Noticing, feeling bees

This is likely to be a rambling post that is intended to make sense some of the questions that I’m asking myself in order to challenge my own assumptions and because sometimes writing, and often input from others, helps me better make sense of my swirling thoughts.

It’s been a week of unease since returning from Domains17. But I’ve been and still am struggling to identify its source.


“Do you even notice?”

A Tweet be Audrey Watters pointed to a potential cause.

Did I notice? No… Yes… Not really…

“No” in the sense that I was pleasantly surprised with the representation of women and folks who I think openly identify as part of the LGBTQ community. That is to say the crowd was more diverse than it could have been, in fact more diverse than it might have been five years earlier – “less bad”. Is “less bad” good enough? When should we celebrate small steps in the right direction?

“Yes” in that I started my presentation with an acknowledgement of the complex history and our presence on the unceded territory of American Indians and a link to a tweet thread by Sydney Rain. As part of my presentation I spoke about kamiks, boots handmade by Inuvialuit women in northern Canada. I did both of those things because before ever going, I felt with some certainty that there would be no aboriginal folks at the event itself. Is identifying their absence is better than nothing? How do we acknowledge absent voices without speaking for “them”?

“Not really” because my children are aboriginal and despite my best attempts, I fail to see them working in the field of EdTech. My daughter is studying nursing in the fall and my next son is thinking about engineering.I have no trouble imagining them in those fields. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing aboriginal teachers, teaching faculty, doctors, social workers, pilots and a dean. I’m aware of many more in these and other fields. So why not the field that I work in? What makes it different?  Why do I so easily accept the status quo?

“Not really” because the people of colour that I know in open, distance and ed tech spaces to my knowledge don’t “do” Domains. But as I write now, I generate the question I’ve never thought about before, “Why not?” At OER17 in a conversation with Rajiv Jhangiani we talked about a scheduling conflict that kept him from attending a local EdTech conference the week before Domains17, but Domains didn’t come up. I simply assumed he has is working on things more pressing for him. Audrey and Maha shared a good list of people of colour in the field many I already followed. Almost none I’ve ever seen mention Domains. Again I find myself now sadly probably for the first time asking, “Why not?” Clearly not everyone can do everything and go everywhere, but maybe I need to ask more “why” questions when it comes to why folks are choosing the priorities they are, especially when those choices appear to split along racial, ethnic and cultural lines. Are there more important issues to address than tools? What are the other issues and topics that I am blind to?


“How will you feel being the only…?”

Kate Bowles kicked off the week talking about “kith”  which also pointed to a potential source of my unease.

As I mentioned, my oldest daughter is heading to university in the fall and we are in full swing this week with three ceremonies to attend.

On Monday, it was the district’s aboriginal graduation which I attended with her. On the way in she asked me, “How will you feel being the only white person here?” Without thinking I replied, “I’m used to it.”

As the ceremony started with drums, a prayer song and speeches I had time to watch and think. It was in fact probably the first time in eight years I’d been the minority in the crowd. I watched other folks, clearly well acquainted smile, laugh and joke with one another. And although I didn’t know these folks and their traditions and culture are very different from the North where we lived, there was something different, comfortable, familiar, non-white(?).

As kids walked across the stage, large families cheered. How does it feel for those families to cheer loudly in this setting? Will they cheer as loudly for their same grads at the non-aboriginal school ceremonies? I could sense strong kith among these families. It would be the same for us if we were still in the North.

When my daughter walked across the stage, there was polite applause. Despite having lived here for eight years, she is not part of a local aboriginal community. We have no extended family here. How does it feel for her to be the only Inuit kid here? I didn’t ask, but I expect she would answer, “I’m used to it.” What do we lose when we are the “other”? What do we gain and what do we learn and take with us?

There are folks who have been involved in EdTech for a long time and among whom there is strong kith.  Maybe it’s important to be surrounded by those with whom you have kith sometimes?  Maybe it’s OK to feel on the outside of that kith looking in? I think Amy Collier referred to it as feeling like she was at someone else’s wedding. Maybe developing kith requires patience on the part of the “other”? What responsibility do those who already have those strong ties have to inviting “others” in? In certain settings maybe none? Maybe?


“The Bee in My Bonnet”

Neither my questions and doubts about diversity or belonging seem to fully explained my unease. There is something more.

Between a blog that I won’t link to and the comments of a friend who I won’t name, I started to wonder about assumptions folks make related to school prestige.

Maybe the bee in my bonnet is assumption that folks who attend ‘good’ universities are different from folks who don’t?

Today I heard students like me referred to as “those kinds of people who really don’t have their life together.” Wow. The statement that came from someone I deeply admire in the field. I completed both my undergraduate degree and masters degree via distance education. I could, and probably should, insert a rant here but I won’t.
Instead I’ll ask more questions. Are campus-based students, especially those at prestigious institutions more serious, smarter or more able to use new(er) educational technologies? Do college, part-time and distance learners deserve less? How many folks in the field of educational technology believe these things to be true? And what does it mean in terms of impacting social justice and diversity if they do?
Going back to the aboriginal graduation ceremony for a moment. At the beginning they said that they had been holding the ceremony for the past 15 years. In the first year, they had only four graduates. That means that the vast majority of the aboriginal folks I’ve met in the professions I mentioned earlier did not enter university directly out of high school. Most of them returned later as “non-traditional” learners. Likely many of their paths included upgrading, community college and possibly distance education – which in my mind speaks generally to their strength and determination.
Fifteen years later due largely to their efforts, hard work and commitment, there were more than 200 graduates who crossed that stage. What does it say about the impact of education technology if many of the people having the biggest impact in terms of on the ground social change are the ones least likely to have encountered the technologies we’re peddling? Again: Are there more important issues to address than tools? What are the other issues and topics that I am blind to?
Karen Cangialosi and Andi are two people I was grateful to meet in Oklahoma and I’ve enjoyed keeping the Twitter banter alive since getting home. I like several of this evening’s tweets particularly:
“#DoOO can be part of a larger movement focused on finding ways to make education accessible and valuable to students… We can’t create something truly progressive by replicating the old system and just giving it a new name.”
Now that’s what I signed up for, to leverage technology in a way that makes education more accessible and valuable for all.  I want this to be true.
Again, maybe I need to start by asking the people of colour in the field that I know why they are not engaged in Domains. Maybe we need to have more discussions about which needs it meets and which ones it doesn’t? If it does or can meet those needs, what are the barriers to entry and how might they be addressed?   What if it can’t?
How do we challenge our own assumptions about what ‘good’ education and ‘good’ students look like? How do we hold each other accountable to not fall into old patterns and behaviours that entrench the status quo? How do we best support the “least likely to succeed”? How do we use these technologies to amplify marginalized voices, especially the “brilliant people in poor areas”?

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