ARLT SIG

Notes from ARLT SIG 20th Oct meeting – Black History Month and what it means for Learning Technologists

By Dr Teeroumanee Nadan for the ARLT SIG

On 20th October, members of the Antiracism & Learning Technologies Special Interest Group (ARLT SIG) (https://bit.ly/3zqImwT) community met for the first event of the academic year 2022-23. The meeting was themed around “Black History Month” (BHM) in the UK, and most particularly:

  • What BHM means for Learning Technologists (LTs) in the UK?
  • How LTs can get involved?

Within the non-White community in UK, we often distance ourselves from the problem of specific marginalised groups. Talking of BHM has helped re-instate that racism within the UK needs everyone to work hand in hand together to find suitable solutions. Nonetheless, BHM is and remains a problem where Black people MUST be the first to be heard, bearing in mind that the Black community remains the most marginalised and victimised group among the People of Colour (POC) community within UK.

While preparing the discussion slides for this session, I could not but take everyone back into history. Why so? Because we as humans tend to repeat history.

Arkansas Gazette from 1959 – Fire kills 21 boys shut in dormitory at training school

In 1959, 69 black African American boys from ages 13-17 were locked in their dormitory (from outside) at the Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville. A fire mysteriously ignited, with 21 bruning to death while 48 managed to escape.

This is not an event from the distant past, and nor is it an event that is not relatable to 2022. I wrote in an earlier blog about Modern Slavery in UK HEIs (https://bit.ly/3s7gmua) and also on a Digital Inequity (https://bit.ly/3s6IUUK). While in 2022, we do not lock our Black students in the dorm and burn them alive, we nonetheless continue to expose them to the digital divide which has naturally ensued from centuries of British control in British colonies and ex-colonies; we still regularly enforce “British projects/platforms” in the education system in Commonwealth countries. We obviously all have a choice, and we all have the responsibility to change this.

What does Black History month means for LT?

Here are some of the pointers I used to guide the small group discussions. You may consider:

  • Do you understand Black History Month?
  • To what level do you understand Black History Month?
  • What does Black History Month mean to you professionally?
  • What does Black History Month mean to you personally?
  • Does this mean inclusion? What sort and to what level?
  • What else does it mean to you?

How can you get involved?

Here are some of the pointers I used to guide the small group discussions. You may consider:

  • Understanding racism, Black History and creating awareness around you – its impact on your team, your colleagues, your students, your institution and the geographical location of your institution
    • You may find this useful: Understanding Why We Celebrate Black History Month https://bit.ly/3TDy58c  
    • You may find this useful: Race equality in learning technology – digital poverty https://bit.ly/3VK0Ly8
    • You may find this useful: Engage students in Black History Month with technology project work https://static.wixie.com/edu/black-history-month
    • You may find this useful: Anti-oppressive pedagogies in online learning: a critical review – https://bit.ly/3TzuV5t  This is NOT an OER document, however, here are some questions from the paper that you may find useful. We hope to invite one of the authors for a future ARLT SIG event.
What anti-oppressive pedagogies or elements of anti-oppressive pedagogies are present in online learning?

In what ways do anti-oppressive pedagogies inform the design and implementation of online education?

What online technologies support the goals of anti-oppressive pedagogies?
  • What is preventing you from getting involved? In an ideal situation, what can be done to remove those barriers?
    • You may find this useful: Modern slavery in UK HEIs https://bit.ly/3s7gmua 
    • You may find this useful: Ouch! Another year on, and your board room is still with 1 black woman, still better, she ticks other boxes too  https://bit.ly/3DdSKuq 
  • Given no barriers, how can you get involved? Consider this to be a personal pledge. No one will judge you if you do not meet them.

Anonymised summary of discussion notes

We kicked off the discussion with a pertinent question “Why is Black History only talked about during one specific month?” Black History Month has been celebrated since 1987 in the UK but yet in the professional setting it is still being organised/celebrated at an institutional level. Within the group discussion there seems to have been some initial questioning as to whether it should mean something to LTs and if so, what should it mean?

The discussion was guided by the understanding of technologies: to what level should we be aware of the technologies and platforms that we use, are we aware of their limitations, are we aware of the biases of technology, are we aware of alternatives, have we adequately explored the different technologies? Simply put, if you do not know what you do not know, it is difficult to mitigate the issues. How are different groups represented in our materials (departmental webpage, learning content, etc), how about case studies, reading list, are black authors recognised adequately for their due contribution in the sector?

Of course, once we become aware of the issues, how do we address these? The group discussed forward planning for activities, which may include activism. Moreover, there was also discussion on equal opportunities for everyone. Although we did not specifically list the equal opportunities, these have to be present from hiring stage to the time a staff leaves/retires from their institution. It was highlighted that the case of lack of diversity in senior positions around learning technology is particularly prominent in some regions of the UK more than others, and Scottish institutions seem to have the same struggle. You may find some answers here: Equity analysis of 6 LT job blurbs (https://bit.ly/3WEgHTk)

One, rather not surprising, argument made, was the difference between the US and UK in terms of anti-blackness, and openness around challenges of Black people within the educational sector. The UK inadvertently uses softer tone and language, thus lessening the racism issue around Black people in general in the UK, an issue, that of course is naturally transcended within the educational sector and even among LTs. I often refer to the change in mindset, you may find materials and video on this blog useful Changing mindset to reduce discrimination at work (https://bit.ly/3zJTe9h)

While looking at solutions, the institutional solution to digital divide during the pandemic was discussed. We are all aware of how universities started to loan laptops to students, However, is this the strategy to be taken when we are looking at the already marginalised group? Should we be loaning or should we be providing? Are we having our priorities right – should we re-prioritise where institutional money and resources go? This is perhaps something that is beyond the hands of LTs, but more for Senior Leadership Teams to discuss and act on; however, this does not prevent LTs in starting the discussion and influencing their teams and HODs into the right direction for tackling racism.

The question now is what committment are you going to make to decrease racism in your work?

Further Reading

Presentation slides on BHM available at: https://bit.ly/3U4Otiw (Edited version)

Full presentation slides of the ARLT SIG event available at: https://bit.ly/3WdsAPY

This post was originally published here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *