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Conference Highlights

On November 1st and 2nd the Center for International Education (CIE) in the College of Education at UMass Amherst hosted a regional CIES conference to a large and enthusiastic group.  Registration for the conference topped 250 making it one of the largest regional CIES conferences ever held in the Northeast.

Focus on New Researchers

The planning committee at CIE had one major goal – to make the conference accessible to graduate students and new researchers and to provide a variety of professional development opportunities as part of the program.  To achieve this goal the committee set the registration fee for students at a low $20 which was made possible by the ability of CIE to heavily subsidize the cost of the conference along with generous support from a variety of sponsors.  About 70% of those registered were students, providing strong evidence of success in achieving this goal.

The second strategy was to design and offer a series of Professional Development (PD) sessions on the program – which ultimately resulted in seven PD sessions out of a total of 36 sessions. A diverse range of PD sessions were offered including: Telling Stories with Film, Scholarly & Practitioner Publishing, Compressed Ethnographic Research, and Research & Practice in Communities Affected by Violence and Conflict.

A third strategy involved experimenting with a variety of social media platforms to encourage interaction before, during and after the conference.  Conference groups were established in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  The committee will be following up to evaluate the experience of using social media to enhance the engagement of those with the topics of the conference and with each other.

To start the dialogue before the conference, when participants registered online they were given a chance to share their reflections on "Education and Development." Many took advantage of the opportunity to post their own thoughts or quotes which captured their thoughts. The complete set of reflections can be seen here.

Conference Highlights
Focus on New Researchers
Who Attended the Conference?
Keynote Dialogue with Stephen Carney
Education in Uncertain Times
Professional Development
Social Media
Panel Snapshots
Contemporary Gender Issues
Transforming Racialized Legacies
Communities Affected by Trauma, Violence and Conflict
The Ugly Side of Education
Reform in Chinese Universities
Poster Session

Who Attended the Conference?

Although billed as a regional conference for the Northeast, the conference drew from a considerably wider range of participants.  Participants represented 50 different universities in the world along with half a dozen or so other kinds of institutions.  Several Northeastern universities brought large groups of students, notably delegations of 20 to 30 from SIT Vermont, Teachers College Columbia, and campuses of SUNY, as well as UMass Amherst.  Other universities with substantial representation included Harvard, UMass Boston/Dartmouth, Penn State, NYU, and Clark University.

Participants from outside the Northeast came from California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Strong international participation was reflected in participants who came directly from Bangladesh, Canada, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, Mexico, and Sweden.  In addition probably half of the students at the conference studying at US Universities originally came from other countries as well.

Stephen Carney Keynote address    Reported by David Epstein

Where Do We Go From Here? Globalization Education and the Challenge of Uncertainty

In his thought provoking keynote address to the NE Regional CIES conference, Stephen Carney problematized what is meant by uncertainty. In doing so he discussed four possible lenses: 1. Modernity as a concentration of institutions and rationalization (Giddens, Beck). 2. Modernity as processes of diversification (Appadurai, Castells). 3. Modernity as unraveling (Wallerstein, Hardt & Negri). 4. Modernity as abjection (Bauman, Ferguson). These last two lenses were particularly interesting, with modernity problematized as legitimizing processes of structured exclusion and difference that, ultimately, were not sustainable. Amidst this unraveling we find processes of increasing global connectivity where “the multitude” in Hardt and Negri’s terms are beginning to enact imagined futures and new forms of community. Seen in this way, globalization contains a radical, transformative, potential.

Given these lenses the speaker examined the changing role and nature of the nation-state and consequently challenged the nation state as a useful category in comparative education, drawing attention to the manner in which governments across nations often have more in common with one another at this point then they do with “their people” who they purportedly represent. Further muddling such boundaries, attention was drawn to the increasing role of corporationsDr Stephen Carney and capital in creating trans-national forms of power and control, competing with (or integrating itself into) the power of the state in regards to their ability to push certain policies, with obvious implications for educational and schooling realities. It was argued that the imaginary of neo-liberalism exerts a profound influence over the field of education policy studies, as well as CIE, and that whilst this has potential in alerting us to new forms of domination and control, the simplification of social analysis into readily agreeable economic-oriented categories risks trivializing the richness and complexity of social life. This was an argument for embracing uncertainty as a fundamental aspect of contemporary modernity.

The very idea of uncertainty was presented, in part, as a danger that is to be diagnosed in order to be defeated and taken into control again by national, corporate, and educational policy. Uncertainty is discussed in order to rationalize it and control it and thereby remove it from our midst. This intriguing idea of a “colonizing of ideas” was elaborated on at greater lengths in Carney’s publication which was made available in conjunction with his keynote address. At this point in his speech Stephen made his most pointed remarks. In considering the fashion in which the same methods and theory have guided education over the past 100 years, while still recognizing their evolution and perfection, Dr. Carney stated that he does not believe they are helping us explore the state of modernity. Furthermore he critiqued what is considered data in a global culture, challenging the hegemony of what is valued and considered knowledge. Speaking of the “analytic of noise” and the fashion in which we are trained to analyze this noise (uncertainty) to rationalize it, make sense of it, and thereby “defeat the elements of uncertainty”. In place of this, Steve suggested that “letting chaos speak – letting it dwell” may be a necessary and useful practice for those wishing to understand uncertainty – to be comfortable staying in that uncertainty instead of trying to rationalize it, categorize it, and defeat it.

Dr. Carney left the audience with a quote from Debussy to consider in reflecting on his paper and presentation, “It is in the silences that the music is made.”

Gilbert Valverde and Jen Sandler acting as respondents raised some challenging issues after the presenetation. Following that there were questions and comments from the audience, including several submitted through a "twitterfall" that was being projected behind the podium.


Education in Uncertain Times     Reported by Bjorn Nordtveit

The theme of the northeast regional Comparative and International Education conference, Education in Uncertain Times, proved both challenging and stimulating. During the sessions, many participants considered the theme from a lens of physical uncertainty: war, insecurity, and conflict leading to unsafe schools, low quality of learning, and periodic disruptions of learning that undermine Education For All efforts. Sessions such as “Communities Affected by Trauma, Violence and Conflict” and “The Ugly Side of Education” covered such physical uncertainty, from learners’, teachers’, and administrators’ perspectives. Professional development sessions, including one that covered the use of compressed ethnographies in international settings, and one that discussed how to conduct research with vulnerable populations in fragile contexts, continued the reflection on how we deal with physical uncertainty as researchers and practitioners.

A complementary lens for “reading” uncertainty is socio-emotional, probing issues of gender and identity. Panels on indigenous education, youth activism, LGBTQ issues, and equity surveyed questions related to emotional belonging. Presentations on cultural relevancy and empathetic pedagogy suggested ways that schools could develop socio-emotionally relevant curricula that are protective of children and address issues of trauma.

Another way to consider uncertainty, is related to globalization and modernity, these latter leading to changing signifiers in comparative education research. In a thought-provoking keynote, Stephen Carney of Roskilde University, Denmark, asked three key questions: where to conduct comparative education research when the notion of nation state is increasingly uncertain; what to treat as data when the meaning of education is shifting; and why (i.e., for what purpose) should we conduct comparative education research? CIES President Gilbert Valverde, in his reply to the keynote, argued that the more traditional approach of conducting comparative education research in a nation state context is still valid, and should aim at improving educational quality and access. However, as evidenced by questions and comments from participants, including those submitted through a "twitterfall" projected behind the podium, Carney’s challenges lingered, disturbing key concepts that have for long been taken for granted in the field of international and comparative education research.

Professional Development Sessions     Reported by Tamar Lomiashvili

One of the distinguishing features of this conference was the inclusion of professional development sessions which were intended to offer enriching and academically beneficial learning opportunities for conference participants - from students to professors. The Professional Development (PD) sessions attracted people from a variety of academic interests and of varying career stages.

Each of the seven PD sessions on the program had a specific objective and provided participants with the opportunity to learn about a particular topic or skill-set under the tutelage of an expert facilitator or facilitators. Compressed Ethnography PanelEach PD session lasted 1 hour and 30 minutes; much longer than a single presentation time to enable a more in-depth exploration of a skill or area of knowledge.

PD topics were chosen to be of interest to both practitioners and scholars. Content wise they captured both traditional and alternative ways of education. The objective of the conference organizing team was to identify respected academics and practitioners who could expose participants to new areas of knowledge and skills that would deepen their professional capacity and provide sources for further exploration.

The goals of incorporating PD sessions in the conference program included the following:

  • To enhance and expand participants’ academic and professional experience in areas of interest to them
  • To take advantage of the presence of large numbers of participants at the conference for academic purposes to also provide them with professional development opportunities
  • To learn about new research approaches and academic publishing
  • To encourage meaningful exchange of ideas, constructive criticism, feedback among participants of all ages, educational backgrounds, and worldviews.  

Social Media to Promote Engagement    Reported by Hunter Gray

InstagramEngagement - that was the goal for utilizing various social media forums before, during, and after theCIES Northeastern Regional Conference. These social media outlets included the conference Facebook page, a Facebook group, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, and a promotional video posted on YouTube. Prior to the conference, the Facebook page gathered 104 likes and 48 members for the Facebook group. The Twitter account had 45 followers and resulted in over 300 Tweets during the conference. The number of times that the conference hashtag, #uncertaintimes, appeared on feeds was over 19,000, although this doesn’t necessarily mean they were read.The Youtube promotional video, Education in Uncertain Times: CIES NE Regional Conference, had 282 views.

One unique component of this conference, illustrative of its push for using social media, was the use of Twitterfall. As a straightforward Twitter aggregate platform, Twitterfall, enabled audience members to simultaneously engage, via Twitter, in conversations about the Keynote Presentation, while also being able to submit questions. During the Keynote Presentation, conference staff recorded questions submitted on Twitterfall and these were given to the moderator to use during the discussion.   In addition, during the discussion of the keynote, the Twitterfall feed was projected on a screen behind the podium to help guide the conversation, summarize some of the key points being presented, and lighten the mood with “off the cuff” commentary.

The result of using social media leading up to, and during, the conference seems to ironically reflect the theme of the conference – it’s uncertain. The vote is still out about whether the use of social media contributed positively to the engagement and conversations within the conference, or if it was merely a disruption. As the Chair for theTwitter conference, I have heard first-hand comments regarding the use of Twitterfallin the keynote session that run the spectrum from being a distraction, and making audience members feel uncomfortable about the lack of censorship of the posts, to those that appreciated an open outlet for proffering questions without having to stand up in front of a room of specialists. For some participants, the Keynote Presentation served to host two conversations – that which was live and was dominated by senior faculty, and the “virtual conversation” which predominately featured the voices of graduate students and served to elucidate some of the prominent discussion points of the live conversation.

The Facebook page was active before the conference and may have encouraged interaction among some before arriving.   The Instagram site was relatively inactive with only a few people posting pictures from tFacebookheir phones.  Twitter was somewhat more active, but primarily around the keynote dialogue.   The web page was active just before the conference as participants were eager to know when they were on the program.  It remains to be seen whether the Conference Highlights page put up afterwards attracts much attention. 

The conference staff looks forward to the results from the survey sent to conference attendees to shed some light on how social media in the conference was perceived and to better understand barriers to greater use.  Options such as live streaming of parts of the conference might enable participation by people who were unable to attend the conference.  The organizing committee will be submitting a report to CIES with recommendations about how future conferences could be more effective with the use of social media, both during individual sessions and at the conference.   

Contemporary Gender Issues  Reported by Cris Smith

In this session, Anjali Adukia presented research findings about the impact on girls' enrollment of building latrines at schools in India.  She found significant higher enrollment for girls and boys both, but enrollment increased more for girls, especially older girls and when the latrine is sex-specific rather than a unisex latrine.  Shannon Meehan talked about the Doorways Training on gender-based violence that she helped Peace Corps/Burkina Faso volunteers use in their communities.  The training focused on real behavior change, not just awareness of gender-based violence in schools:  defining what sexual violence is, helping kids say "no", helping community members and teachers change what they do.  

Felisa Tibbetts described a training program on human rights for women in Turkey.  Her research looked at changes in facilitators' attitudes about themselves and changes in their self-esteem.  Mohammed Mahboob Morshed and Hye Seung Cho presented information about education in Bangladesh refugee camps for Rohingya refugee girls from Burma.  The presenters highlighted the challenges of girls' enrollment in the schools in the camps, because of fear for girls' safety as well as early marriage of girls to Bangladeshi men, which automatically gives the girl and her family residency in Bangladesh.  

These four presentations helped participants to think about the wide variety of challenges--as well as efforts to overcome those challenges--that girls and women face in getting an education and improving their status and rights.

Transforming Racialized Legacies through Student Leadership    Reported by Jacob Carter

The panelists - Marianne Sarkis, Dani Battle, Dave Bell and Beverly Bell - facilitated an interactive dialogue which encouraged discussion during the presentations, The four panelists are working together on a longitudinal research project and approaching the data from three different perspectives: Student Leadership Development, Conceptions of Social Change, and the Formation of Social Networks and Social Capital. They argue that the nexus of these three foci will provide new information on the impact and outcomes of social-justice oriented study-abroad initiatives.

Their research focuses on the impact on students who participate in short-term, study-abroad immersion programs coupled with ongoing, on-campus programming and projects. These programs seek to empower student leaders to challenge tacit and explicit racialized and cultural sentiments by immersing them in a range of US institutions that model progressive social justice programming and by facilitating the exchange of progressive ideas among student leaders. Each panelist presented preliminary findings that included race and gender as units of analysis which served to underscore the different lived realities and outcomes of the students based on their race and gender identification.

Questions and comments from the audience included whether or not this would include participatory methods to interpret the data, how the university would use the data, and the parallels between student attitudes at a private university in South Carolina. While the research project is a part of the initiative, the panelists also communicated the challenges of justifying the continuation of this program during a time of budget cuts. And while their research was requested by and presented to university officials, the actual impact that it is having on decision-making remains unclear at this time. The panel closed, however, on a positive note with new ideas generated for consideration and with encouragement from the audience to continue the work and share results. 

Working in Communities Affected by Trauma, Violence & Conflict             
            Reported by Promise Mchenga

As an upcoming international education specialist, I enjoyed this Professional Development session which focused on working in communities impacted by trauma, violence and conflict - not an easy task. It demands both theoretical and practical skills. I found this session very insightful, challenging and timely.

As the areas of conflict and post conflict continue to rise, trauma cases rise as well. Trauma-stricken communities further affect the progress and performance of children/youths in schools.  Unfortunately, theory alone does not provide healing for trauma victims. The workshop chair asserted that we can have theory but we must work with the people who are affected if we want to understand trauma better. In defining and describing trauma, Maria Rodman said that trauma shapes and inform one’s perception of self, interaction with others and our view of the world. It has a profound impact on our body, mind and spirit. As a trainer on trauma-informed practice she highlighted the damage trauma brings to people’s lives such as isolation, disconnection, helplessness, humiliation, shame, and rage.

Is healing from trauma possible? Absolutely, yes. The workshop not only asserted that that it is possible for trauma victims to heal, but it is also a transformative experience. However, the healing process calls for creating necessary conditions (i.e. relationships), connections and communities that foster the healing process. As to its definition, this recovery involves a process of change whereby individuals and communities work to develop a sense of well-being while striving to achieve their full potential.

Meridith Gould, discussed social emotional learning which is useful in vulnerable communities and conflict-affected contexts. Through her presentation I learned that children and youth are affected by exposure to displacement, war, and other forms of violence and lack of safety from recruitment into armed forces, schools occupied by armies, and abuse and exploitation. These challenges influence the learning and education environments through poor attention and aggressive behavior of students. As an education student, I found this helpful as she argued for the need to use Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL involves the process of developing social and emotional competencies in children/youths and adults. SEL can result in self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness.

To conclude, the main point I took away from the discussion is the need to infuse “Trauma Informed Practices” (TIPs) and “Social-Emotional Learning” (SEL) strategies in doing research and practice in the communities affected by trauma and conflict. At the end of the presentation, Paul Frisoli, shared some challenges, the growing need to apply SEL and TIPs, and how he has applied some of these strategies and practices in his research in the Congo, a nation strongly affected by violence and conflict.

Working Groups

The Ugly Side of Education     Reported by Stephen Richardson

Education has a largely positive connotation within the public discourse; however, there can be very negative implications of the global education agendas being implemented in a variety of low-resource contexts. The panel, The Ugly Side of Education, provided cases from Pakistan, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Uganda, that illuminated some of the destructive effects of the global education agenda.

First, was the case of teachers being explicit targets of attacks in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, an area that is still dealing with power struggles of between the government and the Taliban. Teachers of ethnic and religious minorities and schools that do not align with the conservative ideals of the Taliban are targets, putting school children at risk and creating a shortage of teachers. Many teachers who are not explicit targets are requesting transfers out of the region or resigning. However, teachers are also sometimes the perpetrators of violence. In the case of some low-resource schools in Mozambique, there are instances of male teachers exploiting young girls and requiring sexual acts for good grades, described as Sexually Transmitted Grades. Interestingly, this exploitation can affect the student’s friends as well, if there is resistance, the teachers sometimes give lower grades to the student’s friends providing another level of pressure on the female students.

Other ugly education issues were analyzed from the systemic and policy level. In the case of Bangladesh teachers' actions can be the product of the pressures that are put on them and their students through high-stakes testing. Here market forces have created a system of shadow education where students are paying for tutoring outside of formal school.  Teachers sometimes refuse to cover some of the curriculum in class in order to recruit more private students.  This practice creates more economic inequality when the higher-income students can afford more and better tutoring than low-income students. At the policy level, a panelist discussed the case of Northern Uganda, where national gender equality policies do not have adequate resources, political will, or incentives to be implemented properly making the policies themselves ineffective.

All of the cases presented at The Ugly Side of Education panel provide a starting point for deeper discussion of what happens to students, arguably the intended beneficiaries of education, as a result of global education agendas, policies, sectarian conflict, and market forces.

Power, Hierarchy, and Reform in Chinese Universities      Reported  by Mei Lan Frame

The panel led by Yihong Fan from Xiamen University in China focused on research in the field of teacher development by comparing approaches in Chinese and European higher education institutes. She also addressed current issues surrounding reform to meet challenges of globalization in China’s national college entrance exam (NCEE) and the leadership system of China’s universities. Yihong Fan, who along with her colleague Wei Wu, traveled from China to attend the conference, began by describing her research on project-oriented learning through exploratory workshops with teachers and students conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. By locating particular student learning outcomes from the workshop’s interdisciplinary approach, Fan illustrated the relevance of her research for staff development policies in Chinese universities.

The theme of comparative research was further developed in a paper presented by Wei Wu, an associate professor at Xiamen University. By comparing teachers’ conceptions of the teaching-research relationship in Xiamen University and Leiden (Holland) University, Wu shoed that teacher preference for either research or teaching was ultimately based on what was promoted at the institution whether at Xiamen or at Leiden.    

The panel was also composed of two doctoral students currently studying at UMass Boston, Zhiyuan Sun, from East China Normal University and Fengjuan Zhang from Zhejiang University. Sun analyzed changes in China’s NCEE to meet the demands of rapid economic and social change in China, pointing out the major challenges of quality and equity in education for migrant populations. Expressing a similar interest in recent reforms, Zhang addressed the power inequality between university presidents and the Secretary of University Party Committee within Chinese universities, by analyzing key factors in their relationship.

Overall, the panel contained interesting and relevant comparative research between Chinese and European universities, showcasing best practices and how they might be used for staff development in China. The talks by Zhang and Sun took a slightly more critical view towards reforms in education, exposing areas where reforms are lacking, and suggesting ways to promote greater equity.

Poster Session


Conference Sponsors

Comparative and International Education Society
College of Education, UMass Amherst
Institute for Global Education Policy Studies, SUNY Albany
Teachers College, Columbia University
Dept of Education, Policy, Research & Administration, UMass Amherst
Center for International Education, UMass Amherst

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