I am a Lucky Girl – Gender in EdTech

We had a guest visit with Audrey Watters on the topic of Gender in Educational Technology. Completing the pre-reading for the night left me with a new vocabulary word: “mansplaining”. I’ve experienced this in a variety of ways in my career but also personally. My husband is very adept at navigating this when a salesperson begins deferring to him when I am the potential customer.

I enjoyed Audrey’s visit with us and her passion for creating an inclusive community online. She is well-researched and has a great sense of humour. As Audrey spoke I reflected on my own journey as a female edtech dabbler.

I think that I have an unfortunate bit of a Pollyanna perspective on gender issues. This comes from a sincere place in my heart, though. I have been a lucky girl. I have also been a stubborn girl. I know that there are huge imbalances between the way women and men are treated. I know that this is true historically, and continues in our present day. I have witnessed and been subject to unfairness that seems to be based on my gender. But, I am a lucky girl. I was raised to believe that I could do anything that I want to do. Being told “no” (whatever the reason I was given) was an invitation to begin negotiations. My parents encouraged and supported my explorations, my curiosities and my passions. I came home muddy, bruised and exhilarated. I pushed boundaries and asked endless questions. And things did not always work out how I had hoped, and when disappointments ensued, my parents were there to answer my new questions, offer the insights that I missed, and to encourage me to dust off and try again.

While Audrey spoke, I actually took a moment to text a quick “Thank you” to my Mom. I’ve loved technology since before my parents brought home our first computer. We used to record audiotape letters to send to my Great Grandma. My parents shared a tape with me where the toddler me was demanding “Heidi do” to set up the taping that day. Dad kept insisting “Daddy do”, and had apparently already “done” setting up the taping, forever capturing my stubborn young self attempting to take charge with technology.

Our Vic 20 later upgraded to a Commodore 64. My parents encouraged my use of this technology and I remember sharing our discoveries about these tools as a family. Print Shop became one of my favourite obsessions, and I created endless streams of dot-matrix brilliance. Looking back now, I can’t believe that my parents didn’t shut me down about wasting printer ink, reams of paper (who needs another banner??!?), or even my time – maybe I should have been doing more homework? My parents ensured that I lived a balanced childhood, and I still carry my love of technology AND my love of the outdoors with me. I should be saying thank you more often. I am a lucky girl.

Audrey’s talk, and my sense of feeling blessed makes me wonder what my role is in supporting others. My road has not always been easy, I have had my ideas belittled, stolen, and claimed by others. I have been asked to feel shame because of my emotional nature. But, I storm on.

(I often cry first, but then I storm on)

How do I stand beside those who are being left out? How do I ask the right questions? Who do I ask? Where do I reach out my hand? I take my parents’ teachings and practice them with my students. I know that they can do anything. How do I extend this mindset beyond my classroom walls?

I am a lucky girl. And I should be doing more to help.

(Thank you, Mom and Dad)

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#tiebc Chapter 8 Ambient Awareness

I am smiling as I write this post, with my Mom’s beautiful face clearly in my mind. You see, I know that my Mom is usually one of the first to read my blog posts. And, I believe that she reads them from beginning to end; truly wading through the mire of my digital diary, not just skimming for salient details and points of interest.

Clive Thompson’s Chapter 8 “Ambient Awareness” in his book Smarter Than You Think became one of my favourite chapters, as I was reminded repeatedly of the opportunities and connections that technology has brought into our lives. Clive is a strong proponent of our micro-blogged status updates, our shared dinner pictures and our endless chatter about the minutiae of our days. He describes the wonder of our culture of over-sharing; how it becomes like an ongoing conversation. He actually describes it as social proprioception – an awareness of where our digital community members are, and what they may be engaged in: a group’s sense of itself. What is appealing about these morsels of shared information is that they invite you to interact; they do not demand your attention. When a friend shares out that they are considering which movie to watch on a Friday evening, you can experience a moment of envy about their evening plans and move your attention to other things, or you can offer an opinion and begin a conversation.

I admire people who can blend their personal and professional selves seamlessly online. They can share tidbits about their day, as well as professional resources that their followers will appreciate. My Twitter timeline shares a lot of my celebrations as a learner and a teacher, but I rarely sneak in the occasional personal tweet. I might enthuse about the snow falling, or how my dogs are demanding my attention as I multi-task through my schoolwork on my front deck.

Thompson made me laugh out loud when he talked about how our ambient awareness allows other people know how truly weird you actually are! He describes how freeing text can be. When I reflect on the people who follow my Twitter account and how they read my thoughts about my Masters, my ideas about teaching or my conversations with other people; I regain my fear about posting my words so publicly. It is bizarre to have a clear understanding of and sense of closeness with someone you have never met. Twitter allows us a new social opportunity that breaks the standard conventions of conversations. We drop into conversations held between other people, we leave without polite goodbyes, and we share out random facts, pictures, ideas, and conversation starters to see if anyone wants to talk to us. Our recent history is filled with stories of the dreaded evenings at family or friends’ homes where we may have been forced to sit through endless photo albums, or worse, a slideshow. Yet, Instagram has been embraced as a window into the lives of those around us. This is another example of being invited in, as opposed to feeling trapped.

Ambient awareness extends to everyone. Although we may be intending to share our words or pictures with a few friends in our digital community, we must remain aware that our true audience is huge. Future employers, friends or spouses can see our interactions, or trace our histories with a simple search. Our current employers, friends and spouses have an ongoing geo-tagged window into our every digital utterance. A new mindset of how to behave when we know someone is watching should be taught at a younger age. In discussing my “audience awareness” with my students at the advent of blogging together, I have learned that most of my students do not think about what it means to be interacting publicly.

After reading this chapter, and experiencing my ever-present anxiety of living this public life, I also acquired a new calm. Thompson’s rebuttal to the many people who mourn the use of our social networks to post random updates is that these tools do not actually make us trivial: they just reveal how trivial we truly are. I, for one, am grateful for all of the opportunities that technology has brought into my life. I do feel more connected – to the people I know well, and also to people I have yet to meet in person.

So, post away. Tell me about the dessert you just ate. Connect with me through Fitbit so that I may know how many steps you took today. Post another cute picture of your dog napping. Tell me the funny thing that happened at work today. Capture the beauty outside your front door in a quick pic. Tag me into that conversation about popcorn, because you know I have an opinion about that. What unexpected plot twists filled your day today?

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Enjoying the view with my dog Ash. One of my favourite hikes behind my house.

Because, I know that if I shared these things more often, my lovely Mom would feel even more up-to-date in my day. I know that she would be happy to see how my elaborate dinner turned out. She would be able to picture me on my hiking trails vividly if I shared a picture in real time. She would laugh at my stories, even if no one else did. Our connection would deepen because she would be able to see the blend of my personal life and my professional life and how all of the pieces fit together in the course of each day.

Status update: I’m off to tidy my house so that I may decorate for Christmas tomorrow. 🙂

#tiebc Chapter 3

What happens in an internet minute?

I was shocked by how much the data use has changed in a single year. I used a similar graphic last December that showed four times LESS Google searches per minute world wide, three times fewer hours of Youtube uploads, and three times fewer of the amount of Skype use. Now, it has been updated again! See below:

Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think Chapter 3: Public Thinking tells us that 3.6 trillion words pass through cyber space via emails and social media per day, equivalent to 36 million books. I was shocked to learn that the U. S. Library of Congress only holds 35 million books. In total! The author describes a controversy where some people claim that texting and our rampant use of quick Internet publishing tools is wasteful and producing “crap” (Sturgeon’s Law). People reminisce about poetic prose and reference flowery print in archived letters and diaries from golden ages long past, and then look upon the excess of “writing” online with sadness. Thompson’s note that our literacy in North America has focused primarily on reading (consumption) rather than writing (creation) is a profound observation. It reflects the current shift in education, where teachers are trying to move with their learners away from consuming content online, Googling for information; to content creation – publishing, reflecting, commenting, and participating in the Global community. By the very nature of the internet, our access to this wealth of writing is voluntary. New authors are emerging, and we can read and respond to their content, or navigate away. Previously, we had to deeply invest: we had to travel to the library or we had to purchase the book and that cost often meant sticking with something that we may not actually enjoy. Our very act of landing on an online page raises the site statistics for that piece of content.

One of the points that the author makes in this chapter is that we write online with the expectation that someone will read it. This terrifies me! Especially as I craft this into a blog post. I still hesitate to publish my posts, and I draft more posts than I publish. I found it reassuring to read on to discover that writing for an audience helps to clarify your thinking. Writing publicly, expressing your thoughts publicly, requires you to validate your arguments, to bolster your facts and to address your assumptions. This is all true, but it also feeds self-doubt. Thompson goes on to tell us that once we make our thinking public, connections take over. I guess that one of the hopes of most bloggers is to start a conversation. Sometimes these conversations can take an unexpected turn, as shown by one teacher who attempted to show her students the power of posting an image online, and it went viral and became a new meme. By thinking publicly, and sharing our stream of consciousness digitally as we evolve our ideas, we open a conversation with an unknown audience. We now have access to a connected world filled with willing discussion partners. In our face-to-face lives, we often surround ourselves with people who affirm our way of thinking, and by venturing into the digital realm we open ourselves to new perspectives, opposing opinions and possible pushback. A scary and exhilarating thought! (especially as I consider posting my thinking online, yet again…)

A new skill that Thompson calls “cognitive diversity”, is where a thinker must decide when to make an idea public, and when to let it slowly simmer privately. The risk in making your ideas public might be in the question of “ownership” of ideas. Many online thinkers are extremely polite and careful with tracing original authorship of ideas and giving proper credit. However, I watch my students every year use Google Images indiscriminately to gather resources for their work. But, often an image on a website might be there by permission of the photographer and the rights are located somewhere else. The free exchange of ideas and images on Twitter can make it difficult to give credit where it is due, but courtesy dictates that we must make the effort.

Thompson describes a history filled with missed connections: the development of penicillin, for example. Discovered in the mid 1890’s by a medical student after listening to the stable boys’ methods of healing saddle sores on horses. But, because the medical student (Duschesne) was young and unknown, his discovery was not accepted. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was working with the same mold used by the saddle boys and discussed in Duschesne’s work when it destroyed his own research with bacteria. He did not see the value in it, and it took ten years and two other scientists to uncover the healing possibilities of this mold. Who owns the credit?

Another idea that resonated with me from this chapter was how our “pauses” in a digital conversation are so different from talking face to face. This makes sense, it is rude to walk away in the middle of a sentence, but the nature of an online asynchronous conversation grants us the space to ruminate on how we wish to respond. It is not rude to step away from a digital conversation and rejoin at a later hour, a later day. We also juggle MANY conversations at once in our modern lives: several streams on Twitter, a few private DM conversations, some individual or group texts and a variety of other updates to keep our people informed. The privilege of taking time to pause in our public thinking might be the only thing helping us to keep our sanity!

Research Focus #2

Our Masters cohort #tiegrad has been asked to nail down a research focus for our Research project. This has been keeping me up at night, working in circles! I have a rough idea of WHAT I want to research, and why, but determining the actual problem has been a bit of an existential crisis. Does my research interest area actually have a problem to solve, or is it only a perceived problem by me?

In my desperation to move forward (this blog post was due in October), I turned to my recent readings. Our Creswell text has been described as “Masters Writing for Dummies”, and I needed specific help, so I re-read the section about “Research Problems”. Success and joy ensued. I don’t have a specific problem statement yet, but I have a process. As I tell my students, the process is often more valuable than the product. (Yes, I know that I must eventually find a product, but patience is a virtue… I’m just getting started here!!!)

Creswell suggests a fairly simple strategy for identifying your research problem. He clarifies that a research problem can be an educational issue, controversy, or concern that affects teachers, administration, or policy makers. He provides four questions to answer to help researchers identify their focus.

I began by drafting a quick web about my general thoughts about my overarching topic: BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. I included every type of issue or problem that I could identify as a possible problem, controversy, or issue for teachers, administration or policy-makers. I began with things that were obvious to me as I explored my own experiences launching BYOD in my own classroom last year, and then branched out in more general terms. I still kept a focus on the initial steps of BYOD: looking at the first users of BYOD in a middle school, or the beginning steps of launching BYOD.

After broadly drafting possible “problems”, I turned to Creswell’s four questions to answer for finding a research problem. Please understand that this is a think-on-paper, and does not contain “research-friendly” language. I did not censor my thinking, and some ideas are too vague, too specific, biased, or unclear. I look forward to your comments and suggestions in supporting me to find my way through this process.

1. What is the specific problem/issue/controversy that I need to address?

  • a need for clear strategies or support for teachers who are implementing BYOD in their classrooms
  • a need for guidance in the first steps in launching BYOD
  • a need for mentoring or the sharing of stories from schools who have successfully created a culture of student use of personal devices for learning
  • a lack of consistency in how technology is used by students for learning
  • teacher/parent/administrator fear around student use of personal devices in classroom settings
  • gaps in communication between parents/teachers/administration/IT departments around the use of personal technology in schools
  • determining the rationale for student use of devices for learning
  • a need to move from AUP (Acceptable Use Policies) and BYOD policies to a single, clear, culturally embedded plan for the use of technology as a learning tool (like paper and pens)

2. Why is this problem important?

  • curating stories or resources to support the successful launch of BYOD will provide guidance, support, clarity and suggestions for classrooms/schools/districts who are taking initial steps in BYOD
  • alleviating fear may support teachers in trialling BYOD in their practice
  • alleviating fear may allow administration to establish a protocol for supporting students in using their own devices
  • wifi has become a reality in our schools, creating a culture of digitally literate citizens should be a priority
  • the devices are already travelling with the students to class, leveraging them for learning seems like a natural progression
  • there is pressure from Middle Grades students to allow the use of their own devices
  • we need to connect people with the wealth of resources for BYOD learning environments
  • creating a digitally engaged culture can be an overwhelming task

3. How will my study add to what we already know about this problem?

  • examining the shared characteristics of schools who have successfully launched BYOD, finding and sharing the common elements
  • collecting resources for initial steps in BYOD
  • finding common language, lessons, and steps for welcoming student device use
  • analyzing the characteristics of successful school cultures actively using  BYOD
  • determine examples of good pedagogy involving personal device
  • examples of frameworks for launching and continuing to support student use of devices
  • providing other groups with a voice on this topic: have we heard enough from parents and students?

4. Who will benefit from what I learn about this problem?

  • teachers
  • administration
  • policy-makers
  • parents
  • students
  • school/parent/district/student Technology Committees

Distilling the central issue around BYOD must include the following words and ideas: culture, successful implementation, support or strategies, and possibly rationale. I am still playing with how to word my research problem. But, a rough draft might be: There is a need for an authentic, adaptive plan for supporting the use of personal technology by our learning community.

Thoughts?

References:

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Boston: Pearson.

 

Reflective Teaching – Day 24

Te@chThought‘s Day 24 Challenge is: “Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

I am actually basing my Masters research on this topic! I will link my Research Proposal draft here (eventually).

My biggest interest right now is BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. I want to know how we can leverage the devices that the students are currently carrying effectively to transform education. I want to explore what attitudes, habits, and citizenship skills need to be in place for a BYOD launch to be successful. I would like to curate some resources around citizenship as an ongoing focus for educators who are using BYOD and explore examples of good pedagogy around BYOD.

Who do you consider to be experts in BYOD? Launching BYOD school-wide can be a challenge when considering the variety of opinions regarding technology use, screen time, and digital citizenship concerns that all stakeholders must address. My other question is how to support the learners who do not have their own devices?

I think that encouraging students to use their own phones, tablets and laptops helps to bridge that gap between learning at home and learning at school. How are you using student devices in your own classrooms?