Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Big & little #octel questions


Reading Time: 3 minutes

Who can resist this:

So here is my first attempt at participating..
Activity 0.1: Big and little questions (45 mins – wonder how they came up with this number. My commute is around an hour so let”s see if i can make it)

Please reflect on your work experience and ambitions for developing your teaching. – that sounds like a really big question, and too broad for me to answer right now, so I moved to the next one…

Can you identify the most important question about TEL that matters to you?
Or alternatively do you have a cluster of issues? Or perhaps you’re ‘just browsing’?
– a bit more focused, still broad, but I think I can have a go at it.

It made me think of all sorts of formal/informal learning and teaching experiences, but since i am taking #blendkit2014 to help me develop a blended learning course (prof dev course) for faculty here at American University in Cairo, I thought I’d brainstorm the questions about TEL that I think might be important to address there…

First, I have huge issues with technological determinism (this issue keeps coming up a lot and was discussed in detail in #edcmooc) – you still often here ed tech discourse that view tech as a utopian magic bullet or a dystopian end of the world… I don’t know why people attribute so much power to the tech itself without critically looking at its uses. Even after an entire semester of trying to help my students lose that discourse, I continue to hear it. For faculty wanting to try blended learning, I hope they will not come into the course with a utopian view of what tech can do for them. My question is, how do we stay positive about the potential of the technology while remaining critical of its limitations and controversies, but do so with a group of ppl we want to encourage to give it a try? This relates to number 2 below

Second, in a place like Egypt, most upper middle class faculty and students have good enough
Internet connectivity to have a good online learning experience, but there are occasional electricity cuts (more so some days/months than others) – if I am going to help faculty explore different kinds of pedagogies they can do online, I should probably give them a chance to try both sync and asynchronous options (I have a strong preference for async). My concern is: I don’t want to be prescriptive about my pref for async given the circumstances, and I don’t want to give them illusions about synchronicity working either. Should I let them try it anyway as part of the course? I I do, should I hope it fails so they figure how badly it can go? Should we tell them stories?

Third, this is based on sthg Rebecca Hogue said at the Sloan-C conf: if you teach someone about a technology and tie it with a particular pedagogy they dislike, they will be turned off the technology. An interesting twitter response from Kris Shaffer was that the opposite is worse: if you teach someone about a pedagogy using a technology they dislike it may turn them off the pedagogy. And yet, I do not like teaching about tech without referring to pedagogical potential. So what is a good approach? It should not be a difficult question to answer, but it is to me at the moment

Fourth, and this question I suspect some people might have suggestions for. What kinds of pedagogy/technology combinations (can’t get away from this, see number 3) are essential for a prof dev course on blended learning? I keep thinking things like collaboration tools (disc forums, social media options), content tools (so like posting all sorts of materials and making videos if needed) plus expression and collaborative expression (e.g. Blogs, multimedia expression, wikis)

(A big part of the ending of this blog got deleted somehow, i have no idea how. Will search for it and see if i can dig it up)

But basically, i was saying I want to see if I can find ways of meeting the diverse needs of the faculty taking the course, given that what is “good” or “best” for each course depends a lot on context: the discipline, teacher’s style, student characteristics, etc.
Hoping to keep it flexible, try rhizomatic, and build community within the course that is sustainable beyond it and can support each other as they develop and run their courses.

Looking forward to seeing how #octel pans out


  1. I really enjoyed reading this! It was especially interesting to consider barriers such as power cuts in Egypt which would not normally cross my mind in the UK (although there are lots of people not connected for other reasons). Thanks for sharing! Best wishes, Sally

  2. That’s a really energetic start – nice one! Like Sally, I enjoyed the international perspective. Context is critically important – that’s one of the reasons determinism misses the mark, because “it depends…”!

    I can see you genuinely are a MOOCaholic (not that there’s anything wrong with that). ocTEL is a bit different from some MOOCs, but I’m sure you’re be able to handle it. It’s also very helpful if “MOOC natives” can show the ropes to, and generally be supportive of, people for whom this may be the first experience of MOOCs, or even of online learning. So please don’t be shy about showing a bit of leadership in the online discussions.

    Those are four interesting and challenging questions you’ve framed there. Can you boil each of them down to one concise question/point, do you think? The reason I ask is that, if you can, you may find it easier to remember the questions and let them guide the rest of your explorations in the course.

    Also I understand your hesitance about stating your development ambitions, but don’t be shy about reflecting on and revisiting this as the course continues. Cheers!

    • Hi David, thanks for commenting here. To be honest, I am just sharing aloud the thoughts and concerns I had related to what I will be doing at work in the next few weeks 🙂 hoping to get some insight from others “doing” ocTEL, rather than thinking specifically of how to make ocTEL “work” for me, if that makes any sense? So I’m following your flexibility idea and making ocTEL work for my prof dev in whatever way I can. So in that sense, the question prompts were a GREAT way to help me focus my thoughts on what I need to be doing, and writing them aloud helped me realize what I was thinking… So thanks to the group who worked on writing them 🙂 I can see how boiling them down to concise questions might help me remember them. Will think of that.
      RE: showing others the ropes, sure! I can also post some “old” stuff I had written about prof dev, etc. But not too many at a time so as not to spam ppl! Maybe I could post them in diff places so ppl in diff places can find them 🙂

      • Hi Maha, yes, by ‘showing the ropes’, I didn’t necessarily mean just pushing out more stuff… Perhaps more about listening to and interacting with people who are not as used to “all this” you, and reassuring them that it’s not that hard or intimidating. If you know how to have a conversation, you already know the most important thing about playing a constructive role in a connectivist MOOC… or something like that!

        • Yes of course 🙂 though i expect that would happen naturally, anyway, right? 🙂 The conversation is the whole point of being “here” 🙂 well, for me, anyway 🙂

  3. Thanks Maha – I will be following with interest…
    Another point on the plusses of asynchronicity – it enables those less secure in their academic identities to participate – especially important perhaps when the synchronous engagement is via a chat facility. Who wants their bad spelling and impromptu jumbled thoughts ‘out there’ – unless you are in a really secure context with great trust relationships?

    • That,s a v insightful point, Sandra. Hadn’t thought of it, as a plus of async and a downside of sync.
      Also, I have to say for me personally, rhizo14 was key in improving my confidence in my academic identity (though it’s strange coz i am still v “alternative” to ppl in my f2f context). But ur right that before u form trusting relationships, most of us can’t comfortably make ourselves vulnerable this way

  4. Pingback: Set your goals, so that they may guide your path | ocTEL 2014

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