Tamar Huggins: Founder and CEO, Tech Spark Canada and Spark Plug

I first read about Tamar Huggins in an article a couple of years ago about an entrepreneur building the “Black Silicon Valley” outside Toronto. The headline piqued my attention. The article in NOW Magazine profiled Huggins and her organization, Tech Spark, working to build tech programs inside local schools.

In the article, she explains: “We’re seeing Black children at the high school level dropping out of STEM-related courses at an alarming rate. Our goal is to create a pipeline that moves students from being interested in technology to engaging with it to eventually pursuing higher education and becoming active members in the tech community as entrepreneurs and corporate professionals” (Rattan, 2018, par. 6).

Since that article was published three years ago, Huggins has been establishing tech programs (in areas such as coding, gaming and robotics) in schools and for kids from BIPOC communities in Ontario, while also training teachers on equity and diversity in the classroom (Style Canada, n.d.).

Her latest venture, Spark Plug (formerly, EDUlytics), is a learning analytics dashboard that creates custom lesson plans that address different learning styles, cultural backgrounds to help teachers meet K-12 students where they are at in their learning (Mroczek, 2019). One of the concerns about learning analytics dashboards like Spark Plug, highlighted in 25 Years of EdTech, is the issue of data ownership (Weller, 2020). However, students and parents retain control over their data and how its used by Spark Plug, says Huggins (Mroczek, 2019). Though it’s still being tested (currently in Ontario only), the tool, and others like it, hold promise in providing solutions for teachers on how to provide personalized support and address gaps for at-risk kids in schools and beyond.

For more about her work in tech and education, read recent profiles by The Globe and Mail, Style Canada and Disruption Canada. Follow her on Twitter @TamarHuggins

References

Mroczek, B. (2019). Tech education for the next generation. Disruption Magazine. https://www.disruptionmagazine.ca/tech-education-for-the-next-generation/

Rattan, R. (2018). Building the Black Silicon Valley near Toronto. Now Toronto. https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/education/black-futures-silicon-valley-durham

Style Canada. (n.d.). Meet #LeadingLady Tamar Huggins Grant. https://style.ca/leading-lady-tamar-huggins-grant/

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. AU Press. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01

Late to the OER Party…

View from the House of Henry Briscoe Thomas, Baltimore. ca. 1841 (via MetMuseum.org)

(In my research for this blog post on  OER I stumbled on the MET Museum’s excellent Open Access Initiative of artworks in the public domain. There’s probably a really compelling open access metaphor I could make about the image above but I’ll leave that for another time…)

If there wasn’t a reason to join the global OER movement before, there may be no better time than this year, 2021, a year all about inclusion and equity, to embrace open educational resources. And yet, 20 years since MIT first launched its OpenCourseWare initiative, the movement is far from mainstream (Weller, 2020). In his chapter, Martin Weller argues that regardless of a lack of awareness among educators about open educational resources, there is still promise, especially for the areas of student recruitment, student costs and pedagogic content (Weller, 2020).

New to the concept of OER myself, I see that an increase in contributions to them by journalist educators could benefit the industry as a whole and potentially help mitigate its ongoing problem with under representation of women and equity deserving groups (Golick & Daniels, 2019). Feeding into the issue of under representation, journalism departments across Canada, including where I work, have been dealing with low enrollments in recent years (Roberts, 2018). Before the pandemic, cuts to newsroom staff across the country (Wong, 2013), and less students attracted to the profession, recruiting students in general has been a worsening problem. While increasing the availability (and awareness) of OER in our industry won’t immediately solve the issue, it could help to increase affordability of studying journalism overall and potentially boost enrollments by members of underrepresented groups too.

Currently, there are some really excellent open source tools and resources for trained journalists, like projects by the Knight Journalism Lab, but more are needed for beginners. This isn’t about creating more citizen journalists — it’s about increasing more OER for teaching the basics and ultimately bring in journalism graduates from marginalized groups to be part of our industry. Finally, better awareness of OER is needed among journalism educators and help from the industry to lead the charge.

Memories of the Pandemic Pivot and E-learning

On a related note, after years of low enrollments, our department (like many others) experienced a small boost in enrollment during the pandemic.  When COVID hit, we experienced first-hand how more flexible opportunities is an attractive option for students – also highlighted by Weller on his chapter on e-learning. In the chapter, he discusses the emergence and adoption of e-learning in the late 90s and early 2000s (Weller, 2020). While offering flexible and online options for students makes sense in non-pandemic times, it seemed remiss that the chapter did not mention initial growing pains institutions dealt with (aside from the costs) during the transition to online.

Just as so many others found, my colleagues and I quickly learned how challenging it is to transition to teaching online overnight and train students on Zoom (and I can’t imagine what universities in Global South countries were up against). Even in a well-resourced place like Vancouver, the levels of access to quality internet varied for our students. For many, being able to access video editing, design tools and support caused no end of frustration. Being able to help students sort out how to use technology, not only computers, but DSLR cameras for example, was another challenge that instructors faced. There was also a steep learning curve when it came to establishing new parameters around how students would report, what stories could look like and editing copy, etc. These are just a few examples we had in a crisis situation. Reading the e-learning chapter, I wondered about what other hiccups Weller and his colleagues faced when they launched that first online class?

References

Briscoe Thomas, H. (1847). View from the House of Henry Briscoe Thomas [Image]. MetMuseum.org https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/13016?

Golick, J. , & Daniels, A. (2019, May). On screen report. Women in View. http://womeninview.ca/wp-content/uploads/WIVOS19-Full-Report.pdf

Roberts, S. (2018). Journalism schools struggle to adapt to the times. University Affairs. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/journalism-programs-struggle-to-adapt-to-changing-times/

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. AU Press. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01

Wong, J. (2013). Canadian Media Guild data shows 10,000 job losses in past five years. J-Source. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from https://j-source.ca/canadian-media-guild-data-shows-10000-job-losses-in-past-five-years/

Ed Tech Beyond the Walled Garden

Co-operative and open vs. commercial and proprietary; these are some of the oppositional adjectives that jump out as Martin Weller (2020) walks us through the early years of 25 Years of Ed Tech. And, the culture clash between these two ends of a spectrum, quickly emerges as one of the book’s central themes (Weller, 2020).

Weller outlines “this tension between the potential of the open, experimental approach to ed tech, personified by wikis, and the model that came to dominance in the ensuing decade, perhaps personified by the LMS…”(p. 46).

“EdTech Walled Garden Evolution” by MindWires.com

What’s compelling to me about these first chapters is the unspoken question of what might exist and emerge in-between these two opposing approaches to technological innovation.

For example, when considering the next chapters in the story of ed tech’s evolution: are the “freemium” tools—that offer users the chance to dabble with basic features for free but have to pay to play (with a fee and/or with personal data) to access more advanced features — the middle ground between open and proprietary? Is the freemium approach about knowledge sharing or simply another business model to bring in revenue and acquisition? Can it be both?

Roberts (2020) argues commercial open source software (COSS) is the freemium model that allows companies to share knowledge, build community while advancing proprietary interests. In this hybrid model, embraced by companies like IBM, businesses invest the resources to develop a product that is open source and free for everyone but charges teams or companies to adapt the source code and use it for their own purposes in a production setting (Roberts, 2020).

Having a community working on software improvements is one of the benefits for companies embracing open source. Additionally, the more developers adopt the code means getting more eyeballs  (Roberts, 2020).

For others, open source is the only way forward for governments interested in supporting innovation and the future of tech.

References

MindWires. (n.d.). Edtech walled garden evolution [Image]. MindWires.com.  https://mindwires.com/edtech-walled-garden-evolution/

Roberts, C. (2020, August 31). A framework for freemium. Medium. https://chsrbrts.medium.com/a-framework-for-freemium-8f03a5195315

Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. AU Press. https://doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771993050.01

Hellos! An Early Introduction…

Hi everyone!

My name is Alexandra Samur. Welcome to my sandbox!

I’m typing this first dispatch from the unceded territories of the Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation (aka North Vancouver) where I live, work, learn and play…but my mind is still sunning itself somewhere along Sombrio Beach (on the east coast of Vancouver Island) where I was visiting with my family last week (and where the above photo of my son and I was taken).

I’m not sure I’m ready for the fall and getting back to work quite yet! I’m going to be teaching face-to-face again for the first time in almost 18 months following a maternity leave and two semesters teaching on Zoom through the pandemic. I’m faculty in the journalism program at Langara College where I teach multimedia production for our student journalists.

I’m also new to sharing my thoughts here! I just completed the Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design through RRU this summer…and (clearly!) I hadn’t had enough so I’ve now transferred to the DipTEL program. (Yay!) I’m looking forward to diving into this next series of courses and learning alongside you all!

Disclaimer: This is the first time I take an RRU course with a blog. So, for the moment, this space is under construction. Thanks for your patience as I play catch up with all you seasoned bloggers!