Several weeks ago, I gave a bunch of presentations and I'm finally catching up with recaps on this here blog. Better late than never, no?
One of the presentations was to a a group of UNM's inservice and preservice teachers, who were taking a Multimedia Literacy for Educators course.
My talk was a personal account of my experiences as a web professional, including some of the challenges I've noticed in my field. But before I go into the recap details, how about some background?
How I Got the Gig
My friend Parry Silcox helps teach the Multimedia Literacy class, which focuses on the construction and deconstruction of media, as well as examining the mediums through which we receive media. The goal of the course is not only to make teachers more comfortable with technology so that they can more easily incorporate it into their classrooms, but also to understand how their students are interacting with technology and how that defines the world they live in.
Over the course of the semester, Parry and I would grab coffee and chat about our respective lives and jobs. For me, that meant a lot of talk about my blog, my activities on Twitter and my book deal. I also talked a fair bit about some of the things in the web industry that bug me, specifically what I perceive to be a gender disparity.
All this catching up eventually got Parry thinking that some of what I knew and experienced might be useful to his students. So he asked me to give a talk and cover:
- How I got into the field and I have positioned myself within it
- My perceptions that comparatively fewer women are recognized for their work and how this should change
- The chain of events leading to the publishing of my book
Parry wanted to spark discussion beyond the broad scope of media to some specifics like gender issues. After all, teachers help shape their students' perceptions of the world and gender stereotyping is something that is not often considered by teachers.
And on the topic of media and technology, he wanted to show that it is more than just a discussion, but a reality. Technology, social media in particular, is changing the way we all interact with one another.
So, on May 4, 2009, I attempted to get those discussions going with a very personal talk, What I've Learned Along the Way
Slideshow & Resources
Which included links to several resources:
- A List Apart's Surveys for People Who Make Web Sites: 2008, 2007
- Opera Web Standards Curriculum
- WaSP InterAct Curriculum
- Ada Lovelace Day
- Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions
- Ada Lovelace: First Programmer or Harbinger of Doom?
- A Tipping Point for Women in Tech? Here's Hoping.
- BlogHer Releases Second Annual Women and Social Media Study: It's all about you!
The Recap (Finally)
I kicked off the presentation with a little timeline of how I got into web, going all the way back to high school and college where I was Editor–in–Chief of my schools' yearbooks. I stressed that this background in communication — via words, pictures and layout — was a necessary (for me) foundation for working in the web; that it is all about communication, just across different media.
I then discussed how I eventually sought formal education for my web skills (having taught myself for several years) and what a disappointment it was to discover the sorry state of education for web professionals:
- Untrained teachers and teachers who had taught themselves bad habits
- No talk of today's web standards
- Outdated methods
But then I mentioned how there are groups trying to change this: WaSP Interact and Opera's Web Standards Curriculum.
Next I dove into my feelings about the gender disparity in the industry, citing some statistics from ALA's surveys and pointing out that they just don't jibe with what I've personally seen in terms of a lack of female representation.
Which transitioned into a question I always ask myself: "Are there really fewer women in the field?
As far as I can tell, the answer is no. But the women who are in the field aren't showing up at conferences, on blogs, in books … And why is this? Again, just my two cents, but I think it is a number of factors ranging from personal priorities to sexism.
Sexism? You bet. I referenced not only my own experiences in explaining this particularly distasteful aspect of my profession, but also some of the conference presentations that have used sex and objectification in order to "educate" folks about various tech topics.
But, as I'm not really a whiner when it comes to my own life, I talked about how I am personally trying to get past these issues. I mentioned that being aware of the problems is only part of the solution. Taking action; moving past the issues and affecting change is what I'm doing.
I then concluded my talk with details about my experiences with social media — blogging and being active on social networks. How these activities have helped my career (with the book) and me personally (by getting used to "putting myself out there").
I definitely feel the presentation was well received. I tried to keep any "geekspeak" to a minimum, and I tried to relate everything to a teacher's perspective.
I was also able to answer some questions, including some about how teachers can incorporate web education and social media into their classrooms when facing administrators who are concerned about whether these topics should even be in the classroom.
But I think the best result from my talk is when Parry informed me that my discussion about sexism actually helped two of his students. Apparently, the students were paired up for their final projects and one team (male and female) had put together a presentation that included some imagery of Playboy bunnies.
The imagery was the male student's idea to add a bit of levity to the presentation. His female partner wasn't really digging this addition to their presentation, but she wasn't sure how to address her concerns to her partner.
After my talk, the male student realized that he didn't want to include those pictures anymore. That his hope for humor was far outweighed by the potential negative impact of those images.
Nice to know that, however small, I made a difference.
More to Come
After preparing for and giving this presentation, it became blatantly obvious to me that there is much more to say, particularly on education and gender. These are two ugly issues that I believe hold the web industry back, but are also opportunities for the industry to shine as these challenges are addressed.
I am definitely going to write in more detail on both of these topics. Unfortunately, it will simply have to wait until late August, when my final manuscript is due.