Tech-Savvy Gender Gaps and Social Computing

My friend, Reuven, with whom I am collaborating in an online collaborative literature project, passed along this report on the gender gap in computers, Tech-Savvy, which was published in 2000. Interestingly, while the authors touched briefly on the role of collaborative and project-based learning in order to bridge the gap between the genders, the aspect of social computing, so prevalent today in 2005, was seemingly unanticipated. However, the authors did briefly explore one group of female students’ interaction in a MOO (Multi-player, object-oriented environment). This was definitely a precursor to the social computing applications of today.

Just half a decade later, it is good to see that things are changing with regards to gender inequities in computer studies.

I believe it is the phenomenon of social computing that has changed the gender gap which has been so prevalent in the area of computers in education.

Yes, in the past I have watched the relative reticence of girls using computers compared to boys in the computer/technology classroom.

Social computing, which permits collaboration through relationship-building, has changed this dynamic. Has this been the link that has been missing in computer applications?

It has been quite refreshing to see the young women in my classes who have even stated out loud, “computers hate me!” discover the social computing tools of blogging and online forums. These social software tools have galvanized them, I believe, because of the potential for an authentic audience and engaging interaction.

While the study may now seem dated, it was encouraging for me to read the suggestions from so many teachers (over 900 interviewed through surveys) and how far we have indeed come in just 5 short years.

Connectivism and Web 2.0

For a GREAT lecture on Connectivism and Web 2.0 by George Siemens, here is the podcast. Warning: it is not short! A powerpoint slideshow accompanies the podcast. As an aside, it is fascinating to see how this social computing tool works.

I had to look up what exactly was meant by Web 2.0 – having just recently been introduced to Thomas Friedman’s Globalization 3.0 – and found Tim O’Reilly’s definition

First, Siemens examines the other learning theories and some of the nouns (i.e. constructs, schema, underpinning) used to describe learning which he finds to have too much of a boundary of what knowledge is.

He explores what has changed – context, the interplay of learner and society, societal needs and the rapid growth of information.

Here, in brief, are some of his points. I have bold-faced those of particular interest to me.

• learning as a network creation model – cognition can be distributed – knowledge can exist in a group of learners

• Meaning-making in collaboration – collaborative meaning-making
(I feel I am attempting this with the four online collaborative projects with five other schools around the world – will it work? I hope so!)
• Learning is no long “in advance” of need – we need a different model.

Most educators are still trying to get new technology to do the work of the old (I ask myself, how much am I guilty of this? how do we replace the new learning approaches? This is the most important issue. Learning to use technology (i.e. software, Internet tools) is relatively simple. Changing one’s pedagogical approaches is much more complex and difficult.)

We are still trying to duplicate what happens in a classroom in an online learning environment

Are we failing to see new opportunities because of old constructs? (How do we see these new opportunities? Do we discover them through collaboration in networks? Do we discover them ourselves? My experience is perceiving new experiences is usually because of my initiative in reading, researching and developing meaningful relationships with my teaching colleagues abroad. For example, it was my good friend Reuven Werber who passed this podcast along to me. He does this often and then we talk about our takes on it when we meet for audio conferences or in our emails.)

• “thoughts exist in space and time” I am not the network, but am on my own network – we can see one perspective from our node in the network

• network view of knowing – we are not as logical as we think we are – cognitive dissonance abounds

• complex situations are impossible to view in entirety (uses Iraqi war as an example)

• we are undergoing a paradigm shift – we must move to a different node on the network in order to appreciate a different view – we need to shift

• it is pattern recognition, not info processing, that is important in a digital world

• perspective is not a framework; perspective is seeing a network from one particular node

• self-organization – the capacity with which we have to connect to others who are similarly inclined – can result in a robust community – without design

• Established notions of learning and what is happening in the classroom is chaotic

• Siemens examines Snowden’s ontologies

Ed. Tech. educators need to give greater levels of control for the end-user to form greater connections with each other and other users and experts; it is through this process we may stay current (George Siemens does not seem to be a huge fan of learning/content management systems for the establishment and perpetuation of online connections. While I love the way moodle allows me to build and support a community of learners in order to establish online relationships, I can see that not enough user control is given to the ordinary student. Perhaps by having the students have greater control of the course area will they truly become engaged in the process of learning. Blogs do give much more user control to the users but it is difficult to get over the issues of privacy for K-12 students. How can educators get around this?)

• Knowledge exists in multiple domains – impt for ed. Tech designers.

• Transmission model has been predominant model – although should be a secondary model

• Learning as cognition and reflection – constructivism, cognitivism – schools don’t do a good job of promoting this

• Acquisition model – learner-motivated

• Accretion model – should be primary model of teaching – knowledge is complex, no longer one-dimensional – connectivism is the learning theory to promote this

• His podcast makes the link between learning theories and Web 2.0 trends

• Ability for us to connect with ideas that previously existed in isolation is important

• Refers to open source movement

We are witnessing relational internet experience – really connecting to people – tag content based on our interests, social networks which can create robust communities outside of a designer’s intention (Hear, hear! And this asserts one of my own main principles to teaching and learning – we learn through relationship – particularly adolescent learners.)

• Connectivity between people and with content – this requires openness

• Interplay with internet, people, and technology

• Convergence, divergence, collaboration, decentralization

• Web 2.0 permits this – changing environment online

• Web 2.0 is about Content-provider, content-user

• End-user who is control

• Making new meaning with others

• Aggregated perspective – he cites Downes – we take our own perspective and we throw it into the pool of others

We form rel’ps online then ground them in face-to-face contact (this has implications for a blended learning approach)

• Web is a platform which allows end-user to have different degrees of control – we can create and participate

• He also examines the challenges facing these trends in web 2.0

• We can only listen to people with whom we agree

• Personalization of internet information

• Process can be begun

• All this does not align with current views of learning with technology – we are still focused on content, not on connections.

• The challenge is for educators to bring in connecting tools that permit connections to be made – with a focus on the end-user. (This permits one of the buzz words in current pedagogy: student-centred teaching and learning)

• Blogs, for example, allow continual learning and growing

Acknowledging the opposing views exist is an important part of connectivism as a learning theory. (This is so essential in today’s movement toward globalization!)

There are quite a few new concepts here to me. At this point, I am interested on the implications for my own students as well as for my teaching colleagues as they are involved in “tech training” where I work.

I am not sure how much I agree with George Siemens when he states that we need to lose the focus on the content of our online courses and focus on the connections. Would this not depend on the learning goals set for the course unit? And how do we measure or assess success of this connectiveness over content?

Siemens continues to fascinate and challenge me with this new learning theory of connectivism. I hope to hear more from him in the future!

Blogging Do’s and Don’ts

In one of my earlier posts, Critical Thinking, Blogging, and Educational Reform, I presented a short review of James Farmer’s How You Should Use Blogs in Education and How Not to use Blogs in Education. They offer some very good guidelines on how to use blogs for educational purposes. For me, they answered a number of questions that I was wrestling with about how blogs “work” in connecting people that is different from a forum. For educational purposes, blogs do, indeed, create a different dynamic than a more goal-centred forum.

Today a friend pointed me to Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Design Mistakes for Weblog Usability which is a very easy and readable guide to creating a blog that will be seen and appreciated by all. I particularly liked his recommendation to remember that future bosses will see this blog, maybe not now, but even 10 years down the road. I also thought that he dealt with the issue of anonymity quite well, which addresses some of the concerns that have arisen in our Social Computing Class at Concordia University. It was interesting to me, as well, that he thought including a photo of the blogger was an important addition to a blog. I hadn’t really considered that before and am wondering if I really want to include one on my blog.

I also mentioned earlier that Stephen Downes has also written a much more comprehensive how-to on blogging, How to be Heard. In particular, I like his advice on what to write. I have found with my blogging that by going through the process of reflecting on what I am reading by so many others and then expressing my ideas about it has been a good self-discipline and aided in my own comprehension of the material. Frequently, I catch myself rambling incoherently, then stop myself and ask “What is it exactly that you want to say?” How many times have I taught that to my students! Forcing myself through the exercise of blogging has challenged me to express myself clearly and with focus. Not bad things for an English teacher to practice!