My response to ‘Falling between the cracks: in search of a mentor’

During last summer I reached peak frustration levels and posted a piece about the difficulties surrounding defining career paths and identities in the field of educational technology. Specifically, the difficulties around finding a mentor in such a field. Then life derailed for a time and I didn’t quite find the perfect time for a follow up but on a grey weekend following International Women’s Day and Open Education Week this feels as about right as it gets. I’ve also noticed on Twitter recently that others are having similar frustrations at the lack of conversations around identities of professional services and alternative academics in general so the issue is still alive and kicking.

Writing the post itself was pretty cathartic but I tagged in a bunch of people on Twitter that I admire and gain inspiration from, thinking I might get one or two hints and tips in return.

However, I was staggered by not only the level of response but just how quickly they all arrived in my notifications. Many people were on holiday and someone was even on maternity leave. Not only that but many others joined the conversation both on Twitter and WordPress.

So, what’s happened since? Well on paper absolutely nothing, zip, nada – same school, same office, same job title. However, I went through all the suggestions and advice and have been working on as much as practically possible. The SEDA route looks really interesting but it requires funds that I just don’t have at the moment, so it is definitely on the list for the future. ALT and CMALT were mentioned frequently and their 2017 survey results indicate that many of my peers would also value a mentoring element. I have since been participating with several of their initiatives including signing up to the Senior CMALT pilot which will hopefully be an informative adventure. I’ve certainly gained from engaging with CMALT so far so watch this space.

Other common themes that arose include the importance of trust, finding the best person, being comfortable with the person, having someone from a different field, not restricting yourself to one person and recognising mentorship even if it isn’t labelled as such.

People asked me questions and pointed me to resources which have all been really valuable and practical, yet, these weren’t the most valuable elements of the exercise. It was the responses themselves that lifted me back off the bottom. Nearly, every single one was from someone that I have never met offline, some I have never even conversed with. One comment has lead to a continuing conversation with thought provoking questions for me to answer. Many of us are becoming ever more critical regarding technological determinism and the data mining exploits of many platforms but achieving these honest, open and supportive conversations is literally incredible. I would never have approached people, I didn’t know, in a face-to-face situation and asked these questions and certainly not repeatedly.

Being open is still loaded with risk, in many, many ways, but the payoff can be huge. This then is my THANK YOU, to each and every one of you! As I said at the beginning, on paper everything is the same as it was in August but otherwise, everything is different, everything. I might not be clear about the short term, which is still as clear as mud, but the future is now pretty bloody exciting as I will starting a part-time PhD at the University of Edinburgh with the amazing Jen Ross in October 2018. There, I’ve said it out loud. It’s real (no more curve balls please). You all contributed in part to this.

Sue Watling summed it all up perfectly in the Tweet below and I know I will be turning ever more to that network when I begin this new adventure.

“We’re the Twitterati network of HE practitioners, making @twitter into what we want it to be!”

PS After I wrote the initial post my institution began a pilot scheme for professional services staff and despite replying within a couple of days of receiving the email I am somewhat ironically on a waiting list as they had so many responses, which made me smile!

Women’s Work

This week is pretty special for me as International Women’s Day and the Launch of the ALT Northern Ireland Members Group collide on 8th March, bringing technology, learning, openness and equality together.

I contribute to an online creativity task, the Daily Create (I would highly recommend checking this out) and one recent activity centred on colouring a page from an open source document, the Europeana Coloring Book. My eye was immediately attracted to one of women at work within a domestic setting. The title ‘Ouvrages Domestiques’ translates (via Google) to Household Items so I assume the intention of the pictures was to focus on the tools not the people using them and technological determinism continues to be a problem today.

Public Domain: The Studio Carl Larsson

What struck me most though is that nearly each tool, captured here between 1800 and 1854, remains part of my life, in one form or another, all these years later. I use an iron, stove, floor brush, sewing needle, toy and so on. However, it is transformative newer technologies that mean I live a very, very different life from these women. I have an electric stove so I don’t have to go out and obtain fuel to maintain a fire to cook, I have a washing machine so I don’t have to spend hours heating water over a fire in order to fill a basin to then hand wash each item, I have a vacuum cleaner to speed through the house, my father has a mechanical milking system to enable him to milk a dozen or more cows in the time this woman would have milked one, I buy butter churned mechanically and I buy my clothes online and get them delivered to my door.

Each scene intrigues more every time I look at it; things are so different for me two hundred years later (not least being free of weighty garments) yet every single one features in my life in some form or another. Technology has changed dramatically and I am now freed from domestic work enough to be able to work and earn money doing something I love and find mentally challenging. However, I am not freed entirely, the majority of these chores still need done each day and I use technology to squeeze them into the few hours I have left in the week and to allow some of them to become my hobbies rather than essential to my existence. Thankfully, I am able to share these tasks with my husband, unlike these women. I think though that apart from paid work some of these women were using the technology for that same reason – for fun; musical instruments, embroidery, gardening depicted by women in fancier, elaborate outfits than those doing more laborious work.

Looking to the future for women and technology later in the week I will be thinking a lot about what technology can and can’t change and how we can get distracted by the transformative nature for those of us who are privileged. We have to remain cognisant that technology in and of itself isn’t the answer to equality, that women and those without access to it remain chained to thankless labours and, worse, may even have their jobs threatened by technology. We need to focus on the wins for everyone, rather than for a privileged few, whether in education, healthcare, communities or beyond.

My hope is that in another two hundred years this colouring book will at the very least have a diverse gender and social depiction. Have a wonderful International Women’s Day.