Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Why Read This, Why Read That?


Reading Time: 7 minutes

I read one of the most beautiful posts today, by Mimi Ito (annotated on Diigo here by Kevin and Terry; my Diigo was in a bad mood and I was surrounded by family so invested time in reading it rather than annotating, and decided to respond via a blogpost).

I’m going to use this space to respond to a really interesting point Mimi made: that she found reading books (quickly, i assume?) easier than wading through tweets and blogs; whereas I clearly did the tweets/blogs things quite comfortably but found reading books “too much” πŸ™‚ It made me smile reading that. We’re all different that way, and the post gave me insight into Mimi (whom I did not know at all, but had heard of, before #ccourses). I could not have imagined her discomfort with social media, and so I applaud her for going outside her comfort zone and being soooo responsive on Twitter lately, and for writing that blogpost, which I found more valuable than 10 books (unless those books were by her, written as thoughtfully!)

Anyway, it made me reflect on why I, someone who LOVES reading by all accounts, have a strong preference for reading blogs/tweets over books/academic articles in MOOCs. There are many reasons, so I’ll try to order them after I write them. Been thinking of these all day today until I could get a chance to sit and write πŸ™‚ I am cognizant of Mimi’s point that a connected learning experience “welcomes people with different dispositions and orientations to learning”, and I am just one of those people, clarifying my own dispositions/orientations (for myself, for anyone who cares to read).

1. In terms of learning: Is the MOOC about experiencing connecting? Or about reading about it?
Most of the time, the MOOC is about reflecting on connecting, which I think can be achieved by reading about it or experiencing it, or preferably both. If I read one book by one author, I get that one person’s perspective and I invest a lot of time to read the book (assuming I did not also have to pay for the book – not always an option in Egypt if an e-version not available or it’s too expensive; sometimes i can get it through my uni’s library but not everyone has that option and not all books will be available, and on weekends i can’t go, too far a commute). My first PhD supervisor was big on encouraging me to read diverse articles not single-authored books (and that’s why my first book proposal is one where I am editing a volume not single-authoring). My second supervisor (who replaced the first) was big on me reading original works by e.g. Marx, Foucault, etc. I have a strong allergic reaction to canonical knowledge. I also find reading translated works really difficult and find it a better investment of my time to first read more contemporary (or at least, more education-focused) interpretations of the “greats” works, before reading the original. It helps me read it better (biases me, sure, but it also makes it more comprehensible). None of the recommended readings in #ccourses has that issue of “canonical” knoweldge. It does not have that flavor, and most of the authors are actually participating in hangouts which is really cool! I”d love to interact with them on what they wrote, but I don’t have time to read their books before I meet them!! I think a key thing, though, is that I do not value the book-authors more than I value the blog-authors. I may value the blog-authors slightly more because I know them a lot more and can connect why they’re writing something, where they are coming from, and can interact with them more regularly. They are also talking about it in the context of what we are doing in the MOOC, which makes it more accessible, easier to read quickly, for me.

And also, though, I prefer to experience connection and reflect on it, and read other people’s reflection on it, like a large number of people that I get to know better (as in MOOC participants) rather than in a book. It’s just a better time investment for me. I don’t want to spend so much time reading that I have no time to reflect.

If my full-time job was about connected learning, I would have more time to read on it, for sure. If all my research and reading were about it, sure. But because they are not, I have to invest time in reading other stuff as well (of higher priority, often). But blogs allow me to catch glimpses of brilliance when I only have a few minutes to spare. Which brings me to…

2. Attention issues
This relates to being the mom of a toddler who works full-time. Most of my MOOCing I do while commuting to work and while my kid is asleep. Not times when I can devote a LOT of attention to a long academic article or book, but I can read 10 blogposts and write one of my own in my 1-hour morning trip. I could also read a chapter in a book and maybe write a blogpost on my way home. You see where I am going? By the time my kid is asleep I am exhausted. I have a lot of stuff I want to do, but I take time to focus and sometimes fall asleep while doing stuff (like watching hangouts… I just lie down, close my eyes and listen; I used to listen to hours of audiobooks a bedtime; I still do, but I now fall asleep more often than not). I also sometimes have a 5-min break in the midst of something, and I always fill my time with reading. Read 2 blogposts or 2 pages of a book? The blogposts usually win, unless it’s a really good (fiction) book. Though I will admit to have read bell hooks in moments like these because her writing is that compelling, like a suspense novel.

3. Philosophical approach to reading
The first two reasons are related to an approach to learning, and my logistical reasons for preferring shorter, less academic reading. I wrote a short article about this before my kid was born, and rewrote it recently inspired by Jesse Stommel and Dave Cormier. This third reason is one that would stand even if this were a formal course, and I was getting credit for it and did not have logistical issues. As a teacher of other teachers, who are busy adults, whose English is often not fluent enough, I found that assigning a few (accessible) readings to choose from, but choosing these readings really well could mean that they read 3-4 things the entire semester (well it’s only 12 weeks for them) but we milk those readings by reflecting on them deeply and returning to them many times. I don’t honestly know how people can do deep reading if they read 5 books in 2 weeks. I can do this for light novels (read one a day even, if it’s v good). I can do it for stuff I need to do for work, where I have to do a report on something, for example. I can do it if i skim because I have a purpose. Instead, what I do these days (particularly after I finished my PhD almost a year ago now) is I jump around books. This is particularly funny because I keep not finding time to read the”attention literacies” part in Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, as I get ‘distracted’ into reading different parts of it (i’ve probably read half the book already, just not in order).

4. Thinking of others
I am constantly thinking that if someone like me who LOVES reading, who is comfortable with English and academic discourse, has trouble reading that much stuff for a MOOC, then people who are less verbal, less fluent, less familiar with that discourse, may be having more trouble. And that’s why I voice these things in MOOCs, because I am pretty sure that courses about connection want ppl to feel they can participate. Even when readings are not required, when all the options for a particular week are books, it sort of makes it hard to take a step… But …

Taking steps: Conceding πŸ™‚
Having said all this… I went into unit 2 of #ccourses today and did the following:
For one book, there was an option of a shorter article (THANK YOU), and a sample of the book – so I got those and plan to read them
For another book, it was freely available so i downloaded it and can skim it
For another book, I found it in my library, so will look for it next week
For other books that were neither freely available, nor at my library, etc., I decided to do a guilt-free ignore thing πŸ™‚
It would be nice for some ppl to have other media formats of useful material, but I guess the hangouts cover the multimedia aspect of things, and they are interactive on the twitter stream to boot, so that’s a good thing for ppl who like hangouts/videos πŸ™‚

I was surprised that the novel Little Brother than Jonathan Worth recommended to me in a tweet is not one of the actual readings πŸ˜‰ but i am enjoying it, so i will continue to read it as my “novel” of this week (I always have to have a novel beside my serious reading; altho this book is really serious, too, so it’s a bit of an overload hehe).

So basically, I hope to engage with these readings “my way” (so not deeply with each entire book, unless it draws me in, but with parts of it) and hope that blogposts by other people & the hangout will fill me in second-hand (you see what I am doing here, don’t you?)

P.S. some ppl may say that w blog posts u have no guarantee of quality vs a book recommended by the facilitators. However, there are many ways to gauge a blog’s quality, incl knowing the person, seeing it retweeted often or with many comments – and it takes v little time to skim it to decide to read deeply; takes me more time to make same decision about a book not in my main field of interest (less time for books in fields I read frequently, this field becoming one of them!)

Here are some lovely quotes from Mimi’s post that I wanted to keep here so I can keep quoting them for years to come:

Unlike becoming a contributor to Wikipedia or YouTube, Connected Courses is a veritable cornucopia of ways of participating with no central platform. And unlike a community of practice, there is an abundance of different forms of expertise and practices, and social norms that are colliding through a loosely orchestrated cross-network remix, immersive theater where participants are all experiencing a different narrative. Its not a funnel or even a community with coherent practices, but a hybrid network, more like a constellation that looks different based on where one stands and who one is. (emphasis mine?

And this one

This heterogeneity [in #ccourses] can feel like chaos and collision of competing styles and expectations, but I also see it as a site of productive tension that is characteristic of connected learning. Connected learning is predicated on bringing together three spheres of learning that are most commonly disconnected in our lives: peer sociability, personal interests/affinity, and opportunities for recognition. In kids’ lives these are friends, interest-based activities, and school. In connected courses, this is the reciprocity and fun in the social stream, our personal interests and expertise, and institutional status/reputation


  1. @Bali_Maha fascinating topic! I am learning a lot from watching my students choose and rate the readings in class…


  2. @Bali_Maha the students like different readings & how they make their choices is fascinating! here’s our UnTextbook:


  3. @OnlineCrsLady wow, cool! Thx for sharing this! So interesting πŸ™‚


  4. Thanks so much for this reflection and response Maha! A lot to say that I can ruminate on, but I am trying to learn to respond more quickly and in the stream of conversation rather than sitting on things and never getting to it :). First I am stunned that you have a toddler and you have the time to do all you do! I think you get an attentional superpower badge for that one. Also, I appreciate your gentle reminders off issues of access to books. So important for us to keep in mind as we tout the values of “open.” But most important, this post gives such valuable and helpful insight into a way of engaging and connecting that I clearly gives voice to the animating spirit (or *an* animating spirit) of ccourses!

  5. Hi Maha!
    Would like to see your commute journey – photos/video to situate your blog post. V. Interesting reflection. Ty.

  6. Maha,

    Your thoughts here really spoke to me. (Me, with the murder mystery on my Kindle, Medium always cued up on my phone, a stack of academic books on the corner of my desk, and articles loaded into Notability on my iPad.) Tweets are like sparks, blog posts are like campfires. I weave them into my workflow; I get warm with them. They keep me in touch with the stream of things after I spend a lot of time in my head. Blogs and Tweets are more “we”; academic stuff is so “I”, and maybe on a MOOC, the blogs bridge the two? Just rambling. Thanks for the spark here.

    • Thanks Karen, i think we live the same life! I also use notability a lot (it got me thru my PhD coz i could get some stuff done while my toddler was beside me). I hadn’t thought of the I/we thing… Thinking about it now… Hmmm… What about the same person who blogs and publishes? I find it difficult now to write academic style (I can do it, but it doesn’t feel like “good writing” any more; that’s why i write for Hybrid Pedagogy which has an in-between style).

  7. Oh Maha, your blogs are so long… My allegiance to books comes from being made to read science fiction as a child. Everything I ever needed to know was there to lead me towards an interest in science at a lay person level. I think cMOOCs and social media also lead us to a general curiosity and participation way of being in the world that we’ve forgotten in the race to have everyone become expert in small domains. My interest in science doesn’t necessarily enhance or forward the domain itself and I think we all see having interests as kind of a waste of resources unless we apply them in some kind of enterprise.

    Your allegiance to blogs and Twitter Maha, seem to make you the kind of rare generalist in your enthusiasm that thrives on curiosity. Being diverse and unbounded by the should-does and must-get-tos of canonical thinking lightens your intellect for change. That’s important.

    • Unbounded by canonical thinking – that is exactly how I would like to be described, for better or worse πŸ™‚ thank you, Scott!

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