Higher Education

An intersectional approach to learning technology – answering key questions with openness

I am writing this blog as a personal contribution to an upcoming webinar session on An intersectional approach to learning technology in a few days’ time (event details and registration available at https://www.alt.ac.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=684). This is a thinking loud blog with personal thoughts based on disruptive antiracism measures. I am addressing here a few questions that will be asked during the webinar and have aimed to limit my contribution to at most three points to each question, as I would like to learn from others too.

Do students, faculty, and staff feel like they belong in our educational and technological systems?

Yes and no here.

Yes, if you follow the prescribed, institutionalised policies and use only the tools made available, without looking sideways or into the future, then yes they will feel they belong. This is the usual approach if someone has the mindset that:

  • they cannot make time for CPDs
  • do not get involved in lifelong learning
  • not looking to improve anything around
  • and sadly the “Your battle is not my battle” mindset

If you are like me, it is a big NO in caps. In my 15 years of work in the UK higher education sector, I cannot say that I feel the system made me feel I belong. However, I have had some enjoyable experiences in industry. What I am doing still in HE? I am here to interrupt and disrupt.

There are however two aspects in this question, the educational system and the technological system, both having overlaps but also must be considered as separate entities when we talk about belongingness.

Sometime around 2012, I work on an internationalisation project, I held several focus group discussions around the challenges of international students, and in parallel had been working on equitable technologies. I still wonder to date, why UK HEIs prescribe teaching and learning so much. We have a set VLE, a set platform that we must use, even if we know that the tools are not easily accessible or usable by various groups of stakeholders, to name a few, individuals with physical disabilities, individuals with poor internet, individuals with learning disabilities, well this can be a growing list, which is a topic for a whole conference (or stream) on its own.

I am currently working on a reflective case study on the educational tools in use in UK HEIs. Some of the reflections include captioning, transcribing accents, and accessibility, among others. However, my first focus is on asynchronous forums, as more and more tutors are going for forums as an online pedagogy tool in the move towards blended/hybrid mode. Watch this space for some uncomfortable questions.

I recall talking about Google offline modes to a critical friend, but then suddenly asked where on the menu is the Google offline mode. And it dawned on me, that my critical friend had no understanding of the challenges I was talking about. Here I was with power cuts and bad internet in contrast to someone sitting in the UK. It is therefore important to not only discuss tools and their features, but also the challenges from an intersectional viewpoint.

A project which I have been working on for the last few months is focused around keeping the discussion around digital inequalities ongoing, even post-pandemic. You are welcome to contribute original photos on the slides and read more about the project on my post Flashcards to raise digital inequalities awareness in the educational sector – an OER practice for solutions.

How do we create a culture of inclusion and belonging in learning technology?

Here are 4 questions that I ask you to pose yourself:

  • What is technology?
  • Where is the technology used?
  • How is the technology used?
  • Who is the target group of the technology?

I shared some of my personal thoughts on this blog Race equality in learning technology – digital poverty – the post has an intersectionality approach. If we truely wish to create a culture of inclusion and belongingness in learning techs, we need to be ready be feel uncomfortable first.

This particular question is linked to the following question and is partly answered below.

How do we change practice to dismantle systems of oppression?

Recognising that there is oppression and talking of oppression is the first and foremost step before we can talk of diversity, inclusivity, etc. Acknowledging oppressive pedagogies, in my opinion, is still uncommon in the UK, subtle words are preferred. I recall recently being tone policed, the unsolicited advice was not to use discrimination but instead to use terms such as inclusion. Talking of oppression and discrimination in the UK brings out a lot of discomfort in some people and is one of the reasons why we often see performative diversity. To dismantle oppressive systems, it is therefore important to get out the heavy ammunition.

Interrupt and Disrupt

  • Everyone’s battle matters
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Trauma-informed approaches
  • Do not rush to bring solutions that will cause further problems

Think of intersectionality

You can aim to answer:

  • Who are you?
  • What is it about you that is the most complex?
  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • What is it about them that is the most complex?
  • Recognise that you do not know it all – lifelong learning approach

Have the right mindset

  • Show committment by:
    • making time
      • What do you do if you do not have the fancy title of Director of Change, Disruptor, Director of …?
    • showing bravery against challenges
      • How do you stand against the decision-making power/authority?
      • How do you stand up for decision-making power/authority?
    • reflecting on one’s practice – examples:
      • Is your practice non-racist or antiracist?
      • How can you improve?
      • Who can help you?
      • Can someone reverse mentor you?
      • Are you talking to the right person?

You may wish to read this blog on Changing mindsets to reduce discrimination at work.

Some reflections are also available on a recent post Reflections & contributions CIE Islands of Innovation 2022 where I wrote about reflective practices, disruptive practices, trauma-informed approaches, co-creation, being action-oriented, and collaboration.

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