While Educon is primarily a series of conversations about the impact of technology on education (and vice versa?), like any conference, there’s an undercurrent of conversation about other things. They’re not primary issues necessarily, but they crop up as people mill about and talk to each other. While one could ignore the subtext, I think it’s important to address them.
The first subtext had to do with popularity, with A-lists and closed circles and cliques. I noted this immediately, before reading the conversation at George Couros’s recent blog post. Whether Educon organizers or attendees like it or not, there are people who are better known than others. I noted 20 or so folks whom I recognized from blogs and Twitter who all seemed to know each other. And clearly, people wanted to get a piece of many of them. Over the years, I’ve been in in-groups, outcast groups, alternative groups, and in some circumstances even in A-list groups. When you find yourself part of the “popular” crowd, sometimes you don’t even know it. Sometimes you don’t find out you were in that crowd until you go to your 20th reunion and someone points that out. And you think, “Damn, why was I so miserable then?”
My sense was that educators, and attendees of Educon in particular, did not want to see this whole high-school drama play out. People that mentioned it to me–and surprisingly many did–seemed downright surprised. And, from some of the comments on George’s posts, it’s clear that some actually felt hurt and felt not invited. I think George’s point in the post was basically, we all have something to say, something teach someone. Don’t compare yourself to the guy or girl who gets 300 comments on every blog post. I’ve gotten exactly one comment on the last three blog posts, but here I am, still writing. Would I like to be a voice lots of people turn to? Sure. But my worth, my value to my kids, to my colleagues, to the world at large, is not tied up in whether that happens or not. Or in whether Will Richardson remembers me. I had some really interesting conversations with people I’d never met before. Some are well known. Some not. Doesn’t matter. I learned something from all of them.
But I get that it’s an uncomfortable feeling to feel like you’re not welcome. I certainly didn’t think that anyone at Educon intentionally put out the unwelcome mat. All I have to say is try going to the MLA without a job or Ph.D. or job from the “right” place, and then talk to me about feeling unwelcome. I don’t think Educon is ever going to be like that. No one glanced at my nametag, saw my place of employment and walked away as fast as possible.
The other related subtext was really more on the surface, because it had its own session. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach ran a panel discussion on gender diversity in ed tech. She blogged it here. I have to admit that when I walked in and saw many of the A-listers mentioned above (many of them men) sitting at the front, I had a moment of pause. At first I thought they were just being annoying because I didn’t know they were part of a panel. I know, a little defensive. But the conversation was great. There was, I thought, a good mix of men and women at our table. And I thought everyone really was interested in the topic and interested in trying to solve the problem.
I want to add to some of the things Sheryl and her commenters have said. I think one issue is not so much that men treat women a certain way or that women are excluded just because they’re women, but that women are excluded because they behave like women. Let me explain a bit. I think society tells women to behave a certain way–submissive, not “bitchy”, service-oriented, putting others first, etc. Some women have been lucky enough to be raised by parents that encourage more assertive behaviors, but sometimes, society breaks them of that. I have seen in myself sometimes, behavior I recognize as “female,” meaning it compromises any position of power I might have. And while I have, as some women at Sheryl’s blog have said, felt like “one of the boys,” at some point, I decided I wanted to be me, girl parts included, but I have sometimes brought along the not-so-good parts of that. It’s a real internal conflict. And to go with that internal conflict are often external ones–issues around child care, household responsibilities, even parent care. In other words, it’s complicated.
Educon is a new conference. The edcamps that have cropped up largely in response to it are really new. The way we’ve been thinking about education and technology is also really new. Other fields have been dealing with these subtexts for years. The fact that they’ve come up for this cohort of people is a good thing. It’s out there. We can talk (blog) about it, and maybe make things better.