McMaster Women in Tech: Christa Morrison
Christa Morrison is the May 2020 changemaker in the McMaster Women in Tech series. Developed by the Office of the AVP & CTO, ‘McMaster Women in Tech’ is a project that highlights and recognizes women tech changemakers within the McMaster community. Read on to learn how Christa is creating a more inclusive and accessible learning and teaching experience across campus!
Name: Christa Morrison
Title: Christa was most recently the Digital Pedagogy Specialist at the Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching at McMaster University. Her new role (as of May 11, 2020) is Business Systems Specialist within University Technology Services (UTS). Her work in this role will support and promote Microsoft 365 through training of McMaster researchers, staff, faculty, and students.
Area of Expertise: Digital pedagogy & new media, leveraging new digital literacies, evidence-based strategies, data-informed decision-making, and storytelling to enable and enhance capacity, confidence, inclusivity and creativity in the use of digital devices, platforms, and media.
Recommended read/ podcast: The Institute For The Future (IFTF)’s research reports, YouTube channel, and games. (Especially the People and Technology insights and foresight focused on Work and Learn Futures).
Alice laughed: ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
-Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Professional superpower(s): Making connections. I believe in the power of oneness, community, distributed networks of people, ideas, disciplines, institutions, and countries. Everything we can sense, can be part of a giant network that can act like a dream catcher. I grew up in apartheid South Africa and I know first-hand how devastating and debilitating exclusion can be. I imagine, and work towards, an inclusive life for all.
Tell us about your work as a digital pedagogy specialist at McMaster.
In September 2018, I started working in this newly created role as part of the Educational Technology team at MacPherson Institute where we collaborate to explore, enhance and support teaching and learning experiences at McMaster. I am extremely grateful for this wonderful opportunity. I collaborate with faculty, students and staff in three different capacities:
- I contribute to the design and development of courses, such as the Hacking Exercise for Health – the surprising new science of fitness massive open online course (MOOC) and the Design and Creation of Engaged Learning for Community Youth
- I offer specialized training online and in person. I facilitate seminars as part of the Educator Enhancement Program series and I also offer customized workshops for various faculties. When asked, I offer guest lectures on Digital Storytelling Tools & Techniques for knowledge translation to various audiences. I love this opportunity to interact with students!
- I collaborate with students, instructors, and staff from across campus. For example, in August 2018 we created a technology sandbox – a safe space to inform our approaches of supporting instructors in the design or redesign of lessons for blended and fully online delivery. One of the most satisfying parts of my role, is the collaborative creative thinking and problem-solving that form part of consultations with faculty and students, looking for different or new ways of leveraging digital technologies and media to reach teaching or learning goals.
Why did you pursue a career in this space?
I am very lucky to live in a time of globalization as well as disruption of limitations and borders. The education and work opportunities I had – along with a few defining moments—helped me to grow into new roles as time went by. I did not have a plan or map, just constant change.
At the end of my first year of Metallurgical Engineering studies in South Africa (many moons ago!), I did a summer job at a gold mine. I was only allowed to work on a computer with the data officer, and not on interesting projects that involved collaborating with others on the plant or underground like the rest of the students. All because I was a woman. I quit my Engineering studies after that.
Years later, I completed my master’s degree in Journalism, and specialized in Science and Technology Writing. I then moved to Canada and enrolled for post-grad studies in Journalism New Media. That is where and when I fell in love with digital media and technologies. I was offered a teaching position in the program, and then applied for other teaching/training opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area and abroad, focused on New Media. I had to re-/design all of these courses and I found and used technologies and complementary teaching strategies to enrich the learning experiences of my Gen Y, Gen Z and large cohorts of international students, while giving them the opportunity to develop their digital competencies. I believe that all students (no matter their situation or abilities) should have access to all spaces, media and opportunities where we gather to learn or work together.
When I read the job description for the Digital Pedagogy Specialist position at McMaster, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me. I am so very fortunate and I love collaborating with peers in an institution like the Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching at a university with a mission of creating a brighter world.
What unique strengths do you bring to your work?
My passion and perseverance when it comes to helping others develop digital and other new literacies. I have lived in three very different cultures (South Africa, Botswana, Canada), worked in non-profit, government, corporate and independent settings. I have personal experience of studying and teaching remotely, fully online and full-time on various campuses. I am an immigrant and have a distinct Afrikaans accent (which it turns out, Canadians love. Lucky me!). I have great empathy with others facing limitations, constant change, and restrictive circumstances.
Within the context of the IT/tech industry, how can women help other women?
By building community and collaborating widely. These last seven weeks of social isolation proved to all of us that we can work together to make things better. We should continue doing this. Invite people in. People of different cultures, orientations, generations, etc. That is how we create opportunities and can find the most options and best solutions.
What is one key thing that men can do to be allies of women in the industry?
They can deliberately act more inclusively by inviting the insight, foresight, experience and perspective of women when conceptualizing, prototyping, testing, executing and evaluating ideas. Look women in the eyes, meet and include them on the shop floor, at the planning table, in the boardroom, and these days, on Zoom!
What are some misconceptions that women might have about working in tech?
I think a lot of women do not realize that they have the opportunity to apply knowledge and their experience, their perspectives, skills and interests to design solutions and problem solve issues that affect them in their daily lives, that impact their families, friends and communities. Choosing to work in technology is choosing to make the world a better place by coming up with more options and better solutions as part of teams.
Any advice for women seeking to build a career in IT or technology?
Keep an eye on the future, don’t forget the past, cultivate a growth mindset. Realize that you have a unique offering of lived experiences, perspectives, education, and skills that no one else can bring to the table. Identify role models, ask them to be your mentors. Be a role model, be a mentor. Develop your digital competencies. We are not born with technical skills; we must practice them. Learn/work hard and learn how to learn/work smart.
As part of McMaster’s IT Strategy, stakeholders across the university shared ‘Digital Moments’ – vignettes that capture what technology could look like for Marauders of the future. What does the future of technology at McMaster look like to you?
Ten years from now, McMaster students will enroll for a personalized learning journey. Upon acceptance of their offer, they will have the option to choose either projects or courses from any discipline and have the option to complete these in fully online or blended learning experiences.
If they choose the blended modality, they will have the option to attend learning sessions on campus or join a livestream, unless it is a practical learning session (i.e. labs, in person role-plays, etc.). Their choices will be linked to current opportunities in the job market and they will be able to apply for positions where they can start working for limited hours, while they study.
Students will have the ability to accelerate or delay their learning. Pre-assessment of their skills, knowledge, experience and interests will be standard at the start of a course and formative assessments will be available to take at any time. Equity will mean that students will be able to learn according to their personal situations and abilities within the media and spaces that they learn best in. Students will have the choice to sign-up and pay for the services of a digital or human assistant/coach. They will also learn in safe and social learning spaces and interact with 3D, augmented reality and new media.
New skills will be practiced and measured, like online facilitation of collaborations, scenario-planning and foresight, application of codes of ethics, data interpretation, etc. Communication and collaboration tools will stay separate as productivity tools that will also be used in work places, much like Microsoft 365 is today.
Instructors and course designers will consider what humans are able to do beyond the current human learning limitations. AI/adaptive learning systems will be the new learning management systems. Courses will be designed in line with the affordances allowed by artificial intelligence, brain chips and non-human systems to our disposal. Personal sensors and sensors on campus will capture data that will inform students’ schedules. These sensors will help them learn when, where and how they learn best. The digital and human coaches will lean heavily on this data.
Instructors will act as project managers, consultants, sounding boards, mentors, guides and work with a limited number of students. We will need more instructors than what we have right now for these active working and learning teams addressing real-world problems, locally and globally. Research will remain the most important aspect of the university and undergraduate students will have more opportunities to work alongside research teams.
McMaster students will be as proud to be a Marauder in 2030 as they are today!Change Makers, News Category