The Power to Speak

I began my Educon experience Saturday morning with first, a session on feminism and second, a session on race.   Those two conversations became a thread for me throughout the conference.  I kept talking to people about them, and I’m still talking about them today.

As someone who’s been teaching at all-women’s educational institutions for the last 12 years, and as a women, feminism is obviously very important to me.  It’s colored my life since I can remember, but I’m still striving to practice feminism well.  Things change constantly and feminism has evolved to meet the needs of modern women and others who find themselves oppressed by a patriarchal system.

But, damn, it’s hard, and it’s complicated.  One example came when I attended Chris Lehmann‘s session on distributed leadership.  It was a packed room, so I stood in the back, basically directly in Chris’s line of sight.  I found myself among mostly men in my smaller.  There were maybe 10 of us and only 3 of us were women.  But the room as a whole was fairly evening distributed.  Chris’s style is to set the foundation, then ask a question, have us discuss in small groups and then share more broadly.  At some point, Chris pointed out that he’d noticed mostly men were responding to his questions (yes, Chris attended the feminism session).  I then tweeted this:

And during the smaller group conversations that followed, Chris came over and said something like, “We point it out and we keep trying.”  Yes, yes, we do.

Later that evening, Chris and I talked about this again.  Chris made a huge effort to call on more women, even those that didn’t have their hands up.  And I made an effort to say more, and I think some other women did, too.  I explained how hard it was, even for me, someone who enjoys talking and generally isn’t afraid to speak in front of people, to speak out.  I just told him all the crazy things that go through my head, that I have to push out of my head, just to say something.  They include, but are not limited to:

  • If I say something, I’ll be talking too much (whether I’ve spoken at all or not)
  • What I’m thinking is stupid and if I say it out loud, people will be thinking how stupid it is, how stupid *I* am
  • What I have to say isn’t important
  • When I say something, I may pay for it in some way in the form of negative comments now or later
  • Judging, lots of judging

It sucks.  I relayed my conversation with Chris to someone else down the table who had been in both sessions.  He told me that right after Chris pointed out the issue, the guy next to him said, great, no white guys will talk now.  But, actually, this guy told me, the very next person to speak after a woman Chris called on was a white guy and then another white guy–because they don’t wait to be called on.

In the feminism session, we talked a little about how to shut down that dynamic in the classroom, but it’s clear that even among adults, this is a big problem.  Even among, I should say, a group of adults who generally are sensitive to these issues and who want to do the right thing.

What do we do? We sometimes do what Chris did, point it out, try to correct it.  We can’t put it all on women, but women should do their best to speak more.  Making it more normal can help.  And, of course, make the balance of men and women more equal.

And this is kind of the small stuff.  There’s equal pay and rape and all kinds of other things to deal with, but we have to start somewhere.

And if you want to read more about the speaking issue, here are some great articles, one as recent as two weeks ago.  So yeah, we’re still dealing with it.

Study on why women don’t speak up 

Why Women Stay Quiet at Work

Women Don’t talk more than Men 

Is Making Gendered?

I’m at EduCon today, skipping the opening keynote.  The thing I like about EduCon is that it always makes you think.  On the train ride in yesterday, I checked the Twitter stream fro the #educon hashtag and noticed a link to an article called “I Am Not a Maker”.  As a self-proclaimed maker myself, I had to see it.  I was expecting an argument about rejecting tech for say, meditation, walking in the wilderness or something along those lines.  I could handle that. Making isn’t for everyone, though I would argue it doesn’t have to be all about the tech.  Instead, it was an argument about making as a masculine domain, one that was fairly deliberately hiding the behind the scenes work of primarily women.

Of course making rises from our current culture; it’s not separate from it.  So that means it takes with it the racism, sexism, classism and other -isms inherent in our existing culture.  But claiming to be a maker does not mean that you’re advocating for some kind of return to a 1950s masculine-dominated mindset.  Chachra puts it this way:

Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

I just don’t think that’s true.  First of all, I would say that makers are not interested in making products.  Most makers I know are interested in the process of making and what they learn from it, and empowering themselves not be beholden to the marketplace.  They want to make stuff for themselves that doesn’t exist in the market.  They want to fix the things they have so they don’t have to buy something.  So, I see makers as running counter to capitalism.  Now, I do think making has been somewhat commodified, but I think many makers are uncomfortable with that.

Just prior to the quote above, Chachra says this:

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

Now, yes, I do think we should be critical of the world of making and to be thoughtful about how it does or does not reinscribe cultural norms.  And indeed, there are ways that it does, certainly if Make Magazine is your primary insight into this culture.  And, I think it’s important to have a conversation about that.  I teach Computer Science and I’m always having a conversation about the male domination of the field and how it got there and how it affects the tools we use every day.

And maybe because I’m approaching making from the angle of education, I think making is all about the people; it’s about using the maker process to engender a mindset that is resilient, independent, and thoughtful.   And I also don’t devalue caregiving and other “non-making” activities, but as an educator who teaches “making”, making has to happen in my classroom.  It’s just like a math teacher who might value English as a subject, but they’re not going to include much, if any, in their classes.  Education and learning is about having students be a little uncomfortable and try things they wouldn’t.  If my students leave my class and don’t become “makers”, I’m not only okay with that, I fully support it and often suggest careers and fields to my students that fall into the “non-making” category.  But I do hope that being a maker, or if people prefer, participating in the process of making, for a while in my class has some kind of impact.

I understand Chachra’s discomfort with the maker movement as a cultural phenomenon and especially the connections that have been made with Silicon Valley.  What I don’t understand is her complete rejection of it, instead of pushing for change within it.  Her field, engineering, is extremely skewed gender wise and maybe doesn’t have the hype of the maker movement, but certainly has issues, issues similar to CS.  It’soften unfriendly to females, certainly privileges certain kinds of work over others, and yet, she doesn’t reject it and say, I’m not doing that.  If female scientists had said that science was male-dominated and capitalist and unfriendly to women, so I’m not going to do it, we’d have no female scientists.

The maker movement deserves our critical eye, for sure, but it should be changed and not rejected.  Its focus can’t be on what makes white middle aged men happy–robots, cool gadgets, cars–but we need to point out when this is happening and correct it.  Fix it from within, I say.

Educon: The Takeaway

Someone asked me on Day One why people come to this conference.  I can’t answer for everyone, but I know for me I come to be inspired, to have the opportunity to talk to some smart people about issues related to teaching and learning and leading in education.  I feel lucky to have some opportunity for that at my own school.  I have many, many colleagues who inspire me daily and who regularly talk about teaching and learning in really intelligent and thoughtful ways.  It’s part of the culture here to do so.  But that’s not true for everyone.  I talked to many people who feel isolated at their schools, who are struggling to do interesting things in the world of standards and tests, and who face a fight every day just to teach in a way that they know would benefit their students.  I actually learn a lot from them.  Sometimes constraints lead to real creativity.  Think about how beautiful sonnets are.

Yes, the general feel of the conference leaves one warm and fuzzy, but there are also “real” takeaways.  Some very concrete lessons I got:

  • Why not have a class for both faculty and students on a topic, led by someone from outside the institution.
  • Have the confidence to pursue what seems like a crazy idea.  Don’t say no to yourself or impose the “buts” onto your idea before someone else does.  Because they might not.
  • Document cameras are really useful
  • We really do need more women in Computer Science, so says Kin Lane, who’s right in the thick of Silicon Valley culture.
  • Being out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing.  It’s how we learn.  Watch an infant/toddler sometime.
  • There’s no one right way to do anything.  Keep asking “What if . . .” to come up with new ways of doing things.

I’ve seen some Tweets this morning about the difficulty of going back to work after Educon.  How do you explain this to people?  I think you just have to pick a couple of things and just do them.  It might be in your classroom.  It might be in the way you approach a meeting.  It might just be sharing something with one of your colleagues.  It might just be renewing in yourself your belief in what you do.  That’s what gives me courage to try crazy things, to say crazy things, and to argue on behalf of my students.  Educon reminds me every year that what teachers do is important and it’s worth doing.

Educon Day Two: Making, Thinking, Making

When I got back to my hotel at the end of the day, I couldn’t even remember everything I’d done.  I started the day with informal conversation with Andrew (@tieandjeans), then I went to a session on prototyping where we were supposed to prototype a class, but we got kind of hung up on obstacles we faced: testing, fixed mindsets, teachers, standards, etc.  I got some great ideas, especially for professional development, specifically a class for students and teachers to learn together, probably best taught by an outside person.  I met some great people and had some really fun conversations even if I didn’t prototype my class.

After that, I headed to lunch with my friend, Colin, a new friend from the session and some of Colin’s colleagues.  Really yummy noodles plus geeky talk.  That was a blast.

After that, I went to a session on Creating Digital Learning Organizations, which kind of blew my mind.  At my table, there were two colleagues from our brother school who I really enjoy talking to, plus a guy whom I’ve been following on Twitter since like 2007 and another super smart guy.  We talked through what learning organizations are, what adding the word digital to that means, and how we create a culture of learning and openness to change in our institutions.  It made me think that I need to become less afraid to share my ideas and thoughts, something I think I’ve said a million times, but I need to be reminded.  You can push for things in thoughtful ways.  You don’t have to be dragged down by negativity and a lot of “yes but” talk.

Then, Sylvia, Jim, Andrew, and I ran our #makered sprint.  It was a challenge to put #makered into a form when #makered is about breaking forms.  We struggled with tying #makered to disciplines and curriculum vs. using #makered to break down the walls of that exist between disciplines and standards.  It’s a chicken-egg problem.  Sometimes to get a #makered philosophy into school, you have to create a specific connection to curriculum or standards or a discipline or a unit.  Maybe, though, just maybe, if you are successful with that piece, teachers will see how through a project like this, you can go way beyond the curriculum and standards.  As someone said, you do the project and then you say, oh, you’ve learned this, this and this.  All makers I know within schools struggle with the way that standards and schools make us think we can’t do these things, that we’re tied down.  But we don’t have to be.

To me, that’s what Educon is for, it’s why people come.  They want to find ways to break those ties, to rise above the everyday struggles and conflicts they might find themselves in.

Educon Day One: Openness

The opening panel proved to be provocative as ever.  The conversation centered around openness and transparency.  These concepts are at the forefront of technology and education right now as well as politics and government.   One of the things that I think is happening is a shift from open to not open, but looking open.  As Sunny Lee said, the term has no meaning, the way organic has no meaning any more.  The Open Source Movement used to tout that free software was free as in freedom, not free as in beer, and that the former is more important than the latter.  The idea that software could be patented was frustrating to the Open Source folks.  And what do you do if you’re an educational institution who is dealing with student data locked in a system that isn’t open and that may or may not be sharing that data with others.

MOOCs, everyone’s favorite example of Open, are not really open.  Sure anyone can access them, often for free, but only if they’re willing to share their data with the provider, which they’ll use to make more money.  We are the product.  I say this to my students all the time.  Actually, I make them come to that conclusion.  It doesn’t make them run away from Facebook, but at least I’ve planted the seed.

Another way of thinking about openness is to think about sharing ourselves, not with companies like Facebook and Google, though those often become spaces for that sharing, but with each other.  This was, for me, the promise of social media (which meant blogs in the days I started).  Through social media, we could connect with each other, help each other, give something of ourselves out there for complete strangers to use.  And I think if you think of openness this way, it gives you a way to think about how to help students not be too open.  You want them to share who they and what they have to offer, but not reveal things that might make them embarrassed.  If you shift from what I see as the Facebook way, from sharing to show off to sharing to connect, then you’re really sharing.

I’m not sure if openness==sharing, but for me, it has that connotation, even when you’re talking about MOOCs or Open Source.  You’re talking about a willingness to let go of ownership, to share your work in ways that might benefit others more than you.  I think that’s where educators in general need to go.  We don’t own our classrooms or our students or what we do.  Letting go of that opens up opportunities for collaboration, breaking down disciplinary walls, and for innovation.


Educon begins today.  This is a conference I look forward to every year.  I get to meet up with old friends, make new friends, and learn a lot!  A few years ago, I lamented about being new to K-12 and so not knowing that many people.  Now that’s not true.  I have many connections made through other conferences and Twitter and blogs.  I feel at home in this world now.

I’m also excited to be talking about two initiatives I’ve been involved in: #makered and a 1:1 program.  It’s going to be great fun and I’m looking forward to learning from the participants.  I’ll be blogging about the conference, of course, so keep an eye out.

Educon 2.4: Connecting and Reconnecting

I am, at this moment, the epitome of the blogger.  I’m in my pj’s.  I’m in Educon recovery mode.  Apparently, some of my Twitter friends are as well.  I’ve seen a number of people talking about being in pj’s or being exhausted, etc.  This was my 3rd Educon.  It’s my second as a K-12 educator.  I’m really starting to feel like I’m a part of this group of people.  Last year, I wrote about how a few people felt excluded or left out.  I didn’t see or feel any of that this year even though many of the same people were there.  Interestingly, I started off my conference yesterday with a discussion about being mainstream vs. being on the margins.

Educon always makes you think.  From the opening panel, which this year had the fabulous photographer Zoe Strauss on it, to the very last session, which for me was about implementing Chromebooks, the whole conference is all about forcing your brain to run on all cylinders.  Instead of saying what I learned, I’m going to pose some questions that have come up for me.

The theme of the conference was about sustaining innovation.  In the panel and in many sessions, we kept talking about how to define innovation.  I still don’t know what the answer is for our schools or for education, so that’s a looming question.

What does it mean to be mainstream? Is it a bad thing? What about being on the margins?  Do we need to bring those people into the mainstream or can they exist on the margins and we can just accept that?

What components of “traditional” education are worth keeping and what can go?  Do we have to get rid of some of those things in order to make room for innovation work?

How can K-12 institutions and Higher Ed work together? Can we/should we make more transparent our practices?  Where can we build partnerships that are authentic and useful and mutually beneficial?

When are we going to teach computing/computer science in a way that isn’t so “nerdy”?  And when are we going to see more women stepping up to be involved in CS education?

We are all agonizing over what the “next device” is, and so what we should invest our money in.  Are we selling out to Apple and Google by using their devices and apps? And should we be worried about that?  Should we have just one device in our schools? Or can we have multiple?

And just to point you to some resources and interesting things:

ds106–a course and a community, one way of bridging the gap between K-12 and Higher Ed

modkit–an online programming tool for microcontrollers like arduino

A keynote about Chromebooks

For more, search for Educon.

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Penguin, brrrr
Image by lorda via Flickr

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.

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Educon 2.3

Educon 2.3 is over.   Last year was my first year attending.  I enjoyed it more this year than I did last.  In part, this had to do with my being firmly entrenched in K-12.  Though I got a lot out of the sessions last year, this year, they meant a lot more and I felt like I could take back some of the things I learned and apply them.  I could also bring some of my own experiences and expertise to the conversation.  Despite not being in K-12 for that long, I’m recognizing that my previous experience as a college-level teacher has not only helped me but is also valuable experience to share.

Some of my favorite sessions included Shifted Learning, a conversation about communities of learners, which looked at concepts such as PLN, PLC, and guild.  We used a lot gaming terminology and gaming experiences to frame our conversation, so I felt right at home.

Another of my favorite sessions was Diversify your Rolodex, a conversation about the lack of women as leaders in educational technology.  It was a fascinating conversation, one we keep visiting in the world of blogs, twitter, technology more broadly.  We keep asking where are the women?  I think they’re here.  I’m here, but I think they’re not here as prolifically as men are.  That’s not something that specifically came up in our conversation, but it’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed before.  The male “thought leaders” in this field (in many fields) tweet more and blog more than many of the women out there.  So they’re more likely to be noticed.  Those same men often comment on each other’s posts, retweet each other, retweet each other’s work, etc.  So again, more attention to those particular people.  I don’t think anyone has done a full on study of this, but they have for political blogs and I suspect similar patterns hold true.  The thing is, it takes some work to pay attention to people you don’t know and/or who are very different from you racially, gender-wise, etc.  I probably am more likely to tweet or comment on posts by middle-age moms than I am other things.  But I try to get outside my own demographic.  So, I’d say to those of you out there who are considered “thought leaders” in ed tech.  Make a point of looking beyond your usual suspects.  See what you find.

I also got a lot out of a panel on The Future of the Book and about Is the Internet Making us Stupid, where I argued that we shouldn’t adapt to our tools, but build the tools we need through Computer Science.   Of course!

Besides all the great scheduled conversations, I had many wonderful spontaneous conversations.  I met a lot of new colleagues, including finally meeting Audrey Watters of Hack Education and ReadWriteWeb.  I also got to catch up with old friends from UMW.  I’m looking forward to future conferences to share more with new and old friends alike.

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Educon Debrief

This past weekend, I attended Educon 2.2 in Philly, hosted by Chris Lehmann and the Science Leadership Academy.  I don’t have time for a huge post, so let me just make a couple of observations.  As far as I could tell, both by the sessions I attended and the overall list, there were very few presentations where people talked at you or went through a step-by-step how to.  The conversations that occurred, and they were conversations, were about big issues: what is professional development, what is the role of play in learning and how do we incorporate more into our teaching, what will schools of the future look like.  And it wasn’t presenters telling us what they thought about all of those things.  Instead, they had us talk to each other about them, recognizing that we all have ideas and expertise to share.  The more the session was about us talking to each other, the more I liked it.  I liked hearing from other people and meeting other people.  I made some very nice and quite unexpected connections.

I had this weird sensation for much of the time as I shifted roles from teacher of teachers to teacher to parent.  I had some interesting conversations around getting parents involved beyond bake sales.  My frustration over the lack of transparency in my kids’ classrooms found a voice and a sympathetic ear.  I spent a lot of time with some colleagues from University of Mary Washington and we were marveling at how similar the conversations that were occurring were to those that occur around teaching in higher ed.  We also noted that more faculty should be knowledgeable about K-12 education beyond their own children’s.

If you’re involved in education at all, this is a conference I urge you to attend next year.  It is lively, informative and inspirational.  I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend my time this weekend.