Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

April 24, 2018
by Maha Bali

Change of Address (US)

Reading Time: 1

I get lots of mail from folks all over the world (thank you!) and usually the most secure way used to be to send to my US address that belongs to my university. They then pass it on to me for free. But that address has changed and I don’t know how to inform people. So this is it.

For envelopes/letters:



Maha Bali / Facservices

1321 Upland Dr. #9009

Houston, TX 77043





Maha Bali/ Facservices

1133-35 Tiffany St.

Bronx, NY 10459


Receiving mail any other way is confusing and actually ends up costing me (I still don’t understand why I get to pay shipping if someone sends me to my Egypt address, but that’s what happens). Also, with this system, anything that’s not paper-based may get opened in Shipping and delayed. Just saying 🙂

April 21, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Confusion in British Museum Exhibit on Living, Dying and Illness

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s difficult to focus at a museum when I have my child with me, because I’m drawn to what interests her the most, and I’m also learning myself. So yesterday, after following one of the family trails in the British Museum with her, I decided to enter one of the ground floor exhibits, which was roughly about living and dying and treating illness.

I found quite a few things in the exhibit confusing. It’s possible if I was able to dig deeper or get a headset I’d understand all this better, but I also do think museums should have a level of support for average passers-by to understand a theme without having to work too hard…

First of all, I had a moment of wondering why this was called the British museum at all, since most of what’s in it is not about Britain at all 🙂 I understand the colonial history, so I guess the monuments upstairs from ancient Egypt, etc, are conquests from the British empire. But I didn’t really understand the exhibit about living and dying because it had some specific pieces from different countries in the world displaying some current-day practices in various parts of the world.

Ok so it kinda gets more confusing. I’m curious how they select which areas of the world to represent, how they choose which artifacts to represent and what stories to tell? For example, they have artifacts from a part of Egypt called Siwa (known as a place people sometimes go for healing) but they’re displaying things like the kinds of sandals they wear… Which, I don’t understand? The text around this area didn’t really clarify to me (though maybe it was somewhere else I couldn’t see).

There different display cases around how different cultures dealt with illness and death, down to particular countries like Somalia and particular places like Siwa in Egypt …. And then there was a small display case for Western Europe which was the weirdest thing.

To begin with, having just one display case for ALL of Western Europe is extremely weird. I mean, if you’re gonna go country by country elsewhere and down to particular small locations like Siwa, isn’t lumping all of (Western) Europe an odd thing to do? This case talked about how people in Europe prayed to saints and it had a lot of Christian figurines that.. Uhh… Felt like it did not represent either diversity within Christianity (Protestant vs Catholic vs Orthodox at the very least) or any geographic diversity – and like, no mention of atheism or Judaism either historically or in modern day. It made no sense to me at all.

And it also made me realize that there was an assumption across all the display cases that hid all the similarities in use of modern day (Western) medicine in most countries of the world. I mean, even in Western Europe, the people who are religious and pray to the saints… Surely most of them still go to hospitals and doctors and stuff. Unless they’re into alternative treatments, which I didn’t see any mention of. Similarly, in many parts of the world that I know of (of course I don’t know everything), people who live in or near cities use modern day medicine (for better or worse). Can you imagine representing America and how medicine is dealt with by only showcasing how native American traditional healing is done? It is worth a display case, to learn about ancient healing practices, especially if they’re practiced today still, but would you expect people to generalize this about modern-day America? No, right? But you realize that in parts of the world considered more exotic to Europeans… like Africa and Asia, an observer may make the assumption? And if tourists themselves are from countries in Africa and Asia, might they not want to dig a bit deeper into European practices?

I get that the focus of the exhibit, or at least the room I saw, wasn’t modern-day medicine, perhaps it was the unscientific and spiritual practices instead. I get that giving Europe a smaller space (dunno where Eastern Europe was, btw) is a good thing in terms of making room for more diverse cultures to be shown. But I’m baffled by this display still and by the kinds of stereotypes of modernity and barbarism it perpetuated.

Beside some large African colorful beautiful masks used in rituals to fend from ghosts (or some such), you see these dainty civilized figurines (like literally the size of my fingers) of saints and nuns and people praying. It was… Weird.

If I had more time I’d go again and I’m thinking that museums need “second looks” after we’ve had time to process what we see… And perhaps a guide next time when my kid is old enough to stay put and not get distracted.

April 17, 2018
by Maha Bali

Smiling Sometimes…

Reading Time: 6 minutes

My mom, as usual, is right. It’s one of those things you learn as you grow up. I was telling my mom how awful it was to resist smiling when the smiling exacerbated my pain. She told me that while smiling uses a lot of muscles, frowning uses even more muscles. And I, realized that while I was maintaining a neutral expression rather than frowning, the effort to not smile was itself both a physical and psychological strain.

I called a maxilofacial surgeon the night before leaving home (friend of a friend) who recommended I start a muscle relaxant and it has made ALL the difference. Now I can smile more, talk almost normally, and chew soft food (my jaw still makes clicking noises which warn me to slow down).

It still hurts a little bit to laugh hard or smile for a long time, but honestly, I just feel better overall that I don’t have to resist smiling. That in itself was really deeply affecting my wellbeing. Realizing that when I smile, I myself feel better, and that my smiles get mirrored in those in front of me, recreating a positive cycle.

So…. I can smile sometimes. I have to stop a bit and rest if I do it too hard for too long… But it feels good to smile. Even tiny ones. Sometimes full on big ones.

I’m overall better but tire more easily than usual. This tiredness is not foreign to me at all. I think I have had this problem for longer than I knew. But I would attribute it to doing too much childcare (e.g. Carrying my daughter too long), lack of fitness, or overexerting myself (e.g. By carrying stuff around). But now I know it’s not just that and I understand how not doing that can delay my exhaustion, but that the exhaustion isn’t always my own fault. I like being able to put my finger on what I’ve done wrong to get to pain I’m in, but now I know it’s not only or always within my control. My body is still mine, but it takes some orders from some traitors in my body that are fighting it, and I have to take a bunch of medications to put it back on track that makes my body behave in even weirder ways…

So just taking it every day at a time.

Some every day notes…

  1. I have used disabled bathrooms. I’ve done this before when I had my kid with me because anyway in UK/US some people label these “diabled/family/changing rooms). I always always found it excruciating to get into a small bathroom stall with my kid. She’s old enough to go on her own, but sometimes she’s uncomfortable and just needs me to stand inside rather than outside the door. With my more limited mobility this becomes torture. So if it’s a day she won’t go on her own, I’ll go into one of these with her. I love that a bathroom at Heathrow said “not all disabilities are visible”. I don’t officially count myself as disabled. I know I’m far from it, not in that stage of my illness, not yet. Another example next.
  2. My husband told me on the bus to use priority seating when there were no other places to sit beside my kid. But for example on the bus, I’ve never done that. I try to keep it free even if no one seems to need it. But I realized I cannot firmly grip anything to support me while standing – I can but not for a long time, and my hand hurt yday evening because I tried. So yeah. No standing on bus rides anymore (I did listen to my husband yday but I did stand up early when we had to get off and bus lurched to a stop, so it was still painful. Who knew?)
  3. In UK my credit cards require signature not PIN code (don’t ask) and it hurts to write so signing is a challenge and I have to explain this for people to understand why my signature looks weird
  4. Was trying on some clothes at M&S. The lady gave me the disabled changing room. I think because I had a kid with me, not for any other reason. It helped, the extra space. On the way out, I took what I had tried and gave back the hangers (and apologized for breaking one). The lady told me I should bring back the trousers in their hangers. Had to explain I had arthritis and opening trouser hangers is extremely painful for me. I could try clothes because I just had to pull them out. I cannot actually open those clips on trouser hangers at all.
  5. When I buy something to drink, it’s really hard to unscrew a cap or open a lid. I’ve usually had my husband nearby to help but don’t know what I’ll do when traveling alone. I’m concerned that people look at me and see a healthy young person and wouldn’t understand. I’m also concerned that people simultaneously see a headscarved darker skinned person and just don’t want to talk to me at all (in London this is not a problem, it’s so diverse I can find another person of color easily! Not sure about Coventry or Bristol).
  6. Scary scary moment: At the park yday, my husband left my kid and me to play in a small patch of sunshine and was gonna come back in a few minutes. While I told my kid to play nearby so I could see her and reach her if needed, I don’t move as fast as usual and can’t run after her while carrying her bag and stuff right now, so my definition of “nearby” is stricter. A young woman walked up to me and asked if she could ask me something. I can’t tell you what it was about her that gave me jitters but I didn’t want to be unkind. She was young and white and pretty but something was off. I told her “sure, but very quickly because I need to watch my kid” (realizing that what made me jittery was that she was standing in my line of vision and I was panicking because I couldn’t see my kid anymore) and the woman immediately backed off and said, “I’m sorry, didn’t realize you had a kid” and moved away. My eyes darted towards her as she moved along the park (for some comforting reason, my kid came to me immediately after the lady left and sat and drew next to me for a bit – kids have good instincts that way, whew). The lady didn’t hurt anyone but she was walking with her shoes not properly fit into her feet, and I’m not sure what that was about and I remember her teeth looking strange… But nothing particularly threatening. I don’t think she was threatening. But what if she had been and what if saying I had a kid would have given someone ammunition to hurt me more or to hurt my kid? What if someone tried to hurt or kidnap my kid and I couldn’t get there fast enough? Now I’m worried about this so much more than usual. I’m no longer even humanly invincible. I don’t know my limits, though I’m sure I’d push them beyond humanity to defend my child… But that limit has still gone down (temporarily I hope) and it’s scaring the crap out of me.

Gosh. I didn’t realize how worried I was about this until I woke up at 3 or 4am and wrote this post.

I got arthritis gloves that are supporting my fingers (still a bit painful and semi-finctional) and wrist (much better) and they have allowed me some comfort like to open some bottles and look through clothes racks and stuff. I don’t think I should use em when I eat, though, and have heard people sleep with them but that would suffocate me so I won’t do it.

I don’t know if I’m noticing this more than usual, but my hotel and the airport and Oxford street have an inordinate number of people who are either on wheelchairs or who have limited mobility. I don’t know if this is just me projecting or noticing, and I’d be ashamed if I hadn’t noticed before. I remember when I was pregnant it seemed everyone was pregnant. This one is really not exaggerated because I had 2 first cousins who were pregnant at same time and 2 second cousins. And that is really a lot (my family isn’t that huge). I also had 2 other women in my department (which has about 10 women, only 5 of them capable of having kids at this age/situation) pregnant and we all delivered the same month. That one is just a truly crazy coincidence. Incidentally, my health issues coincide with many other health issues in my department, so we have a weird contagion (metaphorically) thing going on.

Ok.. Gotta stop and get some rest.

April 14, 2018
by Maha Bali

Unhinged from Vanity – The Privilege to Smile

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My jaw is unhinged. Or something. It’s painful and shockingly so because I suddenly one sleepless night found yawning extremely painful, then it went away, but 2 days later, after the arthritis in my hands started improving after aggressive treatment (thank you God) I made the mistake of eating an apple and a granola bar, and later smiling a lot over some lovely news… And since yday afternoon my jaw hurts so much I can barely talk, I cannot chew at all, but most traumatic for me, actually, is I can’t smile. It hurts so much to smile. So damned much.

First off – yesterday was a wonderful day because it was the reveal of the second Uncommon Women coloring book and we had arranged a hangout with Kelsey Merkley to do the unveiling via vconnecting. When I learned Amanda Coolidge was in it, I invited her to join in. Catherine Cronin, too, but she couldn’t make it. We’re hanging out w Jess Mitchell today inshallah so I didn’t ask her into this one. (well not me anymore, can’t smile and can barely talk so as Nate Angell said “differently able” – which I think the two things you need to be a virtual buddy is to smile and talk.. And listen… My ears hurt too, because of the jaw, but so far my hearing is alright. Thank you God).

I had my first glimpse of the Uncommon Women Coloring book via Kamel Belhamel who sweetly tweeted it to me. I smiled so much. Couldn’t help it.

Even now my jaw hurts because of the reflex to smile, you know? Come hangout time, my jaw was aching. My kid was so cute she came to sit on my lap throughout the hangout and said she would smile for me 🙂

I’m taking more meds to help w the new jaw thing. The killer moment was when I tried to sleep on my back and it felt like my lower jaw was gonna fall off or something. Awful feeling. But it got better once I slept on my side. This is apparently less of an emergency than it seemed at first but for now needs a liquid diet (hello soups, smoothies and I’m guessing weight loss by how hungry I am) and relaxation techniques (uhhh, need to figure these out) and perhaps I’ll need a splint or something from a maxilofacial surgeon.

For now, ear plugs for flight and pain killers and hoping my fingers stay good and I can at least smile when I get to meet people I’m happy to see, you know?

I realized that my lack of smiling is affecting everyone around me. I look more miserable than I am. I’m not really miserable. I just can’t smile and talking hurts a lot so I don’t wanna talk a lot. I’m glad I’m not keynoting next week, but I do have a virtual keynote week after. Hopefully I’ll be better by then inshallah!

Soooo if I see you and I don’t smile, now you know why!

Anyway more happy pics below!

And the icing on the cake is this

Thanks again to everyone who nominated or voted for me (I think it was all nominations and just how many nominations I got… And I love that my affiliation is both vconnecting and AUC. This is what triggered an earlier post on Belonging and that I couldn’t ask Kelsey Merkley to use just one affiliation!)

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know how to downloaded photos off my Instagram app (yeah yeah I’ll Google it later) so for now…

As proud and excited as I am about this, ecstatic even, it feels egotistical and vain and I am almost glad to have these jaw troubles to ground me… If my smiling face is currently being colored, and I’m ecstatic, but I need to remember that smiling is a privilege not all people have all the time… And how central our smiles are to showing our inner beauty and connecting with others.

April 12, 2018
by Maha Bali

Shake Gently, Love. Or Mind the Handshake

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ok in my head the blogpost title follows the Speak Softly, Love song. Maybe mind the Handshake is cooler coz I’ll be in London? Dunno 🙂

I’m on my way to two events, a DMLL Visiting fellowship with at Coventry University and OER18 (one day of it) inshallah.

I’m worried about the toll of trip on my body for the first time in my life. I’m the one who went to Rome and back in one day to meet Jim Groom and give a workshop with him at an AMICAL conference. I am the one who, after arriving from long haul trips have jumped right into friends’ weddings within hours of landing.

This time is different. I am traveling for the first time as someone currently going through a flare up of rheumatoid arthritis (family with me on airplane, friends with me on some train rides). I was kind of diagnosed a week ago (undifferentiated arthritis that is probably early stage rheumatoid) but today my doctor confirmed, based on self-reported pain escalation despite meds, that I officially have rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that involves inflammation of the joints). I have most of the clinical symptoms but none of the lab tests, but that’s not unusual esp for early stage. Kudos to my mom and husband (doctors not specialized in this) for recognizing this for what it was as soon as I mentioned my main symptom (a weird pain I had for 3 months on both index fingers that feels like a twisted/sprained ankle without injury causing it… I had not mentioned it before because I did not know how to explain or describe and I just tolerated it..until pain became debilitating and I could no longer function fully).

My fingers and wrists are most affected. The following things hurt A LOT

  1. When my kid holds my hand. Doctor calls this the squeeze test. We have found new ways of holding hands that don’t hurt me as much… Because how can I not hold her hand?
  2. Firm handshakes. I noticed how gentle my rheumatologsit shook my hand. I usually prefer firm handshakes, but now I appreciate gentle ones. A firm one this week would make me grit my teeth at best.
  3. Writing on paper. Can no longer do my bank signature well coz my grip on pens hurts a lot. My bank tellers last week went nuts. Will buy special pen grips fpr arthritis when i find em inshallah. If u know where to find in UK, please lemme know
  4. Typing. I use google voice typing on my phone and typing on phone is not awful. Typing on iPad is comfy-ish. Typing on computer kills my wrists and fingers. Need to work that one out. Need large mouse and wrist rest I think.
  5. Clothes: I can,t do buttons or zippers or ribbons or turn my kid’s socks inside out.. She’s become more independent, and I took out all my clothes that I can wear without buttons or such, so wardrobe makeover 😉
  6. Shoes. Wearing only shoes I can slip on without using hands, though my mom got me this long-handled utensil to help. Still no shoelaces. I love shoelaces 🙁
  7. Eating. Can,t hold fine utensils so use my kid’s baby spoons and forks w fat handles, or eat w my hand bigger stuff like apples or sandwiches or soft to cut like fish. Jaw also hurts a bit, trouble swallowng, so less crunchy stuff. Soup. Mashed. Fish. Bananas. Drink my veggies even, why not? This will workout great in UK coz I eat pesce-vegetarian there anyway.
  8. Lotsa kitchen stuff. Taking breaks when I can. Turning keys. Unavoidable when alone.

I am thankful this is hopefully inshallah temporary. Meds are awful but I think they are helping already (ok, yday they were not, but new meds today seem to be…inshallah)

I am thankful hands are not essential to my job…my husband is a surgeon and this would be torture and an end of his job, maybe.

I’m glad this happened when my kid was old enough (six) and relatively independent. I carried her a lot up until now so she,ll be fine, I think,from now on inshallah. Im glad this happened after i had her, because if it had happened before, i would not be able to try getting pregnant with one of my meds, or I would get a likely flare up after birth.

So..yeah..thankful also for my family,s support, and my wonderful friends and doctor. But shake gently…or hug if we are close enough to do so (close friends, I mean, haha)

Strangley, I am most thankful for my new capacity to empathize with invisible minor disabilities from firsthand experience. I now know that people see my mom’s walking stick and think she is the patient, not me. I know they see me not holding my child’s hand and not understand. Or see my bad handwriting and incongruent signatures and not understand at all. So yeah, thankful for that, too, and thankful it is temporary and not (yet) disability but rather limitations of functionality. And working on lifestyle changes to help me stay as productive and comfortable as possible and do everything I used to do as a mom inshallah (well, that I still need to do. Not going back to helping her get dressed when she pretends she needs help. Emergencies only).

April 9, 2018
by Maha Bali

Open Web Stories – for DMLL @ Coventry

Reading Time: 11 minutes

So, I’ve been asked by Daniel Villar-Onrubia to write my story to contribute to the open web stories that they’re collecting. I am a hybrid visiting DMLL fellow at Coventry University, which includes an onsite day this month inshallah, among other awesome people like Mia Zamora, Alan Levine, Catherine Cronin and Tannis Morgan.

These are the instructions we were given:

1) WHAT DOES THE OPEN WEB MEAN TO YOU? [you might want to share your own definition of what you consider to be the Open Web, how you first fell in love with it, how you use it in your professional practice…], 2) WHY SHOULD WHY CARE ABOUT THE OPEN WEB IN/FOR EDUCATION?, 3) WHO ARE YOU? [a few lines about yourself, your work, interests…].

Here goes ( please note this post was written with Google voice typing so there may be punctuation issues and stylistic issues because this was spoken and not written text, and there may be some typos that I didn’t correct.)


First off, I want to say that to me open is something separate from the web and openness is itself an attitude and a worldview that exists outside of the web, before the web, but can also be enhanced via the web sometimes. (see my work owth Suzan Koseoglu #SELFOER)

So for me, the main thing about openness and the web is the ways in which it allows anyone who has access to internet and who has access to the language being used (so for the most part English) to access things normally they wouldn’t have access to but more importantly to contribute; so it’s great that we can find a lot of things online but it’s actually even greater that we can contribute to the body of knowledge that exists online. For years, the knowledge disseminated has been the knowledge of the dominant. With the open web, there are opportunities for more marginal voices to exist side-by-side. This does not mean it’s an equal opportunity; this does not mean that dominant knowledge still doesn’t have any hegemony online; but there are opportunities, and there are spaces where non-dominant knowledge can spread slightly better than it does offline, but not for all, and not equally so.

But more important than all of this exchange of content back and forth, to me the more important thing is the social processes of the internet that allows us when were lucky, to interact with people in different places, outside the hierarchy of the official rules and institutions. To be able to interact with others, to be able to have deep and meaningful conversations with people different from themselves across time and space.

I first fell in love with the web or the open aspect of the web when I was trying to finish my PhD during a time where Egypt had a lot of political conflict and I was unable to leave the house because I had a young child and the library at my institution was closed. I needed some resources, and even though I had access to some online resources, I actually needed some paper based resources that did not exist for free online, and at the time, what I fell in love with was green open access stuff that was placed on repositories, and honestly pirated stuff, that was placed online so that I had some access to some articles and book chapters that I wouldn’t normally be able to access from home. And it was that transformative moment for me where I decided that if I publish things, I would like as much as possible for the things that I publish to be openly accessible to other people.

So my first foray into open was really the open access movement.

My second foray into the open web was again while I was doing my PhD I was doing my PhD remotely at Sheffield in the UK, and so I used to meet my supervisor once a year in Sheffield, but also communicate with him by email and eventually we started Skyping, but it wasn’t very common that we did that. One of the things that I realised, is because I was remote and at an American institution here in Egypt, I didn’t have almost anyone who had a PhD in education around me, or who was doing one. I had no peer community, and I moved to Twitter, where I found hashtags like #socPhD and #PhDchat and started finding people there who would share some of my common concerns and questions, and we started helping each other out. That community didn’t become my permanent network, obviously, because then I finished my PhD and then I was focused on people who are in my field, specifically, but for that time of my life, I benefited a lot from that interaction.

Two other really important things that happened to me were 2 MOOCs that I participated in.

One of them was offered by University of Edinburgh, and it was called #edcmooc, eLearning and Digital Cultures (2nd run) and it was beautiful. I learnt about it because I was I was peer reviewing a paper in a journal special issue where I was publishing an article also about MOOCs and I learn about the format of it that it was somewhere between an xMOOX and cMOOC. It was something else completely. I loved that it allowed me to interact with others. It had a Twitter component and I got to interact with a lot of people from all over the world, and I still got to learn a lot from the facilitators and participate also in the discussion forum. What was interesting for me at the time was that it wasn’t… I wasn’t this anonymous person in a MOOC: people actually got to know each other and I got to make some friends from then who remain my friends today, and I was inspired by that MOOC in different ways.

The second MOOC that really really launched my my passion for openness was #rhiZo14, which was led by Dave Cormier. This was a few months after #edcmooc and I joined #rhiZo14 just as I started blogging, and so blogging was my start to contributing content of the open web. I had previously contributed articles to already existing online magazines, and I loved that and it gave me a lot of exposure, and it allowed me to makes a lot of my thoughts available to others, but having my own blog give me a different kind of freedom: to write whatever I wanted whenever I wanted not to have to worry about editor deadlines not having to worry about whether it met their editorial standards in terms of is this topic relevant to them or not so and then blogging with #rhizo14 was my opportunity then I participated on Facebook, on Twitter, via blogging, reading other people’s blogs. I wasn’t just me blogging for myself, but it was more of a community of people blogging together, and responding to each other, and linking to each other’s blogs, building off each other’s ideas, in a way that I think is one of the most beautiful things about the open web (regardless of all the kinds of concerns that I still have and people have always had about who has access to these and the ways in which the algorithms of Facebook control what we see and what we don’t see and who gets amplified and who gets almost hidden or silence will become invisible and it made me more aware of you know people are in different spaces and depending on which spaces are at they see different things and they see the web differently they see a course like rise of 14 differently).

I guess my final love affair with the open web has to be when I co-founded Virtually Connecting. So virtually connecting is an organisation that is a volunteer movement that enhances the virtual experience at a conference for people who can’t be there for whatever reason, and to me, it’s one of the ways that marginal voices become part of these academic conferences that are usually full of the Social and cultural capital of networking. In the past, I have had to attend a lot of conferences virtually, because I have a young child, and I couldn’t travel a lot. Wjen I attended virtually, I used to enjoy them and interact a lot, but I was still quite peripheral and I kind of felt like there was more that I wanted from this conference is then just a live stream and the Twitter. Thanks to Rebecca Hogue who co-founded Virtually Connecting, what we do is that we have conversations with people on site using using Google Hangouts and Rebecca and I realised that it wasn’t just myself and her who wanted to do this, but there were a lot of other people who wanted to do this, and so we’ve been growing this community for quite some time – for 3 years now! The important thing is that not only are these Hangouts not possible without the open web, but it’s because of the open web that I am able to access high profile people at these events and that they know me so that they respond when I invite them to join these hang outs, and then othe people meet them, they get to see the real (or at least a casual version) them not the staged version of them and this really makes a difference for people who are early in their careers or students, who are themselves never/rarely able to go to conferences and things like that. So it’s not just about the actual Hangouts that get recorded and live streamed and made available to other people, but they’re also the connections that happened behind the scenes between the team working together and then the guests we have. We have a beautiful team of volunteers. Spiritually connecting both empowers us, and gives us opportunities to empower and include others.

I sort of wanted to stop there, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I also want to talk about how I’ve used open educational resources (OERs) and the open web for my own teaching. For example, I have used an OERu course for part of my teaching, instead of having to develop the stuff myself. I’m planning to use some of the modules on UMW domains (that were created, I believe, by Lee Skallerup Besette and I assume other colleagues at UMW DTLT) and relevant to my course. I’ve also benefited a lot from interacting with people online on Twitter and involving my students in ways that students from all over the world or experts from all over the world can give them feedback on the work they’re doing and things like that. so there is also that dimension of it in my own my teaching.


We have different reasons for caring about open. For me, we should care about the open web because it has a lot of potential to break down barriers of time and space. But we need to be also very cautious about the hyperbolic claims that are being done about it. For example, I’m doing this blog post via Google voice typing. Google voice typing is free whereas dragon dictation is not. And we know from the work of people like Audrey Watters and Chris Gilliard and others and all the kinds of news we’ve been hearing all the time – anything that is a web service that is offered for free means that if you’re not paying with money then you’re paying with your own data. And I am assuming, for example, that Google Voice typing is free because it’s harvesting my data to improve its algorithm. If it’s improving its algorithm with my data but not doing anything else with my data, and I can guarantee that, then I would be ok with this, but do I know that Google is just using this data to improve its AI and to improve its ability to understand non native speakers accents in English? or might Google be listening into what I’m saying and using that for something else? Of course this post is going to be public anyway, but what about my text messages (oh wait, Facebook owns WhatsApp… There goes everything)… but are there any other guarantees about my privacy that someone won’t take this voice and cut it up and make something new out of it? Or worse. The possibilities are endless. On the open web, we implicitly consent to more than I think we mean to.

But really, for me, in the open web has allowed me, someone who would normally be a marginal scholar, or take years of publications to build a name… (because I’m all the way here in Egypt) not to have a space if there was not an open web. I would not been known or build relationships because of my tweets or my blogging. I would not have an opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world in the way that I’ve been doing. I might have those opportunities without the web, but they would be much less I would be much less up to date with what’s going on – because how many journal articles are books can you read in a week vs how many virtually connecting sessions can you do and how many tweets can you read and how many hashtags can you look at? It is so much easier to keep track of what everyone is doing via blog posts then dig deeper into more academic and less accessible stuff after you get the broader conrext… so scholarship as a whole becomes easier and more accessible not in the technical sense of open access, but in the social and cultural capital sense.

For me, open access is important because openness in academia should be inherent to most of us, open is an attitude and the web sort of allows us to do this better across time and space. I think most of us are in teaching and education because we care about spreading knowledge and nobody really wants to keep things to themselves and most people would like to benefit from and give benefit to other people by sharing that knowledge and interacting with them.

The key thing is to recognise the social justice roots of open educational. Lots of the time (and not just the instrumental benefit even though the instrumental is important because it will bring in some people who don’t care about social justice and that matters too) but I think the social justice imperative is important to keep in mind that we keep checking our selves – what is it that we might be doing that doesn’t allow us to reach that ideal who of has access to the open web in the sense that when we publish something on the open web, what kind of privileges do we have that give us the power to have a space there – things like the English language, having the capacity for a good bandwidth on in the internet to do something like virtually connecting, having TIME to spare and being financially comfortable, being naturally willing to expose yourself and make yourself vulnerable – you have to have a lot of privileged to be willing to make yourself vulnerable. Because some people are already vulnerable and marginal and they cannot take certain risks online. So the open web is not a panacea. We need to realise that and maybe we need to work towards making the open web a safer place for different kinds of people with different needs and different levels of risk. If you are interested in this, join our hybrid #BreakOpen workshop at #oer18 or #oeglobal18


It’s very difficult to answer the question “who are you” because you know there are so many elements of identity. So I am a mom of a young child and this changed who I am and I change all the time as she grows older, and it’s central to why open matters to me. I am an Egyptian. I am a Muslim. Yet I am a cultural hybrid born and raised in Kuwait and willingly colonized by my British and American education.

I’m an educator. I’m a blogger. I’m a Tweeter. I am the co-founder of Virtually Connecting, and my full time job is in faculty Development so I work at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American university in Cairo, and have done so for the past 14 years 15 years now, and I also love teaching, even though it’s not my main job.

I consider myself an open educator, a critical pedagogue, a digital pedagogue, i.e. someone uses educational technology from the critical pedagogy perspective, which might sometimes mean not using technology at all. And I think for all of this I consider myself a learner. You know the expression of lifelong learning, BUT I like to say I’m a learnaholic, I never want to stop learning, I need to learn to survive. And I also love writing, so I guess I’m a writeholic too.

And I would have to say that maybe one of the characteristics of my personality is that I love people. I just have this fountain of love for meeting new people, for deepening my relationships with people, and I guess the open web sort of gives me that opportunity beyond my day to day work, and part of the reason it’s important to me is because again I’m a mother of a young child and I don’t have opportunities to go out and meet my offline friends after she goes to sleep at night. So even though I still have relationships with my face to face friends and I still see them every now and then I can spend more flexible time and space with friends that I make online and this really makes a difference to me socially and emotionally. As an insomniac, it also means I can find a friend to talk to any time of day or night. And this is essential to me.

April 8, 2018
by Maha Bali

Four Invitations: @vconnecting, #BreakOpen at #OER18/#OEGlobal18, DMLL @hypothes_is, #UniCollaboration

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So I just published a blog post about not getting any gifts for people onsite at OER18 , those I’m going to see physically inshallah, but I actually have lots of virtual gifts 🙂 happening this week and next week and the week after actually. This whole month, I guess 🙂

All are opportunities to participate in virtual or hybrid activities for people who are interested in open education and intercultural learning.

Intercultural Learning

First off, starting this week, we are annotating an article that I wrote critiquing web-based cross cultural learning intercultural as my last online session as a DMLL visiting fellow At Coventry University (I’m hopefully onsite on April 17th) and anybody can participate and there’s also going to be a Zoom session April 11th open for anyone to join. Details of all of this are at the bottom of this page:

Virtually Connecting

Virtually Connecting turns THREE this April!!! And we’re celebrating in style with FIVE (yes, 5!) conferences in 5 countries. Wow. I think that’s a record!!! Schedules for CC Global Summit (April 13-15, Canada), OER18 (April 18-19, UK) and OLC Innovate (April 17-20, US) are up, with upcoming schedules for OEGlobal (April 23-26, Netherlands) and Unicollaboration (April 25-27 in Poland) coming soon inshallah, where I’m also virtually keynoting (see below).

#BreakOpen Hybrid Workshops

The next invitation is to join one of our #BreakOpen hybrid workshops (details and signup form here) – these are scheduled for April 18th at #OER18 and April 25th at #OEGlobal, and we will be asking participants to think about all the ways in which open education can go wrong despite good intentions.

#UniCollaboration Keynote

My UniCollaboration keynote is scheduled for April 26th at 4pm Poland/Egypt time (+2 UTC) and I’m hoping to livestream it and have a VConnecting session immediately afterwards on the same hangout. inshallah. Details closer to the event.

Join In!

For each of these activities, details on how to join are linked above, but you can also contact me here on my blog or on Twitter to ask for more info. Everybody’s welcome as long as you have an internet connection that works for the tools used (Hangouts for vconnecting, Zoom for #BreakOpen and is very low barrier to entry if you’re new to it), you should be able to join these, inshallah.

April 8, 2018
by Maha Bali

No Gifts for #OER18

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m trying something new, which is voice typing on Google Docs and I’m recording it at the same time so that I can use the audio file as well [note that in the end I’m not sharing the audio file because I had to stop and start the Google docs a lot and the audio file needs more editing than I have bandwidth for… ha, get it, bandwidth!]

This blogpost is about gifts and it’s called “No Gifts for OER18 (haha, Google heard that “for over 18”). I was a keynote speaker at OER17 and I talked about gifts, and about how we need to be thoughtful about the gifts we give to others; I told a story of the old lady who was offended by the apple as a gift because she had no teeth to eat it with. Despite this caution from my keynote, in my own personal life, gift-giving is very fundamental to my ways of expressing love, and I remember reading this book, “Five Love Languages” and realizing that gift giving is one of love languages, and realizing It’s not the same for all people. So for me giving a gift is a joy in itself, regardless of reciprocity, and when someone gives me a gift, I appreciate the thought that goes behind it and not just the actual gift itself; monetary value is not as big of a deal, really not at all a deal to me. Some of the most sentimentally valuable gifts I’ve received are really not worth much in money terms.

I’m just going to say here that this Google Voice typing thing is very weird – it might to my internet connection, but I have to stop and start at every two lines or so, so that doesn’t make for good audio… so not sharing an audio file this time around.

Anyway, so this year, going to OER18 in Bristol, and there’s another thing I’m going to in Coventry, and I’m commuting to both from London… I won’t be able to carry many gifts with me as I usually do, because I’ve chronic back problems, so I can’t carry a lot of things anyway, but I also have some new health issues that are going to make it even more difficult, so I’m gonna just have to not carry as many gifts. Because this is so unnatural for me,  I’m trying to think of creative very lightweight very small paper based gifts but I don’t know if I’m going to have time to go out and find them buy them.

And it just doesn’t make me feel great; it’s not like people should expect this from me, but it’s what I expect of myself, and it’s the way I usually operate, and so I feel little bit uncomfortable doing it differently this time around. But it is what it is.

Still excited about meeting lots of folks for the first time, and meeting some new folks as well! I’ll write a separate post about upcoming hybrid workshops and things like that!

April 4, 2018
by Maha Bali

On Belonging

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I was in two very different situations I wanna blog about… But they both made me question my place in the (professional) world in different ways.

First, someone asked if my affiliation should be written as “Virtually Connecting” or as “American University in Cairo”. Well, both, if possible. The first is something I co-founded and my main contribution to open, right? The second is my institutional affiliation. One day, vconnecting may not exist but also, one day, I may be working for another institution. But my institution clarifies my geographic location, which matters in most contexts. But vconnecting clarifies how I’ve challenged the marginality of my geographic location in ways to benefit others and not just myself. I’m really uncomfortable with having to be one to the exclusion of the other. I’ve noticed some people automatically give me both affiliations without asking. I’ve also noticed some people in the open community start w my vconnecting and I LOVE THAT so much. As long as we do not stop there. All my other professional roles I can mention or ignore, but in the context of open education, I need to keep both of these. I could ignore my vconnecting in certain contextd where people wouldn’t understand what the heck it is… But not where people might. In an open edu context, should I clarify the diversity I bring as an Egyptian, or the value I bring via vconnecting. Tough call. I’m hoping they end up mentioning both.

The second incident is very different. I was giving a workshop at another institution. A private university. I had previously seen conferences in Egypt where invited speakers were whisked away to eat in a VIP lounge. Away from participants. I didn’t like it, but understand it’s because of crowdedness and such. But it wasn’t comfortable. Today, it wasn’t that. But it was that participants had mini sandwiches to choose from and mini desserts, whereas I got a box just for me with a sizaeable salad and two big sandwiches and a big dessert. I felt extremely uncomfortable and expressed this. I shared parts of my salad, going to every person to ask them to take some. I split both my sandwiches in two and put the halves in the same place as the mini sandwiches. I ended up eating my entire dessert coz no one else wanted to split… But anyway. Something originally intended as an honor became a source of discomfort and elitism for no reason. I mean, elitism is problematic in any form, but in a situation where other participants are also university lecturers and TAs, so really, my equals in all ways that count, I really did not want this unnecessary layer of preferential treatment. The organizer ended up apologizing… Which I mean, I didn’t want to make her feel bad… The intention was good, to honor me, but the outcome was a kind of… Setting me apart from others. Sigh.

First world problems 🙂

March 19, 2018
by Maha Bali

Some Critical Love for a Children’s Book for Muslims

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s always really tricky for me to choose books for my child. On the one hand, she reads English better than Arabic (also, even though she is technically a good reader of Arabic, she isn’t fluent in Modern Standard Arabic which we write and is different from the Arabic we speak) buuuut culturally, there are occasional issues I face with English books. Take, for example, an Encyclopedia type book that was mine as a kid.. That for some veeeeery odd reason has a picture of God looking like an old man presiding over earth. First off, whatever happened to separation of church and state? And separation of church and science? This is precisely why science related books should not involve any mention of religion, because the SECOND huge problem is that in (Sunni) Islam we do not represent God or prophets in pictorial form. Never. And this is a huge issue because I’ve been spending so much time explaining to her that God is not a person like us. And then THAT happened. Yesterday we were reading a book telling the story of Mary and Jesus (Quranic story, which I assume is similar to Biblical but with slight differences) and she was frustrated by lack of imagery… I get it, she’s a kid.

But back to the book I that inspired this post.

I had bought copies of this book as gifts to people and kept copies in my stack of emergency gifts for friends and family raising their kids abroad. But when Hoda was born, I kept a copy for her and I found it the other day and decided to read it.

Things I loved about it

  1. The dad is cooking iftar during Ramadan (this is a big deal to make the man cook in our culture, though I suspect the book is meant for Muslims in the West. I have one male cousin who cooks, my dad learned to cook kinda later in life… But not too many examples of this)
  2. The mom is working and comes late from work
  3. The explicit emphasis of the book is the kindness the girls learn about – of giving gifts in Eid to others who have recently been through difficulties. This was cool and gave me parenting ideas. And different from generic charity work for nameless people. Possibly promotes more empathy.

Things I didn’t like about the book

  1. The girls wear headscarves at home. No one does that
  2. The girls of unknown age wear headscarves. I wish they let at least one of them be young enough to be too young to wear a headscarf and show that girls in one family can do either
  3. The girls don’t seem to interact with many non-Muslims though it really seems as if they’re in a Western country

The book’s back page shows other books and a Quran challenge game so we went and got some Kindle books for later, and I’ll see how we feel about those.

I gotta go so I’ll publish this for now.


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