We look ahead and forget the value of looking behind.
It’s ALT time again.
If you’re involved with technology for teaching and learning, then ALT is the place to be. Of all my networks, it never fails to deliver. My first ALT conference was Rethinking the Digital Divide It was 2008. The place was the University of Leeds. Speakers included George Siemens, Gilly Salmon, Jane Hart and Hans Roslin. Ten years on, the ALT 2018 programme is still full of wonderful things.
I’m looking out for A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018 with Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell. I read Catherine’s accompanying blog post Reflecting before ALT and was struck by the crossovers with my own life.
We’re all unique women and this is an opportunity for us to have a voice. We’ve lived and worked through great transitions in communicative and collaborative practice. Our voices are based on years of experience. We know where we’ve come from and that matters.
Catherine and Frances will examine some of the key themes of ALTC during the past 25 years (particularly in the areas of Open/Active Learning and Community/Communities of Practice) and explore how personal experiences intersect and compare.
The personal is political. This is about making change happen.
One of the subheadings in Catherine’s Personal Reflection is Community Education. It was one of many resonance points and the driver for this post. How many others have experienced Community Ed’s potential for transformation and bitterly regret the closure of part-time learning paths for adults.
This personal, feminist, critical retrospective has power.
I’m responding to be part of the experience. The voices of women are still too often silenced but we have the technology to challenge this. The potential for liberating silenced voices must be realised and we can contribute towards making it happen.
What matters iswe remain vigilant of the fact that access and usage are still divided and diverse.
Personal reflection, 1989- 2018
1989 – youngest child at school, I enrolled on my first degree. Applied Social Science. It was a transformative experience. As higher education should be. When I graduated in 1992, the libary catalogue was a card index file and assignments written by hand. There was a computer room. I learned Wordstar. Lotus. DOS. In 1989 I enrolled at Hull College of Further Education, which became Humberside Polytechnic, then the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. All in three years. I offer this to show I’ve lived through not only digital change, but the reconstruction of higher education as well.
I began my degree as a mature student, wife and mother, commuting 60 miles a day to study. I’d given up my safe civil service career in London to start a family and move back home, to the north. How many women can identify with that?
During my degree I got divorced.
Higher education can have this effect.
I knew someone in the same situation, who was also commuting and struggling with single parenthood. At the time it made sense to pool resources so by the end of my degree, I was living in the city and realising feminism had problems.
Children have to be looked after, all the time, and in particular when they’re poorly and off school . Food has to be bought and prepared. School uniforms washed and ironed. My career dreams faded in the glare of reality. Regardless of gender, I learned the parent with the least earning potential gets the childcare and someone has to clean the bathroom.
Adult and Community Education – it fitted with the school week and holidays. This was the time of the European Social Fund and money was splashing around for computer training. Couldn’t afford a second car so I rode a push bike 60 miles a week to all my sessions across the city. I was known as the biking tutor. An early adopter of literacy and math support using computers, I ran RSA Word Processing sessions, CLAIT, Desk Top Publishing et. al., set up Computers for the Terrified, for Women Returners, for those changing careers. DITTO (Disabled Information technology Training Opportunities) was my highlight; a ground level room in an accessible building. Digital doors had opened. It seemed everyone wanted the affordances of the internet but it was too biased for this to happen.
MS Windows 3.1 was a disaster.
Tim Berners Lee wrote about the potential of an accessible internet for digital democracy. Well, tell that to Bill Gates. DOS had so much potential for equality of access and use while the GUI, with its visual icons and tricky mouse navigation, excluded whole sections of the population. This narrow range of access criteria has continued.
I wrote to Bill Gates.
He didn’t reply.
2000 – higher education – my entry role was a widening participation project officer, building virtual links for partner schools and colleges. Then the university moved and I began a 100 mile a day commute to the new campus and a new role in an education development team.
A self-funded MA in Gender Studies led me to Butler’s troubling of gender and concepts of performativity. I revisited Goffman’s perfomance of self and applied it to the construction of digital identity (long before social media happened). I read Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality. They turned my world upside down and blew my mind. Postmodernism had its problems but shouldn’t be totally dismissed. It taught us to break the binary, understand langage as semiotics and shone much needed light onto structured inequality.
I developed Uveitis. The treatment impaired my vision and I learned about inaccessible digital design.
As a volunteer, I supported people with sight loss to use computers and shop online – learning even more about the parameters of digital exclusion. I wrote to the government complaining about Universal Credit and how those without digital access would be discriminated against.
The govenment promoted library access to PCs as a solution but in my home town, this was limited to one hour a day. The system knew if you tried to get on at a different library and shut you out – all the time you were online, a clock was counting down the minutes in the corner of the screen. How many people knew about this?
I could go on all day…
Changes, in terms of the VLE, mobile devices, social media etc but also in the wider reconstruction of HE, are all reinforced by those who don’t remember it being any different, while the wider social impact of the internet is universal.
This is why I welcome those with a voice to speak out, to speak from wisdom, born of experience, of years of reading, reflecting, writing about higher education and digital technology. I believe the need for developing critical digital literacies, which include these issues of exclusion and bias, has never been greater. Without this happening, whole generations will make assumptions about access and use. They will mistake the mass of personal opinion they’re exposed to on a daily basis, from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc, for knowledge and truth. Google et. al. are doing nothing to stop this. I’ve seen the algorithms change over the years. Careful choice of search terms could get you close to where you wanted to be. No more. Today it’s all surface stuff, paid ads and other forms of marketing not to mention the darkeness of the deep web. The internet is mirroring society. Black Mirror is worth watching.
We need to talk about what’s happening and how higher education can ensure students are equipped to understand and face the digital challenges ahead.
Thank you Catherine and Frances, for taking the steps towards making this happen.