Today’s symposium on ‘Women and Technology: How can we challenge inequalities in higher and further education?’ started with an introduction by Niall Winters, in which he welcomed the around 36 delegates and set the frame for the day. Referring to the diverse talks and panels ahead, he emphasised the need to address issues of inequality for women in technology and the necessity for ways forward with regard to overcoming barriers in higher and further education particularly for young women from non-traditional academic backgrounds.
Niall’s welcome was follwed by Mel Jewell’s introduction to go_girl:code + create. In an inspiring speech, Mel reflected on her personal experiences of raising two boys as a single teeange mom and on how, having learned how important it was for her to have a role model in her local youth worker, she came to be a youth worker herself.
Mel was followed by short introductions by Anne Geniets and Paula Fiddi, and the introduction of Julia Hayes of Inclusion Creativa, who drew today’s brilliant symposium graphics. Anne and Paula introduced the aims of the go_girl project, which are: to understand barriers and challenges facing young women from non-traditional academic backgrounds when applying to HE/FE; to increase overall IT skill levels through media production (video, music, blogs) and creative programming and coding; and to increase academic confidence. And they outlined the three project phases, which are: Phase 1 – aspirations and life skills; Phase 2 – IT skills and creative projects; Phase 3 (current phase) – coding and mobile apps.
Brendan Tangney, Professor of Computer Science at the Centre for Research in IT in Education, Trinity College Dublin (TCD), was next up, introducing both the The Bridge21 and CodePlus Programmes for Girls projects in Ireland. Brendan emphasised that just improving coding skills of pupils won’t work if not simultaneously resources are invested into training teachers in IT skills and coding.
Brendan was followed by a panel on ‘Widening Participation in Oxford’, which included Cliona Hannon from the Trinity Access Programme and the Lady Margret Hall Foundation Year and Jo Begbie from the Lady Margret Hall Foundation Year, Helena Webb from the Dept. of Computer Science, University of Oxford, and James Slattery from the Widening Participation Team University of Oxford. All of the participants emphasised the need for improved access to higher education and to Oxford for young people from non-traditional and low socio-economic backgrounds and women. Barriers and challenges were discussed for young people from non-traditional backgrounds, and how programmes like TAP or the LMH Foundations Year and efforts by the Department of Computer Science and the Widening Participation Team at the University of Oxford were trying to tackle these issues. There seemed to be a consensus that in recent years, there have been increased efforts to reach out to and to encourage young people from non traditional backgrounds and for women to apply, as evidenced by a number of initiatives at Oxford such as the ones presented by the panelists.
Next up were the go_girls! Introduced by Paula – Julia, Sabbah, Chloe and Rosie did a fantastic job introducing their coding projects which are still ‘work in progress’ at this stage, and not yet finished. It took a lot of courage for them to stand for the first time in front of such a big audience, but all their hard work and month long preparation of their speeches and presentations completely paid off: Their stories really touched the audience! Frances and Isabel couldn’t make it, so Paula presented the power point presentation of their project which they had prepared in the run up to the event.
Imogen Casebourne, Director of Learning at LEO was up next, talking about the roles in the educational technology sector and reflecting on her personal experiences working in the educational technology sector.
After lunch, Bill Thompson from BBC Make it Digital kicked off the afternoon sessions. He introduced the BBC’s micro:bit initiative and he had brought along one of the micro:bit to demo and for the audience to try.
Bill’s presentation was followed by Janet Gunter, co-founder of the The Restart Project, who reflected on her experience of working with women in tech to move beyond the throw-away economy. Janet presented startling figures about our electronic waste and made a very strong case for why women should try and tinker more and fix their own equipments.
Next up were Kate Lindsay and Ylva Berglund Prytz from the IT Services of the University of Oxford, who reflected on the role of IT Services in widening participation and shared some of their personal experiences working as women in IT.
Rebecca Eynon, Associate Professor at the Oxford Internet Institute and the Department of Education, and Katherine Fletcher from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Oxford concluded the symposium by summarizing the day and by discussing together with the audience what role the technology can play in overcoming inequalities in Higher and Further Education.
To conclude, the variety of perspectives of the day was very welcome and it was great to see the breath of work undertaken to address issues of inequality for women in technology and in further and higher education. Despite the breadth and width of perspectives, there seemed to be wide consensus among the audience that technology alone cannot solve the issue of inequality – indeed may even amplify existing inequalities, but rather needs to be understood as an instrument that may help address the issue.