The following is the first of a series of blog posts exploring the history of the role of women in educational technology specifically looking at women in leadership positions in higher education. This series is of an exploratory nature and not meant to be a complete history. If you know of a woman that should be included please add information about her in the comments section.
In the last few months I have had several experiences that have led to deepening my curiosity around the question of the role of women in educational technology. In creating a digital history project in my Issues and Practices in Educational Technology course, I am going to develop a series of blog posts in an attempt to explore the historical role of women in educational technology, focusing on women in leadership roles in higher education. In this initial post I am going to simply relate how I came to this project while I share some resources on this topic and give some examples of specific histories.
I first became interested in this topic through participating in the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education (#FurtureEd) MOOC taught by Cathy Davidson. In one of the first videos of the course Davidson pointed out that only 9% of wikipedia editors are women. She asked the question “How can this be when so many of our knowledge creators and curators are women?” I thought it was a fascinating question and found that it was addressed quite impressively by Margaret Roth on a recent edtechwomen blog post.
As a part of my current course work I read Paul Saettler’s The Evolution of American Educational Technology and noted the lack of any real mention of women, especially in leadership roles, in this comprehensive history of educational technology (there are a few exceptions, one being Maria Montessori’s science of instruction and didactic devices). Other readings provided in the class took a deeper look at women’s contributions to ed tech including Anna Verona Dorris a pioneer in the visual instruction movement of the 1950’s and the author of the first extensive text on visual instruction “Visual Instruction in Public Schools”.
From the beginning of the course I started toying with the idea of doing something surrounding women in ed tech. I knew this was too broad so looking for ideas to narrow things and searching for leads on specific histories I tweeted the idea. I got a fair amount of retweets and people expressing interest in the idea but really only one lead. Audrey Waterstweeted back to me pointing out Cynthia Solomon, one of the founding researchers of the Logo programing language designed for teaching programing to children. We had discussed Logo in class some but I was not aware of Cynthia’s contributions.
In some preliminary searching on my own I found Ada Lovelace and fell in love with her. Ada is credited with being the first computer programer through her work on a set of notes that she developed on the Babbage Analytical Engine; an early computer. One of the reasons that I like Ada so much is that she is more than just a programer – she is also a visionary. Seeing past the computational powers of a computer, envisioning it to make art, and articulating the possibilities with more eloquence than even its creator. In the Issues and Practices course we spent a long time talking about how the definition of ed tech has changed over the years and how it is still in flux. I found myself wondering if Ada was a figure in educational technology or if she was more of a figure in the history of computer science. Is there a difference? I’m not sure exactly how to address this question here but field of ed tech would not be what it is without Ada.
I kind of got sidetracked at one point and I toyed with the idea of doing an oral history of faculty impressions on the impact of technology in their disciplines. I got pretty excited about the idea but my professor Dr. Voithofer actually pulled me back toward doing a history of women in educational technology. I decided to focus on three areas: research, practice, and specific technologies and highlight women in each of these areas in a series of blog posts. Through some time spent in class discussion I decided to focus on women in leadership roles in ed tech. I do like the idea of doing an oral history and may incorporate that tool as I research this topic.
Even during this first round of searches I can’t help but notice how hard it is to find good information. It is my hope that through this project that I can shed some light on historical women leaders in ed tech and perhaps even record some experiences of those currently working in the field. I am also hoping that you the reader will help me out and add any reflections, relevant points, or specific histories to the comments section below.
Autumm Caines is the Academic Technology Specialist at Capital University and just started an MA program in Educational Technology at The Ohio State University. She is active on Twitter under the handle @autumm where she tweets about educational technology.