Panel discussion: Women in STEM

OLIVE project and the pedagogical cafe organizes a panel discussion on the topical issue : Women in STEM – current situation, challenges and opportunities for more equality in the future 

The panel aims to present/discuss the current situation as a global phenomenon with a focus on Finland and Palestine as two cases. Another aim is to point out the need to take action for more equality in the future; to possibly identify necessary structural changes; to map out an action plan; to offer policy recommendations; and, to offer the basis for future events and frameworks for further collaboration.  

To get the link to the discussion, pls fill in the registration form by Monday the 30th of January 2023, at 9-10.30am.

A zoom link will be sent before the event starts by email.  

For more information about the project, check the website of OLIVE.  

Panel details   

Women in STEM – current situation, challenges, and opportunities for more equality in the future 

The panel will host three presentations (maximum 10 minutes each) and a longer discussion and Q&As (appr. 25’-30’) with participants, presenters, and panelists.  

The panel will be chaired by Amal Alkahlout, Professor, Al-Azhar University Gaza, Palestine.  

Discussant: Hille Janhonen-Abruquah, Professor, University of Eastern Finland, Finland 

Moderator: Osama S. Hamdouna, Dean, Faculty of Education, Al-Azhar University Gaza, Palestine 

Moderator: Justus Kinnunen, University teacher, University of Eastern Finland, Finland 

Commenting & summarizing: Ayman A Rezeqallah, Researcher & Coordinator, Birzeit University, Palestine & Marianna Vivitsou, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki, Finland 

Abstracts  

Women in Physics in Palestine 

Wafaa Khater, Dean, Faculty of Science, Birzeit University, Palestine 

Over the past 15-20 years, at the undergraduate level, the number of female students majoring in physics in the Palestinian universities is increasing compared to the number of their male colleagues. Currently, female students are outnumbering their male colleagues with a percentage that reaches up to 90% of any physics class in Birzeit University. Similar numbers and percentages are seen as well in Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, Health-related Sciences, IT and Engineering classes to some extent. The vast majority of these female students become schoolteachers after they graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in physics. 
Most of Palestinian universities offer programs that lead to Master’s degree in Physics, where again female students outnumber their male colleagues. Only, few of them continue to the PhD level and beyond, this is because of various reasons such as cultural and socio-economic reasons; most of Palestinian universities do not offer PhD programs in Physics, which means that female students need to study outside Palestine and overcome any barriers that might get imposed on them because of cultural and socio-economic restrictions. At the academic staff level, the percentage of female academic staff members who hold PhD in Physics do not exceed 30% at its best. It is important to promote the role of women in physics and show examples of well-established women physicists to be role models for female students. This will contribute to capacity building among young generations of female physicists. It is also important to learn from other societies that share similar challenges.  

Keywords: Women, physics, postgraduate studies, barriers 

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Socio-Cultural Factors Contributing to Adolescents’ Gendered Education and Career Exploration in STEM 

Kirsi Ikonen, Project Coordinator, Faculty of Science and Forestry, Department of Physics and Mathematics, University of Eastern Finland 

In Finland, occupational gender segregation is a persistent phenomenon. Segregation levels are high and stable especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which are strongly male-dominated. This dissertation research project addressed the contribution made by socio-cultural factors to adolescents’ gendered career exploration in the fields of STEM. The project was composed of three sub-studies, each of which aimed to explore the main topic from a particular viewpoint. Sub-study 1 revealed that parents play the most important role in Finnish adolescents’ education and career exploration and are also potentially the main mediators of gender stereotypes. School guidance counselling played second fiddle to parents with regard to the amount of education- and career-related discussion that adolescents have with these two groups of socializers. Career-related discussions with subject teachers seemed to be minimal. Sub-study 2 documented that ninth-graders mostly referred to masculine physical characteristics when justifying certain occupations as more suitable for men than for women. Respectively, they generally referred to gender-typical interests when justifying certain occupations as more suitable for women than for men. One positive signal in this study was that no stereotypes regarding male superiority in STEM occurred in ninth-graders’ views. Boys presented more gender-stereotypical perceptions of occupations, and boys also considered that their own gender affected their occupational preferences more strongly than did girls. Sub-study 3 suggested that parents’ familiarity with the range of STEM career pathways may be quite limited and parental awareness of the consequences of occupational gender segregation appears to be rather one-sided. The results of this dissertation research provide support for the idea that there is a need to increase dialogue between families, schools and employers about job opportunities within STEM and the skills that are in demand in STEM, since these stakeholders have their own strengths in the interaction with adolescents.  

Keywords: Occupational segregation, social aspects, vocational interests, STEM, gender stereotypes  

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Palestinian women in STEM: Reality … challenges and opportunities 

Montaser Al-Halabi, Director of Practicum, Al-Azhar University Gaza, Palestine & Ali Abuzaid, Professor of Statistics, Department of Mathematics, Al-Azhar University Gaza, Palestine

Palestinian women have some of the highest levels of education in the Middle East. They have a literacy rate of 96.5 percent and attend elementary school just as frequently as males. In Tawjihi/Injaz tests, Palestinian girls routinely outperform their male counterparts. 
This presentation aims to address the barriers that limit girls’ participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and promote their participation as well as the efforts being made to overcome them.  
The presentation considers four main correlated aspects of Palestinian girls in STEM, Firstly, we review some statistics about girl’s contribution in the education and labor forces in Palestine.  
Secondly, we shed the light on the major barriers to girls in STEM in Palestine including cultural and societal attitudes towards girls in these fields. Special emphasis on the gender stereotype roles and expectations that might limit girls’ opportunities and aspirations in STEM, which can be reinforced by a lack of role models and mentors for girls in STEM, as well as a lack of access to resources and opportunities for STEM education and careers. 
Thirdly, to address these barriers and increase girls’ participation in STEM, we review the Palestinian government and various NGOs have implemented a number of programs and initiatives. For example, the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education has implemented a number of initiatives to improve STEM education in Palestine, including the “Tomorrow’s Leaders” program, which aims to increase the participation of girls in STEM by providing them with access to resources and opportunities. Additionally, the Palestinian Association for Science and Technology has implemented a number of programs and initiatives to promote STEM education and careers for girls in Palestine, including the “Girls in Science” program, which aims to increase girls’ interest and participation in STEM through workshops, events, and other activities. 
Lastly, we present a case study of the OLIVE project at Al Azhar University -Gaza which has launched the first bachelor’s degree in STEM teacher education programs in Palestine. About 78% of the enrolled students in the programs are females. Furthermore, primary results of conducting Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), revealed that females have higher positive attitudes scores toward sciences compare to males. 

Keywords: Education, gender gap, girls-STEM, Palestine 

Cultural heritage with digital technologies: new imaginaries through time  

*For details about the artwork and artists, check the links in the embedded Sway below. The photos are from works exhibited at the Palestinian Museum at Birzeit in the West Bank.

Cultural heritage is not a direct aim of OLIVE project, in the sense that the activities do not focus on cultural heritage issues per se. Cultural heritage is, however, about the symbols and aesthetic developments that are associated with the growth of our communities and wider societies. Cultural heritage, therefore, is sine qua non in and for education and educational research.  

According to the definition provided by UNESCO

Cultural heritage includes artefacts, monuments, groups of buildings and sites, and museums that have a diversity of values including symbolic, historic, artistic, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological, scientific and social significance. It includes tangible heritage (movable, immobile and underwater), intangible cultural heritage (ICH) embedded into cultural, and natural heritage artefacts, sites or monuments.  

It would be, therefore, no exaggeration to say that it is not possible to implement an international (or any) project, such as OLIVE is, in the absence of cultural heritage. Some manifestation or element of cultural heritage is present in some form, be it in an explicit or implicit way. Especially nowadays, when sustainability is prioritized in the wider educational discourse, cultural heritage is becoming more and more a vital part in higher education curricula, particularly in connection with the use and applications of digital technology.  

Within the framework of OLIVE project, visits to places such as HEUREKA as part of the exchange program of staff from Birzeit University and Al-Azhar University Gaza in Spring 2022 is a manifestation of cultural heritage elements. Heureka is a science centre in Helsinki that combines technology and art-inspired installations to signify the state-of-the-art in socio-economic and technological development and innovation.   

In fact, the impact of digital technology has generated a variety of discussions and even introducing the notion of digital heritage as ‘new Renaissance’.  

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Visiting Ramallah and Birzeit – a road trip  

Visiting Ramallah and Birzeit University in June 2022 came unexpectedly and took place within the framework of Erasmus+ staff exchanges. The prospect of the trip shook the still waters of lockdowns of the previous winters and, although it came when work overload had already piled up, I saw it as an opportunity to meet up with colleagues again and get to know the actual place and its life and vibes.  

This means that a big part of the visit happened on the move.  

Normally, this does not have to be a very long journey, especially when you come from Europe and have a EU passport. Then, you book a flight (direct or transfer) and land in Tel-Aviv. However, after landing, the simple can become complicated. To get around things and manage to stay true to the main purpose to develop the planning of the project, I chose to spend a night in Jerusalem and then head to the West Bank from there. Soon I realized that my plan might have to freeze, since it happened that the day after was a Sabbath, which complicated movement and transfers.  

Fortunately, my good friend and colleague Dr Ahmad Fteiha, who was going to drive to Birzeit on the same day, offered to give me a lift there. And the journey to Ramallah turned into a road trip in many ways.  

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Behind OLIVE project – Faculty and facts 

The author of this blogpost is Mia Laitinen*.
Featured image credits: Ayman A Rezeqallah, Faculty of Education, Birzeit University

*Mia is a Master’s student at the Faculty of Education, University of Helsinki. Currently she is writing her thesis. For this blogpost, Mia met online with OLIVE members from Birzeit University and discussed with them themes related to the project aims.

I was kindly introduced to three participants with undeniable impact for OLIVE project. The participants are Ahmad Aljanazrah, Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at Birzeit University and coordinator for the project, welcoming the discussion and ideas concerning OLIVE; Refa’ Ramahi, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Birzeit University, who’s working on planning structures of workshops and developing practicum courses; and Abdallah Bsharat, faculty member at Curriculum and Instruction department of College of Education at Birzeit. Abdallah is supporting co-operation in the school field and the upgrading of courses.  

All the participants have worked with the project from its early stages to develop the quality of teacher education in Palestine with colleagues around the world. When sending the interview questions all the way from Finland I was curious to know, what kind of roles are needed to run an international project such as OLIVE. I have come to realize that it’s very important to include the administration level in the co-operation as well as the sense of believing in the project. This engagement can be seen in participating in activities and common projects and planning, but also as an aim to reach goals that flow at an abstract level. Such goals include equality in teacher education and sensitive learning environments.  

From a Finnish perspective, I guess that, at some level, these apply to our educational system as well. In addition, during the interviews I came to realize these are issues we’re dealing with all around the world. When adding the current pandemic situation into the plot, this turns out to be a story of global teacher hood.  

“We don’t have control over the future” – but… shift in education during the Covid-19 pandemic 

OLIVE project is future-oriented, raising the discussion about using technology in teaching, so the pandemic – even when shaking the norms of teaching – may have offered some forcing power to really elaborate on how technology can be integrated into teaching.

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Integrating digital technologies for learning — A complex multi-dimensional decision-making process

One key point in the OLIVE project is to explore ways to integrate digital technologies in teaching and learning and figure out technological tools, platforms and services of the Internet that best serve pedagogical purposes. The integration of technologies in learning and education requires different types of decision-making from the part of teachers. Based on this consideration, the focus of this blog post is on themes relevant to complex decision-making required when technology use comes into the foreground of pedagogy. These themes were discussed during the workshop of OLIVE on 7 & 8 December 2021 that was organized online by the School of Education at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

The themes and topics of discussion concern instructions of use (manuals) and issues of cyber security and violations of digital rights in Palestine.

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Using technology to work creatively together in the classroom –

The discussion in the pedagogical café in the beginning of October 2021 had co-creation in its focus. For this purpose, the café hosted Laura Salo, project manager at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki. To bring co-creation in focus, Laura used examples from her massive experience with integration of technologies in schools, mainly as part of the activities of Innokas network.  

This post aims to give an overview of the main themes of the café. The discussion departed from cases of implementation and the use of techniques to promote methods for STEM education. From concrete elaborations on specific uses of technology (e.g., to make a robot, to measure a change etc.), the interactions in the café set off to respond to participants’ questions. The participants were colleagues and friends of OLIVE from partner universities in Palestine (Al Azhar University Gaza and Birzeit University) and in Finland (University of Eastern Finland) and affiliated associations (e.g., Teachers Without Borders).

The participants’ bold questions set the ground for discussions about the ethical matters underlying the integration of technology into the classroom and the role of technology in society. Although the focus of OLIVE activities is on STEM education, nowadays there is a pressing need to extend the narrative beyond a tool-based orientation.  

Co-creation in learning with technology is not about technology . Well, at least, not only. 

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Critical thinking as a source of pedagogical renewal

 Authored by Hanna Posti-Ahokas

Reflexivity and critical thinking should be both the aim and the basis for teaching and learning in higher education. What can help us to become critical thinkers? How can we support our students’ and colleagues’ critical thinking? We suggest critical thinking as one of the core topics to discuss when renewing curricula and pedagogies for teacher education.  

The OLIVE project aims to create spaces for critical thinking as not only a theoretical/pedagogical principle but also as a practice in the project activities (see e.g. Online Teaching and Learning Environments). Defining critical thinking for different purposes brings out different aspects of being a critical thinker. A recent definition focusing on University learning is suggested in a pedagogical guide (Moate & Posti-Ahokas 2021) for the University of Jyväskylä, Finland:  

Critical thinking requires inclusion of multiple perspectives and acceptance of there not being a single, objective truth. It evolves through time and is never complete. It is about recognition of one’s subjectivity and positionalities of each teacher and learner; making assumptions explicit and asking difficult questions. It is an applied learning process that develops through practice. Thinking critically requires a combination of skills, such as inferring, analysing and evaluating, as well as open mindedness, self-efficacy and inquisitiveness. ‘Why’ and ‘How come’ questions can be a useful starting point for critical thinking.  

How do the current practices of teacher education allow critical thinking to evolve? Content loaded curricula, assessment systems based on command of a given content, performance evaluation and other practices can easily push us away from the goals of reflexivity and critical thinking. As this a challenge in higher education, how can the future teachers we educate be ready to fulfill the curricula objectives in basic education and help pupils to become critical thinkers? Bringing critical thinking to the core of teaching and learning in higher education is critically important to generate change in education.  

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Becoming active in the public sphere – Blogs and collaborative writing for pedagogical purposes

co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou, Ahmad Aljanazrah & Montaser Al-Halabi

Blogs entered the pedagogical landscape in the late ‘90s and have changed the way we understand web-based interaction and online communication. Now the users could set up a space to post and share ideas and arguments, research, teaching material, textual, visual and multimodal with the world. Those were the days when the blogosphere was a promising public sphere for many.  

For progressive teachers, considering matters of student agency and engagement in the classroom, blogging is seen as an opportunity for more collaboration-oriented pedagogies. A pedagogy based on the principle of collaboration aims for engagement and allows student ownership of the narrative that emerges out of the writing process, more opportunities to articulate own voices, to become authors themselves, and co-authors in the process of the pedagogical narrative.  

But how can collaborative blogging be possible when writing collaboratively and in public has proved to be challenging in many ways? More particularly, when it comes to blogging, not only does it take loads of time to maintain a blog, to thoroughly think and outline its posts, it also takes commitment to the purposes of writing and the intended audiences. 

As well, as our experiences from integrating collaborative writing into our teachings show, blogging cannot be an end in itself. Integrating blogs into our curriculum needs to be linked with the overall purposes of the course and the needs of the students. 

As Ahmad writes about blogging experiences in a newly developed course, part of a master’s program in education at Birzeit University in Palestine, students’ blogs have been used as assessment tools for- and of students’ learning. The course titled “Learning and teaching in the Digital Age” consisted of 15 sessions addressing the educational foundations of using Web 2.0 technologies in diverse educational settings. The course started by providing practical training for students on developing and sharing blogs and it was set as a part of the course assessment.  Each student was provided 10 to 15 min at the end of each lecture to write two short paragraphs describing what was newly learned (if any) and to reflect on that learning. 

this post has been co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou, Ahmad Aljanazrah & Montaser Al-Halabi

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Online teaching and learning environments

Possibilities and challenges for pedagogical use

Author: Marianna Vivitsou

As virtuality is a topical issue in OLIVE project, online teaching and learning environments are at the core of discussions that take place in the pedagogical cafes. In the gathering early last April, I came up with the idea to frame the discussions on the basis of types of interaction and on whether platforms and/or web services are integrated in the official curricula. Here are some highlights that emerged out of this framework, along with my reflections upon these conversations. 

The categorization is an initial one and is linked with institutional practices. Thus, the category formal online teaching environments concerns those playing an integral part in the everydayness of teaching (e.g., Moodle) and have substituted (to an extent) its conventional paper-load (e.g., by uploading digital assignments instead of their paper versions; inserting links to resources thus replacing photocopies; uploading slides instead of blackboard chalk writings and notes, etc.).  

Despite their contribution to a potentially more ecologically oriented pedagogical practice, it is questionable whether online teaching environments have kept their promise. Instead, it seems that technologies have been received as self-fulfilling promises themselves. Very often they are treated as the content of the pedagogical practice, when the interest turns to what brands we will bring into the classroom at the expense of a student-centered pedagogical use. Also what pedagogical use means in different situations.

This instrumental approach to technology integration (whether for online, blended or hybrid teaching), as research has shown, has reproduced patterns of fragmented, a-contextual learning.  

The use of Moodle groups is one example of this situation. Teachers, for instance, often comment that student exchanges in group work are lacking depth, thus limiting the narrative to superficial interactions, comments and so on. Questions that arise, then, concern the root causes of such phenomena. What are the reasons underlying content limitations? And, what can we do to overcome them?  

This is, then, a quite complicated affair that the rhizomatic use of technology makes it even more complex than we are, possibly, willing to admit. 

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Teaching STEM with technology and collaborative work

Voice Analyzer with Gas and Mirrors, Natural Sciences and Technology Museum, National & Kapodistrian University, Athens

Out-of-the-box approaches and practices for thinking critically  

authored by Marianna Vivitsou

Thinking STEM in education

The theme of STEM education is intertwining with many of the basic areas of interest in OLIVE and relates to different outputs and project activities.  

These include, among others, the need to establish virtual peer mentoring teams to strengthen exchange of ideas and learning from one another, to define new practicum strategies and set a framework for shared teaching in the OLIVE partner universities. Undoubtedly, this is a complex situation. Yet, this is not the only kind of complexity that approaching STEM education presents.  

As it spans across major fields of science, research and teaching, considerations arise concerning the epistemologies and the pedagogies that should underlie the effort to introduce a working model of STEM (i.e., an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in education. In addition to that, although science, technology, engineering and mathematics related occupations are expected to experience rapid growth in the years to come, STEM does not seem to be for all.  

Recent studies show that gender gaps and other divides and inequalities in the professional domain are rooted within expectations, stereotypes and structures established and observed early in the education continuum. In alignment with these, an introduction to a collection of articles with a focus on participation barriers, Nature Research and Scientific American point out that many groups are underrepresented in research including women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and socially disadvantaged populations. Far more action, therefore, needs to be taken in institutions and scientific communities. 

Taking these insights into consideration, in the pedagogical team of OLIVE we departed to set some commonly agreed principles aiming to frame the basis of joint work. At the same time, we recognized the need to think and act differently and in ways that would align with out-of-the-box approaches and practices. «Out of the box» is a metaphor that signifies new, creative ways that are go beyond established (here, teaching) practices and look into the multiple dimensions of phenomena with a critical eye.  

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Teaching, assessment of learning, technology and other entanglements

Favorite street on a cloudy day by anim@vit

Co-authored by Marianna Vivitsou & Hanna Posti-Ahokas

How does digital learning challenge our thinking around assessment? 

Assessment is a multi-dimensional and highly debated topic in higher education research and practice. The Olive team gathered in its first pedagogical café to discuss assessment with the aim to think how the digitalization of learning challenges practice. The new ways of teaching and learning require new ways of assessment. How to respond to the change in a way that makes assessment work towards it intended purpose of supporting learning?  

Assessment in focus 

Assessment is multi-dimensional and highly debated. For a start, it draws parallels with research, as when we set off to construct an assessment tool, we should take care that we assess what needs to be assessed. Validity, therefore, is one significant criterion of the assessment process. Second, assessment seems to be often confused with evaluation. While evaluation is product-oriented, assessment is process-oriented. In education, evaluation concerns the outcomes of a course, a lesson or a project, where learning has taken place. Contrary to this, assessment concerns the process that leads to learning outcomes. The fact that what constitutes a learning outcome (or not) is itself a highly debated area makes even more pressing the need to revisit assessment and evaluation as intertwining and overlapping concepts.  

In this complexity, it could be helpful to think of what the focus of our assessment is and what the purposes of assessment are 

In the small group discussion during the pedagogical café, one recurrent theme was how the use of technology in teaching and learning relates with assessment. While it was agreed that the new ways of teaching require new ways of assessment, the path towards renewed assessment practice is not a clear cut one. The functionality of technology and fairness of online assessment have already manifested as obstacles after moving teaching and learning onto digital and technology-supported environments. These may be considered as implications of more fundamental issues around assessment.  

Assessment should be connected to the learning objectives and expected outcomes. However, learning is not always measurable. The instrumentalist, exam-focused culture of assessment does not necessarily capture/support deep understanding. Large student groups may also have influenced the use of instrumentalist approaches. However, as Gandini & Horák (2020), among others, point out, it is essential to seek ways to integrate into technology-supported assessment personalised feedback for students. In this way, we will be able to highlight areas they need to work on and give suggestions, and, thus, guide them through their future learning. In addition, personalised feedback opens up the whole process of assessment and allows the students to get deeper into its logic. Based on this understanding, students can be better equipped to modify their own approaches and practices in the learning process.  

The way forward? 

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