Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Open as a Need? #oer17

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

One of the struggles I face as a developing critical pedagogue is addressing intersectionality fairly in the complex ways it deserves to be adddresse. So, where a certain situation calls for me to look at something like MOOCs with a critical eye on their limitations, other situations require me to recognize their potential. Often for the same constituencies. For example, I have written something with Patrice Prusko (yet to be published) related to potential empowerment of women via MOOCs, even while recognizing that in order for women to find something like MOOCs empowering, other factors need to fall into place (e.g. the woman to have some digital literacy, her own device to use to connect to a sufficiently suitable Internet connection, some free time away from household responsibilities which she can dedicate to learning). And while many of these factors don’t apply to many Arab women, when they do fall into place, their is so much potential. And then open education can offer something the woman would otherwise not have had access to in a paid or offline manner.

I remember once seeing a funny graphic that depicted Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs as having “wifi” at the bottom, as the most basic need. I think I made fun and made my own graphic at the time (somewhere on this blog or on Twitter) where I showed how much I disagree w Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I often sacrifice sleep and food in order to fulfill my social and self-actualization needs. Very often. I also think about a recent time when my mom was unwell and I of course sacrificed everything for love. I didn’t think of any of my own physical needs, and only my child’s most basic needs. It’s very circumstantial and complex, how our needs stack up against each other. I should probably read up on how he came up with his list and how he ordered them. Was it based on research? How diverse were his subjects?

I was also recently reading a thesis where I challenged the student in her use of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I don’t remember details, but I do remember I was making a point about how African Americans didn’t feel safe in America in the way white Americans felt, as a group, on average. In terms of trust of the government, I think my point was. But they don’t let this lack of feeling of safety necessarily stop them from addressing their other needs – or they seek a sense of safety in other ways.

But let me get back to the title of this post. Something slightly similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is something Stephen Covey wrote about in his book First Things First. That each of us set our life goals on 4 dimensions: “live, love, learn, and leave a legacy”.

Those correspond pretty roughly to Maslow’s hierarchy (Wikipedia mentions Maslow later added curiosity and self-transcendence which i never saw firsthand), but Covey talks explicitly about how our priorities shift between them in dynamic ways. I remember clearly the example of Anwar Sadat and how, despite being imprisoned, he came up with a lot of intellectual ideas which later empowered him as a president. I think many great people came up with incredible epiphanies while imprisoned: self-actualizations and legacies. Not the ideal setting for creativity? Or is it? I don’t know. Captivity may itself help people focus in ways less stressful situations don’t.

Another example he gave was when a woman gives birth, immediately, her priorities can shift. Career can be pushed to the back, even social and learning needs are often pushed back for some time. I think,however, that Egyptian society tends to expect women to continue to prioritize their kids and completely suppress their social and self-actualization type needs. And that was never gonna fly with me, because as much as I love and learn with/from my child, I need all the rest of it to feel fully human.

In any case, back to open as need. Or not.

I imagine if someone’s time is preoccupied with trying to make ends meet, of trying to earn enough money, as a consultant or any precarious position, producing open material may be far from their minds. But in reality, many people in that situation continue to participate in open spaces (whether producing material for others or just spending time interacting openly online) to fulfill social needs, they do it maybe for love, maybe for social networking (more goal-oriented). They may do it to learn, for the passion of learning, or because the learning will benefit them long-term in ways that would help their bottom line. And they may be doing it for higher needs (according to Maslow). Because they want to leave a legacy for others. This is such a tricky thing, because leaving a legacy sounds like it could be egotistical or altruistic.

In Islam, there is a saying by prophet Muhammad that when a person dies, their deeds are cut off except by 3 things that continue to “give” after their death

  1. A good child of theirs who continues to pray for them
  2. Ongoing charity they have made that continues to benefit others (e.g. providing clean water to a village that didn’t have it, or building a shelter or such that continues to be used)
  3. Knowledge that benefits others

The latter is my favorite. And also why I lose sleep over digital death (my blog’s hosting/domain won’t keep paying for itself…my digital books won’t be passed on).

So anyway. I’m recognizing that my personal “need” for open is not universal. I have a social need that’s fulfilled by open/online. I need to have people who think in certain ways to be part of my life to talk to them about certain things. I also have a need to learn from open/online that’s different from what I can (and do) learn offline. But it could have been another way, you know?

There’s a lot of ego and humility in blogging and openness in general. Of course when your work gets read and shared it helps boost the ego. It becomes more or less important depending on lots of things. Each post becomes less important if you post a heck of a lot (like me) but sometimes getting noticed by particular people matters. And it also involves a lot of humility because some of us share half-formed thoughts, seek help, share vulnerability, admit pain or failure or confusion. Or frustration. In ways sometimes doing it f2f doesn’t help.

And there’s also the question of benefiting others. Do we want our work to be reshared because it’s a good ego boost or because we hope we have helped someone else in some way along the way?

We often tell scholars that publishing open access can make their work easier to find and boost their citations. For me, what matters about choosing open access is making sure there is equity in reaching what I write. That scholars in developing countries or who aren’t affiliated can reach it. It’s also why I write in public spaces in less-academic language (which apparently sounds academic to non-academics but is more accessible to budding academics. Or something). It’s why Virtually Connecting matters also – it makes not only the  work of people accessible beyond a conference, but their way of talking about it, their informal persona, accessible.

What about you? Does “open” fulfill a need for you? A momentary or enduring one?

5 Comments

  1. Hi Maha I wouldn’t worry too much about your digital death. You are so alive that you will live on a fair old while even if people don’t know who to cite/blame/celebrate. I reckon what we write has a best read by date for the most part and some of it best never read before any date 🙂

    I tried reading an Irish ancestor’s educational treatises from the nineteenth century. I didn’t get far – Would be lots to say about colonialism and privilege…

    • Good point. But sometimes u write something and u don’t know it will resonate across contexts over time. One of my earliest ever articles (before i had a blog in 2013) written about a v Egyptian context is working really well for current world events….

  2. Love this Maha. You’ve made me feel alive again.

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