Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

May 21, 2016
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Virtual Open Office Space

Reading Time: 1 minutes

So this may sound a little crazy…but while it is often difficult to be productive in my actual physical office because of all the socializing that goes on (which I absolutely love and cannot live without).. When I work from home, I am almost sharing virtual office space with some people. As in DMing, Slacking or FB PMing while I work.

Sounds like I am defeating the whole purpose of working from home, right?

Actually no. I have a need for socialization. I just need it not to interfere with certain work at certain times. With virtual open office space, no one will think it’s rude if u don’t look them in the eye as you finish that paragraph. No one will get mad at you for responding after 15 or 30 mins. It’s a semi-synchronous heaven.

Thanks Rebecca, Autumm and Alex for being part of my virtual semi-synchronous open office space this week πŸ˜‰ You helped me feel less lonely while being productive πŸ™‚

May 20, 2016
by Maha Bali
4 Comments

Academia = Lifetime of Homework

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out… But choosing an academic life seems to mean accepting (embracing?) a lifetime of homework. I mean, I sort of understood this early on, but not like this.

Think about it. A huge portion of what we do requires work that won’t be happening inside a classroom or meeting or office. Well it could happen in the office, if you could spend enough ALONE time in said office without students and colleagues and meetings getting in the way.

So if you teach, you spend time preparing for class and grading student work. I never EVER have enough time to do that in the office. Grading student work is largely a midnight or early morning thing. Only very low stakes stuff can get graded in the office. I say “get graded” because, like, it’s not as conscious an activity.

If you give lots of workshops like I do, you can get a lot done in the office but very often need to spend time working at home to refine. I can’t focus as well in the office. Is it just me? I put up signs of “please do not disturb unless urgent” and like, unless it’s really clear I am on a conference call (even then actually!) I get interrupted. It’s ok. It’s just not conducive to getting anything done. And that’s fine. I love all the stuff that ends up happening in the office with people and stuff πŸ™‚ There is just so much I need to do without other people physically present.

For every research project, I cannot imagine getting all that work done during “work hours”. Not the research nor the writing. For every conference presentation, I usually work at home. I don’t Think I even write conference proposals from the office. For every article or even blogpost I write – those I work on around the clock. Occasionally I will write something from the office on a day without meetings or classes, but those days are rare. That’s why I am on my phone so much. Writing during my commute to/from work, or taking any opportunity my daughter is napping to get a bit of work done wherever I find myself.

For things like academic peer reviews. That doesn’t feel like something I should be doing while at work. So I do those outside the office.

And then of course everything that involves collaboration gets more complex for me because of timezones. I am not even talking about the FUN things like Twitter chats or Virtually Connecting sessions. I am talking actual work on academic papers and preparing conference presentations.

Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone can choose this life unless they really love it. Work-life balance? Pfft. How many times would I have to say “no” to achieve THAT?

Ya can’t blame me for not sleeping. I swear if I sleep too much (aka more than 5 hours) for a whole week in a row my entire work (aka homework stuff) becomes overwhelming. Of course also when I don’t sleep at all because of a family thing (e.g. sick child) I end up both tired AND unproductive.

I’m rereading this and thinking I must be absolutely crazy. But I have a feeling I am not alone in this.

Update: and speaking of how busy i am and needing to say no…i…uh…just signed up for a MOOC! #curiouscolab. More info here

May 13, 2016
by Maha Bali
2 Comments

Participate Remotely in #AMICALNET Rome with @jimgroom & me – Fri May 13

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Friday May 13 – the day I go to Rome, hoping to build Rome in a day with Jim Groom πŸ™‚ whom I will inshallah meet for the first time and collaborate with on 3 things (bad things happen in 3s but good things happen in 3s as well!!! I hope)

Note: I’m writing this post ahead of time and it *should* self-publish sometime tomorrow morning.Β 

9:30am Jim Groom Keynote: Small is Beautiful (livestreamed)

If you’re seeing this and are interested in watching Jim Groom’s keynote, you can ask questions virtually on Twitter using #amicalnet or via YouTube comments

11am Virtually Connecting with Jim Groom and me (livestreamed – Tweet @vconnecting to join)

12:20pm Session “Does Ed Tech Have an Ethos?” (livestreamed – Jim & me)

These are the slides we are using, and we’ve scheduled tweets to invite folks to participate via #amicalnet hashtag but you can also add comments on the Google slides if you like

May 10, 2016
by Maha Bali
0 comments

Knowing You as I Read You

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I remember way back during my IGCSE exams (that’s International GCSEs, high school degree) we had in our English Literature a paper called the “Unseen”. This was and still remains my favorite example of what it means to teach AGAINST memorization. Our literature exams had a paper that was open book and notes so you could take the books you had been studying all year and use those while answering questions (also anti-memorization because the book is right there – questions were quite analytical).

The “unseen” paper meant you got to read a poem or book excerpt that you had not studied before and answer some questions on it.

I remember something interesting that happened to me. It was a poem by an Irish poet. I had never read it before. But I had flipped through our entire poetry book (we were only assigned a few poems maybe 3 or something) and I remember reading some bios of poets. And so I remembered that this particular poet had been through war. I read the poem and reinterpreted it based on what I knew of the poet. I think I could have still done a good analysis/interpretation without that prior knowledge, but the prior knowledge made me feel I was closer to understanding where that poet was coming from. I did well in my literature exam so I assume I answered that one well πŸ™‚

Now I am thinking about the impact of social media and blogging on how I interpret what people write. Like when I see Dave Cormier use a word like resilience it reminds me of the term “grit” but because I know Dave, I know he means it differently. So I read on with a different eye.

It occurs to me that, of course, without social media, if you read a particular author often enough (Edward Said, Freire, bell hooks, even novelists and playwrights) you get to know them a little and what you know of them from before influences how you read new stuff. When these authors have been often interviewed as well (e.g. Said, Chomsky, hooks) there is an added layer of personal understanding. Now what if you had actually personally conversed with these individuals?

That’s the case now with blogging and social media. There was a time when people like Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh, Bonnie Stewart, Jenny Mackness, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield, Phil Hill, Kate Bowles, Howard Rheingold, Mimi Ito, Janine DeBaise, Jim Groom …There was a time when these people were authore to me. People I read. People I cited. Authors not acquaintances or friends. But because of social media, all of these people are ones I know from acquaintance to very close friend. From people whom I have met and do close work with, and people I have developed games with, to people I have co-authored and co-presented with, to people I interact with often on social media Or Virtually Connecting. When I read something from these people there is a lot of public and private history involved in how I interpret what they say/write.

And then I looked at the schedule of NLC 2016 and saw it has a mix of people I know closely like Laura Gogia and Suzan Koseoglu and Jeffrey Keefer and Dian Bayne and Jen Ross and people I have met in person and also know quite a bit like Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz and Frances Bell (And Suzan)…and people I have interacted with like Gemma Tombs…and then people I have read before like way back in the early days of ELearning but never interacted with. Like Peter Goodyear. And other names that strike a memory when I see them but don’t last as much as the others because they are less “current” and less a part of my life now.

And that’s kind of good and bad. It’s kind of good to know who you are reading because you have opportunities for dialogue and viewing the writer’s thinking process as they develop ideas over time (Mike Caulfield is amazing at making this explicit with Fedwiki and Wikity ; Laura Gogia is amazing at that with pretty much everything)… And also they sort of become part of my own head, somehow? Like I don’t live inside just my own head…like my friend said that during Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo she felt she was living inside my head as she interacted with Sean and Amy and Jesse and Bonnie. And I totally got that.

On the other hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading a writer we don’t know at all and will never talk to. Coz they are dead, say. Or just not into social media. Or really just not social. And we do it all the time obviously.

For me though – if I can have an opportunity to know an author I would rather take it. I often write emails to authors of novels I like and they usually respond! They do! I also love getting to know a person when I am reviewing their work openly for a Hybrid Pedagogy article. It’s looking at authors as whole people and it seems a waste NOT to do it if you can. If they’re open to it.

So… I would love opportunities to connect virtually with people I have read but never met. It’s just a little harder to convince them to meet me πŸ™‚

Just yesterday I got an email from my university’s ex-president saying how much she enjoyed reading my Prof Hacker articles. That was so cool that she got in touch to let me know she was reading my work…and our dean often emails me saying she enjoyed a particular piece of mine. It’s so lovely coz it’s unexpected. And I assume knowing me influences how they read it.

What’s hilarious is when a colleague from the library who knows me well sent me a Prof Hacker article on open access and copyright saying I would like it. My response: “but Mark, I wrote that piece myself!”

May 10, 2016
by Maha Bali
0 comments

Knowing You as I Read You

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I remember way back during my IGCSE exams (that’s International GCSEs, high school degree) we had in our English Literature a paper called the “Unseen”. This was and still remains my favorite example of what it means to teach AGAINST memorization. Our literature exams had a paper that was open book and notes so you could take the books you had been studying all year and use those while answering questions (also anti-memorization because the book is right there – questions were quite analytical).

The “unseen” paper meant you got to read a poem or book excerpt that you had not studied before and answer some questions on it.

I remember something interesting that happened to me. It was a poem by an Irish poet. I had never read it before. But I had flipped through our entire poetry book (we were only assigned a few poems maybe 3 or something) and I remember reading some bios of poets. And so I remembered that this particular poet had been through war. I read the poem and reinterpreted it based on what I knew of the poet. I think I could have still done a good analysis/interpretation without that prior knowledge, but the prior knowledge made me feel I was closer to understanding where that poet was coming from. I did well in my literature exam so I assume I answered that one well πŸ™‚

Now I am thinking about the impact of social media and blogging on how I interpret what people write. Like when I see Dave Cormier use a word like resilience it reminds me of the term “grit” but because I know Dave, I know he means it differently. So I read on with a different eye.

It occurs to me that, of course, without social media, if you read a particular author often enough (Edward Said, Freire, bell hooks, even novelists and playwrights) you get to know them a little and what you know of them from before influences how you read new stuff. When these authors have been often interviewed as well (e.g. Said, Chomsky, hooks) there is an added layer of personal understanding. Now what if you had actually personally conversed with these individuals?

That’s the case now with blogging and social media. There was a time when people like Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh, Bonnie Stewart, Jenny Mackness, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield, Phil Hill, Kate Bowles, Howard Rheingold, Mimi Ito, Janine DeBaise, Jim Groom …There was a time when these people were authore to me. People I read. People I cited. Authors not acquaintances or friends. But because of social media, all of these people are ones I know from acquaintance to very close friend. From people whom I have met and do close work with, and people I have developed games with, to people I have co-authored and co-presented with, to people I interact with often on social media Or Virtually Connecting. When I read something from these people there is a lot of public and private history involved in how I interpret what they say/write.

And then I looked at the schedule of NLC 2016 and saw it has a mix of people I know closely like Laura Gogia and Suzan Koseoglu and Jeffrey Keefer and Dian Bayne and Jen Ross and people I have met in person and also know quite a bit like Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz and Frances Bell (And Suzan)…and people I have interacted with like Gemma Tombs…and then people I have read before like way back in the early days of ELearning but never interacted with. Like Peter Goodyear. And other names that strike a memory when I see them but don’t last as much as the others because they are less “current” and less a part of my life now.

And that’s kind of good and bad. It’s kind of good to know who you are reading because you have opportunities for dialogue and viewing the writer’s thinking process as they develop ideas over time (Mike Caulfield is amazing at making this explicit with Fedwiki and Wikity ; Laura Gogia is amazing at that with pretty much everything)… And also they sort of become part of my own head, somehow? Like I don’t live inside just my own head…like my friend said that during Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo she felt she was living inside my head as she interacted with Sean and Amy and Jesse and Bonnie. And I totally got that.

On the other hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading a writer we don’t know at all and will never talk to. Coz they are dead, say. Or just not into social media. Or really just not social. And we do it all the time obviously.

For me though – if I can have an opportunity to know an author I would rather take it. I often write emails to authors of novels I like and they usually respond! They do! I also love getting to know a person when I am reviewing their work openly for a Hybrid Pedagogy article. It’s looking at authors as whole people and it seems a waste NOT to do it if you can. If they’re open to it.

So… I would love opportunities to connect virtually with people I have read but never met. It’s just a little harder to convince them to meet me πŸ™‚

Just yesterday I got an email from my university’s ex-president saying how much she enjoyed reading my Prof Hacker articles. That was so cool that she got in touch to let me know she was reading my work…and our dean often emails me saying she enjoyed a particular piece of mine. It’s so lovely coz it’s unexpected. And I assume knowing me influences how they read it.

What’s hilarious is when a colleague from the library who knows me well sent me a Prof Hacker article on open access and copyright saying I would like it. My response: “but Mark, I wrote that piece myself!”

May 9, 2016
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Hunger Games, Reality TV, and Human Slavery

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s not as dystopian as it seems, The Hunger Games. I was avoiding it (why read something I already knew was so violent?) but then found it available on Kindle Unlimited and thought, if it sucks me in, I will read it; it’s not costing me anything extra. It did suck me in. I finished it in nearly 24 hours during which I slept (not much!) and worked and played w my kid and everything.

So here’s the thing. It’s not as dystopian as it seems. Much of what’s in it has happened in human history at some point. Think of the ancient Egyptians sacrificing a girl to the Nile each year. Roman gladiators. Slavery. Modern-day human trafficking. Street children. Prostitution. And yes – violent sports like ice hockey where beating up opponents is just part or the game; Spanish matadors; rodeo; and even ugly reality TV where we watch others suffer for entertainment.

Ok so none of it is as bad as the Hunger Games, but as Joe Dillon pointed out, TV now shows real wars, real death on TV and people watch.

I still remember a day when I was in college and my cousin’s young boy turned on the TV and yelled excitedly “a movie with a fight” (as in, an action film) and it turned out to be the evening news. No, seriously. That’s kind of why I have huge reservations about movies and cartoons (worse: video games coz ur not just a spectator) that portray violence in ways that attracts children and then I think it neutralizes them to what that violence means. Movies and such make us forget that those are live animals or humans dying or getting hurt. It’s strange really – how you become sort of so narrowly focused thst you just want thr main character to survive but if a million other innocent people die it means nothing to you as long as that one precious person (and perhaps their love interest) survive. But wait. That’s also life, isn’t it? In wars, we feel little for faceless people who die. The less we know them personally, the less they look like us, the less we identify with them as human beings.

Then there’s something in The Hunger Games that struck me. How Katniss feels comfortable hunting game but not people (so far, totally understandable). But when she starts to kill people (she doesn’t cold-bloodedly kill anyone except the person who killed Rue, I think – and I do count Cato as a mercy killing tho she would have killed him anyway) – the part that’s interesting is how repulsed she is by gore and blood compared to what she recalls about hee healer mom/sister who are completely calm in the face of other people’s blood. How murderers need to stay calm and cool and distant in order to kill…while healers need to be cool and calm and distant in order to help. They’re both extreme and similar responses but with different end goals in mind. We like to watch the healers, too, like in ER and Grey’s Anatomy and I am sure some stupid reality TV show.

What also really struck me about the story is the social injustice angle. And even though it’s really taken to the extreme and made geographically proximal, it’s not that exaggerated a representation of the world as we live in it today. Some people have all the tech and comforts and everything while others live in poverty and hunger. And fear. Near and far. As in, poor neighborhoods right across from affluent ones (common here). But also global inequality in terms of distribution of resources and deaths for hunger or health reasons – causes that have solutions available in the developed world that for some cruel reason isn’t made available to those who truly needed. Because those who make the food and meds don’t care about those who die from hunger and illness and war far away. They are faceless. Don’t you dare give me Malallah. Don’t you dare make one face everything and forget about everyone else. It’s not Malallah’s fault. It’s how the media works on people’s psyche.

And then something else occurs to me related to the whole focusing on the survival of a particular person. This is slightly tangential but important. In the Hunger Games and in reality TV and in real life, how much support you get depends a lot on how your personality comes through to others. It’s performative and unfair but a fact of life. I once read that doctors with good bedside manner are less likely to be sued for their mistakes. People who like you are less likely to accuse you of malpractice. Probably students who like professors are less likely to give em bad evaluations, right? Also sports professionals who are more likeable get better sponsorship and all kinds of things not necessarily related to how good their game is (though sometimes it is).

Just yesterday I was doing an in-class assessment where students kept talking about how the professor’s personality was essential to the course. I flipped. I had heard this before in a lot of instances, particularly with regards to particularly charistmatic people doing social work. It makes me angry that people cannot look beyond the individual to see how their characteristics can exist, differently but successfully, in another person.
Even about Virtually Connecting where people wondered if the Maha-ness would be central to its success. It’s clearly not. There was also a Rebecca-ness. That’s also not essential. You could argue that there is an Autumm-ness and Alan-ness and Helen-ness and Whitney-ness.. That only means that people with big personalities make a difference. I would agree. But it’s not just ONE person in themselves who is ever essential.

So back to my main point about Hunger Games. And really most stories that involve life and death. The storyteller always lets us focus on a select few personalities that we grow to love, selectively keeping some alive and some dead in a dramatic fashion that keeps us hooked. I cried when Rue died even though I knew all along she would. I cried each time whe was mentioned thereafter. But those other kids? Who cares about them, right? Grrrr

Reality TV and sports are obviously not this bad. But clearly something similar.

What is horrible is how real-life war and killing is like that. And the way media selects whom to interview and how to play them on camera, whose families to bring up and how to gain audience sympathy… And for what? Ratings? When a reporter goes to a scene of murder are they doing something noble, helping the public know the truth, or are they playing into the hands of media giants and making themselves less human by numbing themselves to this? And not like a doctor does. It’s not that noble an act.

But also what does it say about us that we enjoy reading, watching, playing fiction/games that include violence? I really didn’t think I would like the Hunger Games. I admit it really made me think. But it makes me sick to know that I was rooting for some people and not others. That even though I was drawn to it by the social justice story, I also became engrossed in the plot and the cleverness and the survival (let’s not call it by its real name, killing?).

I am hoping the next two novels really are focusing on rebellion and overthrowing the Capitol rather than senseless killing, because that’s still going to be ok, right? Coz the main characters will survive and win, right?

Here we go again

====
Added later. This idea was on my mind early on but i forgot to include it. In poor countries some ppl do organ donation for money. Not for loved ones but selling organs. In some countries like Iran i hear this is legal. In other countries it’s illegal but ppl look the other way and stuff. That also came to mind. As a dehumanizing thing even though it’s for saving someone else’s life. But affluent families choose to pay someone instead of letting a family member donate. It makes me sad and angry

May 7, 2016
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Reading the Real and Virtual in Children’s Books

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Two close friends each recently gifted my daughter with beautiful books. She’s almost 5 so I read them to her among our bedtime books. But I also ponder all kinds of non-child-related ideas when I read them.

So here are some thoughts. Sean Michael Morris got us a beautifully illustrated version of E. E. Cummings’ “i carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)”. You can read the full poem here. I remember when I got it before even opening I told him “that’s so you, Sean”. And if you don’t know Sean, this piece here and this here might explain why the book’s title felt to me like it was Sean speaking directly to me.

So apart from the full poem, I felt that the concept of carrying someone’s heart with us resonated with virtual friendships like mine with so many people. Sure i don’t see them or touch them in a physical sense, but when we are deep into each other’s minds and hearts, we carry them with us not only on our smartphones (haha) but also in our hearts. I have said before that there are many people who see me daily or weekly who don’t know my mind or my heart in the way some of my virtual friends do. Partly because our relationships aren’t distracted by logistics and details of a physical existence and responsibilities. It’s like when we meet we leave those behind (not really, everyone has seen my child on a hangout by now).

The concept of carrying someone’s heart in our heart also seems to me to apply to loss of loved ones. In a private convo I was recently retelling the story of a novel called Goodbye For Now. The idea of the novel (sci fi but not in the way you expect) is that people would lose someone they love, and yet this computer program would allow them to fake-converse w them via email and Skypes based on data collected from past convos they had had digitally. I remember reading this book and thinking of my late father (and also one late friend, Leslie) and how I didn’t really need that software. I pretty much knew what they would say if i needed advice. I could talk to them heart to heart because i carried them in my heart. You lose someone and you tend to remember, somehow more clearly, things they had said to you. In my final stretch towards finishing my PhD, I remembered how my dad used to remind me that doing a PhD was never easy. I carry him with me. My daughter pats me on the back in the exact same way my dad used to Pat my back. Seriously. Both of them knowing times when I need that touch without my ever saying it.
As I raise my child I remember all kinds of random parenting advice my friend Leslie used to give me. I was more open to it because she rarely gave me tips on things i was currently doing “wrong”. She just told me stories and random things that to this day I conjure up in times of need. I carry her with me.

Onto the next book – The Velveteen Rabbit (which you can read here) from my good friend Autumm (also a v good friend of my child who wants to go to America to see Autumm now that she suddenly realized she hasn’t met her in person!). The book has the most beautiful pictures of a young boy cuddling with his rabbit.

Autumm had blogged about the parts in the book that distinguish between being real or not real – in the book, the rabbit becomes real as the boy loves him and takes him everywhere. Realness comes with pain (you know how ragged fave stuffed toys become) but in the book this pain is welcomed because becoming real is being loved and stuff. And so far, I was totally getting that. Until the ending. Because the ending of the book sees some sort of fairy saving the rabbit from being burned away (the kid has some kind of illness) and instead converts him into a “real” rabbit with legs to jump and stuff (beforehand “real” rabbits made fun of his lack of legs and inability to jump). So ummm and then he is gonna live forever as real.

No.

Real things DON’T live forever. I am pretty sure the (average) lifespan of a toy rabbit is longer than that of a real rabbit. Am I right? I checked. 8-12 years so they might actually be even πŸ˜‰ but in Egypt ppl eat rabbits so i bet their lifespan is different.

Anyway.

What bothered me about the story is that it privileges realness in this way that… I don’t know… Annoyed me? It privileges it and makes realness into this utopia that makes it like a goal worth losing everything for. That it is ok to lose parts of urself and for your body to be damaged for you to become real (that’s actually called aging, but let’s not get into that). What bothered me is the ending where the rabbit becomes another level of real and in doing so, doesn’t really need the love of the boy anymore. Why? It’s nice that the boy sees him later and he reminds him of his Velveteen Rabbit…so it’s not a total disconnect. But still…

It made me think of how our virtual relationships are held in contrast to our “real” ones in ways that privilege real beyond what it deserves sometimes. When Autumm feels pain, I feel it right with her. When I go through problems, she’s right here with me. And the virtual and real are equally painful. It’s not that the virtual can’t hurt – though I get how it has limits in how it could hurt. I have been hurt by virtual peers but they can’t fire me, or kidnap my child (i hope!). There is also a question I had of how meeting someone in person might shift our online relationship. For ppl i already knew well it actually hasn’t changed anything much (e.g. Rebecca, Jesse, Bonnie). For some ppl whom I knew less well, it did strengthen our relationship – but strengthened it in ways that can only be sustained virtually.

Today was an alumni reunion for my alma mater AUC. I don’t miss it too much coz i work there (albeit in a new suburban gated campus) and many of the people who went to the reunion are actually people I see regularly at work…but the way this reunion came about and became so strong was because of a Facebook group they started leading up to it. It seems to havw been wildly successful because the group was going nuts with posts before we even realized it was related to an event, and ppl not in Cairo ended up making their own events. It’s an instance of how the virtual supports the f2f and sustains it.

I know the velveteen rabbit wasn’t talking virtual vs real. You can blame Autumm’s earlier blogpost which i had actually forgotten but apparently internalized (to the point where i thought my idea was new, really). But my other problem with realness is that real live things die. Much more frequently and quickly than inanimate things. Statues and pyramids and buildings and streets and bridges outlive us all. They have no heart but they live. My child never met either of her grandfathers..but the toys and books they got her parents live on for her to play with today. So if I were a stuffed rabbit, I would have a much better chance of being loved again if I stayed stuffed than if I became “real”. Because the “real” that matters is the realness that comes with love, not the realness that comes with physical attributes.

Note: this post probably isn’t logical and won’t make sense to anyone. But i had to get it out of my system. Thanks for bearing with me.

April 24, 2016
by Maha Bali
3 Comments

Request for Feedback on My Students’ Game Ideas

Reading Time: 1 minutes

As I did last semester, I would like to invite anyone who is willing to give feedback to my students on their educational game design ideas. They have to have an Egyptian theme and to be educational, and to be non-digital. That’s pretty much it.

I have 5 groups and will keep adding their blogposts describing their initial game idea as they come in (they are on Spring break and this was a loose deadline, so right now I have 2 posts):

Hieroglyphics/Pyramid game

Scavenger Hunt based game

Solve Cairo board game

If you’re interested in helping, please leave your comment directly on their blogs.

Thanks!

April 23, 2016
by Maha Bali
0 comments

Critical Thinking and Context: More Grrrr on Standardized Tests

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In my PhD research, I argue (as do many others) that while critical thinking can be understood in generic ways, it is, in practice, very contextual and cultural. So you could probably teach someone some generic skills of analysis and argument, but they will need contextual knowledge to apply them in different, well, contexts, be they academic domains or personal situations. So a social scientist using a certain epistemology in their field may not necessarily know to think critically in, say, the analysis of a religious text or a medical report. These things are ones you get exposed to but aren’t an expert at. I see it all the time in my medical family. The way they think critically about medical information is very different from me. I also saw it when I did a course on gender in Islamic studies. It’s very different to think critically when u have years of exposure to Islam/Quran and can quickly build arguments from background knowledge (and also when ur a woman!) than otherwise. Also, if you aren’t from the field of Islamic studies but are Muslim your argument building is completely different (but possibly still quite valid) from a non-Muslim studying the field. ANYWAY

So my point re context was proven recently when I did a standardized critical thinking test and then again right now when I did another one! The first one was a US-based CT test where each question asked about something different and the test was timed. I took screenshots of questions I thought were tricky because of contextualization. That certain people would have more domain knowledge of the thing and that the domain knowledge could help or hinder their criticality. For example, there was a question about increasing price of steel based on increasing price of iron. The paragraph given offers no info on the fact that steel is made of iron. But if you know this, then you know there must be a correlation, right? But the passage doesn’t provide that info and you need to use what is in the passage. I have to assume we aren’t supposed to make that leap because they can’t be assuming we know it…but that process of trying to make that decision took up some of my brainspace, you know?

And today’s test was a UK-based one. Granted, I woke up in the middle of the night and decided to take it (it’s part of a study and deadline was approaching; i took it on my phone and the drag/drop questions were absolute torture – tested my creativity on how to scroll and drag drop on a phone – seriously creative maneuvering that no one will really notice!). Anyway here’s the thing. The ENTIRE test was based on ONE topic. The zero tolerance vs harm minimization alcohol policies in the US and Australia. You may argue the test is UK based so these are both policies outside of the UK test-takers context. You would be wrong.

Because as a Muslim who has really strong views on alcohol… Really? You couldn’t find a more universal topic to use on a test like this? I bet my entire attitude towards the test created a problem. But more than that the problem is my lack of familiarity with the topic.

But to be honest I wasn’t unfamiliar. I remember reading the book The Slap based in Australia and reading about alcohol policies for teens at the time because all the kids in that book were drinking in the presence of their parents (also all the parents were doing drugs foe recreation which seemed a little too exaggerated for my sensibilities? But ok).

But still. That was like one night of Wikipedia searches fascinated by difference in alcohol for teens policies in different Western countries. Don’t remember details but do remember that restrictions differed on the age of buying vs age of drinking under supervision.

In any case, of course I could follow the arguments and do the test. But the distance of the topic from my context coupled with my bias on it really made the test more uncomfortable for me than i think it needed to be. And I kept feeling my eyes glaze over on which policy is zero tolerance and which harm minimization (I know it’s obvious, but it’s different if it’s familiar to you than if it isn’t).

I assume most people come into the test with a bias anyway, whether they live in a context where this is normally discussed or not… I grew up in Kuwait where alcohol was absolutely illegal vs where I live now in Egypt where it’s legal and I am pretty sure 18 year old guys could get it in some places without being asked for ID (I assume legal age is 21. But haven’t checked).

Regardless. Very UN-universal topic choice. Very bad idea in my opinion. Not sure whom to speak to about this.

April 22, 2016
by Maha Bali
0 comments

Always with Me

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I found myself today thinking about a question I hadn’t expected. It crept up on me (more on this later) unexpectedly.

What is the most fundamental thing about God. Like, how do I explain God to a child? I cannot remember at all how I was introduced to God…and with Islam so full of both physical and spiritual forms of worship, kids tend to be introduced to the physical long before they can understand the spiritual.

So they see their parents and other adults praying. It’s a motion they see several times a day. They jump on ur back and learn that you can’t speak to them while doing it. They see your lips move and occasionally hear what you say. They hear the call for prayer and they hear Quran recited on TV and in some other places (eg some ppl play it in cars or shops the way others play music). They may see parents reading Quran silently or aloud with or without a book in front of them. They learn about fasting and Ramadan. They say inshallah and mashallah and all that.

They have no idea what all this is about

Today I put my kid to bed. I usually either sing to her or say some Islamic sing-songy thing that isn’t Quran but involves a lot of saying Allah…it’s the call for the Adha Eid prayer. Not sure what it’s officially called but it’s got nice rhythm and she loves it. I love it, too. So she now can say it by heart (which is a bit of a shame coz she could have been reciting actual Quran instead, but she will get there eventually).

Anyways. So i thought she had slept and I took out my phone to read. I usually check Twitter or read something on Kindle but today, by coincidence, a Whatsapp message reminded me to read some Quran (something i try to do daily, usually on my commute to work, but today is Friday so no commute and I had managed only a little bit earlier).

So here is the thing. The light from my phone woke her. She asked what this was. I explained and started to read Quran aloud. There is a special beauty to reading Quran aloud using tajweed and tarteel (pronouncing properly and using a certain musicality) so I knew she would enjoy it. I do and it makes the reading feel more spiritual.

What I hadn’t anticipated was she would start asking what words meant. Quran is in classical Arabic which is almost completely different from Arabic we speak. And the tajweed/tarteel make it seem more foreign. I don’t know how she picked particular words to ask about…but one was “Ellah”. Which is really just how you pronounce “Allah” when it comes after a word ending in a “i” sound. So I explained it is Allah. She said what’s that in English. I said God.

She didn’t ask any more but my head started spinning. Can a 4 y o understand the concept of God? How would I introduce it? Should I? Is it too abstract?

I realized we weren’t gonna sleep if she kept asking questions so i wrapped up and hugged her to sleep.

She said she was scared. As any mom, I said, “Don’t be scared, I am here”. This always makes me feel awful for kids whose moms aren’t with them. And also scares me because I don’t know that I always will be there…or if I will always be able to protect her even when I am.

And it suddenly hit me. I said, “You know Allahu Akbar that we say sometimes at bed time?”. She said “yes, what’s akbar?” and i said “you know akbar…it means bigger…don’t you always say someone is bigger than another? Am i bigger than you or are you bigger than me?” (this is a joke we have). I then said “Allah is bigger than all of us and he is always here with us. You should never be scared because Allah is here with you all the time and will protect you from everything.”

I don’t know if I said the right thing. But I guess I just introduced the concepts of omnipresence and omnipotence…

And I realized that maybe the most fundamental things about God that came to me were the benevolent presence…always with me. Always with her. Always everywhere. And it’s comforting. I wonder if humans have this need to feel some stronger being watching over us because it turns out parents can’t actually do that because…mere mortals πŸ™‚

Curious to know how others introduced God to their kids…

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