Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Women in Technology

A few years ago I went to the Future of Technology in Education (FOTE) conference, in London. It featured a morning filled with presentations, a panel and lots of discussions on the topic of women in technology; it prompted me to have lots of thoughts about the matter. So I diligently took to this blog, drafted a post….and then abandoned it. The thing is, I still have lots of thoughts about women in technology, and as yesterday was International Women’s Day I thought it the perfect time to dust off this old blog post and publish some thoughts.

First of all, I would like to note I think it is extremely important we avoid positive discrimination; that is employing more women in technology simply to make the numbers look better. Hiring should always be based on the best person for that job; it should be fair and competency based. Having said that, I do think we need to make changes,  mostly small ones, to ensure women have the same opportunities as men (and vice versa in other jobs). In this post, I will discuss some of the reason I think there aren’t more women in tech, despite there being talent out there.

Masculinity misconception

I’m not going to talk about sexism or chauvinistic men here, instead what I what to explore is the perception of technology-based jobs being more masculine than other jobs. This isn’t true for all roles but I do think there is a stereotype of the t-shirt and jeans clad tech geek. No one really wants to be crawling around in a cupboard or under a desk for network cables in a nice dress and heels. Indeed I have been faced with this exact dilemma and it has practicality issues (both in not wishing to ruin your outfit and not wanting to expose yourself). However, this isn’t all tech is about. When it comes to less physical technology jobs there is nothing to stop you coding in a wiggle dress, 5-inch heels, and pin curls if you really wanted to. I’m not trying to say that women can’t wear t-shirt and jeans, they absolutely can, I’m just saying that despite the stereotypes there is no reason someone in a tech job can’t rock whatever they want. In fact, that is one of the reasons I’ve always loved working in technology-related fields, the dress codes are so much laxer than say working in finance; you can have fun playing around with outfits from smart and feminine to more relaxed looks. So being in technology does not mean abandoning your feminity (I type this with painted nails whilst wearing a dress, lipstick, and sipping from my pink drinking cup!)

The language we use also has a significant role here. Just think, if your computers broke, and you’re at work, who you gunna call? The IT guy. Now maybe you know the specific person, or you’d just say call the IT department, but you see my point. Culturally we are used to thinking of and referring to ‘the IT guy’ rather than any female or non-gendered term.

Media misrepresentation

Linked to the above is how those in technology roles are portrayed in the media. As always there are exceptions to the rule, but it is likely in any fictional media representations you are going to see men being more technologically competent than women. If a woman is good with technology then there is a strong chance that a) she grew up in a male environment or with strong male role models (somehow her achievements are the product of men), b) she is shown as breaking the stereotype (maybe the protagonist that meets her is a little surprised that a woman is the IT person). So we can do better there, we can be more casual about showing women in technology roles.

Positive role models

Connected to the representation in the media is the presentation of female tech role models. Now there are a bunch of women who have done great things in technology, just look at Ada Lovelace – considered as some to be the first computer programmer. If that isn’t enough you can move forward in time to Grace Hopper who did revolutionary work with computer programming languages, even inventing the first compiler. Yet, when you think of great historical tech figures the names that most likely come to mind are; Alan Turning, Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates….a lot of men basically. But there have been so many women involved in technology, and there still is. I’m currently in the process of reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book (she’s the COO of Facebook) – and it’s great; both inspirational and accessible. So when I talk about role models it’s not a lack of them, there are plenty to chose from, it’s exposure to them, highlighting them in school and at home.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, I think that women can absolutely work well in tech – although I’m not saying that it is always easy and I’m not saying that there might not be some resistance – but if we show children at a young age that women have and can succeed then we are in the right place. Just to emphasise, I did say children. I don’t think we do ourselves much good if we just expose young girls to all these positive female role models, we need to show them off to boys as well. Everything becomes much easier if both boys and girls are taught and shown that gender doesn’t limit your ability – and shown a positive example of both men and women succeeding. At the end of the day, gender shouldn’t be an issue here, this is about talented people working in exciting and challenging technology jobs and helping the world move forward.

 

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MoodleMoot UK & Ireland 2016

Last week was MoodleMoot UK & Ireland, an annual conference which sees the sharing of ideas and inspiration, that was on this occasion hosted in London.

There was a lot to take away from this conference, and you’ll find some useful links at the end of this post. This includes a link to a Storify of all my Tweets, which is my new note-taking method. I simply find it more useful to Tweet what I would otherwise note, and then gather them together afterwards, then to keep isolated notes in Evernote or OneNote. If you would like to seek out more from the Twitter conversation that took place then you can search with the hashtag #mootieuk16.

In this blog post I want to focus on the key theme I noticed from the conference and also talk a little bit about some of the cool uses for Moodle tools that I saw demonstrated.

So, what was the biggest take away, the key theme that kept popping up in presentations and keynotes? Analytics, consult, refine, improve, repeat! Over and over again I heard about the importance of using analytics to highlight areas we can improve upon, be they system analytics on which Moodle features as most (or least) used at our institutions, or learning analytics to identify how we might put in technological or human solutions to help improve the learning experience of our students. Once we have identified the areas to target, it is then all about consulting with users, which could mean staff and/or students, to find out exactly what they want from the system. This all then leads to the need to refine what is feasible (within the limits of technology, resources and budget) before carrying out improvements. Perhaps though, it is the repeat part of this equation that is most important to remember. It is no good to carry out improvements of our systems and then sit back feeling happy with a job well done. It is about reflecting on what we have done before starting the cycle over again. With the rapid pace of technology it is important to always be honing what we offer, and reviewing how we use it. What can be done more efficiently?  What can be replaced? Of course this is all much easier said then done, in reality there are a couple of major restraints on all of this (budget and resources, which in turn are limited by budget). However, it was clear from the conference and talking to those present that this need to review and improve is key to a happier use of not just Moodle, but any technology. I think it is also important to remember that the message isn’t just about enhancing what you have, it is about evaluating first then based on that information carrying our required improvements. Change for a purpose, not for its own sake.

Moving on from the key theme I’d like to quickly looks at some of the clever use of tools I saw at MoodleMoot. Perhaps one of the simplest aspects of the conference, but often one of the most valuable, is just the ability to see alternate ways other people are using common Moodle tools. My favourites from this year include the Moodle lesson tool and forums.

For the Moodle lesson tool I was really inspired by Lewis Carr’s (@lewiscarr) talk on using the lesson tool instead of creating SCORM packages. By using a tool built into Moodle you are reducing the complications and the room for error. I also thought this could be a really useful tool to use to help teach storyboarding as a pedagogic approach. By getting tutors to sit down and plan out a Moodle lesson in a storyboard format, you could encourage them to think more creatively about the lesson, and to visualise it in a more holistic way. I have always found when using the Moodle lesson activity that sitting down and planning out the structure of the lesson, (quizzes, branching, pages etc) on paper before doing anything in Moodle to be really helpful. So why not expand upon this idea to run a workshop on storyboarding from a pedagogical perspective? If you’d like to see more of Lewis Carr’s presentation, ‘How I learned to stop worrying about SCORM and love the Moodle Lesson Activity’, you can do some on the MoodleMoot IE UK site.

Another presentation that excited me was by Rx Islam from Floream (@floreamedtech), and her presentation about, ‘Using Core Moodle Tools for Collaborative Learning‘ (also available from the MoodleMoot IE UK site). I really liked the creative ways that she described using the Moodle forum tool for peer assessment (all protected and arranged by the clever use of Moodle groups) and as a glossary. Despite the fact that Moodle has a dedicated glossary tool, by using the Moodle forum it was easily searchable (Moodle has a forum search tool) and it also utilised a tool that students were already familiar with. The Moodle forum is also a good tool to use because it is fairly straightforward and easy to understand, which can be a benefit over other tools, that may be more tailored but could also involve more of a learning curve. Personally I found it enlightening to think about using the tool that students were already familiar with rather than the tool most designed for the task. It makes sense and I feel slightly embarrassed for not thinking in those terms sooner, however I will be considering tools students have already been using more often when making recommendation in Moodle.

 

More information on all of the presentations, including recording can be found from the MoodleMoot IE UK site.

My notes, in the form of all of my tweets, re-tweets and interactions can be found on Storify.

 

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Together we better: User groups whys and hows

Here you can find the poster I presented at Mahara Hui UK 2015. You can find a video version of this poster on YouTube – which was created for AAEEBL 2015 in Boston.

ENJOY!

Together We Are Better Poster A3

Creative Commons License
Together we are better: user groups why and how by Domi Sinclair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Thoughts from AAEEBBL conference 2015

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend and present at AAEEBL 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. You might be wondering what AAEEBL stands for and what this event was all about, especially if you have never heard of it before. The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning focuses on the usage of portfolios at their annual conference. In fact one of the key points to come out of the conference was a consensus that as a community we should stop referring to e-portflios (or eportfolios depending on your preference), which is distracting and in many cases superfluous. Instead it is time we just talk about portfolios and focus on the pedagogy. This conference was very much aimed at focusing on the pedagogy, and in most cases the tool used was almost irrelevant to the presentation. In education it is far too easy to get caught up in our own silos, whether that is a department based silo or a tool based silo. When we stop and look to the outside we can often find valuable input we would have otherwise missed.

Collaboration was also a key theme from the conference. To make a portfolio effective involves everyone working together. It involves tutors and students having a clear dialogue about what is expected in the portfolio. It also can benefit from peer-to-peer collaboration, whether that is academics helping one another out with creative ideas/support or students giving each other tips and feedback. It can also involve working with your local learning technologies support team (e-learning support) to combine their technology and pedagogical knowledge with a tutor’s subject expertise and student experience.

The final key theme I’d like to highlight is badges. There were a number of presentations and a keynote on the use of badges with portfolios. This seems like a natural fit as portfolios are a great way of collecting evidence for a badge. A badge in turn is a nice way to recognise competencies or skills that might not otherwise be acknowledge by assessment criteria or formal credit. The McArthur Foundation have produced a video which explains the basics of what a badge is, if you are still unsure.

If you’d like to get a wider overview of the conversations from AAEEBL then please see my Storify, collecting my tweets and all the best other tweets from the event.

You can also see my presentation on utilizing the (portfolio) community: https://youtu.be/wcFBsON_-6Q.

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MUGSE 3: Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

The third meeting of MUGSE was held on Friday and kindly hosted by Ben at RVC. This was the first meeting in London and there was a nice mix of experienced and new users. We were also very lucky to have Don Christie from Catalyst IT in attendance.

The session kicked off with a round table of questions and issues. Everyone got to ask a Mahara question or describe a problem they are having. We then worked through the list and crowd-sourced answers and solutions from the mixed experience at the group. This was showed just why user groups are so powerful and useful, as we were able to prove that many minds are better than one.  Some of the questions and problems that came up included:

  • Wanting to see examples of practice
  • How to Auto create groups?
  • Moodle integration
  • If anyone else was using Institutions
  • Open badging in Mahara
  • Who will be moving to the new version in April?

Most of these had answers, some of which will be touched on in the rest of this post, and as for those that aren’t, well that is why you need to come along to a user group meeting.

After our group discussions, we had a short break before moving into the presentation half of the session. This began with Roger and Sam from Southampton Solent University (SSU) telling us about their Mahara help, which is integrated into the ‘i’ information buttons. They have come up with a system so that each ‘i’ button provides three key areas of information, what is this, how do you use it, and a link to examples. Roger kindly informed the group that SSU’s help pages are open and publicly accessible via: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/ Sam then took over from Roger to share some case study videos she had made with staff and student’s at SSU who have used Mahara as part of their course. Although we only watched clips of the videos, these are also available for anyone to access online, though Sam did add the caveat that they need a little more editing, they are very helpful: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/casestudies

Following on from the SSU presentation was Don Christie from Catalyst IT who explained the Mahara release cycle and then gave an overview of the upcoming version. He told the group that the April release has some small changes to the UX, such as the ability to comment on artefacts (not just pages). more importantly is the introduction of web services, which will allow many new functions to be carried out and plugged in. Don also gave us a sneaky peak to the future and said that they have been working on bootstrap for an upcoming version of Mahara (not the April one but possibly the October release). He then wrapped up his section by asking if anyone in the community could send Catalyst wire-frames of ideal workflows in Mahara to improve the way the system works, as we have more experience of using the system in the real world. This might include being able to share from the files area instead of having to put stuff on a page or anything else you think would make Mahara easier to use.

Last, but hopefully not least, I finished the session by talking about the importance of utilising the community through various channels, including:

It was pointed out that I missed out contributing code, and of course this is very important as well, although might be less accessible for some people, but if you can then this is always a valuable contribution. In regards to making the best use of MUGSE and the Mahara Tracker, I also suggested that we could pool our resources and target particular bugs or feature requests, either by all voting for them or by pulling together funding if multiple institutions are willing to contribute a small amount. It is worth a try.

If you would like to attend a future MUGSE then please keep an eye on the Twitter account @mugseUK or direct message it or me if you would be willing to host a session. The next meeting will likely be after the MaharaHui.

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MUGSE 2 : Sparsholt College

Last week saw the second ever Mahara User Group for Southern England, otherwise known as MUGSE. This time the venue was Sparsholt College, perhaps not as unusual as a swimming pool (the venue for last time) but still hardly run of the mill. This user group is turning out to be a great way to explore Southern England if not also gain inside gossip and advice with colleagues from across the South of England. For those who are not familiar with it Sparsholt College is a farm-based college in the middle of the Hampshire countryside, if you want more information then just go to their website.

The event was attended by some Mahara regular faces, myself included and also some newbies. This was a nice mix and I certainly learnt a lot from those who had been using the system for less time than myself, but I will come to that in a bit. After introductions, first to present was Ursula from Sparsholt College, who kindly provided the venue.

Particularly useful was how the college are using Mahara pages to list and advertise their IT training provisions for staff. By simply using a page, text boxes and hyper-linked booking images they have produced something that looks rather nice. It does require a fair amount of manual intervention, but for the smaller scale it is a nice solution and whelps promote the flexibility of Mahara. I was also interested to hear about their E-Learning Design Apprentices, who were in attendance. This is a scheme they run and was a pleasant surprise for me as I have never heard of someone wanting to apprentice in this line of work, in fact until I started in this line of work I’d never heard of it!

Rather than digress I will move onto the brilliant insights one of their E-Learning Design Apprentices, Sarah, had to share. As a new user of the system, Sarah was able to bring new insights and remind us of things we probably already knew but had forgotten. She started by rationalising the problems she had with Mahara by describing it as ‘web design’ a skill she hadn’t tried before. I have never thought of it in these terms before, but she is correct there is a fair amount of web design, in relation to where content goes and how objects interact or juxtapose one another on the page. Sarah explained that once she had realised this the system was much easier to use, and she understood why she was struggling with other aspects. The other thing Sarah said I thought was of particular interest was that when colleagues use the term ‘clunky’ to describe a system (which we have all heard for Mahara and our VLEs I’m sure) why they actually mean is that it doesn’t work how they would expect, or it works differently yo other tools they have used. This was an excellent way of expressing a thought I had been unable to put into words myself.

We then heard from a tutor at Sparsholt who is using the system with their students, she described how it helped her equine students benefited from using the system to show things that would otherwise have had to be written about. Things like tacking choices are much easier to demonstrate in a video than in an essay, and it allows them to use written content for the more academic segments.

Ursula then returned to summarise the slot and, although it was not part of her original presentation she ended up showing how Sparsholt use VShare with Mahara for video sharing. Ursula explained that she has the ethos students shouldn’t have to use a 3rd party tool, and therefore possibly sign away content rights etc, in order to engage fully with materials and the web. VShare was not a tool I had heard of, but it is a free video sharing tool, that can have some institutional branding. It seemed as though it had a lot of benefits, but would be fairly admin heavy, again perhaps not best for large institution.

Next to present was me, and you can find the Prezi that I used online. I’ll let you look through that and if you have any questions post them under this blog entry.

We then decided to break for lunch, and although there was no lunch paid for Meredith from Catalyst had brought a bounty of treats for people to share and there was also a canteen nearby for people to buy sandwiches and the like.

After lunch was the slot provided for Catalyst and Meredith talked about the changes made for the new release of Mahara 1.10, including 239 squashed bugs, tons of accessibility improvements and a customisable dashboard. She also highlighted the new Social Media tab under the profile section, which was one of the first things I discovered. This replaces the messaging tab, and allows for a wide range of social media tools to be linked to. These links can then easily be added to any Mahara page the user creates, and in most cases included an attractive icon. Meredith also pointed out 1.10 offers greater control over notification for Groups. You can test these new features for yourself on the Mahara Demo site. Moving on Meredith had a few other things to touch on, including the Mahara UK Conference which from this year will be referred to as the Mahara UK Hui, to pay homage to the systems New Zealand roots. The UK Hui will take place sometime around the first 2 weeks of July and is likely to be held in London, although negotiations are still on-going. Meredith also told us that she has been charged with updating the MaharaDriod app, which currently does not work with the most recent versions of Mahara. She said it is likely to require a complete re-design and this could mean using more up-to-date tools which would allow the app to work across mobile operating systems. In other news, which some of you may not have known, Catalyst have now taken over responsibility for the Mahara trademark and partner program. Although this will in no way affect anyone’s terms and conditions or the way they use Mahara it could mean some improvement for the partner program. She also touched on Totora Social which has branched out from the Mahara project. At the moment there are still a number of similarities and some code may be shared back, but eventually they will become entirely separate products. Totora Social has some nice features, including the sharing of ideas from the dashboard to specific areas, which reminded me a lot of Yammer. It will be interesting to see which features come across to Mahara as plugins or core code. Meredith reminded us all to use Launchpad to log any bugs or new features and to go in there and vote for anything already existing we’d like to see fixed or added. I think this will be an important part of the user group, as we can join together to target improvements we’d like to see. Finally, Meredith also raised the idea of an agnostic alumni site, which would allow students from any institution to host their Mahara portfolios, either as a place holder between institutions or after leaving. It might work as a subscription service, and could be a solution for the always on going issue of alumni access. I for one think it is worth exploring and hope it can be re-visited at a future user group. This makes it sound like Meredith was talking for a long time, this is not the case, rather she managed to mention lots of little things that are all deserving of mention, for completeness at least.

We then had a brief update from Sam of Southampton Solent University, who had been to the German Mahara Conference as a keynote speaker. She described what struck her most was the German government’s caution towards online tools, including Mahara. Whereas we are fighting to try and get our tutors to use these tools, in Germany they are only allowed to use them in special cases, and if the tutors want to use them they have to talk to the local government. Even still there are many of them trying to fight to get to use tools like Mahara, which is a stark contrast to the UK.

Roger Emery, who kindly helped organise and facilitate the user group was next up to present and he talked about how to customise the language and help files within Mahara. His method does not involve any core code hacks, and so makes upgrading easier. You would need to get in touch with him for exact details but it basically involves copying the original files (php for language and html for help) and then adding the copy to the local directory. This means that when Mahara is looking for the files, as they have the exact same name it will overwrite the original file with whatever is in the local directory. It also means you just have to re-add the local directory when you upgrade.

This ended the scheduled part of user group, and I am aware that this post has become quite long, but that is just how much good cotnent there was, and I’d hate to deny any of this information to thsoe who were not in attendance. I will try to be breifer in my description of the rest of the session.

After the agenda had run out there was still time left for some requested segments, which had come out of other elements of the day. First of all we had a sharing of useful plugins, including Open Badges, CPD and Linked plugins. We then discussed the Mahara group for this user group which is available from the official mahara.org website and is an open group (you just have to be logged in).

Finally we had some hands on help when Sarah asked about sharing a link to a single page within a collection, and I’m sure you will be able to find the test link in the Tweets from the day.

All of the tweets from the session (that used the hashtag #mugse) have been Storified: https://storify.com/Lilly_Stardust/mugse-2

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