'Teaching is a female-dominated profession, so why is the female voice missing when it comes to ed tech?'

Let’s broaden the bandwidth and make sure that in 2018 ed tech is female-friendly, writes WomenEdTech leader Nicole Ponsford

Nicole Ponsford

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The history of ed tech is fused with gender (in)equality.

If you were a child of the 1970s, as I was, the teaching backdrop might be familiar to you, too. At the time, 60 to 70 per cent of the teaching workforce was predominately female – and in mainstream classrooms rather than leadership positions. You, however, might be surprised to learn that male teaching levels reduced to their lowest levels in primary schools (as low as 20 per cent in 1987) but their share of headships was still just over 50 per cent. Men ruled the roosts.

This was similar in the world of technology. Mass commercial advertising of ’70 and '80s home "personal computers" was largely aimed at males, like this Timex Sinclair advert of 1982. The isolated addiction of arcade-gaming jumped "Frogger" style to the PC in the family lounge. The Sinclair ZX80 marketed to the "everyman" (ahem) and computer gamer magazines fuelled the "must-have" desire creating a masculine-heavy community. Computers became a hobbyist talking point, removed from the administration and scientific world that the original computers began in. Technology became associated with microcomputing, gaming and males. Although education campaigns like the Acorn/BBC Computer Literacy Project (1982) hoped to reach "everyone", they didn’t bring in the girls. This was the impact (clue: no women’s lives changed in this post). If you didn’t dream of coding, you weren’t into computers. End of.

Sadly schools did not do much to change this. The world of ed tech embedded these two realities, despite the female majority actually working in schools.

As a child of the late 1970s, I, for one, was not interested in computers. We had a computer at home – but it didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t interested in coding or gaming – I wanted to "play out". As they say now, I needed a bit of green with my screen. I used computers for writing up my dissertation and articles for our university magazine (mid-1990s), then creating adverts on my iMac Flavour (blue) when at my graduate advertising job at the end of the decade. Rather than game, I played with new creative digital software – and I was hooked.

I became a teacher at the start of the next decade, so I am very much a 21st-century teacher. After graduating as a secondary English teacher, my NQT+1 year was spent launching and running a digital multi-media course. Me. Not a male gamer  – a female writer.

Looking back, there weren’t many people (of any gender) doing this pre-iPhone release and even afterwards there wasn’t much support out there for a young, female media/ICT teacher beyond the exam boards. I was the only female at a BSF meeting, and the only female AST in new technologies that I could find.

The iPad explosion

Things then changed around 2010: for me, I had my first son, and ed tech had its new baby, the iPad.

Everyone was ‘appy (pun intended).

The media-related topics that I taught in lessons (body image, social media law and web-creation, for example) were suddenly hot topics for schools. The explosion of social media caused everyone to become a "media expert". Tech giants were offering educational resources, training and services to get schools to purchase their products. Digital arts were cool in the staffroom again – media literacy and digital literacy had the same goals – things were looking good.

Teachers of all subjects and genders looked to apps and portable devices to see how they could engage their learners. Passions were ignited once more. Hoorah.

But, coming back to the ed tech world in late 2016, after my second leave of maternity (and having my own gender-experiment of boy/girl twins), I was shocked at the changes when it came to ed tech. Not just the introduction of AR/VR, but the reality of ed tech gender equality.

Coming from a background as the sole female teacher geek, this was bad.

Ed tech becomes a 'hobby for boys'

In just under two years, the amount of men that were solely the keynote speakers, the chosen few sponsored by apps and those generally lording this fact over EduTwitter seemed to have doubled.

Was this the Tory 1980s – with microcomputers and coding at the forefront again? Has ed tech reverted once again as a hobby for boys and a career for men?

On reflection, I think that Gove’s The Year of Coding in 2014 could be the root of this phenomenon. Everyday coding has gone dark. Think cybercrime on an international level – young schoolboys hacking global organisations from their bedrooms was a real and present danger. Where was the relationship between education and technology? Teachers and traders were competing for the next best thing, against a backdrop of screen addiction, online safeguarding issues and a reduction in tech skills for school leavers. At a time when the amount of free online high-quality ed-tech support is both easily accessible and crying out for teachers  – online examples include this, this and this, the ed tech world is a bit of a mess.

Then it hit me.

Not only were female teachers struggling to get girls into technology – we were struggling to notice the women who were teaching them. We need role models for the kids – seeing is believing and all of that. Hmm. Not cool, guys.

Also, it seemed that when it came to the gender split, the female voice in education was limited and sadly missing, despite women making up over 80 per cent of all staff in schools. Thankfully, the 16,000-plus strong grassroots movement #WomenEd seemed a new and positive voice for women in education. But even as the women of #WomenEd we were asking who were the digital leaders. 2018 needed to be different.

To help redress these issues, @WomenEd_Tech was launched on the first day of 2018 as an extension of the grassroots movement, #WomenEd. #WomenEd is for all existing and aspiring leaders: WomenEdTech offers digital leadership support. The response has been amazing with hundreds of sign-ups, supportive ed-techers and interest from the traders who want to reach out to schools and female digital leaders. Surprisingly, many men made contact, also in shock at the current lack of inclusivity and diversity in the ed-tech world, so it’s not just me. @WomenEd_Tech is just a Twitter handle and a planned ed-tech camp this summer, but with our growing and enthusiastic community, it feels like the start of something.

2017 was a watershed year for women; I am hoping 2018 is where we change the predictive text history of ed-tech, too. Ed tech needs to be women-friendly – gender equal – there are too many women in schools for it not to be.

Let’s broaden the bandwidth and celebrate the existing female talent in ed tech, support the aspiring and engage the TechnoNOnonos. How? By giving female-friendly flexible digital leadership and learning opportunities – opportunities to share ideas and skills, network, to be the best we can be, on our terms  – and link with industry. Simple. The result? Technoteachers and techno-whizzkids – women included, not excluded.

My hope is that 2018 will be the year we hit refresh for the future of ed tech, to ensure that both education and technology provide opportunities that are far reaching, all-inclusive and represent us all. I hope you’ll join us.

Nicole Ponsford is the founder of TechnoTeacher,  digital leader for #WomenEd and leader of @WomenEd_Tech

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