of the time, the intersections energise me and spark connections which move my thinking and practice. But sometimes things feel out of balance, and I suppose that’s what I’ve recognised regarding my writing at the moment.

So, where am I now? I’m enthusiastically continuing my research and also reflecting on my identity as a hybrid scholar. This reflexivity seems important, given the nature of my research. I am comfortable as an open and networked learner and educator, and still in a liminal space as an open researcher. This blog post is another step in developing that identity, and opening myself to new creative possibilities. As Michael Gallagher expressed in his beautifully written blog post ideas and identities in liminality, creativity springs from ambiguous states; liminality is a “generative state of being”.

If you identify as a hybrid scholar, an open educator, a researcher in the area of open education, networked learning and/or digital identities, how do you navigate these hybrid spaces? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and to learn more about your work. :)

2013 in review

WordPress.com 2013 annual report for this blog.

 

This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2013. The busiest day of the year was October 2nd with 366 views. The most popular post that day was Teaching with Twitter (this week).

Click here to see the complete report.

What now? Women in Physics, Computing, Engineering, STEM

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Grace Hopper Google Doodle on 9th December 2013, http://www.google.ie

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Yesterday, December 9th, 2013, marked the 107th anniversary of Grace Hopper’s birth. For many years an inspirational figure amongst women in computing, it’s immensely satisfying to see “Amazing Grace” receive wider and well-deserved recognition in recent years for her pioneering work as a mathematician and computer scientist.

Coincidentally (or not?), yesterday also marked the launch of the most recent report on gender and science from the Institute of Physics: Closing Doors: Exploring Gender and Subject Choice in Schools.

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As an educator and researcher in both IT and education — with undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees and an MA in gender and technology — as well as a woman, a feminist, and the mother of a daughter studying engineering, this latest report interests me greatly, of course. I’m encouraged by the efforts to understand and explain the persistence of gendered subject choice — and disappointed, though not surprised, at the familiar findings, i.e. that schools tend to educate in ways that conform to gender stereotypes.

Closing Doors is a follow-on report from last year’s It’s Different For Girls, which noted that for more than 25 years the percentage of A-level physics students who are girls has stayed at around 20%. Both reports are part of a long record of Girls in Physics initiatives by the IoP, most notably the excellent 2006 report by Patricia Murpy and Elizabeth Whitelegg, Girls in the Physics Classroom: A Review of the Research on the Participation of Girls in Physics.

In Ireland, as in the UK and many other countries, we can trace at least thirty years of research on gender, subject choice, and the under-representation of women in STEM subjects such as Physics, Engineering, Technology and Computing.

In 1983, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published a report on schooling, gender and subject choice in Irish schools: Schooling and Sex Roles: Sex Differences in Subject Provision and Student Choice in Irish Post-Primary Schools, authored by Damien Hannan, Richard Breen, Barbara Murray, Niamh Hardiman, Dorothy Watson and Kathleen O’Higgins. The report analysed sex differences in subject take-up rates in terms of the effects of provision (what subjects are provided); allocation (how subjects are timetabled and made available); and choice (pupils’ decisions). The researchers found that gender played a role at all three levels. However, taking into account differences in both subject provision and allocation (for example: over one-third of secondary schools in Ireland did not provide Physics to girls — most of these schools were all-girl secondary schools), girls were less likely to choose Physics than boys. The researchers concluded that pupils’ subject choices appeared to reflect the gender bias of wider society (including parents and teachers) regarding subjects such as Physics and higher maths, and careers in those areas.

In the 1990s, research in Ireland continued into gender and subject choice. In 1999, Marian Palmer cited a longitudinal study by Millar, Farrell and Kellaghan (1998) which showed that “Biology on transfer from Junior Certificate Science was more likely by girls than boys” and “girls are far less likely to take Physics as compared to Chemistry”.  Regarding the tendency for girls to take Biology rather than Physics, Palmer also noted an allocation issue that can still be found in some all-girls’ schools in Ireland today: “one girls’ school requires all students to take Biology and then Physics or Chemistry has to be a second science.”

My own research during the 1990s, first in Ireland (Cronin, 1995) and then in Scotland (Cronin and Roger, 1999), noted a lack of evidence for gender differences in ability, yet persistent gendered patterns of participation for STEM subjects (Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Technology and Computing), and highlighted the potential conflict for young women between feminine gender role identity and the masculine image, discourse and culture of technology:

“As a number of theorists have pointed out, the ideal characteristics of masculinity in western society and the characteristics required for an engineer or scientist are essentially identical (Harding, 1986; Benston, 1986; Kramarae, 1988; Saraga & Griffiths, 1981). While the socialisation process for girls in our society emphasises feminine traits, e.g. emotion, nurturance, cooperation and sensitivity; the ‘technical worldview’, characterised by its emphasis on facts, control, rationality, and distance from emotional or personal considerations, is deeply interwoven with the definition of masculinity. Thus, while men experience validation of their gender identity in choosing engineering as a career, women may experience conflict.” (Cronin, 1995)

In 1999, John Hammond and Marion Palmer found that “higher level Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and technology subjects are not generally part of the culture of either girls or indeed girls’ schools.” They summarised some of the strategies which had been put in place during the 1990s to address girls’ under-representation in these subjects:

“A recent review of strategies for attracting girls into science, engineering and technology suggests that successful strategies maintain and increase girls’ participation in these areas. Such strategies include enrichment activities through pre-school and out-of-school experiences, use of role models and single-sex environments for the teaching of some subjects e.g. physical sciences and information technology. Other strategies include reviewing teaching practice, classroom environments and considering the nature of school science and technology. International evidence suggests that such interventions need to be part of the ongoing process of education if girls’ participation rates in engineering related subjects and careers are to increase. We are reminded that ‘the world of science, engineering and technology is still, in the main, a masculine domain’ (Vlaeminke, et al, 1997, p. 26).”

So where are we today?

In the 2013 Leaving Certificate Examination in Ireland, 11.6% of the total student cohort took the Physics exam; only 25% of these students were female. Of additional concern was the fact that nearly a quarter of second level schools across Ireland still do not offer Physics at Leaving Certificate level. Thus, in 30 years (1983 to 2013) we’ve progressed from one-third of schools to one-quarter of schools not offering Physics. These were mostly all-girl secondary schools in 1983. Is this still the case today? Clearly, we need to understand the current situation. And we need to do better.

There are some bright spots, of course. NUI Galway’s School of Physics was recognised earlier this year for its commitment to gender equality. The Institute of Physics made NUI Galway the first university in Ireland to be a practitioner under the Institute’s Project Juno, which aims to redress the issue of the under-representation of women in physics in academia across Ireland and the UK.

What can we do? What should we do? Fortunately, there is a wealth of research from many countries, institutions, organisations, projects and researchers — along with suggested guidelines for how to enhance the motivation, achievement and retention of women in Physics and other STEM subjects. There are links to some of these resources below.

To wrap up, I note that many recommendations focus on role models and mentoring for girls. I believe such initiatives are powerful and necessary, but by no means sufficient in effecting the level of change that is required. If we want to change the fact that only 15% (approximate) of those studying Physics, Engineering and Computing are women, we need to provide girls and young women with encouragement and support for considering these exciting but nontraditional careers — but we also must change STEM culture itself. We need not only the 15% (women in STEM) to inspire and encourage girls and to change STEM culture, we need men in STEM, the 85%, to work on this issue as well. Women and men studying and working in STEM must tackle this issue together.  It is long past time that we adopted more inclusive curricula and pedagogy in STEM classrooms and labs (from primary through postgraduate), and more inclusive cultures in all classroooms, study spaces and workplaces, as well as in our wider society.

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“The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” – Grace Hopper

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Resources:

A great place to start is this series of four blog posts written by Theresa Liao: How is gender bias in science studied? Each post contains a wealth of resource material.

The following  list of resources was prepared for a presentation Technology is everywhere, but where are the girls? for the STEMx 2013 conference with Kim Wilkins.

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References:

Benston, M.L. (1986). Questioning authority: Feminism and scientific experts. Resources for Feminist Research, November 1986.

Cronin, C. (1995). Is the ‘feminine engineer’ an oxymoron? Women’s views and experiences of gender and engineering. U.C.G. Women’s Studies Centre Review (3).

Cronin, C. & Roger, A. (1999). Theorizing progress: Women in science, engineering, and technology in higher education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 36(6), pp. 637-661.

Hammond, J. & Palmer, M. (1999). Engineering education at second level in the Republic of Ireland: Provision and developments. International Journal of Engineering Education 15(2), pp. 82-93.

Hannan, D., Breen, R., Murray, B., Hardiman, N., Watson, D. & O’Higgins, K. (1983). Schooling and sex roles: Sex differences in subject provision and student choice in Irish post-primary schools, Dublin: The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Harding, S. G. (1986). The science question in feminism. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Kramarae, C. (1988). Gotta go Myrtle, technology’s at the door. In C. Kramarae (Ed.), Technology and women’s voices: Keeping in touch. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Millar, D., Farrell, E. & Kellaghan, T. (1998) From Junior to Leaving Certificate. A longitudinal study of Junior Certificate candidates who took the Leaving Certificate examination in 1996. Dublin: NCCA/ERC.

Murphy, P. & Whitelegg, E. (2006). Girls in the physics classroom: A review of the research on the participation of girls in Physics. London: Institute of Physics.

Palmer, M. (1999). Science education in crisis: Science at second level. RDS Seminar: Science Education in Crisis? Dublin: RDS.

Saraga, E. & Griffiths, D. (1981). Biological inevitabilities or political choices? The future for girls in science. In A. Kelly (Ed.), The missing half: Girls and science education. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Vlaeminke, M., Comber, C. & McKeon, F. (1997). Breaking the Mould: An asessment of successful strategies for attracting girls into science, engineering and technology. Department of Trade and Industry, Great Britain.

Teaching with Twitter (this week)

Student views on Twitter (September 2013)

Student views on Twitter (September 2013)

I’ve used Twitter for over four years and have integrated Twitter into my teaching for the past three. The practice evolves with time, and with the preferences of different groups of students, but it’s been a fascinating learning experience.

We use Twitter in a 2nd year BSc Computer Science and IT course, Professional Skills, which focuses on research and communication skills, digital literacies, and social media. We use #ct231 as a course hashtag for our Twitter conversations. I also tweet from a course Twitter account @CT231 — this allows people to easily find our course on Twitter (and thus our course website) and allows students to Direct Message (DM) me, which has proven to be a popular alternative to emailing for many students.

Yesterday, Thom Cochrane posted this dynamic image, made with TAGSExplorer (thanks @mhawksey!), showing the activity on the course hashtag #ct231 for the past week (click the image for a dynamic version).

click image for dynamic version

click image for dynamic version

It’s still early in the term, but this is a fascinating glimpse into our interactions on Twitter. In addition to the expected heavy activity from @CT231 and @catherinecronin, many students appear in the network, mostly as a result of our Twitter conversation in class yesterday. Well done to all!  @sharonlflynn (from CELT at NUI Galway) and @fboss (Education Officer and moderator of #edchatie) were active participants in our conversations, as well as many other educators in Ireland and beyond.

Also appearing in the #ct231 Twitter discussions this week are the participants in #icollab, an active network of students and educators who communicate and learn together across institutions and timezones (Ireland, UK, Spain, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia). CT231 is proud to be a part of this great network. Thanks to #icollab participants: @ThomCochrane, @heloukee, @mediendidaktik, @marett, @averillg and our newest and welcome additions, @topgold and @spacelyparts.

Finally, big thanks to Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and Alice Marwick (@alicetiara) who popped into our Twitterstream yesterday after learning (via a tweet) that we were studying and discussing their work in class yesterday morning.  Some students shared their summaries of key points from the articles, others posted their own thoughts. In any case, live interactions with authors whose work we are studying is one of the superpowers of Twitter, so we thank Nathan and Alice for joining in :)

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There’s much more to say and to study about teaching and learning with social media tools like Twitter. This quick snapshot of one week is a small contribution. Many thanks to Thom Cochrane for running and sharing the TAGSExplorer analysis.

Interestingly, just after leaving our class yesterday, I saw the following tweet from Sharon Flynn, sharing an interesting study by Chris Evans.

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My answer to the question is YES.

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NOTE:

Texts studied in CT231 class and discussed via Twitter (1st October 2013):

The IRL fetish by Nathan Jurgenson (2012)

The public domain: Surveillance in everyday life by Alice Marwick (2012)

Teens, social media and privacy – Pew Internet & American Life Project (2013)

George Saunders’s advice to graduates New York Times article by Joel Lovell (2013)

Assessment in open spaces

Photo: Tay Railway Bridge (Dundee) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Tim Haynes

“We have to build our half of the bridge, no matter who or where we happen to be.” – Colm McCann

Summary: Learning and pedagogical relationships are transformed when we engage with students in open online spaces or networked publics. These can become ‘third spaces’ of learning, beyond the binary of informal and formal learning. Once a closed classroom (physical or online) becomes open to the world, assessment options multiply, with many more opportunities for student choice, voice and creativity, and of course, feedback. [Slides] [Audio interview]

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This post summarises my talk at the eAssessment Scotland 2013 conference, “Assessment in Open Spaces”. I had planned to finish and publish this post last Friday, to mark the final day of the conference. However, hearing the sad news of Seamus Heaney’s death halted my progress and I wrote about Seamus instead. Today I return to eAssessment.

The eAssessment Scotland conference is a completely free, 2-week event which is open, distributed and accessible. The one-day conference at the University of Dundee on August 23rd was sandwiched between two weeks of online activity. Like the day conference, the online programme included keynotes and workshops, as well as numerous conversations on Radio EDUtalk. The conference, organised by David Walker, Kenji Lamb and others, is a unique opportunity for educators across many sectors — primary, secondary, third-level, community, commercial and government — to engage in discussions about learning and assessment.

I was one of three keynote speakers at the day conference, along with the wonderful Helen Keegan, a great friend and inspiration, and Fiona Leteney, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time. I was invited to speak about Assessment in Open Spaces, but my presentation looked broadly at learning, teaching and assessment in open online spaces — and the imperative of doing this.

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I began my talk with a quote from Joi Ito, focusing on the importance of networks: “I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.” As Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman explain in their recent book Networked, in which they explore the growing phenomenon of networked individualism, we exist in information and communication ecologies that are strikingly different from the ones that existed just a generation ago. In terms of education — as with relationships, work, and much else — networked individuals have the potential to connect, and to learn, anything, anywhere, any time.
In this context, I examined three spaces in which networked educators meet networked students, and explored the affordances of these different spaces. The three spaces I examine are: physical classrooms; bounded online spaces (e.g. VLEs, closed online communities); and open online spaces (the web, open source tools and social media such as Twitter, blogs, wikis, etc.). This is illustrated in the diagram below (also on Flickr) which builds on Alec Couros‘s original diagram of The Networked Teacher. 9625533767_2948033057_oWhen we meet in physical classrooms and bounded online spaces, we learn and relate to one another but we cannot simultaneously learn with and from our networks, nor can we share what we are learning in the classroom (physical or virtual) with our networks. However, when we encounter one another in open online spaces, or Networked Publics as defined by danah boyd, we can interact and learn with our networks — communicating with one another, sharing our ideas and our work. And of course, we can share our Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) themselves. Open online spaces can become what Kris Gutiérrez, et al, call “Third Spaces” of learning; not formal learning space, not informal learning space, but a combined space. I find this concept of a “third space” very helpful in thinking about the possibilities of open online spaces for students and educators.
In open online spaces we are not limited by rigid identities and role definitions, as we tend to be in physical classrooms and bounded online spaces. Educators and students can engage with one another as learners and as social peers. When educators create opportunities for interacting with students in open spaces, we can teach and model digital and network literacies in authentic ways. Many students already have confident social digital identities, but developing an (online) identity as a learner, a writer, a scholar, a citizen — this requires practice, reflection and support.

The affordances of open online spaces for learning are many. Learners can establish new connections, within and beyond the classroom, based on their interests & passions. Learners can connect, share and work with others across the boundaries of institution, education sector, geography, time zone, culture and power level. And learners can build Personal Learning Networks which will serve them long after individual modules, courses and even programmes are finished. By engaging together in open online spaces we  encourage and support students as they engage in participatory culture (see Henry Jenkins).

In my presentation I shared several examples of learning and assessment in open spaces at different levels of education — primary, secondary and third-level.

In the 2nd year Professional Skills module which I teach, in a BSc Computing and IT programme, students develop their research, writing and social media skills. We use open tools and open practices in many ways:

  • We use Twitter (@CT231 and #ct231) to engage in conversations with people beyond our module, e.g. authors we are reading, other students, other educators, etc.
  • Students give Ignite presentations in class on topics of their own choice. Their presentations are shared in a CT231 Student Showcase using Scoop.it; some presentation videos are also shared using Bambuser. Both enable communication to and feedback from people outside of our class.
  • We participated in the #icollab project in 2013, joining students from 4 other institutions (Salford, Berlin, Barcelona, Auckland NZ) to share student-created media, peer-to-peer. Students from Salford and Auckland used Galway (CT231) students’ presentations to develop their own ideas and presentations; the process will continue in 2014 with Galway students building on the work of other #icollab students.
  • Students openly shared their final Digital Media Projects, using Twitter and other social media to spread the word and invite feedback.

In terms of assessment in these open online spaces, students collectively created the rubrics for assessing their presentations and digital media projects. But that was not the whole story. Through engaging in open practices throughout the term, we became a learning community that was not confined to one classroom or one online space. The classroom walls thinned progressively as the term progressed, so that we truly became nodes in a broader network — sharing work openly, engaging in discussion, inviting and giving feedback. The main assessments for the module — the presentation and digital media project — were opportunities for students to chose their own topics, media, tools and ways of working (individual or team), to express their own authentic voices, and to share, engage and learn beyond the bounds of our classroom.

I discussed many of these ideas further in Radio EDUtalk conversations connected with the conference: with Karl Leydecker and John Johnston immediately after the keynote, and in a more wide-ranging discussion with Kenji Lamb, John Johnston and David Noble one week later. There are many fascinating conversations from conference participants on the Radio EDUtalk website, all collected under the #easc13 hashtag — well worth checking out.

My sincere thanks to the all of the wonderful educators I met at eAssessment Scotland, especially Lynn Boyle for the warm Dundee welcome; David Walker and Kenji Lamb for outstanding conference organisation; Helen Keegan for inspiration on a grand scale, Doug Belshaw for (even) more goodness re: open badges, Mark Glynn for support and more new ideas, Sue Beckingham and David Hopkins for sharing their learning and good practice so generously, and Cristina Costa for encouragement on the PhD journey. And it was a JOY to meet several more Twitter friends for the first time! So happy to have met Sheila McNeil, Martin Hawksey, Derek Jones and Barry Ryan.
Finally, for dealing with surprise audio problems in the hall on the morning of my presentation, thanks to David, Kenji and the tech team. The unexpected glitch was great practice for us all in “dealing with uncertainty”. Stephen Heppell would be proud. :)

Photo: Dundee Railway Bridge, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Tim Haynes

RIP Seamus Heaney

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I’d been working on another blog post today, but have just heard the sad and shocking news of Seamus Heaney’s death. Along with many others, I feel as if I have lost a friend. Seamus Heaney walked alongside us for many years — through his poetry, his activism, his human presence.

The photograph above is one that I treasure. It’s a photo of my son, as we waited to hear Seamus Heaney read his poetry and weave his wonderful stories at the Cúirt Festival in Galway earlier this year. I hear Seamus’s voice in my head and my heart when I look at this photograph.

Favourite poems leap to mind… Postscript, Clearances, Anahorish, Song, Helmet, Digging, Mid-Term Break, A Call, Blackberry-picking, and so many more. The poems and the poet weave connections among many loved ones… Mary Cronin, Pat Byrne, Elizabeth & Graham Stewart, Mary Loftus, Pam Moran, Ira Socol, Leigh Graves Wolf, Pamela O’Brien, Mary Ann Reilly, Ali, Jim & Deborah, Hamish, Sarah and James and many more.

And I remember the first time that I heard that unique voice. It was in Stirling, Scotland in 1996, a story I shared in an earlier blog post:

In June 1996 I attended a poetry reading by Seamus Heaney at the University of Stirling. The Principal of the University gave a short introduction, saying that we would remember the next hour for the rest of our lives. I believe he was right. There were many reasons that Seamus Heaney connected with and elevated us that evening. One was that Heaney was speaking to a community deeply shocked by the tragedy of the school shooting just 3 months earlier in neighbouring Dunblane, where I also lived. We were still shocked, still grieving, emotionally wide open. I remember thinking at the time that, somehow, Seamus Heaney met us in that space. Without addressing that pain directly, his poetry, his tone, his truth were like lifelines to us. He began and ended with his poem “Song” (from Field Work, 1979):

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

Lifelines, words, music, peace. Thank you for these and more, Seamus Heaney. Rest in peace.

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