Does Ed Tech have a ‘man problem’ too?

A New York Times article ‘Technology’s Man Problem’  cross my stream today. As a women with a computer science degree who used to work in telecommunications (verification analyst, post-sales engineering, and product management), I found it depressing to hear stories of it being worse than it was 15 years ago when that was my primary field. In many ways social media makes the problem worse, which was highlighted well in this article. I count as one of the 51% who do something different – although I would argue that what I do is on the boundary of computer science and education, not truly fitting into either category.

For the first time, I experienced some of the negative culture traits in the Ed Tech world when I was at the #et4online conference. I found at several sessions that men of a particular age felt it OK to dominate conversations. In one session, I sat at a table with two men, and one of the men at the table ignored everything I said. He would speak for the table and only share his views/opinions (to be fair, I think he ignored the other man at the table too). At another session, the person in question dominated the question and answer session – not allowing anyone else in the room to ask questions. The moderator for the session didn’t jump in to ensure others had a chance to ask questions. At a session on Ed Tech startups, the speaker said outright that venture capital funding went predominantly to young males – he made some token comment about being open to funding more women, but it was more of an off-handed remark than a sincere point. There was never a thought that perhaps there was something wrong with this model itself.

At the time, I had chosen not blog about my negative experiences at #et4online, as in general I found it to be a good conference. It was a bit of a turning point for me, helping me to see myself as an Ed Tech Scholar rather than a PhD Student. However, I am a little concerned about the signs of cultural decline.

Now I’m not saying that Ed Tech has a ‘man problem’, I’m merely asking the question. I think it is through asking these questions that we avoid slipping down that negative slope. We do not want to be following the same path as computer science and engineering, fostering hostile cultures that require women to be extra strong (or have extra thick skins) in order to survive/thrive in, and as a result seeing the number reduce over the years when they should be increasing.

What do you think? Does Ed Tech have a ‘man problem’?

5 Comments on Does Ed Tech have a ‘man problem’ too?

  1. Gosh, Rebecca, love this post and the discussion on it – thanks for writing it. I noticed the title earlier and been wanting to come back and read it ever since. Have you read Deborah Tannen’s “you just don’t understand”? It’s about male/female communication styles, and tackles this male domination issue in f2f settings (but also sometimes in online spaces by writing longer more complex text in online discussions or blogs; i’d exclude a few men, but not most). It was actually discussed during the virtual aspect of #et4online as a side-discussion, particularly how male academics ignore young female academics. Was just about to blog something slightly related, and will do in a minute. But i mean my point is: is there any field (aside from maybe gender studies and midwivery) where one man’s presence does not normally dominate the discussion?
    But back to your main point: yes, i agree with you and brokansky (sorry, first name escapes me at the moment!but i know i should remember it-Michelle?) that men dominate ed tech in not-so-subtle ways, even online e.g. Big name bloggers… Or big names as a whole, i guess (think Cormier, Siemens, Downes as much bigger names than the very respectable Stewart, Mackness). It is not that strange, since academia is mainly male-dominated, tech is male-dominated (i am also a computer scientist, top in my class, and still men, including my late father and husband who are MDs, feel compelled to help me with computer related things; it kills me).
    Buuuuut ed tech is less male dominated, i think, than tech alone and academia alone, if that makes sense? Maybe it’s coz most of my interaction has been online lately, or because my organization and my department specifically is high-female – we are 5 faculty, 4 of us women, and the most two ed-tech ones are both female. Same for the whole department – many women.
    Funny enough, when i wanted to discuss gender issues this semester with my students, as they relate to females learning via ed tech, they didn’t want to spend too long on it (i used to cover it regardless, but this semester made it their choice how deep to go)… I mean, that is another issue, too, right? How social and other factors affect girls’ attitudes and comfort with tech, then how lack of tech or ed tech role models make that even harder… I am blabbing on now..
    One last thing, though, a bit tangential. How often has a woman been characterized “charismatic”? Usually, it is a man that gets that title. I don’t know what it is, but it’s usually a man. Can you think of many (any?) women you’d call that?

  2. Hi Rebecca. I wanted to say thank you for speaking up about this important topic. I have some thoughts to share. I consider myself an ed tech scholar too. I teach online, I teach faculty how to teach online, I write, I blog, and I speak about my teaching experiences.

    I have some perspectives to share about how differently I perceive the online ed tech space to be gendered from the face-to-face ed tech space. I perceive an equality problem in both areas, but the nuances are different.

    In general, when I interact with my PLNs online, I have connect with women and men and my experiences (for the most part) are wonderful. I feel valued much more as an equal in my online communities than in face-to-face discussions/break outs like those you’ve mentioned. There are often blog titles that make me roll my eyes or articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education that make me exasperated (don’t even get me started on the comments — augh). Essentially, the online space has boundaries that I see as more ed tech and more higher ed. When I move more away from individual blogs (like yours) and into content distributed within more traditional higher education media/institutional circles the gendered tone shifts. And the same is true when I move from my PLN into a face-to-face higher education conference. Ed tech incorporates from the social codes of online communities and the social codes of face-to-face higher education (along with its deep-rooted sexism).

    For about four years, I taught a course on cultivating online community using social media and I would estimate about 85% of the participants who took that course were female. What does that say about a suggested gender preference in our innovative educational practitioners? But when I look at ed tech higher ed bloggers (not micro blogging — bloggers) they are predominantly male. The percentage of women who teach online who openly speak out and share about their teaching experiences, experimentation, etc. is far lower than men when we look at higher education. I find this concerning. The cultivation of online community requires one to embrace a feminine approach to relationships — fostering inclusivity and equality, in contrast to a hierarchical or top down method of control. So, it isn’t surprisingly that more women professors would be intrigued to adopt new technologies in teaching to explore and experiment with how they could transform and reshape their class dynamics and learners’ experiences. But what a missed opportunity if their voices aren’t heard for the rest of us to learn from.

    I have done many Hangouts on Air, as part of employment and consulting projects over the past two years, and I have found that to be a great way to elicit volunteers from my PLN to share practices. Fabulous teaching practices have been shared in these Hangouts by both men and women and it is my hope that they may serve as some method of breaking the ice for those who haven’t stepped into social sharing yet.

    Rebecca, let me know if you’d like to collaborate on a proposal for ET4Online next year. I think this topic could make a very meaningful panel!

    • A collaboration on a panel sounds like a wonderful idea! I think we need to raise some awareness, and that might be a great place to do it. Especially if they allow for virtual participants – as Maha mentioned – she didn’t have the same experience because she participated virtually, and I think that offers an interesting perspective on the conversation.

      • I believe we could arrange this pretty easily by inviting a panelists who are not present at the conference to participate via Google+ in a Hangout. I agree that engaging a virtual attendee’s perspective would be not only important but fascinating!

  3. Good post and I liked the article–thanks. The more I look at the tech sector, especially its invasion into education, the more I’m convinced that men are becoming more and more immature. Position in society, talent in a job or other signs of “seriousness” as an actor in the world are erased by a lack of empathy or personal reflective practice.

    My take is that our western culture’s fondness for technology has made people emotionally locked into the role of Junior Space Ranger into exemplars of the future. Our heroic best–wankers all!

    As a male I see this silliness in my own competitive nature hidden behind a kind goofiness that becomes insincerity in respecting others–male or female. As a father I see my daughters pushed around by assholes one tenth their talent but 100% male.

    Because we don’t talk about this male issue I suppose there does need to be someplace where jerks can thrive but it’s too bad they are taken to be leaders because of their place at the front-end of growth. Could this be why technology seems to have stalled at the trinket stage of development?

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