Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

August 25, 2016
by Maha Bali

Talking Openness w @czernie this September on eMerge Africa

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I thought I should announce this upcoming event Sept 19-23 on my blog. With the wonderful Laura Czerniewicz (of South Africa), I will be co-facilitating a week on openness via eMerge Africa. More info here. 

As part of the prep for the event, Nicola Pallitt interviewed me, and the full recording of my conversation with Nicola Pallitt is also available here 

This also reminded me of a recent video on my openness stance that I recently recorded for OpenMed so I thought I should probably add it in here as well..

Other “experts” videos for OpenMed available here (I put “experts” between quotes because I don’t think I am myself an expert… Just an advocate.. And that’s the term OpenMed is using for that page)

I also have an upcoming Prof Hacker post with Suzan Koseoglu on self as OER…But that will come out next week inshallah

Update: it came out today! Self as OER 

August 23, 2016
by Maha Bali

I Don’t Own My Domain : I Rent It #DoOO

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I don’t know why we say “domain of one’s own” and “reclaim your domain”. It’s not very accurate. 

My understanding of ownership is that something belongs to me. That I have already acquired it or been gifted it. And I own it until I die, no additional payment required. If I own it and I die, it passes to my heirs.

That isn’t at all the case with domains.

When I created a domain, it didn’t become mine. Basically 

  1. I don’t own the domain name. I pay for it every year. That looks like rent
  2. I don’t own the actual hosting. I pay Reclaim (whom I love and trust) for shared hosting because I assume they will do a better job of the hardware/backup etc

And here is my question for #DoOO for students. It is great for a university to offer students a domain of their own. But once they graduate… They have to pay for it themselves. In Egypt many young people don’t have access to a credit card (even the ones at my elite institution). They would lose it after the few months grace period. What a shame, right?

Of course if the students kept their blog on WordPress and WordPress closed down they would lose it, also. So there’s that.

And they regularly lose the work they did on their LMS. So…that too.

Any thoughts on this?

Update: read comment thread below 

Also: linking to a recent/old (haha) Prof Hacker post of mine on digital life after death (which mentions some of the stuff Audrey alludes to as post-ownership society)

Update again: I annotated Audrey’s post

August 22, 2016
by Maha Bali

Can You Promote Empathy Digitally?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s the second day in a row I spent playing some serious games, looking for good examples of digital games that promote empathy. Yesterday I mentioned SPENT and DepressionQuest, then I developed my own Sleep-deprived Mom game. 

I have written before that I think one can promote empathy via role play and (sustained and deep) intercultural interaction. 

It’s not exactly that you become fully empathetic of an “other” (that’s not gonna happen in 10 minutes or an hour unless you have to actually live that person’s life for real…and even then) but you get to really feel the frustration of the difficulty of their life choices with these games. And honestly you can feel some pain. With the poverty game, you do feel the pain when you miss your kid’s play to make a few extra bucks. You start to understand why you might do something unethical (like hit a parked car and run) simply because you can’t afford to be ethical. Depression Quest…. I am scared of trying it with students because if one of them is borderline depressed I would worry it would kick them off the edge.

So I wanted more examples. This one on responsible partying done by @carmelhealth with Google slides is a great example of a straightforward way to create one. I am not sure I wanna use it with my students because of the heavy emphasis on alcohol use and sex… Culturally not easy topics to bring up in class even if some of the kids are doing it… I have to assume many don’t. So I can’t make it a main one for them to see; but maybe one to sample and see how it’s created. So I looked for more.

I found two related to refugees.

This one about Syrian refugees made by the BBC is based on real stories of refugees “choose your own escape route”. It is simple but really informative and you learn to empathize a little bit because you see how difficult it is to choose between dangerous life choices without sacrificing your family – and it’s mainly text-based so won’t be too intimidating for students.
This other one Darfur is Dying is nearly as difficult to play as Liyla which I had mentioned a few weeks ago. It’s got lots of physical movement as you take characters out to try and get water without getting killed by Janjaweed. It’s a really frustrating game as almost all my characters got killed and the only one who ever reached water got killed on the way home. Not exactly building empathy (i didn’t feel pain each time one died) but frustrating definitely. I don’t think you’re meant to do well in this game the way other games work. It is meant to make you just feel bad. It has other dimensions I haven’t yet explored though..but its graphical interface makes it more difficult for students to mimick.

So maybe the hope is for students to promote awareness about a cause by promoting empathy, letting a player take on a role of an “other”, rather than just giving information on a cause…so the player begins to care and not just know cold facts… 

More soon

August 21, 2016
by Maha Bali

Sleep-Deprived Mom Game

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I had a brainstorm… and I created this Sleep-Deprived Mom Game

The shortlink to play is:

flickr photo shared by landotter under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

The back story is… well, I wrote on my blog about why I don’t sleep much... but I am not sure everyone “gets it” unless they’ve lived through it?

I also wrote earlier today about two games that are “choose your own adventure” style and both of which promote empathy (SPEND promotes empathy for those living in poverty in the US; and DepressionQuest promotes empathy for depression).

I wanted to ask my own students to create their own game of that type… and to use a simple tool like Google Forms to do it… so I thought of the sleep deprivation idea because it’s something I know well (haha) and I tried the new Google Forms quiz option (at least, I think it’s a new option; it’s new to me anyway) – with branching questions. The branching questions are important so that each choice takes the user to a different place; however, the quiz tool didn’t work perfectly; I wanted to assign different scores for each option chosen (in terms of hours of sleep lost) and I couldn’t exactly do it; answers were either correct or incorrect… maybe I’ll tweak with different answer options… but I liked that the quizzing meant I could provide “feedback” after the “quiz/game” was over and people could look over their answers and see the feedback… so there’s that.

It took me about 2 hours to create because I’m familiar with the topic and I’m familiar with Google Forms – so I expect it would take someone more time if either of these were new… but it was still relatively simple and straightforward, especially that I wrote out my brainstorm questions on EverNote, emailed them to myself, then copied/pasted parts onto Google Forms (not a simple process but some thinking/typing saved there).

Update. Thanks to some discussion with Michael Weller on Twitter and exploration of how different parents would have totally different responses… I am thinking of asking students to

  1. Individually pick a theme
  2. Blog a prototype game based on their theme and tag the blogpost 
  3. Based on their prototype game, then decide if someone else in class has a similar game or one that could benefit from merging into one bigger, fuller game

My main idea would be for them to develop a game that fosters empathy for some cause. So…street children. Refugees. Particular illnesses or disabilities. Orphans. Maybe even less severely marginal (but still needing social justice) groups like campus security guards. Adjunct faculty. I am just wondering if the students are mature enough to go out and do the research properly or if some of thos might end up being an exercise in imagination… Or if they might benefit from working with AUC offices like the disability office or career office or student mentoring… Like creating scenarios for finding jobs after graduation. Or for navigating campus when you have a certain disability. Or for managing your time when you’re a freshman. Or fitting into Cairo when you’re an international student. Something like that… Depending on what they’re mature enough to do. I want to trust them to do more but I haven’t met them yet and this is meant to be a warm up type of assignment not the big one 🙂

What if

  • What if I opened up the call to anyone in the world to develop games at the same time as us?
  • What if my students could collaborate with people outside of our class on this? Anyone in the world?
  • What if other classes were doing something similar?

Anyway – I’m also embedding the game here if you’d like to play it without leaving… there’s space to leave feedback at the end of the form/game, or you can leave comments here on my blog. Thanks!

August 21, 2016
by Maha Bali

Playing SPENT – Empathizing with Poverty

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I just played this game SPENT twice and I am in so much pain. You take on the role of someone who lives in poverty and has a child and needs to navigate through all of life’s expenses and the difficult choices one needs to make (e.g. work for extra money or miss your child’s play, say no to your child for something they want, if you’re broke and you hit another parked car, do you pay the damages or drive away, what level of health insurance do you get? are you willing to stay quiet when people insult you at work to avoid causing a fight? will you go to work when you feel sick?). They are all difficult choices, and when you make some particularly difficult ones, the game shows you stats of how people go about making those choices (e.g. that most ppl living in poverty miss out on their kids’ extracurricular activities as they try to make ends meet… things like that).

I love it. And hate it, because obviously I have no idea what it’s like to live poor – I don’t know if anyone is meant to do well in this one, but also I’m clueless (who knew that if you don’t pay your gas bill the penalty costs almost as much as the bill itself?)

At first , I had thought I found this game through Games for Social Change on UNDP but it seems I found it through MERLOT . I am thinking my students could create something similar… not necessarily as graphically appealing, but maybe something simple like DepressionQuest and it can be done on a simple platform like just Google Forms with branching questions/answers. Maybe students can have a choice to either play SPENT or DepressionQuest then for a small pair assignment, create a small game to promote empathy in some way… I’d be very interested in something like that… maybe something they have themselves gone through (e.g. a struggle through high school), or something another person they love has gone through (e.g. illness). I don’t know… thinking about it…

August 18, 2016
by Maha Bali

Language & Culture in the Classroom 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I listened to this podcast Academic Citizen (thank u Laura Czerniewicz for pointing me to it) – this episode on the politics and power of language in the classroom was powerful. They include a student voice at some point in the podcast (they do this regularly) but focus mainly on interviewing experts and for that episode, history Professor Dr Nomalanga Mkhize speaks in a very nuanced way about what it means to use non-English languages in different contexts in the classroom and beyond. She echoes a complex landscape where different parts of South Africa speak different languages whereas English seems to be the dominant language of higher ed. She speaks of how school teachers struggle to teach in English because it isn’t their native language, too. She is highlighting, of course, that in many contexts, ignoring indigenous languages and enforcing a supermacy of English, while important economically and for employability, reproduces inequalities in society and privileges certain learners over others. It also creates graduates unable to engage with the reality of a multilingual society. 

I am reminded again of how little I read in Arabic and how difficult it is for me to write in Arabic.  And my decision to change this. I am already very cognizant of getting my child engaging books in Arabic and have succeeded in that and she was also lucky to have had a good Arabic teacher last year (that’s so rare here).

But beyond my individual change…I would like to go back to some institutional change. And I will start soon. And it is this: our university requires students to take several rhetoric and composition courses in English in order to do well in university. It also requires some amount of Arabic language. Back in my day, you could avoid taking an Arabic language test if you took two Arabic literature courses (classical and modern) in Arabic. I did that. I learned to type Arabic quickly then. But those courses did me little good beyond those days. There is a course now on business/technical Arabic which I believe is more useful. For our students to learn to write and present in Modern Standard Arabic. This, I feel, would be a much more useful course for students. I would take it now. I would so take it now.

I discovered a long time ago that even though my institution required us to speak fully in English in class, that my non-degree students understood me better if I didn’t stick to that too strictly.

There is also the important point of humor in the classroom. Humor is always always different in your native language. Joke in English with an English style joke and some of the class will get it. Joke in Arabic and almost all will get it (I might not get it myself actually! But that’s another story).

So even though I now teach undergraduate students who mostly understand English well enough or even really well… I will occasionally use Arabic. I will allow them to create their games in Arabic if they choose…even though thry have to blog about them in English because my learning outcomes must focus on English communication. 

I am reminded of my schooling. British. We weren’t allowed to speak in Arabic even outside class. We did of course. And inside class as well (non-Arabic class I mean). A small act of resistance by 7 or 16 year-olds. It somehow made Arabic special.

The problem of teaching Arab culture oe history at a place like AUC (American University in Cairo) where I  graduated and now work/teach is that you end up learning it in English and from a partly American perspective. That seems wrong even when teachers are Egyptian. I feel the teachers making it into something by Egyptians for Egyptians and I admire that.

I came across this article from the archives of Hybrid Pedagogy and this quote is worth remembering over and over (it talks of indigenous people which isn’t the case in Egypt in that sense, but the case of good education in Egypt being always in a foreign language to the suppression or alienation of the native language) :

Hybrid learning should not only involve combining the physical classroom with the web and other environments outside the classroom, but also combine western viewpoints, experiences, and ways of learning with those students who are often asked to leave these attributes at the door.

August 16, 2016
by Maha Bali

On Difference: What If Lady Liberty Had Landed in Egypt? 🗽 

Reading Time: 8 minutes

I have 100 blogposts in my heart and head…and yet this one felt like a good one to begin with. It rambles into 10 different tangents…incoherent but somewhat connected in my own head. Thank you Simon, Kate, Paul, Alan, Chris.

I had been re-reading a letter I had written to friends after my first visit to Paris as a 16-year old. I traveled with a Polish colleague. No parents. It was an award we won for a business competition we had been part of. Long story.

While touring the Seine, we saw a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty. It’s hilarious how my phone automatically creates an emoji of Lady Liberty each time I write “liberty” 🗽 

I suddenly remembered this story. Of the history of that statue. Created by the French. Meant for Egypt. Ending up in the US. No, really. Read it. In that link. 

This symbol of liberty and freedom that the US uses so often was intended for Egypt, for the Suez canal. Would it have inspired liberty in Egyptians? But Suez wasn’t truly ours. They wouldn’t have been trying to inspire THAT. 

But see? There are a lot of differences here.

When France gifted it to the US, they were equal partners…maybe against England? And maybe because they supported each other’s revolutions? Against kings? Not Egypt. Egypt had been colonized by both the French and the British. The relationship was different. Suez Canal wasn’t fully Egyptian until years later. After fighting against everyone. And losing. Then winning (?) have we ever won anything, really? Except the occasional Olymic medal…

I had a fleeting thought. Canada and Australia. Commonwealth countries. Still connected to Britain. America….not. All of them instances where the white man eroded indigenous people and laid claim to land and resources. All of them prosperous now. Not the indigenous people. The white ones, mainly… And then Egypt and India and Malaysia. Colonized by the British, too, but the natives were not eradicated. Because they had had a history of trade with Europe and germs didn’t kill them? (thinking of Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond). Because a country like Egypt has been colonized so many times over we had figured out a way to make some sort of peace with it? 

In last week’s workshop on inclusive globally networked learning at DigPedLab UMW (read/watch – it’s worth it), someone wrote in the Google doc we used that their impression of Egypt was that it was multi-ethnic. That’s kind of true. Colonized all over the place and intermarried through it all. So that I have colleagues who are very dark and colleagues who are very blond and I am somewhere in between. And you know, for the most part, we don’t dislike our recent colonizers. The Arabs gave us Islam. The Turks gave us…uhh. Half our genes at the moment (even if we’re having problems with the whole brotherhood thing and all…but until recently those of us with Turkish ancestry took pride and loved Turkey still). The French gave our upper classes culture and language and architecture (probably).  The English…uh… Devastated lots of stuff, gave us a horrible bureaucratic government and educational system and still we strive to learn their language as our window into the world or else we…shrivel and die, basically. Egyptians, modern day Egyptians, for the most part don’t hate any of these. Well ok. Not big fans of Arabs. Because.. Toursits with money. Neighbors with influence. For the most part, Egyptians have at least love-hate relationships with them all. They love going to Turkey for vacation. To Arab countries for work. To America for pop culture. We stand in line to ask for a visa. You have no idea how humiliating this experience can be until you experience it. And then when I entered Jordan and they let me in without anything but a smile (while my American/European colleagues paid and stood in line at the airport? Priceless. More priceless? Two of em had Egyptian passports. They just thought using their European/American ones would get them through faster. Surprise! Somewhere in the world that isn’t the case. Minor minor victory. But we celebrate what we get. Like bronze medals).

I lost my train of thought there…

Lady liberty. The French folks who just banned Muslim women from wearing conservative dress at beaches in Cannes. Do they realize the statue of liberty they designed was meant to be an Egyptian woman? A peasant. Standing at the Suez canal (a beach) fully covered that way?

Just as it is oppressive for Saudi Arabia to insist on a certain dresscode for women, it is oppressive for the French to do so. What the dresscode is, is irrelevant. What is worse is the explicit way the French connected this to terrorism. Ugly. Low. Nonsensical, really. And unnecessarily inflammatory. I say this and I know some hotels here in Egypt wouldn’t allow this kind of dress at their private beaches. And we’re like..a Muslim country where many women dress that way. Even women of the upper middle classes. 

Are the French gonna argue it’s so no one harms the Muslim woman at the beach? If a Muslim woman fears her own safety in a foreign land she will find a way to blend in if she wants. I have worn wool caps and hats to cover my hair and my American-ish accent gives me a pass when I need it. But sometimes I would rather not. I wanna appear as what and who I am and take it. It’s usually not that bad. Just different to…not doing that.

Simon Ensor wrote a beautiful blogpost which is probably going to inspire 50 of the 100 blogposts on my mind…In one part of it, he said

How do we maintain a sense of belonging without denying that others different to us live with us?

I grew up in Kuwait (born there). I remember the day I learned the word multinational. It was in class. It was a British school and we were learning about each other’s nationalities. Half the class or more were Egyptian. A few were British (not all of them white). A few Palestinians, Indians, Pakistanis. A couple of Americans of Non-European descent. And our teacher talked about how Kuwait was so multinational. Notice: not a single Kuwaiti in the room. In later years we had maybe one. After 1990 in a different British school we had a few more in our year group….usually no more than 4 or 5 in a class of 25 or so.

But here is a trick. Being majority Egyptian did not make us dominant in many ways. Sure, occasionally, at high school level, the school would make adjustments to meet needs of Egyptian University entry requirements. And Egypt dominates Arab TV, film and some music.

But for the most part as an Egyptian in Kuwait you weren’t a first-class citizen. There were Kuwaitis. And there were Americans and Europeans. And before 1990 there were Palestinians (no longer after 1990 know, they kinda supported Saddam and stuff). Egyptians were ok if they were white collar (doctors like my parents or engineers or bankers or such) but there were also Egyptian blue collar workers. Same applies for Indian and Filipino people at the time.

When Chris Gilliard talked in a hangout about the importance of conversations with people who were “not us” (see wonderful follow up post by Kate Bowles) I realized how privileged I was to have grown up in that kind of environment where 

  1. I regularly interacted with people who were “not us”
  2. I still had a large enough community of people who were like me to feel grounded and build some sense of  Egyptian identity 
  3. I could see power dynamics even as a child and learned how to be the proud type of Egyptian people would respect and not to think less of myself or my kind just because others did. And although we who grew up in Kuwait use a derogatory expression “typical Egyptian”, I believe most nationalities have a similar derogatory term about their own people as if the speaker wasn’t one of em. I have caught people who have lived in Egypt their entire lives saying that expression and it makes me wonder “and what makes you think you are any better?”
  4. I knew people of different nationalities and colors. I learned early on that a Filipino woman could be a nurse or a doctor or my dad’s friend’s wife whom he met in England… Or she could be someone’s nanny/maid. Possibly a university-educated maid who needed the money but you could have deep intellectual conversations with (I learned so much from my nanny…it felt like we were friends…but that’s naive of course). I learned the same of Indians and Pakistanis, for example. I also learned that someone can be English or European and an idiot but for some reason Arabs looked up to them because they were blond. It’s ridiculous really. 

And you realize you are measuring yourself, your people against an external yardstick that isn’t from within your own culture. You align yourself with your Western education, your English language, your American pop culture and it makes you feel you are better than others. We are all hybrid in that sense as Homi Bhabha recognizes. Not many “pure” (or typical) Egyptians, really. Not many.

In her post, Kate wrote

the US dominates to the point that we forget we’re not thinking our own thoughts.

Today I was reminded of that when I read this wonderful primer: Committing to Diversity When You’re White. And you know what i realized? Good for me, I am so careful to read people of color and women and to have those people on my Twitter feed and more importantly, DM. I read novels by diverse writers. Of course white people are diversity for me, too. Or at least difference. But you get the idea. And when I lived in the US I gravitated towards books by Indian, Pakistani and Afghan writers. But the shameful thing? It’s that I don’t read many Egyptian or Arab writers in Arabic. Wtf? I can read Arabic. Just easier for me to read English. Quicker. As i explained to a colleague. I can’t speed read Arabic and I can’t really understand academic Arabic well. I forget that I may not be thinking my own thoughts. It’s time to change that. 
You don’t want to be so externally focused that you lose your own sense of identity and self that way. I mean I don’t think I have lost it, but I realize I am missing something.  I have known this for years and yet have done little to change writing articles for Al Fanar so they also get translated into Arabic (they won’t let me translate my own; my style isn’t good enough apparently). I recently wrote an article in Arabic. From scratch. Yay. I had to think slower to write it. Not a horrible thing, I learned. 

For most of my life I have been educated or employed by English or American institutions. By doing so, I position myself with the dominant as a postcolonial, subaltern. I gain power by putting myself in spaces where I will always be less powerful. It’s… Complicated. Because not doing so would give me even less power and less capacity to change the world and my own context in the ways I want to.

So back to the issue of difference. Not all differences are equal.  There is value in conversing with people who are just different from us in some way or another. But it is an entirely different thing to make intentional decisions to open up lines of understanding with those who are marginalized or silenced in some spaces. To allow ourselves with our own intersectionality to be voices in some spaces and listeners in others. It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes a safe space for the silenced means we need to silence ourselves and listen. Or help others slow down and listen. Or sometimes even accept that the silenced prefer not to speak and we find a way to try to empathize anyway. With the “Other”. Until they become someone we care about as a person and no longer a token representing a group of people who are “alien” to us. 

As Sean Michael Morris said in his keynote at DigPed UMW (also in writing here):

All stories are equal. All stories matter. This is not how we get to hear stories we need to hear. This is not how we amplify silenced voices.

We amplify silenced voices by listening. By making space for them to speak. Not safe space, necessarily, daring space. Because it’s never safe to speak.

And also this quote is one I use a lot because it is just so powerful:

We [the minorities] and you [the dominant] do not talk the same language. When we talk to you we use your language: the language of your experience and of your theories. We try to use it to communicate our world of experience. But since your language and your theories are inadequate in expressing our experiences, we only succeed in communicating our experience of exclusion. We cannot talk to you in our language because you do not understand it. (p. 575 in Lugones & Spelman, 1983)

Right after publishing this post I come across this video about education . All speakers are male. All white except for one Sal Khan. How can that be a good product? So lacking in diversity it’s glaringly obvious.

August 15, 2016
by Maha Bali

When Does Maha Sleep?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I get this question regularly. Or a variation of it claiming that I don’t sleep. So I thought I should probably write a blogpost and get it over with. I am up at 2am writing this post. How appropriate. 

So I do actually sleep. Not much, but a little. I just give off the appearance of no sleep because 

  1. I don’t sleep at regular hours each day (explanation forthcoming) 
  2. I don’t sleep an entire chunk of time all in a row (explanation forthcoming) 
  3. I don’t need more than a total of 5 hours (disjointed) sleep hours most days. Occasionally I crash and sleep a good/bad 8 hours (but the possibility of that happening is v low – I started eating more healthy and exercising and since then sleep a little more)
  4. I can’t go back to sleep easily once my sleep is interrupted and so I either get online or read on my Kindle when awake. So I respond on social media and everyone knows I am awake because of it

Many of the reasons I don’t sleep regularly are ones many moms (and some dads) will recognize:

  1. Because my kid is awake or needs me to be awake. My kid is sick (like tonight), or needs attention because of bedwetting or needing to get up to go to the toilet or the new wonderful nightmares she sometimes gets 🙁 or simply because she wakes me up asking for a hug. I don’t mind doing any of that. I just can’t sleep again afterwards. At some point she was on new meds and would wake up v hungry in middle of the night. Thankfully we solved that problem. 
  2. Because I can’t get enough work done during normal hours. I gotta leave work early to spend time w my kid before her bedtime. I can’t work with focus while she is up. So I have to work after she sleeps. I learned during last weeks of my PhD dissertation how to not-sleep so I could finish writing even on days when my kid slept late or was sick. Not sleeping is how I survived and finished my PhD…
  3. Because I work a lot with people on other timezones and I will make the effort to stay up and talk to them. It’s not their selfishness. They do it for me sometimes too (get up early or wake up late). I am hypersocial and my f2f social life is limited to work and morning/afternoons as my husband has erratic work hours and once it’s the kid’s bedtime i can’t go anywhere. Online is my only social life then. My US friends were my support in those last days of PhD. Mom and husband would be asleep at 1am when I needed someone to talk to
  4. Following up from above – sometimes I can’t sleep because I am upset or worried and I go online for therapy. I probably won’t tell whoever I am talking to what’s happening but I will benefit from their warmth at a distance. Occasionally it will be someone who can listen to the problem. Not always. I got through some of my lowest moments by talking to friends on social media. Twitter and Facebook mainly. And sometimes by blogging it. Many poems and articles written at weird hours of night
  5. Impostor syndrome makes me wanna do lots of stuff to advance my career like do research, write articles, attend conferences online (virtually connecting mainly) and that often keeps me up and sometimes I am too jazzed after all this to sleep immediately. Like last week after the #digPed sessions that ended near midnight my time I couldn’t sleep immediately coz of adrenaline after some great sessions! 
  6. Sometimes I am sleepy but my kid is not. By the time she sleeps I have missed my window of sleep and can’t sleep anymore 
  7. Sometimes I just miss my alone time (I am an only child) and just want to read or write uninterrupted in a quiet house.

Most of the above are gendered reasons. When a man needs to work (in my society at least) he can stay at work late. He can close the door and tell kids not to disturb him. He can also go to bed whenever he wants even if Thekid is awake. He can go out with friends whenever he likes or travel any day.
Now non-gendered non-kid non-career reasons why  I appear not to sleep are religious/spiritual 

  1. I am up to pray fajr (dawn) prayer (somewhere between 3 and 5am in Cairo depending on season). That means going to bathroom for ablution (religious washing) and praying which doesn’t take long but I usually can’t sleep again immediately so I may go online. Sometimes I am up for another reason at 2am and I choose to stay up so I can pray instead of sleep and get up again. For info, not everyone gets up to pray this dawn prayer – they make it up the next morning any time…but I prefer praying it on time in the range it is meant to be prayed. It’s technically pre-dawn actually 
  2. I  am fasting and need to eat before dawn time so I am up at 2am eating and waiting to pray before going to bed

So there you have it. The definitive guide to when Maha sleeps. Written between 2-3am as I wait to see if the fever will go down and wait to pray fajr.

August 14, 2016
by Maha Bali

Designing Playful Learning for Kids – assignment idea

Reading Time: 2 minutes

(I hit publish too soon before I even wrote anything here, so I’m sorry if you got a blank copy of this blogpost in your email or something!)

I’m just going to write down some assignment ideas I have for this semester…

  1. Design a playful bot (playful learning vs educational games). This is inspired by some of the bots (for social justice mainly) that were developed during Digital Pedagogy Lab UMW – I realized students could probably use something simple like IFTTT and connect their blog to Slack or Twitter or such and it could be just an activity for one day or something…
  2. This assignment idea is to get students to create something useful regarding edu games in Egypt, and they have a choice between:
    1. “Egyptian parents guide to playful learning  for kids age x”: in pairs who have access to kids the same age, they interview parents about good playful learning their kids enjoy, and they observe the kids. The assignment is to create a blogpost or video (without kids in them) to answer two questions about at least 4 different game: why is it fun? What are kids learning? They can’t take photos or video of the kids, but they should describe how they engaged with the game. No more than one digital game in all this.
    2. “Babysitter’s Guide to Egyptian X year olds”. Imagine you had to babysit a kid that age (x) for 5 hours. What would you do ? Describe the scenario (you need to interview some parents, caregivers, or teacher and actually try or watch these things with one or two kids). The scenario need not involve toys you buy, but can include regular items at home. No going to a club/park or TV or electronic games except one hour and you have to specify which shows/games and why each of your activities promote learning in a fun way.
    3. Explore AUC’s science fun Lab and develop a one-day camp for kids using some of the activities there. I might remove this option and instead make a visit to the Fun Lab just a regular whole-class thing and have someone from there describe it to them and have different students explore different parts and reflect on them. Probably better

For the above games, students pair up based on overlap in interest in:

  • Age group they have access to (e.g. nieces, nephews, friend who teaches KG or school)
  • Whether they are most interested in working on science, toys or fun at home

August 11, 2016
by Maha Bali

What I Learned @DigPedLab UMW #digped

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This post is inspired by Annemarie Perez who asked me on Twitter how DigPedLab UMW was going for ME. No one, I think, explicitly asked me in that way, how an event was going for me, when I was virtual. I’m kinda sleepy now… so all the links to everything are in the Virtually Connecting blogpost about this event… and I had written most of this list earlier in the day (while making low-fat chocolate cake, btw)… am just publishing before going to bed

This is my fun list of things I learned at DigPedLab UMW

  1. These very serious people have a really great sense of humor and are sooo approachable: Tressie McMillan-Cottom, Cathy Davidson, Audrey Watters and Martha Burtis. Really. Watch each of the hangouts on Monday and Tuesday.
  2. There are so many ways to take the ethos of Virtually Connecting to other contexts and we need to keep thinking of them – watch the Tuesday workshop to see some of what was said
  3. Not only can you Annotate text, images and video…but Remi Holden has this amazing way of using his body esp his hands to “listen” and annotate a conversation with his hands. It’s incredible. Watch the hangout of him with Jeremy Dean to see that in action. It’s fascinating. This convo took place Wednesday
  4. That someone really exhausted after several days of teaching a track can feel like they are unwinding at a Virtually Connecting session. Watch the awesome hour-long convo w Lee Skallerup Bessette (w Autumm and Susan) onsite – this was planned to be half an hour and no one wanted to leave. This took place Wednesday
  5. People will stay up until late hours like 11pm and even beyond, or wake up really early, just to connect with someone worth conversing with. We had folks from Austria, South Africa and Australia around!
  6. You can actually get work done across 3 hugely different timezones. Working with Paul Prinsloo (onsite at DigPed) who is 6 hours behind me AND Kate Bowles in Australia (8 hours ahead of me) is a full 14-hour spectrum of time. We managed to write an article and finalize some touches on our workshop in this way and somehow not completely miss one another. Planning this workshop was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and I am very fortunate to have become so close to these two beautiful people. Running it was ambitious and I hope is just the beginning of a conversation that we have over a longer period of time in future. You can watch the conversation on the hangout on Thursday. Google doc w everything at
  7. That you can feel pleasure and pain at the same time. The convo w Chris G, Annemarie Perez and Miriam Neptune with Sherri Spelic and others virtually – so much pain over so much inequality and injustice in the world… and yet so much pleasure in being able to share it and learn together and hopefully in our own little ways (or bigger ways) make a difference. I love Miriam’s story of how she used her role as a librarian to work with student activists. This was our last hangout at DigPedLab UMW. Definitely worth watching. It ran an hour long as well.
  8. No matter how hard you try to be inclusive… it will never be enough (not everyone is able to be in the room, not everyone is able to have voice even when they are in the room)…for some people it won’t ever seem like you’ve done enough or tried hard enough. You can’t please everyone. But we should still listen empathetically because maybe there’s something to learn from that. Even if we can’t accept all of it.
  9. Sean Michael Morris is this amazing person capable of thinking of the future even while fully immersed in a really intensive present. And able to do it with so much grace.
  10. Chris Friend did the sweetest thing and added my name in Arabic everywhere on Hybrid Ped. I wasn’t excited about the idea til I actually saw it. When I saw it, I was soooo touched. It’s so much more thoughtful than I had imagined
  11. I learned that Jesse Stommel really trusts Autumm Caines and me. He gave us time to use and freedom to use it as PART of the event and it made a huge difference. That’s what a Virtually Connecting partner event organizer is.
  12. Autumm Caines … so much heart in these DigPed events… and in the midst of it all, she makes time in between sessions to have small talk with my little one. Now THAT is caring for the marginalized!!! I was so touched the other day when she did that.
  13. The VC team is an incredible group of very generous people… but I already knew that! Thanks to all of you who helped make this event happen in some way. And for everything you do all the time.
  14. Having the same people in multiple hangouts in a row at one event helps build community and allows for some continuity. I realize this means that some other people are unable to make it, but we tried as much as possible to keep waiting lists and to bump “new” people up when there were others who had already attended multiple sessions.
  15. Sometimes you don’t realize whom your excluding until they show up. This event, VC had our first undergrad student attend virtually – Andrew Rikard – and he is now  a member of our team, who should hopefully help us invite more students in. We also had our first South American participant (I think?) Paulo Pacha from Brazil.
  16. Many people who signed up were still unable to make it because of mainly infrastructure issues. This will remain the biggest barrier to inclusion. But we also should keep trying to make it work. Hopefully our second workshop with many textual and asynchronous forms of interaction allowed for some voices to express themselves differently than a sychronous hangout.

If you were at any of these events or watched live or recorded, I would love to hear your feedback, publicly or in private. Drop me a line 🙂

Thanks to everyone who made this happen.


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