CoSN Chair Reflects on Women in Ed Tech

The annual ISTE conference is always packed full of sessions, meetings with vendors on the exhibit floor, networking, crowds, and, almost always, heat and humidity. This year’s conference in Atlanta had plenty of all of the above and surpassed expectations in several categories, including humidity.

I always have my own take-away theme from every ISTE conference, and it isn’t ever the official theme. I remember the year of the white boards – it seemed like the biggest booths and the most activities were all interactive white board competitors. Other years the exhibit floor and the conversation were dominated by tablets, mobile computing, and apps (lots free). There has been a continual evolution of content and exhibits since I attended my first NECC conference (what ISTE conference was called until recent years) in Boston in 1994. Back then we focused on trying to get internet into the classroom and there seemed to be more sessions about computer science than about technology integrated into teaching and learning.

This particular year, I will remember ISTE as the year of women in edtech. The theme evidenced itself in early June with a blog post by Ariel Norling who wrote about a very difficult experience she had at ISTE 2013 involving drinking, inappropriate advances, and maybe even sexual assault. That post was picked up by Audrey Watters and then by many others, and reactions were quite diverse. One of ISTE’s responses was to update their Conference Code of Conduct to explicitly prohibit harassment and to outline consequences. Many of my edtech women colleagues began talking about misogyny in society and in the edtech world in particular. Having come of age in the seventies, and as an ardent reader/follower of Steinem, Friedan, Jong and others, I have long worn my feminist leanings on my sleeve. A positive outcome for Ariel’s brave sharing of her story will be for women to be safer and stronger and more aware of these issues.

Unrelated to this specific situation, a non-profit organization, edtech women (that began in 2013, I think), hosted a dinner at ISTE. I attended and had planned to attend weeks before the regrettable (unfortunate, ugly, traumatic) incident mentioned above had come to public light. The dinner was a social event, sure, but it was also meant to generate support and build a community for edtech women. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach was one of the speakers and she was eloquent about women bringing all of their gifts to the professional table, and not hiding their feminism. Matt Wallaert, Behavioral Scientist at Microsoft, spoke about being armed with data to ask for raises. Thank you to organizers Sehreen NoorAli and Margaret Roth for seeing the need and filling the gap.

Kecia Ray, ISTE Chair and Executive Director of Learning Technology in Nashville, Tennessee, hosted a breakfast at ISTE and invited many women leaders from the edtech world. There was an amazing amount of wisdom, sisterhood, years of experience, humor, and collegiality in that room! Many people shared their thoughts and experiences and we came away charged up to continue the conversation and to build community.

As the Chair of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), I know I am already a member of a community of education technology leaders who value women and our contributions. Creating a community specifically for women is not meant to imply otherwise. CoSN is an amazing organization that works to empower all educational leaders to leverage technology.

So, after ISTE2014, what’s next? Here’s what I hope for. I hope that the conversation continues and that we create a strong and enduring community of women in edtech. I hope to be one of many who helps steer the focus to one of encouragement, support, empowerment, and strength, and that the result is a group of women who are willing to “lean in” (thank you Sheryl Sandberg) for the betterment of all.

Jean Tower is Chair of the CoSN Board of Directors and Director of Technology at Public Schools of Northborough & Southborough (MA). She originally posted this reflection at http://k12edubuzz.com/iste2014.

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