Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

September 23, 2016
by Maha Bali

Inspiration that Keeps on Giving – Ruha Benjamin 

Reading Time: 1 minutes

You know it’s a good article or keynote or conversation when it continues to resonate with you FOR DAYS and more beyond when you first came across it. Ruha Benjamin’s #iste2016 keynote is that for me. She’s a brilliant speaker bit it’s more than that. She packs SO MUCH into an hour that my head kept spinning every 5 minutes and I would have to pause (literally) to take it in. Watch. Please do (transcript available on her website but WATCH HER. She’s better than Obama as a speaker and a lot like Sean Michael Morris in her word choices and phrasing)

I have listened to this multiple times and been inspired in multiple ways but most importantly by the term “discriminatory design” which she also uses in her TEDxTalk. I can see so many applications to my teaching and edtech and we plan (my co-teacher and I) to share with our students who are learning design thinking. She talks bioethics, relevant to our AUC course Scientific Thinking. And of course the design aspect applies to many fields like architecture and engineering. 
I just wanted to bookmark and record this moment in time.

Now… I am in the process of reading her book and thinking of relationship between her ideas and how medical research and practice treats patients.

And also thinking in general of how to thoughtfully modify ways our systems including things like Virtually Connecting… How to modify them so they don’t become discriminatory designs…

Thank you Ruha for everything. And thank you social media for allowing me to actually connect with someone so inspiring and actually have conversations with her! 

I was telling Bonni Stachowiak just now: 

September 15, 2016
by Maha Bali

Sustainability of Open

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It has been that kind of week where you end up reading several different blogposts/articles related to a topic so you can’t help but think about it.

The first was shared privately by Laura Czerniewicz (ahead of our week facilitating Open Scholarship discussions via eMerge Africa) and it’s an article arguing that open access AND piracy are harming scientific research. Mainly because, it argues, open access content is precarious and dependent upon unsustainable funds that can disappear and the content would be lost (presumably big publishers are too big to fail coz we pay them exorbitant subscription fees).
The second is Jim Groom’s blogpost on Overselling of Open (based on a talk he recently gave and also quite different from what I had expected). But this quote from his post, a response to an earlier blogpost by Mike Caulfield calling for institutionalizing Open, and corresponding to the above post’s argument, sort of, Jim says (about some UK-based OERs):

so many of the openly produced [UK] OERs that were publicly funded were no longer available. And these are resources supported by public institutions, and eventually that money ran dry. I think this should be a huge cautionary tale for OER as an ongoing institutional resource.

Mike Caulfield responds really eloquently and convincingly witha pro-institutionalization argument (he links also to a Downes article but that one just links to Downes commenting on Jim’s post so I can’t find the actual Downes post). It is a sound argument with really good metaphors involving public benches and babies drowning in rivers. In summary he is saying that

  1. Important change is not sustainable without institutional support. And in fact, institutions who go against a particular ethos will make it exceedingly difficult for individuals to maintain that ethos in their practice. E.g. Not counting/valuing open access or OER texts for tenure; not giving grants to faculty doing open pedagogy projects. Instead institutions will fund things (and people in jobs) that perpetuate a different ethos
  2. Jim’s argument for crowdsourcing/bottom-up change works for small things but large change requires institutional change. Not so we can rescue occasional hiccups but so we can regularly and sustainably prevent their cause. In my opinion, part of the point of my renting domains post and my digital death piece on Prof Hacker was to point to the obvious precarity of Internet content and how dependent that is on particular sets of privilege at INDIVIDUAL levels. 
  3. Presumably (I can’t access the article) Downes argued that cultural change is what Mike means to call for rather than institutionalization. Mike says those are two different things that work in chicken and egg fashion. Do we  work to change cultures in order to promote institutional adoption of open or do we institutionalze open in order to spread cultural change?

I am wondering if what we are really trying to reach is a way to make openness sustainable? Hence my title and my terminology of interpreting the work of Mike and Jim. 

I commented on Mike’s post that

  • People often distrust institutions for having a different ethos and also for not implementing ethos the way individuals evangelizing for open may want. Universities, even public or nonsomeone ones, are accountable to someone (government or board of trustees) who often care about bottom lines, and like many policy makers don’t get the value of education in non-monetized terms. When institutions have adopted open they focused on open textbooks to save money…which then didn’t go down well coz it resulted (somehow) in less investment in teaching/learning and/or personnel. That’s not a fault of institutionalization per se. It’s a fault of adopting a tiny slice of open without “getting” the ethos of open. 
  • Donna Lanclos and Dave White’s recent keynote at ALTC mentioned how institutions are people. Or something like that. And this corresponds to the point about culture. We are people in institutions who resist the current culture of non-open. It’s our duty to evangelize if we believe it has value beyond our own small choir of believers and beyond our own classes. If it does. Does it always? In any case, if institutional change comes from committees of people, then we all know that backchanneling and working with individual people can help make a committee’s work smoother…help everyone be on the same page. If we want top-down institutional support for ANYTHING we need to work on a select few people who are in positions to influence those decisions and convincingly get them on board. Sometimes on their terms and not ours. We hope for minimal compromise. We may not get it.

Do we forget that open pedagogy and OERs are already funded by institutions? Which adjunct faculty member member unaffiliated person has resources to give away their labor for free to others?  (Alan Levine notwithstanding). Which overworked teacher has time to create materials and share them in ways that are particularly remixable? Some (lots?) of openness is institutionally supported as follows 

  • Time release to develop materials
  • Public grants paying Author Processing Fees for gold Open Access publishing
  • Considering open materials for tenure/promotion 

    Poor institutions and those in developing countries don’t have those privileges. Some ppl in institutions don’t have access to grant funding. Whom does openness privilege, as many have asked before (SimonRebecca) . And this by Sava Singh 

    open is not good for everyone, and tends to bias those in already privileged positions — race, class, gender. The hype around open, while well-intentioned, is also unintentionally putting many people in harm’s way and they in turn end up having to endure so much. The people calling for open are often in positions of privilege, or have reaped the benefits of being open early on — when the platform wasn’t as easily used for abuse, and when we were privileged to create the kinds of networks that included others like us.

    (read the rest of Sava’s article for suggestions to counter this).

    Back to sustainability. What I think all of us would like to see (if we are pro open) is less resistance to our open pedagogy and hopefully more support to help it become sustainable. For diverse constituents. I don’t think I am ready yet to argue that open is a blanket good for everyone in every context. Just as LMSs and (non-open) textbooks are unsuitable for OUR ethos and needs but may be suitable for other people. We may try to convince them of our side of things. But we don’t live their context. We really don’t know that those things won’t work for every pedagogy and discipline and group fo students in every country and university and every political and social situation. Just as we cannot universalize the benefits of openness in such a general manner.

    But I would like to see institutional support by SOME body for openness when it does make sense and promote something good and valuable within a context. Now who gets to decide? Those are the people we hope to get on board.

    It’s all well and good to be ahead of th e curve and to be rebels and resist institutional decrees. But if we want to stop just spending energy on resistance and protest we need to work at both grassroots level and top levels where we can. That, I think, works in politics and in education and everything else. Unless you can think of some other way to make open (or any change, really) sustainable. I am not arguing for institutions as the sole way of making open sustainable. It is A way to make it sustainable. Willing to consider others as long as thry go beyond short-term community-based solutions, wonderful as those are.

    And rest assured that pretty soon something new will come along after “this” becomes the “norm” and we will have more new stuff to resist together inshallah. As Audrey says “yours in struggle” 🙂

    September 13, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    No More Revolutions: Three Parts and Multiple Perspectives 

    Reading Time: 4 minutes

    This post has been half-written in my mind all day, but that ends up just being part 1 of what you’re going to read.

    For clarity – it’s not about what you think it is.

    Part 1: Prequel

    It’s the second trip where I get a chance to wear my hijabi swimsuit (burkini is a weird term because a burka is a FACE covering and the hijabi swimsuit covers hair and body but not face!) 

    Second day swimming today. Took my little one to the beach a bit. Some sandcastles and such, some hitting waves…then when we were done she insisted on going to the swimming pool (it’s really on the way back to our room anyway… So even though she had showered we went to the indoor swimming pool coz they have a tiny one that’s v shallow for kids. 

    We walk in and I glance a wheelchair but no people there. Soon, we are joined by a woman wearing a niqab (full face cover except for her eyes) and two kids. The boy jumps in and starts playing. The girl sits on the edge. Her mom sits behind me but up on a chair (I am in the pool with my kid). I figure out pretty soon they are Saudi and try to coax the little girl into the pool but she says she doesn’t want in. I ask her mom if she is shy because we are there and encourage my girl to say hi. A few moments later her mom goes over to the girl and does something unexpected. She uncovers her face and rolls up her pants and lowers the girl into the pool such that the girl is leaning on her mom’s legs. The kiddies pool is a little secluded so no one sees her and as the mom’s eyes shift I tell her I will warn her if someone comes. We spend time splashing each other – my kid and me against the other two kids and everyone squeals and enjoys themselves. Later, as the mom starts talking to me? She mentions they are in Egypt (Cairo but here today on vacation) for therapy for her daughter. I glance at the wheelchair and ask if that’s hers and make the customary Islamic wishes for her to get better.

    I look at her and what she’s doing for her kid and it’s another level of what one would do for their kid. I am sure her kid needed that fun pool time. Whatever her reason for wearing a niqab, in that moment, she found a way to be there for her child. I stayed as long as I could in the pool to keep them company but it got late and we had to leave them eventually. 

    Part 2: Incident 

    Rest of the day went relatively normally. Until we were getting into the hotel through the revolving doors.

     I wanted to use a regular door but she insisted on these ones and we got into one space together as we had done several times already today/yesterday. 
    And my girl started screaming 

    Her feet, BOTH OF them, were caught under one of the glass doors/panels in the revolving door.

    May you never live to see any part of your child’s body stuck anywhere.
    It felt like hours passed but it must have been mere seconds. I must have kept repeating something either to calm her down or to conjure up divine intervention. I got inspired suddenly that if I got her crocs off I would be able to get her foot under the door and out. The first foot was easy. The second took longer. 

    You have to imagine this situation. It’s a revolving door. There’s no one in any space able to help my kid but me. Her dad says he was out there holding the door to stop it from moving. The hotel people said they stopped the door with an emergency button. My husband says it was her foot stopping the door from moving. 

    We got out. Crowds of people around us. We check her foot. She’s fine. Her feet seem fine. No ugly anything. Toes move. She cries in my arms a bit and eventually walks normally. Al hamdulilah. Having q doctor for a husband helps in these situations. A lot. Coz the first aid person didn’t look too competent to be honest. 

    In the midst of it all…people come by to ask about her. Different hotel personnel come by. Different theories on why this happened and how it can be prevented or how anyone could have acted better. All I am thinking is thank GOD she is ok. And wonder that I was able to act at all in the circumstances because I don’t know what the heck anyone else was doing to help me. I saw no action from anyone else and it’s terrifying. 

    No more revolving doors.

    No more revolutions for her. 

    Part 3: Aftermath 

    الحمد  لله الذي رزقنا هذا من غير حول لنا و لا قوة 

    Roughly translated (couldn’t find a proper one online):

    Praise be to Allah who blessed us with this with no strength or power of our own

    But of course beyond thanking God there’s the analysis. What happened? 

    One hotel person had a theory about crocs getting stuck in revolving doors. Another said that isn’t true. I said if hse hadn’t been wearing crocs i would not have been able to get her feet out (I don’t know how they got in in the first place. It was like hwr entire feet were on one side and above the ankle were on my side of the glass panel/door. I cringe as I remember. It was a nightmare. 

    I can’t imagine what kind of negligence from my side could have caused this. We have no idea what the proper emergency procedure should have been.

    While her feet were stuck my mind flashed back to earlier that day and the girl on the wheelchair.

    I recalled that incident aloud and someone said maybe they gave my girl the evil eye. But I have another theory. I think God saved us because we were kind to them.

    Neither explanation is scientific of course. Nor do I demand or expect reward for bringing kind to someone (it was not even a hardship).

    I wish I had something more useful to conclude. Just thanking God

    And no more crocs apparently (?)

    Or revolving doors

    September 11, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    Glasses for Ears

    Reading Time: 4 minutes

    The title of this post is inspired by Laura Ritchie’s post where she used this expression of needing glasses for her ears. Her post is based on her Reflections on a Twitter convo where she had misunderstood what I was talking about.

    Our eyes are not neutral. Neither are our ears. Wearing glasses? Not necessarily gonna help either of those. Think about bifocal and multifocal glasses (been hearing folks talk about those recently). You need to learn how to look differently in those glasses to enable you to see nearer or farther or to read. Some people need to take their glasses off in order to read. Others only wear glasses to read. 

    It is an interesting analogy to make with regards to discrimination. Sometimes you need to look inside you to understand someone ; other times you need to recognize your own distance from the situation and try to see it from their point of view, knowing you may never fully understand or empathize because you aren’t them.

    The backstory for this post is an article shared by Paul Prinsloo on Twitter about how difficult it is for people with non-native accents to navitate life and jobs in Australia. I responded with an anecdote of a saleslady in UK once telling me “I don’t understand your accent”. I called this racist because 

    1. I have a mid-Atlantic accent that’s not difficult for native speakers to understand. People usually think I am Canasian because it doesn’t sound like anywhere in particular in the US. Which is why I said, “You don’t understand my accent or is this [pointing to my headscarf] in your way?”
    2. Even though another salesperson apologized on her behalf saying she had hearing difficulties… I suspect people with hearing difficulties in customer service situations are used to politely saying “I don’t understand/can’t hear you, could you please repeat slowly/louder”, rather than blame it on the person’s accent.
    3. There is a history behind all this…coming up now

    I am not a person naturally inclined to feeling discriminated against. Critical pedagogy makes me see injustice in the world more clearly than before and it is a painful way to live…but for the most part, I am optimistic about things and comfortable with my place in the world. Only headscarfed woman at #ALTC last year? Cool, i am easy to recognize from afar. For the most part, I believe people in my (online) communities see me as the person I am and not the token Egyptian Muslim woman.

    When I lived in Houston I didn’t experience much discrimination. Mainly because many people there are expats, Mexican or Black. But most white people there were nice. Like I had one single incident of a silly newspaper salesman ranting at me. No biggie. More often people would say assalamu alaikum or just talk to me normally. We lived in the area called Medical Center/University so lots of expat doctors, international patients and international Rice University students and faculty. 

    In Norwich, UK it was different. In winter I wore a wool cap and most people couldn’t at all tell where I was from. People were generally nice. When summer came, though, I started wearing a headscarf and treatment of me changed. People were colder and less friendly. Nothing huge. My husband’s experiences were worse, because he had more interactions with British people, I assume, because he had a job, probably, and likely because his skin is darker.

    Because I don’t normally feel discriminated against, it’s difficult to explain how you know when someone is being racist to you without sounding petty. But in general, telling someone you don’t understand their accent (particularly when they don’t really have an accent) is pretty rude.

    I don’t understand why people on Twitter felt the need to defend that person. Some of those people don’t even know what my “accent” sounds like. None of them were there. I repeat. When someone has a hearing disability, they are unlikely to blame someone else’s accent for their difficulty hearing. I don’t think it’s cool to assume I am the one discriminating against someone who has a heating disability. I have communicated with people with hearing disabilities before. They don’t say things like that, usually. 
    No one in my life has told me they don’t understand my accent. Non-native speakers sometimes say I talk too fast. No native speaker has told me they don’t understand my accent. And I understand that some accents are difficult to follow because I have lived in a multicultural setting where I heard many all the time but saw others who didn’t understand them. I don’t understand all dialects of Arabic (well I do most except NorthWest African but many Egyptians don’t understand others as well). I had difficulty understanding the Sheffield accent each year I went there…took me a day or so to adjust. I know accents within a country are signs of where you are from and sometimes of social class.

    None of those things are like the experience of being a person who looks different and being told you aren’t understandable when you know you communicate quite clearly.

    Not victimizing myself. For the most part, people treat me well everywhere (airports being the often-occurring exception). 

    So when I say I feel someone was being racist to me,  I don’t say it lightly. So listen. If you’re not convinced just ignore it. There’s really no reason for you to I defend them. And sure, self-reflect all you like. As long as you know your experience in no way matches mine. Unless you’re a Muslim woman who was in the West (and even then, some people have way worse or way better experiences. I don’t speak for anyone). 

    Currently reading this book by Yassmin Abdel Maguid on her experience as Sudanese-Muslim growing up in Australia. Got to it through an article by her that Kate Bowles shared.

    How strange to be writing this post on the day of remembering 9/11. It feels petty to talk about it when so many lost their lives in 9/11 and its aftermath. But I am just explaining what was happening on Twitter. 

    September 8, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    Before There Were Smartphones

    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    I am forcing myself to listen to my audiobook version of Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation. I am around half way and can safely summarize it in the following meme/cartoon I just made and tweeted

    (would be a cool #ds106 assignment to create cartoon reviews of books!)

    It’s very funny that as I write this post, she just mentioned something related to comic strips (well the narrator, It isn’t Sherry herself).

    So I just wanted to say that much of what bothers people about Smartphones or at least what bothers Sherry, we definitely had other methods of avoid conversation, eye contact and #AllThat

    Here’s a list. Before there were smart phones, there were…

    1. Newspapers. People read those on public transportation. No, really. And they could ignore the person beside them by opening the paper really wide so no one could see their face
    2. Books. I am a very social person but I love reading and sometimes a book is so good I will take it with me everywhere and do anything possible to finish it even if there are people around. This happens on Kindle now,  but it’s not a new thing. I didn’t have a Smartphone when I first gave birth but I sometimes read books while breastfeeding my child. I did not stare into her eyes during the 10 or so feedings of the day. Just beginning and end
    3. Letters. No, really. People sometimes wrote cards and letters instead of speaking up or making risky declarations of love or having uncomfortable arguments in person. They did. We did. First time a guy asked me out was through a note passed in class. Gosh many guys asked me out that way.
    4. Note-passing. Really. I passed notes in class from the moment I could write to my undergrad graduation day from AUC. Smartphones just allow you to pass notes to people not in the same room, is all. Passing notes to people in class is actually fun.
    5. Doodling. People did that instead of taking notes in class. They probably still do sometimes 
    6. Walkman, Radio, TV. All these things allowed people to be in each other’s vicinity but not really talk.

    I am oversimplifying all of that, of course, but my obsession with books is exactly the same and not more intense. I realize the urgency of an email or tweet feels different from the laid back pace of writing letters. 

    September 8, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    Thresholds, Opportunity Cost & Who Chooses Which Literacies?

    Reading Time: 6 minutes

    There are so many different literacies we could potentially value. So many different things we could choose to learn or teach our kids. Also, so many things not within everyone’s reach to teach/learn by choice. There is an opportunity cost to teaching one over the other, and there are thresholds around which developing a literacy becomes easier or harder. I don’t know if literacy literature already has a term for this?

    For example, imagine someone (you or your child or loved one) is diagnosed with a serious illness. This could entail lots of doctor visits and tests to be done. If you cannot read/write at all, you usually just passively follow doctor’s orders. Unless you know someone who is a doctor to advise you (but even then, how do you develop the judgment to know whose advice to take?). If you can read/write and even have access to the internet, you may look up some resources. If you cannot read English well…oops, wait, let’s see if you find anything at all. What about those with internet and English? If you have a medical background yourself, you can read medical publications and have the critical literacy to filter them yourself rarher than rely on Google’s algorithm for showing you the first two results. If you don’t, you’re on a spectrum in terms of how well you can understand and filter and critically assess. Then there’s the literacy of communicating this (what you learned online) back to your doctor in a way that doesn’t piss them off. And whether you even have a choice of changing the doctor if you don’t like what they suggest. So much power. So contextual.

    There is a threshold below which it is difficult if not impossible for a patient to develop health literacy and a threshold below which one cannot practice it even if one has developed it. 

    Another example: every minute I spend reading to my child in Arabic is a minute I am not spending reading to her in English. The choice to teach both before she can properly read/write either serves to produce a (adorable but serious but overcomable) confusion about things like which direction to write (she writes English from right to left sometimes and so do other kids her age… I always thought this was a bilingual thing and someone confirmed it yday – be interested to know if non-Arabs experience this). There is an opportunity cost to making these choices. For each choice we make, we are CHOOSING not to spend time on another. However, if my kid had been learning a language I do NOT speak, the opportunity cost would have shifted. To read to her, I would either invest in a tutor for her or myself:time/money I could have spent on something else. Time/money I may or may not be able to afford.

    One last example. People in Egypt of my socioeconomic class tend to invest a lot in their kids’ sports. Tennis lessons. Swimming lessons. Gymnastics. Football. Volleyball. Maybe let’s go all the way to Ballet lessons. Much less (but still happens): music/piano/guitar lessons. Art lessons. Quran lessons (all because schools don’t do a good enough job of covering this stuff extracurricularly). Every minute and every coin spent on one of these is a value-laden decision. And it is wise to recognize that each of these is not within every person’s reach: some people cannot afford them; live too far away to practically find good lessons ; have kids who aren’t naturally musical and will struggle w music lessons; have kids with speech delays that need to be in a speech therapy class for hours each week rather than be learning a fun skill; have kids with disabilities that prevent them from doing any of that. Are just really busy parents working late jobs and have no time to do this.

    It’s wise when looking at all of these literacies to look at opportunity costs and thresholds in context. A person whose child has a serious illness is already spending time and money on things related to the illness that they can’t be spending on other things. A person who does not have the financial means or knowledge to learn a new language is below the threshold of teaching their child that language or supporting them at home. It’s a “deficit” of cultural/social capital that we create by making some things defaults when they need not be.

    So let me come to my main point here which is digital literacies, OK? For every minute I spend in class focusing on developing my students’ digital literacies, I give up time I could be teaching them something else. For some disciplines such as journalism or political science, getting students literate in how to interpret news on social media and contribute as digital citizens is almost a requirement in this day and age. Well, assuming the students have Internet and a language (including Arabic) that has enough (politcal) content out there that’s credible AND  also shared/discussed socially. Assuming also that we aren’t putting them at (excessive) risk of government surveillance in our courses. Assuming that by getting them onto social media for classes we aren’t feeding into social media addictions or compulsions they might have. Assuming they have time to do this despite other courses/responsibilities. 

    Inspired by Simon Ensor’s post Thanksgiving in which he highlights the differences in perspective on the story of thanksgiving and applies it to “open”. He takes this quote by Margaret Mead

    “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

    Margaret Mead.

    Among many incredible nuggets and important critical questions Simon asks are:

    • “Does openness favour the strongest?”
    • “Whose networks count in the world?” 
    • “Power differentials in networks mean that some may benefit from open sharing more than others”

     And Simon comes to this powerful conclusion critiquing all our discourses:

    “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens…

    [with access to the best information, equipped with the latest connecting technology, ships, trains, bulldozers, tanks, drones, massive capital, major media presence, carefully designed slogans to arouse fear or desire, control of communication platforms, extensively developed networks, speaking the dominant language]

    …can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

    I no longer buy that slogan: “life is a game.”

    If it is to be seen so, then whose rules are we playing it by?

    This totally applies to Vconnecting – a threshold below which it cannot empower (see also Nadine Aboulmagd’s post, esp the part on her connectivity) but can further privilege some over others. Yet it has potential to empower some. And as Autumm Caines writes, we are always questioning how far we can go and whose voices are included/excluded.

    But even though a Simon’s powerful post pushed me to publish this NOW, the ideas in this post have been on my mind for quite some time (I used the term “threshold of digital empowerment recently when someone was interviewing me about whether digital learning can be empowering). Also just yesterday, I was also inspired by this post by Tim Maughan and Sava Saheli Singh in which they use 4 powerful case studies (fictional) to highlight how digital learning looks for people in different parts of the world. They make all the points Simon and I make more concrete and embodied and I am thankful for their example.
    And also inspired by this post by Kate Bowles building on conversations on my #DoOO blogpost…and some Twitter convo following all that. 

    And also by this post by Tanya Elias questioning how many of those who research online/distance learning have themselves learned the bulk of their learning that way (that’s me Tanya – all my graduate work was done online/remotely). Same applies, I think, for open: how many advocates for open have ever been people who HAD TO RELY on open resources to succeed (me again, temporarily, but it left a huge impact). 

    And then this by Sherri Spelic reminding us of importance of context behind what we say/do online. Sherri also shared this post which reminds us “there’s a lesser known poverty tax on technology, and it’s paid with your time.” I just read this post after publishing this one and it’s worth a read to show how internet is a luxury many don’t have.

    All of the above are worthwhile reads. 

    And then maybe I can share an optimistic example of American Muslim girls who felt empowered to use slam poetry and the digital to get their message across. They had the literacy and support to know how to achieve this…not everyone has that. I came across them around one year ago…but cogdog reminded me of them this week.

    September 4, 2016
    by Maha Bali
    1 Comment

    Behind the Scenes of the Growth of @Vconnecting 

    Reading Time: 4 minutes

    August and September of 2015 were extra special times for Virtually Connecting. 

    August 2015 was the first Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Wisconsin. It was the first event where we had multiple onsite buddies. More importantly it was the first event where we had multiple sessions that had NEITHER Rebecca nor me in them. When Virtually Connecting started out as et4buddy…it was all dependent on Rebecca onsite connecting me virtually to people. Inviting others virtually was a secondary consideration. It was a story of two friends. As we expanded, for a few months, both Rebecca and I stayed virtual in all sessions while the onsite person changed. Maybe once or twice Rebecca could not make a virtual session or I couldn’t. But always one of us. Until DigPedLab last year. Alan Levine did a session. Autumm Caines and Apostolos Koutropoulos did a session. Rebecca and I lovingly started to let go and open this up.

    The second turning point was #ALTC in September. Where Rebecca and I met in person for the first time. Hugging her and being in her presence was one of the highlights of my year. Watching how my little girl responded to her (as if she already knew her, as if she were family, because they hung out so often) has touched me so deeply.

    But I digress. #ALTC was superspecial because we met f2f. But extra superspecial because by being f2f, we had to fully trust others to handle the entire virtual side of VC. By that time we were using Slack and expanding our team. Slack helps a lot because not everyone is on Facebook (our initial mode of working) and we needed to organize conversations better.

    Autumm Caines stepped up during #ALTC to manage the virtual side. She didn’t facilitate all the hangouts but she managed a way to organize things in ways Rebecca and I never would have naturally done coz…we just aren’t that good at that kind of thing. She was helped by virtual buddies at the time including Alan Levine, Simon Ensor and I Koseoglu. 

    And it was takeoff from there. Because of Rebecca, Virtually Connecting happened in the first place. Because of Autumm, Virtually Connecting had enough structure to expand. Because of many people, Virtually Connecting continues to grow and thrive.

    We would be nowhere if Michelle Pacansky-Brock and Jesse Stommel didn’t encourage the et4buddy experiment and endorse it as part of et4online. 

    We would not have done anything beyond et4buddy without the staunch support of those who loved and encouraged it – especially Whitney Kilgore who insisted on expanding it and was the first onsite buddy after Rebecca.

    Some people have supported us from day 1 – Michael Berman, Alan Levine, Bonnie Stewart – these 3 are among our advisory buddies now and each of them brings a different perspective and gives to VC in different ways. Alan is our all-round buddy (he participates virtually and onsite and with the tech and website and as an advisor all at once). Bonnie is the person who in reality doesn’t like being on a Google hangout much but appreciates what we do and is always thinking of different ways of making it work. Michael has given us support in many deep yet intangible ways that I cannot even express. 

    It’s a beautiful team…an expanding community… We have people like Wendy Taleo who manages all the Australian connections which is so hard because so few of us live on that timezone… And Helen DeWaard who seems to me to make events work out of the blue with the effort of her enthusiasm (seriously). 

    We have people who dive right in and don’t look back. I can’t even count the times Andrea Rehn has been an onsite buddy. I still can’t believe how fast people like Autumm and AK and Ken Bauer jumped into VC and just ran with it and became people we depend on.

    And to think they said this thing had a unique Mahaness/Rebeccaness.. That two people different from us who didn’t have our special bond couldn’t do it. They were so so so so wrong. Rebecca provided the example of the generous person willing to reach out to people onsite and connect them to me, sure. I provided the example of someone virtual hungry to connect but willing and happy to share my meal 😉 but we aren’t the only people who can do it. And we are still learning how to do it better. From a wonderful team of people who care about connection and inclusion and carry that ethos deep down. And I learn from them every day.

    You need to know that to make an event work, it sometimes takes hours and hours of working with organizers. It takes time (up to 2 hours and 2 or 3 people) to create a blogpost announcement with hangout links and feature image. It takes weeks to organize times to meet people onsite and figure out who will be onsite buddy and who can be virtual. It takes effort and constant Twitter checking and Google doc updating to invite people and create waiting lists. And in between all that Google goes and changes on us and then our team work together to find ways to modify our process and still work on this together. And in between we give each other support on other things. And we ask ourselves how we can do better.

    This wasn’t an Oscar speech (although, come to think of it, where is our award? Nah. We’re gifted every day by knowing that what we do makes a difference to someone somewhere and we are gifted just by being together and having each other). This was a clarification. When I say we’re a team… I really mean it.

    September 4, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    Reproducing Marginality?

    Reading Time: 6 minutes

    marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact I was saying just the opposite, that it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance . It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose – to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center – but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds. (p. 149-150, emphasis mine)

    –  bell hooks cited on the Marginal Syllabus from her book Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990)

    I am always struggling with my centredness and my marginality, navigating my intersectionality. It’s not navel-gazing specifically, as much as it is an intentional effort to remain aware of my marginality as a way to, I think, not perpetuate marginalizing others.If that makes sense. It nourishes my capacity to resist, as bell hooks says above.

    Last month at Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute UMW, I was in a position of power, where I could make choices of how to include others, especially virtually. This reflection by virtual participant Sherri Spelic tells me my efforts, with the inspiration of seriously reflective, kind and active collaborators (including Sherri herself, and of course Autumm, Kate and Paul) was working towards something. Sherri writes:

    Inclusion is a construction project. Inclusion must be engineered. It is unlikely to “happen” on its own. Rather, those who hold the power of invitation must also consciously create the conditions for sincere engagement, where underrepresented voices receive necessary air time, where those contributing the necessary “diversity” are part of the planning process. Otherwise we recreate the very systems of habit we are seeking to avoid: the unintentional silencing of our “included” colleagues.

    (emphasis mine)

    What Sherri highlights there is that it is insufficient to just open up an invitation. It is insufficient that once invited, we just leave guests to their own devices and assume the “free market of air time” means we are giving up our power as facilitators. If we do so, if we just say “anyone is welcome” and assume everyone feels equally welcome – we aren’t doing our job. It is insufficient to, once we are in a room together, to say, “anyone can speak”, and assume everyone feels equally listened to. I am flawed. I will forget to invite someone. I will occasionally talk too much, ignore someone, feel too tired to listen properly, get angry at someone who speaks slowly or too quietly or too much or too little. But you know what? I surround myself with people who can call me out on this gently and constructively (I’m looking at you, Kate and Paul – but also so many others like Sherri and many more). And I am always trying to remain conscious of how we practice inclusion (something Sherri mentions in her article as well).

    It is insufficient to open up an invitation and then proceed to “tell” others what to do. I appreciate and applaud Jesse and Sean for giving me pretty much complete freedom over how to run that second workshop at DPLI. I had the choice of whom to co-facilitate with, and I chose Paul Prinsloo onsite and Kate Bowles virtually (here’s our pre-writeup on it, written across three timezones – US/Egypt/Australia). The three of us pretty much had free reign on what to do with that workshop… and as an experiment, it could have been an epic fail, but instead, it felt like an epic opening of possibilities. We wrote:

    …for most of us not in the US (or the UK), this [edtech] vision has often signalled top-down, US-to-world, Anglo-oriented, decontextualized, culturally irrelevant, infrastructure-insensitive, and timezone-ignorant aspirations, even when the invitation for us to join in may be well-intentioned.

    We want to rethink this one-way flow of benefits, and argue instead that all learning is enriched when we have the opportunity to hear from voices markedly different from our own. We want to suggest that when US culture and educational systems are the default for MOOCs and similar platforms, international voices are exoticized, marginalized and silenced at once.

    Afterwards, Kate wrote (building on what Chris Gilliard had said in the post-workshop hallway conversation):

    …if we want Americans to stop thinking of the rest of the world as the exotic, the underserved market, being present is the place to begin. We need to make time to hear from each other in workshops like this, at a scale that we can work with. We need to promote listening well as an activist practice. And as educators we have to lead this process, and centre it in our teaching.

    Emphasis mine. Being present is just the beginning. Promoting active listening is essential. And yet still not the end of that story.

    Points to Ponder

    So I just wanted to say that, while I embrace my marginality as a site of resistance (using bell hooks’ words), as I intentionally place myself in this ocean of others with complex power dynamics, I see (on an almost daily basis) the ways in which marginality can be reproduced by things “we”* do. Here are some ways people in power can reproduce the marginality of others (ways we should all work to avoid):

    • Tokenizing. Bringing in ONE person of color, ONE international person, ONE woman into a sea of white/Western/male others. This is why when Alec Couros asked on Twitter whom on Twitter helps us think critically, my first tweet back was intentionally completely absent of white American men. It came easily, that first tweet. To think of 140 characters’ worth of people of color who inspire me? Easy! How easy is it for you? (I then wrote something like 5 more lists, with some white men on them, because, really, some white men are quite cool people, and it’s not their fault they’re white men and all).
    • Assuming Difference. Assuming Similarity. This may sound confusing but it isn’t. I guess the answer is… don’t assume? Sometimes in our sensitivity, we assume difference in order to be respectful. It can be insulting. Sometimes in our attempt to be inclusive, we assume similarity; it can be stifling. Just like every individual in the majority is different, every individual in each minority is different, and therefore they are differently similar/different to you. Take two Western-educated Egyptians and they will have different situations and life conditions that empower/disempower them. You can’t know a priori what that’s going to be like.
    • Unintentional Forgetting. No. Of course it’s unintentional. But that’s the point, we need to intentionally not forget. Inclusion isn’t a side effect. It needs to be an intentional choice, and with it comes responsibility
    • Not Listening to the Marginal. Bringing in someone marginal, and then not listening to them properly is almost worse than not bringing them at all. We need to be aware that listening to the marginal takes effort. They are already going outside of their own discourse of comfort in order to be understood by the more powerful. Listening to the marginal is hard. The powerful need to make an effort to make room, but also to listen closely.
    • Silencing the Marginal. This is such a big deal. To be aware of how our actions (subtle and overt) could silence a marginal person.

    *You noticed I say “we” a lot here, right? Because in some contexts, I am in power. I am the teacher. Even if there is a class of men, I’m still their teacher and I have some power in that context. In a Virtually Connecting session I am virtual but I often have the power of invitation. I can choose to keep the call open to anyone. Or I can choose to target certain people and not others, to email them private invitations. I can choose to call on someone or not (gently or not). For Digital Pedagogy Lab, I did a lot of that kind of backchanneling, sending personal invitations in order to ensure sufficient diversity of voices. What’s “sufficient” you say? I don’t know, but it was noticeable.

    In open online spaces, opening doors is not enough.

    In open online spaces, an open door means easy exit just as it means easy entry.

    In open online spaces, we are not there on equal footing.

    In open online spaces, we are not equally fragile.

    It is everyone’s responsibility to listen and care and support marginal voices. Whether or not they wish to speak. Whether or not they wish to be present. Whether or not they like what we do.

    It is everyone’s responsibility to recognize their own privilege and to use it with purpose.

    Bas keda (Arabic for: “that’s it”)

    September 3, 2016
    by Maha Bali

    How the Money Flows (or not)

    Reading Time: 5 minutes

    It’s been that kind of week. You know, the kind of week where, someone asks you a question last week, and many things happen this week and you just notice them so clearly. I wrote recently about domains and how people (like many young people in Egypt) without credit cards couldn’t pay for domains and hosting (some would have access to their parents’ cards, but not all parents are generous with their cards; and again, not all parents have them). Someone asked how young Egyptians paid for stuff online. I said most people just pirate stuff like music and movies and books. That Uber accepted cash payment. And we pretty much don’t need credit cards unless we choose to use them. As you read the rest of this, you’ll kind of see why it’s complicated even if you do have a credit card.

    This week I was reminded of how the issue is much bigger than that. Of course it is. And again, I’m not talking about the poorest of the poor. I’m talking the privileged among Egyptians.

    Books for Americans

    It starts with the professor I bump into on campus who is panicking because the eBook she assigns each semester to her students has switched to a different publisher and students can no longer buy it with a non-US/Canada credit card. This is waaaaaaaaaaaaay more common than you think. Publishers that won’t allow a book to be sold outside the US. eBook people. eBook. It shouldn’t matter!!! But it does. I often have to trick certain websites/apps into thinking I am in the US or UK in order to buy stuff. This sometimes works (especially if I use my previous US/UK addresses or had used a US/UK debit card on them before) but quite often doesn’t because some places ask you to enter the billing address and if it’s not in the US, you’re busted. I gave the professor several solutions, the most workable being to ask the library to order the eBook and students to read it through the library. Guess I saved those students some money. Meanwhile, I’ve also sent her an open textbook to explore for the future. But the point is – when she emailed the publishers of the book to ask their help, they basically told her to go look for another publisher. Because they couldn’t be bothered to make an effort to accept international payment. But hey, if you’re Egyptian and you know of a way to make yourself look like u have a US credit card, please let me know! Privately 🙂

    See, that’s the thing. We’re the American University in Cairo. We are expected to (and usually do) assign the same textbooks used in American universities. Our students aren’t surprised to have to pay expensive prices for textbooks (unlike national/public universities where copyright infringement is more common and it REALLY matters if third world edition textbooks in soft cover are available). I mean, it is still crazy unfair, and expensive for students AND the university; so our university is encouraging use of eBooks – hence this professor’s use of one… leading to this dilemma. Open textbooks won’t always solve this problem.

    Software for Americans

    And then for me this week… my bank renewed my credit card and I’ve used it a few times (OK, many times), but this one software just wasn’t accepting the payment from it to renew my subscription. The bank never explains why, so neither I nor the person helping me from the software company, know what was up. But this guy from the company was REALLY helpful. First, he suggested we try PayPal. I told him I’d tried before and it didn’t work here in Egypt, but I’d give it a shot. It doesn’t work here. Well, at least now I know it’s still the case. Then I suggested I get HIM an Amazon gift card and he pay for my subscription.

    I know. I know what you’re thinking. Just go out and say it 🙂

    Actually, he agreed. And actually, he’s not a total stranger, we had talked a lot before on email, so it wasn’t like a random tech support person, but someone I know a little. So, yeah. He got a gift card today. Hopefully my subscription is now renewed. But DUDE. It was a week of trying to use this software EVERY DAY and getting error messages coz of this credit card thing. And something like 5 failed attempts to pay. Thanks, Adam 🙂

    Currency Conversion and BitCoins Anyone?

    Then a combination of this novel I was reading (which mentions BitCoins in a completely tangential way, but got me thinking…) and a chapter on austerity I am writing… all reminded me of some of the currency hell I went through to organize a DigPedLab in Cairo

    1. The majority of the grant I received to fund the event came in Euros. A big chunk of the costs were in US dollars; some of the money was spent in Egyptian pounds. The SAP system showed everything in Egyptian pounds. The exchange rates of everything changed at least 3 times (big shifts) from the day I got the grant to the day we closed the grant. I don’t even want to get into how complicated the financial planning, spending and reporting of that was. I can’t even…
    2. Because this is a bureaucracy, I was told to fix some problems and delays and uncertainties by letting people pay some of their own things and reimbursing them when they came to Cairo in cash. It was supposed to simplify stuff. But guess what? The money to pay them back didn’t get to me in time… so I had to use my own money to reimburse people and then get the money back from the university (even though the grant was sitting RIGHT THERE – I had to be reimbursed for reimbursing the reimbursed…uhhhhh)
    3. To reimburse people in US dollars, I had to either convert some Egyptian money to dollars, or withdraw from my own dollars. Funny story. There is a limit to how much Egyptian money you can convert to dollars (depending on whether you’re travelling or not) per day and sometimes per month or more. There is also occasionally (and it was the case at the time) a limit on how much of your OWN money in hard currency you can withdraw at a time. I know. I know. You don’t even need to say it. It took me like daily trips to the bank for a week to get this sorted out. And that includes having to ask the bank teller to put in an order so he could give me dollars in change because I had to pay some people things like $362

    All of which really makes me want to find a way for all of us to pay for stuff without having to feel inferior because we’re not Americans, don’t have American addresses attached to our non-American credit cards.

    And this is me – who supposedly has access to everything… just not within my reach at all times. Which brings me to the next one…

    Pay Me Creatively

    It’s pretty complicated to pay me for something if it’s not coming from here in Egypt. Gift cards, yay for consumerism. Anything else: complicated. I have the misfortune of having a social security number. So I fill that part in (one software didn’t like my social security number. Tough. Maybe it’s because I got it as an “alien” and aliens don’t pay taxes or something and that system wants my SSN for the taxes… but I can’t like, lie, and say I don’t have one, because… lie). Occasionally someone will want to make my life easier with a bank transfer. Yay? I’m always worried it will look politically weird. Sometimes someone will send a cheque. Yay? I’ll ask them to send to a US address and…then hopefully after a period of time approximating 4 weeks some money will magically appear in my account… or something. Coz no one is giving it to me in my hands or anything. So my new new idea is to (whenever possible) ask people to pay me by donating to a cause of my choosing on my behalf. I think. This might work well. Maybe.


    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 

    Updated again: this is the Adobe Connect recording (requires Flash):
    Google doc & slides: 

    I will post YouTube recording soon 


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