Ten Indispensable Women Transforming Education

The future of higher education is still ahead, but its history is already being written. And as with too many histories, women and people of color are often erased. This is always shortsighted, but it’s particularly dumb when trying to predict what will happen with higher ed, where women are already a majority of students, and where the full participation of historically disadvantaged and minority groups here and around the world is precisely the problem/ the opportunity/ the transformation we’re trying to manifest.

A corrective (alphabetical by first name). These are off the top of my head and there are many, many, many more we could collectively name — please submit ideas.

If you’re interested in the ongoing transformation of higher education, read my 2010 book DIY U, my 2011 ebook Learning, Freedom and the Web, or these two Fast Company pieces.

  1. Audrey Watters. Writer, thinker, ed-tech critic, puncturer of hype, historian of futures past.
  2. Candace Thille. First at Carnegie Mellon and now at Stanford, she works to apply learning science with technology. Her Open Learning Initiative designs free and open online courses to provide continuous feedback for improvement to the learner, the teacher, and the course designer. “One of the mistakes that people in higher education make is that they assume the same technologies that fix Baumol’s disease in music will fix it in higher ed,” she told me in 2010. “They misunderstand what the service is that higher education is performing.”
  3. Carol Twigg. President and CEO, National Center for Academic Transformation, where she worked with hundreds of institutions to improve learning outcomes while lowering costs through intelligent applications of blended learning.
  4. Cathy Casserly. Former CEO, Creative Commons; Open Educational Resources visionary. In her role at the Hewlett Foundation, she provided around $100 million in essential seed funding to get open courseware projects off the ground at MIT, Rice, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Tufts, and Berkeley, and in Europe, Africa, and China. “The advent of the Web brings the ability to disseminate high-quality materials at almost no cost, leveling the playing field,” she told me in 2009. “We’re changing the culture of how we think about knowledge and how it should be shared and who are the owners of knowledge.”
  5. Cathy Davidson. Digital humanities genius. Peer learning innovator. Teacher. Mentor. Founder of HASTAC (The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaborative), nominated to Obama’s National Council on the Humanities, current director of the Futures Initiative at CUNY. Author of the book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. “We’re only beginning to imagine what structures we need to educate students for the 21st century,” she told me in 2010. “There are many lessons from open web development that need to be transferred to traditional education.”
  6. Daphne Koller. MacArthur “Genius” grant winner. AI specialist. Co-founder, Coursera, one of the first Massive Open Online Course platforms. As she told me in 2012, she is especially interested in the potential of these platforms as a way to research teaching and learning. The typical educational study has 20 students; the big ones have 200. “Here we have 20,000, or even 200,000, and it just completely changes your ability to extract meaningful conclusions from the data. We can see every single click: pausing, rewinding, the first and second try on the homework, what they did in between.”
  7. Mimi Ito. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine, Research Director of the Digital Media and Learning Hub and Chair of the MacArthur Research Network on Connected Learning, where she mentors and supports a community of scholars, teachers, and learners. Much of the current thinking on digitally connected, peer-to-peer, interest-driven learning — badges, makerspaces, et al — traces back to her research, especially the essential ethnography Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Youth Living and Learning with New Media.
  8. Sara Goldrick-Rab. Crusader for social justice, which she pursues in the field of Educational Policy Studies & Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Deserves much credit as author of the free community college proposal now taken up by President Obama.
  9. Suzanne Walsh. Deputy director of Postsecondary Success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Formerly at the Lumina Foundation for Education in Indianapolis. Her focus is institutional redesign to ensure success, especially of the most disadvantaged students, by fundamentally changing how colleges do business. “The system works the way it has worked since World War II,” she told me in 2010. “I think it’s at a breaking point.”
  10. Tressie McMillan Cottom. Sociology Faculty, Virginia Commonwealth University. Her forthcoming book draws on qualitative research with students at the University of Phoenix. Her journalism, criticism and Tweets have been extremely influential in complicating simplistic technocratic visions of educational transformation with issues of race, class, and gender.
  11. BONUS: FemTechNet. Creators of the first “distributed online collaborative course,” using the open web as a classroom to coordinate research, discussions, and group projects across institutions. You may have heard of their “Wikistorming,” group Wikipedia editing to include women’s perspectives. “What made us different [than MOOCs] in a lot of ways, is that we wanted to use feminist principles of learning and sharing and collaboration,” a participant told me in 2013. “Going off that idea of safe spaces, not only are we creating safe spaces in a classroom, but also online.”
  12. AND AND AND @jadedid . @bethrharris. @claudiakincaid. @JessieNYC @qui_oui @Exhaust_Fumes @mauraweb @miriamkp @EileenAJoy @anniemurphypaul. @astradisastra. @annlarsonnyc. @lizlosh. @kiostark. @pipstar. @iamjessklein @brainpicker. @zephoria. @kyraocity. @bonstewart @jenebbeler @emilygwynne @phillyprof03 @roopikarisam @adelinekoh @ncecire @KateMfD. @dorothyk98 @writingasjoe @Bali_Maha @MiaZamoraPhD @amcollier @ProfessMoravec @s2ceball @charlottefrost @openstudy’s Preetha Ram. @Meetasengupta. Lisa Petrides. Cheryl Hyman. Gail Mellow. Grace Llewellyn!