Bonding over chatbots: Reflections from ‘Women in ICT’ workshop
6 September 2019

Mid-career women from tertiary institutions across the Caribbean came together for the 'Women in ICT: The future of work in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)' workshop from 11 to 13 June in Nassau. Facilitated by COL and hosted by the Ministry of Education, Bahamas, the event explored current technologies and trends in education, such as open educational resources (OER), and the role of AI in enhancing these technologies. It also examined the threats and opportunities for AI in education through a gender lens.

Karlene Black, Senior Lecturer, Distance Liaison Officer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, who took part in the workshop, spoke to COL about the valuable knowledge sharing, the strong bond created between participants, and the workshop’s lasting impact.

When I first looked at the workshop synopsis, I was intimidated by the fact that we would be programming for artificial intelligence (AI). Although I have been in the field of computing for over 25 years, I was apprehensive not because of having to write code, but because I wondered about the skill set of the other powerful women participants.

My fears were quickly forgotten once the group convened on the first day. Introductions revealed the wide talent pool of Caribbean women who held various positions in academic environments. I was eager to learn from, and contribute to, this gathering. Our facilitator, Ms Alexis Carr, Research Coordinator at COL, made efforts to point out her areas of strength and give credit to contributors to her presentation. She immediately won my trust and made me want to learn.

The experience was most exciting, rewarding and memorable. The information provided a new and interesting field that made me want to explore. The hands-on exercise, which I knew in theory, came to life when our groups created our own chat bot with the guided assistance of technical facilitator, Ricky Cheng, Knowledge Services Manager at COL. The revelation of opportunities to manage in low-bandwidth environments and use content from ‘ready-made,’ no-cost courses made me wonder how I had never heard of COL before now and why my institution was not pushing for more collaboration with such an entity.  

The added benefit of attending this workshop was the almost immediate bond formed with the other participants. Despite our varying backgrounds, levels of education and diverse areas of responsibilities, the atmosphere was one of friends reunited. The correspondence and collaboration has continued since the conclusion of the workshop. This assures that a sustainable community of practice has been created, one that will make waves in the Caribbean.

Since the workshop, I have been motivated to continue learning and working with COL. So much so that I completed the MOOC on Sustainable Development, visit the website frequently and have plans to purchase the ‘classroom in a box’ to use as an experiment to assess the feasibility of its implementation at my institution. I will use the knowledge gained from this workshop to enhance my institution and help to propagate COL’s mission.

Pictured: Karlene (far left) with other workshop participants.