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

 

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

 

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

On being an (open) educator

My thanks to the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) for inviting me to give a keynote at the EdTech13 conference at University College Cork recently. My aim was to capture a moment in time — of ourselves as educators, the education structures within which we operate, current narratives about Higher Education, and this historical moment — and to explore the concept of openness, specifically open education. The presentation is part of an ongoing exploration of open education with which I, and many of us, are engaged. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

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My thanks to the ILTA EdTech13 organisers and to all of the excellent speakers and workshop presenters at the conference. I very much enjoyed reconnecting with Sian Bayne (@sbayne), who spoke about the University of Edinburgh MOOC experience; as well as many educators and friends from across Ireland. I enjoyed meeting for the first time Eoin O’Dell (@cearta) who gave an excellent presentation on copyright (in Ireland and globally), and Kyle Peck and Catherine Augustine from Penn State University, who were happy to engage in ongoing discussions about creativity, collaboration, open education, and the agency of educators in creating the future of education.
You can find links to their presentations on Thoughts and Links from EdTech13 – a great collection of #EdTech13 resources compiled by Bernie Goldbach (@topgold). Thanks for your ever-useful curation, Bernie!
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Creating spaces for student voices

“Why can’t we be tested on what we learn,

rather than learning what we’re going to be tested on?”

- Colm Keady-Tabbal, secondary school student

When asked to give a keynote at the ICT in Education conference “Student Voices” at LIT Thurles recently, I knew that it would be impossible to speak for 40 minutes about student voices. Students would need to play a key role. Indeed, student voices were present in many of the workshops and presentations during the event — in addition to students participating in the conference as part of the Youth Media Team (described in previous post). As the ICTEdu conference is focused on creating connections across all education sectors, I shared student voices from 3 different groups: third-level students (IT Professional Skills, which I teach), secondary students (Media Studies with James Michie) and primary students (5th class with Maire O’Keeffe). Following are the keynote slides and a short summary.

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The first appearance of “student voices” in the educational literature was in the early 1990s, when educators and social critics like Jonathan Kozol and others noted that in conversations about learning, teaching and schooling: “the voices of children have been missing from the whole discussion”. These critics challenged the previously dominant images of students as silent, passive recipients of what others define as education. Over the past 20 years, many educational research and reform efforts have focused on student voice.
But what do we mean by student voice? The term tends to signify a set of values and behaviours which includes Sound (the act of speaking), Participation (student presence and involvement), and Power or Agency (see Cook-Sather, 2006). Making space for student voices confronts the power dynamics within schools, classrooms, and the relationships between teachers and students. Without addressing the notion of power in these relationships, student voice initiatives may be simply window dressing. When we truly value and create spaces for student voices, students feel respected and engaged, teachers listen, and students and teachers learn from one another.
During my keynote, I included student voices from three different learning environments (as noted above) where students and educators are working towards this goal:
  • 3rd level: The work of IT students was shared via the Scoop.it showcase of student presentations and projects, as well as the CT231 class blog , our class Twitter account, and individual student reflections.
  • 2nd level: James Michie and I have connected for some time via Twitter and I recently joined James and his Media Studies students via Skype to discuss the topic of digital identity. After a fascinating discussion with the students, I asked if they’d be willing to contribute their thoughts on the theme of Student Voices for the ICTEdu conference. They kindly contributed a set of creative slides and videos, many of which I shared, and all of which are available on the CCC Media blog.
  • Primary school: I’ve interacted with Maire O’Keeffe and her 5th class students here in Kinvara throughout the past year, discussing how learning is changing, their own class blog, the 100 Word Challenge and much more. Maire’s students expressed their ideas about Student Voices through a wonderful range of artwork showcased on Flickr, much of which was shared at the conference.

Of course not all students have these opportunities. Students often complain about school, about their lack of choice and comfort, let alone voice. One student whom I asked to share her thoughts about student voice and agency sent me links to these spoken word performances by @sulibreaks — Why I hate school but love education and I will not let an exam result decide my fate, saying “this sums up everything that students feel about the education system and the importance of students’ voices”.

To attempt to give these students a voice at the conference, I invited a talented young filmmaker Colm Keady-Tabbal — still in secondary school — to create a short film for the conference. Colm asked fellow students: “How do you like to learn?” and created a powerful 3-minute film. The message from these students was clear: more freedom, more choice, less listening to teachers lecturing, more practical work, more fun, and more opportunities for connecting and interacting.

Although this film is not directly available online (the participants preferred that it not be shared via YouTube or Facebook), the video will be included in the set of keynote videos which will be available soon from the ICTEdu conference website. Please contact me if you would like the link.

My thanks to every one of these students for their generosity, creativity and honesty. Your contributions led to a powerful learning experience for all of the educators who participated in the conference.

Thanks also to the wonderful Grainne Conole, someone with whom I’ve connected via Twitter, Flickr and our blogs, but had never met before. Grainne explored the theme of Student Voices in her keynote “Learning journeys and learner voices – promoting innovative pedagogies through new technologies”, focusing on the importance of learning design in creating spaces for active, authentic and connected learning. Grainne’s blog post The Trip to Tipp! summarises her experiences of the conference. Thanks also to Martha Rotter, developer at woop.ie and founder of Idea Magazine, who gave a wonderful overview of student voice initiatives globally. Both Martha’s and Grainne’s keynotes are well worth viewing once they are available on the ICT in Education website.
Many thanks again to all — Pam O’Brien and the conference organisers, the participants, and especially the students — for the opportunity to learn and to share.

Student Voices at #ICTEdu

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#ICTEdu Youth Media Team with mentors

Something special happened in County Tipperary last Saturday. At the ICT in Education Conference at LIT Thurles, Pamela O’Brien and the conference organisers stretched the boundaries of the usual conference format. The conference theme of “Student Voices” was embraced, with young voices to the fore. As described by Pam Moran in her conference reflection: at #ICTEdu “adults didn’t talk about children in their absence, but rather listened to children in their presence.” The result was powerful learning, a new appreciation for what’s possible, and big plans (already) for embracing this model even further.

In my previous post I described some of the unique aspects of the #ICTEdu conference. The conference attracts educators from across all education sectors, from within Ireland and beyond. Educators meet to discuss, to share resources, and to share ideas about learning and teaching. As has been the case in recent years, an excellent programme of workshops and keynotes was organised. The heart of the conference, however, was the group of young people who participated in the conference as the Youth Media Team: speaking, interviewing, photographing, tweeting and blogging. The Youth Media Team (easily spotted in their red shirts) was mentored by another great team: Bernie Goldbach, Conor Galvin and Joe Dale. The mentors listened, answered questions and advised, but mostly encouraged each member of the Youth Media Team to engage with people at the conference, and beyond, and to create their own media and narrative of the day. The young people did just that; engaging with and interviewing conference participants — including Junior Minister for Education and Skills Ciaran Cannon — recording their observations and reflections, and speaking about their experiences at the end of the conference.

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Two members of Youth Media Team interviewing Minister Ciaran Cannon

Last year’s keynote speakers, Ira Socol and Pam Moran, joined us via Skype before the conference wrapped up, reflecting on the power of young people as learners. In her reflection, Pam highlighted some of the key questions of the day:

“It struck me that we’ve always had two curricula — that of the adults who want to make sure children learn what they need to survive as adults and that of children who are curious and interested in learning about and how to do things not on the adults’ lists. How do we begin to engage in an interface of those two curricula. How do we know what children want to learn if we don’t ask and then listen? How do we provide opportunities for social discourse across generations?”

The #ICTEdu conference model is a great start.

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Two members of Youth Media Team interviewing Dr. Maria Hinfelaar, LIT President

It must be acknowledged that student voices were present at the #ICTEdu conference in many other ways as well. The educators presenting and sharing their work at #ICTEdu — and at the lively #CESImeet the previous evening — are doing some of the most innovative and exciting work I know of: creating learning spaces for young people to connect, code and create in classrooms and community settings, as well as online. It would be impossible to summarise all of the workshops, but the following is a taster. Please visit the conference blog and audio interviews recorded by the Youth Media Team for ideas shared by other educators at the conference.

  • Mary Jo Bell, a Senior Infants teacher in Dublin, has been using Twitter with her class @MrsBellsClass for over two years. She also uses Animoto, Voki, eportfolios, Skype and Google+. Mary Jo’s Slideshare Technology in the Infant Classroom, well worth sharing, describes how her school’s youngest students are leading the way.
  • Maire O’Keeffe, a 5th class teacher in Kinvara, began using digital and social media with her students at the start of this school year. Since September, students have written hundreds of posts on Ms. O’Keeffe’s class blog and had over 138,000 views. Through their blog, class Twitter account (@msokeeffesclass) and Skype, the children connect with other students and teachers around the world.  Maire spoke about the power of the 100 Word Challenge in kickstarting her students’ blogging; she encourages more schools to try it.
  • Joe Dale, education and technology consultant in the UK, contributed to the conference in multiple ways. As well as mentoring the Youth Media Team along with Bernie and Conor, Joe shared classroom management apps and a terrific range of audio tools for education at both the #CESImeet and the conference. Grainne Conole, a keynote speaker at the conference, tried out Audioboo after Joe’s workshop and recorded this short interview with Joe, in which he describes some great audio apps for educators (see also joedale.typepad.com).
  • Bernie Goldbach, innovative Multimedia lecturer at LIT Thurles, facilitated a workshop also focusing on audio in which he used Audioboo within a live Google+ hangout — a wonderful demonstration of live, global collaboration and learning.
  • Each of the three keynote speakers, Grainne Conole, Martha Rotter and myself, explored student voices in the context of learning. I will summarise these in my next blog post.
  • And don’t miss the conference doodles by Rachael Cooke, a recent Creative Multimedia graduate from LIT — she added a whole new dimension to the conference with her creative artwork!

Finally, my thanks again to the students: the nine members of  the Youth Media Team and the many, many students who voices and ideas were shared by their teachers during the workshops and presentations. The message from students was loud and clear: more freedom, more choice, more fun, more practical work, more opportunities for connecting and interacting. The message from educators at #ICTEdu was also clear: we are listening. We must move forward together.

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#ICTEdu Youth Media Team with conference organiser Pamela O’Brien

Photos by ictedulit All Rights Reserved, used here with permission.

Follow-up post: Making Spaces for Student Voices

ICT in Education Conference 2013

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On Saturday, May 11th, educators from across Ireland and beyond will gather at LIT in Thurles, County Tipperary for the annual ICT in Education conference. As described by its organiser, Pam O’Brien, it is a conference “by teachers, for teachers”, and that includes teachers in the broadest sense — primary, secondary and third levels, adult and community education, and beyond. The theme of this year’s conference is “Student Voices”. The wonderful Grainne Conole will be a keynote speaker, sharing her considerable expertise by speaking about learning design and promoting new pedagogies. Grainne also will offer a Learning Design Workshop on Friday, May 10th. A CESI Meet will be held on that Friday evening as well. All of these events can be booked on the ICT in Education website.

This year, I was delighted and honoured to be invited to give a keynote at the conference as well. The topic of my keynote will be “Creating Spaces for Student Voices”. For the past few weeks, I have been enjoying working with other educators and students at primary, secondary and third levels to create ways for their student voices to be present.

To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

— Paulo Freire

Human beings are not built in silence. We delight in the first sounds of babies, the first words of children; we marvel at their acquisition of language. And in classrooms, at all levels of education, what do we ask of growing children and adults? Too often, while we speak, we ask for silence. The architecture of most of our classrooms and lecture halls both reflects and contributes to this. As educators, many of us have rediscovered the power of word, work and action-reflection in our own learning. We speak, we write, we use social media to share and to engage in dialogue. A growing number of educators are inviting students to do the same. Creating opportunities for students to find and share their voices requires openness and a willingness to challenge long-held assumptions and practices – those of our students and institutions as well as ourselves. Catherine will share the voices of students, from all levels of education, as well as her work and the work of other open educators, as she explores ways to create spaces for student voices.

If you’ve never participated in the #ICTedu conference, I can only describe it as something special. The conference is a unique opportunity for educators to connect — across sectors and all the usual boundaries — to meet, discuss and share ideas about learning and teaching. I attended the conference for the first time in 2011 where I met Mary Jo Bell who had just started using Twitter with her Junior Infants class; I shared this with my 2nd year BSc students and we exchanged tweets with Mary Jo’s class. I met Simon Lewis and Rozz Lewis, editors of anseo.net, and Damien Quinn, creator of seomraranga.com — all amazing examples of teachers openly sharing their resources and ideas with other educators. I met Mags Amond, dynamo of a secondary teacher and organiser of CESI Meets (Ireland’s own TeachMeets), a teacher of rare wisdom and generosity. In 2012, the ICTedu keynote speakers were Pam Moran and Ira Socol, wonderful human beings and educators with a crystal clear focus on learners, student voice and democracy who are helping others to re-imagine learning spaces.

These and many other educators who I’ve met at #ICTedu have helped me to become a better educator and have enriched my life in many ways. As a 3rd level educator working only with others at 3rd level, I realised how narrow my conception of education had become. I interacted with very few teachers from primary, secondary and other sectors — beyond family and friends and the teachers at my children’s schools. Participating in the ICT in Education conference, as well as the annual CESI conference, CESIMeets and #edchatie weekly Twitter chats, has broadened my understanding and helped me to create a rich and diverse Personal Learning Network (including many new friends). All of these educators have helped me to reflect, to learn, and to improve my teaching practices.

If you will be attending the ICT in Education conference, I look forward to seeing you there. If you won’t be attending, you’ll have the opportunity to connect via Twitter (#ICTedu) and the live stream. Many thanks to Pam O’Brien and all of the organisers — I’m looking forward to a wonderful event!

Image source: CC BY-NC-SA pamelaaobrien

Empowering the next generation of tech women: #GlobalEd12

I was delighted to join Kim Wilkins (@kimxtom @TeenTechGirls) and Carrie Anne Philbin (@MissPhilbin @GeekGurlDiaries) in presenting a session in the Global Education Conference this week. The week-long online conference is an inspiring model of openness and collaboration, with presenters and participants from across the globe — mostly students and educators, but open to all.

In our session Geek Gurl Diaries: Empowering the Next Generation of Women in Tech we explored the gender gap in computing and technology and shared our experiences and best practices in promoting and changing science, engineering and computer studies to address this gap. Click the link above to view the session (then just click the purple Blackboard Collaborate icon to view). The presentation slides are below:

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Kim Wilkins and Carrie Anne Philbin are quite inspiring tech women themselves! Kim is an educator and technology activist in Virginia (USA) and creator of these excellent Tech Girl resources. You can subscribe to Kim’s Tech Girl newsletter for regular updates.

Carrie Anne is a teacher and digital heroine in London and creator of these excellent Geek Gurl resources — Carrie’s wonderful YouTube videos are well worth sharing with girls.

I joined Kim and Carrie Anne by speaking about girls and women in technology here in Ireland and highlighting some important research on gender and technology. A few key themes emerged in our session:

  • The underrepresentation of women in technology has been remarkably persistent over time and across countries. The current proportion of women undergraduates in computing, for example, is 15% in Ireland and the UK, under 20% in the US. Although the proportion of women studying computing and IT was higher in the 1980s and 1990s, computing and IT are now in the same category as other STEM subjects such as engineering and physics in which women are dramatically underrepresented.
  • Attitudes toward computing and many STEM subjects are highly gendered. Kim Wilkins cited studies from the US which show that girls form positive or negative attitudes towards technology by age 13. Thus, initiatives to break down gender barriers must be in place in primary school and early secondary school, not just at career choice time.
  • Computing — as well as a focus on creating not consuming technology — should be part of education from primary school onwards. But it is not just in school that such initiatives can take place. Local community initiatives such as Coder Dojo, coding clubs for young people, can be powerful opportunities for children to develop coding skills as well as breaking down traditional gender stereotypes about technology. The open, collaborative and peer learning ethos of Coder Dojo attracts many girls as well as boys, as well as many female mentors.
  • Long-standing research in the area of gender and technology indicates that while encouraging girls and women to consider careers in computing and technology is important, it is not enough. Initiatives to encourage girls to study STEM subjects have been in place for many years — and still just 15-20% of our undergraduates in these subjects are female. The social construction of STEM itself must be placed under scrutiny. Thus, efforts to address the underrepresentation of women in computing and STEM must include breaking down gender sterotypes held by girls and boys and creating a more inclusive STEM culture which encourages diversity of participation by age, class and race as well as gender.

Our thanks to all of the #globaled12 session participants with whom we engaged in a lively chat session both during and after our presentation. We would love to continue the conversations and develop further collaborations — please contact Kim Wilkins, Carrie Anne Philbin and/or myself (details above).

Additional resources:

Marder, J. (2012, April 25). Why the engineering, computer science gender gap persists. Scientific American.

Varma, R. (2007). Women in computing: The role of geek culture. Science as Culture, 16, 4, 359-376.

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

#ITwomen… not so hard to find after all

I’ve just compiled a Google doc #ITwomen with the names of nearly 60 women in IT — current and potential speakers and conference presenters. Hopefully, the list will grow; you are invited to add to or amend the list to keep it current. [November 2013 update: the #ITwomen list now has the names of over 150 women.]

Here is the story behind the #ITwomen list

Last night I received notice of an upcoming IT conference (on web, cloud computing and social media) to be held here in Ireland. I clicked through to see the list of speakers. Quite impressive: 20 speakers, mostly from Ireland but also the UK and the US. Startling and disappointing, however: only one of the 20 speakers is female. I’ve worked in IT for many of the past 30 years. During that time the proportion of women has fluctuated. But to host an IT conference in 2012 with only 5% representation of women on the speaker panel?

I contacted the organiser of the conference to express my dismay:

“This event looks great but am I right in seeing a line-up of 20 speakers — 19 men and 1 woman?!  When organising events like this, it’s important for us to think about how powerfully that speaks to people. Are we reinforcing or challenging the stereotypes that people hold about IT? More diversity improves what we do in so many ways: the environments in which we work, what we design and make, and how many new, talented people are attracted to work in IT and tech fields.”

In ongoing correspondence since last night, the organiser told me that they “had tried” to get more women speakers and that they weren’t the only conference in Ireland that has had trouble finding women speakers. He said he’d be happy to receive recommendations and suggestions.

About a dozen names popped into my mind immediately, women in IT whom I know here in Ireland — Sharon Flynn, Mary Loftus, Heather James, Karlin Lillington, Martha Rotter — as well as women outside Ireland who speak at international conferences — Josie Fraser, Jane Hart, Jane Bozarth, Kim Wilkins, Jane Boyd and of course danah boyd. And that was just in the first two minutes! But rather than set to work coming up with my own list, I decided to ask Twitter:

The response during the next few hours was terrific, but not altogether surprising. This kind of crowdsourcing of ideas is open to anyone who understands the power of networks and social media and is willing to ask openly for feedback rather than rely only on our own personal contacts.

I’ve compiled all of the suggestions into one list #ITwomen, an open Google doc. (You can also search #ITwomen on Twitter.) It contains the names of women in Ireland, the UK and further afield (labelled ‘International’ in the list). In addition to individual women, a few specific lists of women in IT and women speakers were shared; these are at the top of the document. Please feel free to add or amend the document to keep it updated.

Finally, thank you to all who responded and retweeted earlier. It’s been a pleasure to be in touch with each of you today. We created this resource together and hopefully it will make a difference. It’s about time. Thank you.

Image source: CC BY-2.0 Matt From London

Change, (Higher) Education, and Us

History has much to teach us about change. Time and again, social changes which begin with seemingly improbable goals bring about new realities, becoming the fabric of our lives. We each will have personal examples of this. From my childhood in New York City to my nearly 20 years living in the west of Ireland, examples abound. The remarkable becomes the accepted.  Looking back from our current vantage point, many major social changes seem as if they were inevitable.

Today we are living through a time of enormous change in education. The pace of developments in open online education, in particular, has been dizzying: OER, Open Courseware, iTunesU, the Khan Academy, connnectivist MOOCs, institutional MOOCs, open badges. In the past seven months alone, we’ve seen the launch of Udacity, Coursera, MITx, EDx and TEDEd. What might higher education look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? Will our universities look the same, serve the same purposes? In all likelihood, they will not. And when we assess our education institutions at that future point, will we say: “Of course. Given the changes occurring in technology and society, the change was inevitable.”

I was asked to give one of the keynotes at the recent Galway Symposium on Higher Education (described in a previous post). The theme of the symposium, “The Written Word”, gave much scope for participants to consider not just writing but learning, teaching, literacies, assessment, openness and creativity. I welcomed the opportunity to focus on change, particularly  recent developments in open education, and to consider re-imagining the future of higher education.

As with social change, our voice — our vote — in education is essential to creating the future. My heart sinks when I hear wonderful educators say, “I don’t know anything about/I don’t have time for… [fill in the blank: Twitter, blogging, even social bookmarking, etc.]“. I know that this means that their voices will likely not be part of educational futures which are being shaped now.

It’s not about age or the hopefully-dead Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants argument. (And anyway, why would it be about age, when our students are of all ages? As educators we surely are seeking to engage and include all of our students.) And it’s not about using this tool or that, or being for or against using a VLE. I think that the future is being shaped by educators who are open to change, open to continuing to learn, and open to learning from failure. These are the educators who inspire both their peers and their students.

In January 2012 Michael D. Higgins, Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of Ireland), received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland. In his speech at that occasion he spoke of the role of the university in moving boldly into the future:

“The university is, and remains I suggest, a space from which new futures have always emerged and must do so again. The ethos of independent scholarship is what delivers a previous scholarship’s achievements into the present and challenges that scholarship for renewal and replacement… To navigate successfully through today’s troubled, uncertain, and probably uncharted, waters, now, more than ever before, we need vision, foresight and bold strategies. Now, more than ever, an original and confident education system is needed…”

We must be willing to ask the difficult questions. In moves toward open education, many long-held practices are being re-evaluated: open publishing questions (blind) peer review; the use of social media questions the “walled gardens” of classrooms and VLEs; pedagogical research questions the effectiveness of lecture as a teaching method, new educational initiatives outside higher education will continue to question the cost/benefit ratio of university degrees. What are your opinions? Which new practices are worth developing? Which current practices still hold value? Which practices do we wish to hold onto, and which should be left behind? Only those willing to engage with these new technologies and new practices will be in a position to evaluate them, and to make decisions which shape the future of education.

CC and publicly available images:

Rosa Parks, donated by Corbis-Bettmann, Shavar Ross (Flickr); President Barack Obama on Rosa Parks bus, The White House (Flickr); Presidential Inauguration, Michael D. Higgins, Irish Defence Forces (Flickr); Separate factions on Irish Street, Downpatrick, Burns Library, Boston College (Flickr); Mary Robinson and Nadhifa Ibrahim Mohamed in Somalia, Trocaire (Flickr); Dunnes Stores strikers, Trocaire (Flickr) – used with permission; NUI Galway, Nelson Mandela visit, 20 June 2003

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