Five Insights from IFWE–International Forum for Women in E-Learning


Although I am still in process,

I am absolutely enough.

–Catherine Brunell

Lisa and I had the good luck to participate in the sixth IFWE conference last week. The event attracted more than 100 women to meet-up in San Antonio from December 3-5.

In less than seven months, with Lisa’s initiation and leadership, I went from not knowing of IFWE’s existence to presenting at its conference. After four days of listening and talking with scores of learned colleagues, all of them women, and 12 hours of travel back to Maine for Lisa, and big exhales from both of us, we are each considering what the experience yielded for us. Five ideas come to mind for me.

Focus and accept help

Katie Blot

Katie Blot

Katie Blot, Senior Vice President of Education Services at Blackboard, opened the conference with a BFO—brilliant flash of the obvious as she called it. She talked about how we all walk tightropes to balance between needs in our workplace and home. Katie shared that a couple of years ago, she had lost her ability to “laser in” and was “not doing the work as well as she had” in the past.  It took her a while (BFO) to realize that her before and after comparisons of ability were driven by the three children she had borne in the meantime.

Katie cited four things that she does now to manage her focus and time. One: Make a short doable list of things for the day. Two: pick #1 and stay with #1 until it’s done. Three: avoid ‘reactive’ work such as email until the #1 thing is done. Four: combine the work and personal into one to-do list to keep ALL critical tasks in sight.

Katie also noted that “asking for help can be a sign of confidence” and that we need to accept certain realities starting with: our challenges; our limits; our definitions of success; and offers of help. She said that a skill leaders need to have as they move up is “how to ask for help but not have it be perceived as an inability to do your job.” When I asked her about how to encourage more leaders to work out loud, she encouraged people to let their whole body of work and performance represent them. She regards communities of practice as safe places in which to seek answers from allies. She left us with Catherine Brunell’s quote above which is useful for reframing self-defeating thought patterns.

Ronnye Vargas Stidvent

Ronnye Vargas Stidvent

Another dynamic, entertaining speaker—Veronica “Ronnye” Vargas Stidvent, Western Governors University Chancellor for Texas, had good recommendations for us, too. She suggested that IFWE attendees should “not wish our lives away” as we marshal our energy to survive a deadline or extra-heavy workload but to instead live fully in the present and savor it to the fullest extent possible. This, too, shall pass, she said, just stay with it and get it done. Ronnye also talked about the value of the “right scaffolding” around us, that is, surrounding ourselves with people who support us and whom we support in return.

Review work practice to improve it

Interesting workshops by Janine Lim (Andrews University) on effective email strategies and Linda Kaiser (Post University) on Curating Content and Connecting with others in Networks showed me that I need to reconsider my methods for both to manage my time more effectively and achieve greater impact. I hope to write another post about the changes I will make as 2015 unfolds in January.

Computer technology enables success

I master computers, phones, apps, websites, etc. as I need to to achieve different ends. (In other words, I don’t experiment with technology just because it’s there. Further, if a tool does a job effectively, I may hang onto it longer than others might. I do not relish the down time of trying to learn another tool unless there is a clear gain to doing so usually prompted by trusted friends who tell me how it enabled a superior product or process for them.)

Ana Maria Lopez

Ana Maria Lopez

The IFWE closing speaker seemed to view technology similarly.  Ana Maria Lopez, the Medical Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, inspired us with her pictures and stories about serving isolated Navaho tribe members and Hispanics. She emphasized that the T-1 lines, and networks, web cameras and computers they use to foster communications and the delivery of medical services are wonderful and necessary to their work. But it takes empathy from a differentiated and very distributed medical team to care, build relationships and help people negotiate the complicated medical care system. The technology is a means to improving professional practice to serve as many people with their health care needs as effectively and efficiently as possible. It is high tech and high touch!

Regrettably, her presentation was not recorded. But the way her remarks affected me, i.e., I was moved nearly to tears and heartened by her pioneering work serving thousands of low-income, sick patients from newborns to 90 year olds, separated by hundreds of miles and rough circumstances, is still with me. It reminds me that purpose trumps all, including computer technology that might frustrate or fail me completely in the short run.

E-Learning means different things to different people

Most IFWE attendees appear to work in higher education. Some are educators working directly with learners, others are instructional designers helping educators use technology in practice. Still others with strong educator backgrounds are marketing learning management systems, products, and professional services to their previous employers. E-learning is designed, controlled, and built to scale to serve millions of consumers. Huge financial interests are at stake.

The WLS marches to a different drumbeat as an emerging social learning consultancy.  We wish to assist mid- and older-career women to use the internet and world wide web to become capable DIY social learners and leaders online. E-learning for us occurs in learning bubbles created by self-directed learners on the internet.  Our learning management systems are often free and include any device and application that e-learners choose to connect to ideas and people with ideas on the internet/world wide web. Some of this learning may occur in structured courses offered by  universities. Our universities and scholars are vital congregational hubs with orbits that propel and inspire formal and informal learning.  But we need certain net literacies and tools to gain access to OER (Open Educational Resources), MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and social networks to find peers who share our learning interests.  We also need to be more open to cooperating and collaborating across organizational, historical, national, language, and professional discipline boundaries.  Together we can create new contexts in which to do more.

There is always time for fun

Doris--the couch lounger

Doris–the couch lounger

In the inimitable words of Cyndi Lauper, girls just want to have fun! And fun we did have at the IFWE Poster Board session on Wednesday evening supported with hosted wine and snacks. In addition to our official poster boards presenting the work of the Women’s Learning Studio, we also had three photo boards for attendees to adopt new personas. The images included a high-tech Mona Lisa, a multi-tasker on the computer, and a hard-at-work computer user lounging on the sofa with chocolates, fries, and wine, with no one the wiser.

Lisa and I enjoyed the conference and will continue to have fun with IFWE helping them with discussion groups and planning as needed for the next conference.  We high-five IFWE for a great conference in the very nice Hotel Contessa in the food- and culture-rich town of San Antonio. Great planning, execution, and results. We’ll be back!

Photo credit for elearning chalkboard to Guilossio at Pixabay

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  1. […] Doris did a masterful job of writing about her insights from the IFWE conference. I too have been reflecting on my conference learning; here are some additional insights I have. Some are definitely BFO’s (Brilliant Flashes of the Obvious – courtesy of Katie Blott – see Doris’s blog)! […]

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