Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

May 24, 2017
by Maha Bali

Four Stories to Remember from This Semester’s Class

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This hasn’t been my best teaching semester by ANY stretch of the imagination,  for various reasons including just too much going on.

But there are 4 things that were really special this semester and I want to record them for later 🙂

  1. One of our students got so engrossed in writing for reflection, that he blogged more often than he was required because he says it helped him learn better. For an 18 year old to discover this about himself is really cool! I don’t think I had that insight at that age
  2. One group in my class developed a game raising awareness of mental illness in which players impersonated a person with mental illnesses and acted out what they would do in situations the game would throw at them, gaining empathy in the role play process. I was in love with the idea of this game and it was very well-executed (which doesn’t always happen). But what really struck a chord with me was discovering, in the final reflective blogs, that one member of the team designing this game herself has mental illnesses and has family members with mental illness. This also reminded me of what I wrote of earlier regarding participatory design vs empathetic design. When someone who lives the “thing” is the one building/designing or raising awareness for it, it can be that much better able to address their needs.
  3. This was the second semester I invite students to my office to discuss their game design ideas pre-prototype. One group didn’t just discuss their ideas, but just sat and chatted in general about their attitude towards their studies in high school and at AUC. I think they forgot I was there or something, so it was a really cool window into their way of thinking and how they prioritize their work
  4. The same group in #3 designed a game that took up lots of floor space when we playtested it in the library. While I believe it wasn’t necessary to design the game like that, I concede that it helped market their game and added an extra fun element to it. I think it was the most playtested game ever since I started teaching this course!

That’s all for now!

May 21, 2017
by Maha Bali

The Problem with Consensus

Reading Time: 1 minutes

So…on the one hand, life would be great if folks could have consensus on all decisions so that everyone was happy. 

The problems I see with always seeking consensus is that you risk one of the following:

  1. Surrounding yourself with particular people who think like you so that you keep getting consensus 
  2. Encouraging groupthink so that even folks who are diverse converge towards the same decision 
  3. People feeling pressured to concede when they don’t really agree 100%

Now this is an oversimplification. And I realize that consensus is necessary in certain situations with small groups where really important decisions will affect everyone. Like families. I realize that consensus may come after negotiations and compromises all around.

However, most of my experiences with consensus involve power and coercion and compliance and silence and silencing and frustration.

So rather than taking pride in consensus, when we see it, I think we should ask ourselves 

  1. Whose opinion are we seeking when we mention consensus? Whose voices might be missing and what are their thoughts? Why were those voices not considered in the first place? How can we involve them earlier?
  2. Whose views have more influence and power? Is it possible others have been coerced, been complying, been compromising? How can we avoid that in future? If compromise occurred, who has compromised more and who less?

Thoughts? Not seeking consensus here…

May 19, 2017
by Maha Bali

Open Like a Flower

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If the rose at noon has lost the beauty it had at dawn, the beauty it had then was real. Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. We can none of us step into the same river twice, but the river flows on and the other river we step into is cool and refreshing too.” (W. Somerset Maugham, apparently

Let it be known that I love flowers. And I have always loved that quote. I didn’t know the second part re change/essence and rivers, but  copied them now…

Today someone expressed surprise that I loved flowers because he thought I was practical and flowers are not practical. 


I don’t think I am practical, even professionally speaking. I pretty much do most things for love, from a place of love.

Then I remembered that quote which I used to have on my “telnet” (old command-based email system) “wall” (I don’t remember what it was called; it was like your pinned tweet or something but for command-line email) for some time as an undergrad. Probably as I was getting over a failed relationship. Or something. 

But now it made me think of openness as a flower. 

Openness is like a flower in its vulnerability and fragility. Imagine how a flower feels when it’s in a field with other flowers, and then how it feels when you take it away from its roots and its kin. It’s why those of us who are open seek community. It feels so much more fragile to be open when you’re not surrounded by it. And flowers are closed before they are open. Some, I think, close and open throughout the day.

Open can be like a flower in its fleeting beauty. Think about all kinds of open things that rush by and are beautiful in the moment but lose their sparkle later. Yet they were totally worth having. Sure, Vconnecting conversations are recorded but their beauty is in the moment. And the unrecorded beauty of human interactions before and after it (off the air) is beautiful as well. Yes, we can refer to tweets after they happen, but if no one ever refers to them again, they had value in the moment when they happened. I’m ok with streams that way, Mike Caulfield 🙂 Though it helps to know we can go back to  gardens we have cultivated.


The other day I was sitting and standing outside the American embassy and these white things floated around me. The flower whose seeds are white and fluffy like cotton almost and cause allergy? And I kept wondering why do they plant it here? Then someone yday told me those are dandelions and I realized they are weeds and rhizomes. No one planted them, just someone neglected to remove them so they grew.

Ever since #rhizo14, I have an empathy for rhizomes. They’re only fighting for their right to exist. Perhaps they’re a nuisance to others, but whose right is it to choose which plant gets to flourish? If you leave an empty patch of fertile soil and a rhizome grows there, who’s to blame? The rhizome found an opportunity and took it.

It’s maybe a stretch of an analogy, but for me, there is a huge hole in my professional growth if I only focus my efforts locally. There are these wide open spaces where I can grow with others, day in and day out, and I’m gonna take them dammit because it’s important for my wellbeing.

Sheila MacNeill wrote recently something that echoes my own thoughts and feelings:

my external connections and sharing actually only enhance my ability to do my job.  At times my external  connections and the support I derive from them is what actually keeps me going.

She also wrote:

It’s a fundamental part of my professional identity.  How can I authentically support anyone in the use of digital technology if I don’t interact with it. How can give meaningful advice and support around developing digital capabilities if I don’t actively engage and reflect on my own interactions?


And this also really important point:

“I have a greater connection with my external community that I do with my internal, institutional one

Which is important to mention in the context of this quote from Donna Lanclos (gonna read the full post, it seems like she was in a space of Sherri Turkle fans or something):

When people are connected to one group, does it come at the expense of connection to another?   Is connection a zero-sum game?


Simon Ensor wrote a response to Suzan Koseoglu’s post on openness and boundaries. I am unsure what he meant by the following (but I will share my thoughts):

Freedom always includes bonds.

Freedom from language, from social bonds, from love, is chaos.

It made me think about why I cannot scale back my open online presence (something my boss recently suggested as mentoring advice). I cannot because I have built bonds. I don’t think of the bonds as restrictions of my freedom but rather as relationships. Nothing binds us like having children, it does restrict our freedom but we do it willingly (by having kids in the first place, there is an Egyptian saying by women to “bind their man with children”) and we carry that responsibility until they’re grown and independent. 

It’s not a good analogy for open. But my point is that my online presence is so deep I am bound to so many groups and people. Of all the dimensions of my identity (using James Paul Gee’s different dimensions) my “affinity” one is really strong online. My Twitter profile is partly my institutional affiliation and personal characteristics, but mostly focused on my affinities: Virtually Connecting (itself a gateway to more connections), Hybrid Ped/DigPedLab (also a gateway to the #digped community) and also DML and Prof Hacker. They aren’t spaces I just belong to, but spaces that are communities I am active in.

Boundaries of Openness

Suzan wrote an awesome post about the boundaries of open. She asks “What are some boundaries of openness for me?” and she cites Parker J Palmer and his six paradoxical tensions of good pedagogical design (these are brilliant – go read them there and come back).

The first of these is that a space needs to be both bounded and open. 

My boundaries are quite a bit broader than most people I know, but I still have boundaries. Like Suzan, my digital presence is largely professional, but, for example, my parenting also comes out, but it’s a trick, because as an educator much of how I reflect on parenting is relevant to my profession (thanks to an article I read when I was finishing my PhD not to be ashamed of this and instead to harness being a parent for my reflections on education). 

Boundaries. Not just in open and digital but boundaries with our colleagues and students. Boundaries and bonds.

I wonder… If at the edge of every boundary is a bond. And who has the right to set limits to our boundaries and bonds?

Some of my boundaries involve avoiding alcohol or people using alcohol, both in person and online. It’s a big deal to me and it limits how much and what kind of social relationship I can have with some of my Western (and earlier in life also Egyptian) friends. And yet those who share bonds with me find ways to make this work because our bonds are more important than our boundaries. They may involve restrictions of our freedom that we choose in order to strengthen our bonds. 

Sorry for this rambling post, written over a night and a day.

I don’t even know where I am going with this post!

May 17, 2017
by Maha Bali

A Day of Living Online

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s been an unorthodox day by anyone’s standards. Even people who work fully online, I suspect. It was a weird weaving of my embodied and virtual self, and each encounter was different. In my centrality vs marginality, in how tense or relaxed I felt during…

Here’s what the plan was for the day (the work part of it, with the non-work part in brackets; note that AMICAL is a consortium of liberal arts universities outside the US and there is a conference in Greece right now that I couldn’t go to):

8-9:30: AMICAL coordinating committee meeting virtual participation. (8-8:45 taking kid to school and getting back home – could not connect to AMICAL Connect on my phone despite downloading the app – had audio probs, gave up, came back to catch end of the meeting; didn’t really understand what was going on but checked Google doc and chatted briefly with director near the end)

10-11:30: AMICAL Professional Development committee meeting virtual participation. Chair, myself and another member were virtual; 2 folks onsite. We talked and worked on Google doc. Occasionally, the virtual folks and onsite folks seemed to be having different conversations. I had to multitask a little bit because I had other stuff coming up soon (you’ll see in a second) but we had a good meeting overall, I think, and made progress on several fronts.

11:30-12:30 try to grab some lunch, fix something on my computer and get some grading done (not done!)

12:30-2pm AMICAL Digital Pedagogy Committee meeting virtual participation. I’m the chair, the chair of the previous meeting was also virtual with me and we had the 5 other members onsite. I’d put some notes in a Google doc and started the meeting from my computer, then had to go pick up my kid from school and was on the phone with the meeting as long as I could, then had to leave and come back once I picked my kid up.

2-3pm LXConf session by Jolanda Morkel. Had my kid on my lap and having her lunch while I attended that meeting and she insisted on watching Peppa Pig so I let her watch some on my phone so I could interact a little with the conference

3-5pm Went w my kid to my mom so I could see her today, but also simultaneously participated in the annotation of my own article that was taking place somewhere in the US (Bryn Mawr I think?) at a conference. The folks running the workshop took my permission and invited me to participate in their private annotation of my article as part of the workshop. This was really fun and gratifying for me.

5-7pm family stuff and moving around, doing errands and trying to get home before 7pm

7-8pm waiting on call on Twitter in case they wanted me to join a hangout to talk briefly about #OpenLearning17. In the end, they just wanted me to write something on Twitter. I’m a bit annoyed that I booked myself for this inconvenient time only to write a couple tweets, but also understand that onsite people don’t always know when they’ll have time to integrate someone who isn’t there, and they did tell me Twitter alone would be fine, so…

8-9pm getting kid in bed

coming up – 10:30 meeting with some Egyptian friends who don’t live in Egypt and we’re working together on an online course thing that’s been running for a while.

In between all these things, I’ve been answering student emails coz it’s end of semester and they’re (as usual) confused about the last few assignments due.

I’ve been also organizing/planning several Virtually Connecting events, something like 4 events… published a blogpost for one (Thanks Wendy for doing the visual for it!), answered a few emails about another, lots of Slack about another, and signed up a few virtual participants for a couple of them.

I don’t know why I’m blogging this. I felt the need to reflect, but this isn’t a very reflective post, really. Just figuring it’s been a really online day… and each of the encounters had a completely different effect on me – the most engaged and focused I was, was in the 10-11:30 session probably because my kid was in school and I wasn’t at any stage of moving away from my computer… and maybe because there was a heavy load of online people vs onsite people. I was most relaxed during the annotations because I could be spending time w my mom and daughter who both knew I was multitasking (but multitasking textually is less intrusive on family life).

Ha. Yesterday a new thing happened when my kid joined a vconnecting hangout. Not only does she now like really know a lot of my online friends (she’d met Autumm and Amy in person and was in love with both, but she also knew Alan at least quite as well though she had never met him). The thing is that now she can read a bit, she can read her name when I type it and she got into this cute new phase where she realizes we are muted and she wants people to type to her in the chat even if she can’t talk back to them. And she typed back once, even! And even funnier, actually, one time we were NOT muted and I was introducing myself, and I asked her to introduce herself and you know what she did? She mouthed without making a sound as if she was muted? It was hilarious and not at all expected 🙂

Anyway… signing off to get to another meeting. This was a dear diary 🙂 I should be doing a million other things now anyway!

May 16, 2017
by Maha Bali

On Understanding the Person: Reflections from #lxconf

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday I stayed up til 1am to attend the first #LXCONF session given by Indi Young, which focused on Designing with Empathy. I enjoyed the session. I had read a couple of articles by Indi beforehand, and my co-teachers teach human-centered design/design think, so some of the ideas were familiar already. But her message was still quite powerful and here are some of my key takeaways from the session. 

Engineers need to work with social scientists

This should not be a surprise, but a lot of what she described doing to understand people is just basically interpretive social science. Social Science that comes from a paradigm that another human being is not truly knowable without actually asking them to interpret their own life. And the problem with a lot of business people and engineers is that they try to understand human beings from the outside, looking at demographic categories and external behaviors, none of which actually probes a person’s intent or purpose. 

Using the term person vs user/student/client/etc makes all the difference 

I didn’t realize how much a change of term made until she did it. She suggested we don’t call a person a user at the very early stages of imagining the “problem space” or we box ourselves into seeing others in very limited ways. This idea triggered a lot of thoughts for me about how much of a difference it makes when I understand my students as people outside of their role as my students. How as a faculty developer, understanding other faculty as individuals as whole persons is important before I start giving them advice or tips. If I understand what their goals are, only then can I support them in achieving their goals. It sounds obvious. But we don’t always do it!

Speaking of which, I think the badge I designed for #lxconf exemplifies this whole person thing, at least in how I myself chose to share several dimensions of my person (not just my professional person) with others. I decided to include a silhouette of a woman carrying a child to hint at my motherhood. I included affiliations other than my institution’s. I included flowers. Because I love flowers, and it was my badge to design dammit. No one ever asked me to design my own badge before and I will take that freedom when I get it!

She shared this article she wrote about describing personas (haven’t read it yet but I know she goes beyond the numbers. I am concerned that she uses “thinking styles” simply because any categorization is limiting BUT she seemed to approach it critically not dogmatically and I want to give this idea a chance and see where it takes me)

On different dimensions of empathy

She mentioned importance of listening and affective vs cognitive empathy. It reminded me of an blogpost I wrote a while ago unpacking dimensions of empathy – before I even knew others did the same. 

Other resources I plan to follow up on from yesterday (from Indi and other participants in the session and on Twitter) 

  • 90 year old designing tech for aging boomers
  • Spurious correlations – a great ice-breaker to use, I think, to highlight how problematic correlations in human research can be
  • I had blogged about participatory design vs empathetic design. There’s an interesting forum discussion on this topic inside #lxconf, but since I also blogged it, Andrei Dacko from Twitter shared an article on involving students in redesigning desk/chair and this inspiring video (watch it).

That’s it for now. There’s still time to register for the #LXCONF at 

May 15, 2017
by Maha Bali

Ice Breaker Activity for a Digital Literacies Course

Reading Time: 1 minutes

A thought occurred to me.

The #edtechRations book…it’s got all these chapters about what we couldn’t leave home without, right? 

What if I had different students read different chapters from the book (its CC licensed so I could copy different chapters and students choose the ones they wanna read) and then I could ask students to write what their own rations would be.

And it would be a segway into discussing

  • What students can learn from each other and what they have in common
  • Digital residents/visitors vs natives/immigrants 
  • Sherri Turkle
  • An opportunity for students to learn names of some ppl i know from Twitter who might be willing to talk to them in future

That’s all for now. Just recording this thought. 

May 14, 2017
by Maha Bali

Empathy vs Participation in Design #LXConf

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have registered to attend the LX Conference, taking place fully online May 15-19, and in preparation for it, I read a Medium post by the first speaker. Indi Young. This is a longer reflection on what I wrote in the discussion forum for the conference (which is locked only for registered users – it’s a really well-priced conference at $95 and starts tomorrow)

What I Posted to the Discussion Forum

I read a recent article by Indi Young about empathy in design, and about how important it is for the designers to almost immerse themselves in understanding the user before even imagining the product or even posing the problem for which they plan to design a product. This struck me as something like how community activist work is centered on participatory action research, for example… and I was wondering why this language focuses more on a separate user from designer, when it could potentially transform that relationship such that the end users are fully invested and involved in the design. I wonder what others think…

What I’m Thinking Behind This

Getting deep understanding of others seems like the work of ethnography and not usually product design. I imagine some of the ways of deeply understanding others look like participant observation, or doing loads of interviews… or even better, and what I’m reaching for here, is not to “other” but to actually involve the “other” as part of the “us” developing the product or service or whatever. So if we make a parallel to social research, what I’m reaching for here is participatory product design instead of participatory action research.

And I’m thinking particularly of the example of Virtually Connecting and why I think it works better than a million robots for bringing virtual folks into a conference. I don’t know what the heck motivates the people making those robots, but I know they have a long way to go to meet the needs of virtuals. Because it looks to me like they imagined a solution to a need they imagined and now they’re asking folks to test it and iterating from there. What Indie already describes as “too late” in the design process. I think the reason Virtually Connecting worked well FROM THE GET GO is that the people designing it know EXACTLY how it feels to be virtual, and we designed it FOR OURSELVES. And as we have more people joining the team, they, too, bring in their personal understanding of being virtual and we work together to make it work for more and more people who are virtual who may be different from how any one of us experiences it.

And so here I am, thinking of also the course I teach. Of how my students learn about human-centered design with my colleagues for the first half of the course, then they develop educational games with me. And you know what, the best games are the ones they develop FOR STUDENTS like themselves, rather than whatever limited amount of empathy-building research they do with others. Even one of the best games we have this semester relating to mental illness? I know how Depression Quest is excellent because its designer is someone who has experienced depression.

Think about this. Think about if you want to gain empathy and develop products about Muslim or Black people in America. Would it be best to immerse yourself in their lives, remaining your own self? How far would you go towards understanding them? Or would it actually make sense to involve Muslim or Black people in your product development from day zero? I’d say participatory product/service design beats empathetic design any day.

Going Further

What if STUDENTS designed their virtual learning spaces to replace the LMS?

What if CHILDREN could design their own play areas? Gosh, they would design them so much more creatively than we ever could. Just watch any child play with some open-ended type of material and how they will reuse straws to make wands and bottles to make buildings and any infinite number of things.

What if WOMEN were the main decision-makers of how their healthcare would occur, especially reproductive healthcare? (inspired by part of this video of Ruha Benjamin’s keynote in Cairo in April)

What if communities that produce radicalized individuals were involved in the process of eradicating it, because these are their own children whom they lose to radicalization?

What if former drug addicts were designing the programs for fighting against drugs (maybe they are, I don’t know).


Participatory, not “inclusive” or “empathetic” design. That’s where I think it’s at… 

I realize that the end user may not always have the technical skill to do this on their own, hence the participatory aspect. Thoughts? Does this already exist?

May 10, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Student Game Ideas in Draft

Reading Time: 1 minutes

This semester’s students have blogged their game ideas, which they are working on in groups of 4-6. If  you have a minute to give them feedback, we would all appreciate it. Their prototypes are due Thursday and their final game will be playtested on Monday. Links below:

Game about mental illness where players will have to live through the experience of someone going through a mental illness and respond to everyday situations as if they were that person. Other players would try to guess which mental illness these players have. This game seems to be a board game version of Depression Quest but with more than one mental illness involved, and as a group game not an individual one.

What a Great Driver You’ll Make is about traffic and dealing with traffic. Players would get different roles and goals, and have to deal with traffic on their way to their goal, and get points for doing things correctly or points off for doing them incorrectly like breaking traffic rules/laws.

This one is an escape game that teaches creativity and time management

This one they’re still working on how to make it not “memorization” based and it’s about learning about different countries.

Feel free to post comments on the student’s blogs – thanks in advance

May 9, 2017
by Maha Bali

No Me Without Us: Reflections After the UNIR #SelfOER #OpenTuesday Webinar

Reading Time: 4 minutes

That’s a tweet from April. But found myself thinking of it today. So yesterday, Tuesday May 9th, I gave a webinar on #SelfOER from an Egyptian Perspective. The recording is available here

Thanks again to Fabio for inviting me to give the webinar, and also for his insightful questions that helped take my thinking further. 

You can see the slides below, and you can see how the activity I tried pre-webinar “if you were an OER what kind would you be?” helped shape my thinking over the past week, and spurred more conversations between Suzan Koseoglu and me privately, and more publicly with others exploring related issues like Helen Crump, Sheila MacNeill and Catherine Cronin. You’ll see plenty of that in the slides and webinar.

Here are my slides from UNIR #OpenTuesday session

So Fabio asked a lot of questions and the one that remains with me is the one about how much “open” is based around volunteering models, around (most of) us carving time outside of our paid work, and the problematic nature of that, how unsustainable it is. It reminds me of a conversation across blogs, Jim Groom, Mike Caulfield, Karen Cangialosi and me. It also reminds me of one of the sticking points for Virtually Connecting. How do you maintain grassroots passion while not expecting people to work day in and day out for free, recognizing that this model is privileged and only people who have stable incomes and free time to “donate” can do this? 

I’ve been thinking about this a LOT. About the privilege to be open, about the privilege of not needing to sell our stuff in order to live. About who has the privilege of time to use for this when others are struggling to make ends meet or to meet the needs of their family members. I’m also wondering what it means for marginality and whose voice gets heard loudest. This is not at all new, and it’s not the first time I think about it, but it’s now like a broken record in my head. I even wrote an article with Chris Gilliard awhile ago about what it means when online (esp for-profit) magazines solicit articles without paying authors and how this won’t work for some people. Should those of us privileged enough REFUSE to write for those who won’t pay, so that everyone gets paid to write?

But flipping that question to openness…should (would?) people who want to make their work open not do so in order not to harm those who cannot afford to do so? Wouldn’t that be bad for everyone? Thinking of adjuncts who cannot afford to make their stuff openly available, they also can benefit from stuff others make publicly available, instead of having to pay for it.

So if the driver for open is social justice and sharing, does it mean we who can do so, continue to do so, and simply not expect reciprocity? Or is that also unfair?

But you know, partway through drafting this post I was DMing with Suzan and I realized the title of my post is “no me without us”, and that a big part of what Suzan and I have been talking about this past week is how the idea of self as OER is not so much focused on the self in an inward manner, but focused more on the self in situ, in context, as a node in a network, or individual in community or at least connection with others. There’s no, probably, open self unless that self is open to others in some useful way. And while it is important to be true to ourselves and to be ourselves, openness can never have a merely selfish or self-centered focus. It can start off that way, but Suzan and I have always been explicit about self OER not referring to broadcasting our knowledge. Instead, it is more dialectical and dialogical. It is actually about how we think of others as we practice our openness. What we find is worth sharing and how much of it to share, and also how open we are to receiving what others share and how we open our minds and hearts to what is different. It sounds romantic when I say it like this, but it is actually hard work.

And what it comes down to, when I come back to that question of equity and sustainability is this: Maslow has a hierarchy of needs, where food and shelter/safety come first, then social/love needs next, then other needs like self-actualization. I think that hierarchy isn’t necessarily how all people live their priorities and have said so before. How often do mothers forget to eat or sleep because they’re caring for their kids? How often do people sacrifice their family harmony because their ambitions of self-actualization are too strong? These things happen and they influence our happiness. And we are all so different in how we prioritize these things.

There are instances where even people who struggle to make ends meet are able and willing to make choices for social or self-actualization reasons and forego their basic needs. I mean,  they’re probably not gonna do it if they’re in complete famine or such, but you know what I mean, right? 

So I am also then wondering about this thing. A couple of women (of Muslim origin) tweeted about being self OER and the importance to them of being useful to others to be called an OER. And it made me think of something a friend once told me “may Allah make you useful to others”. But in a more secular way, Stephen Covey talks about our need to “live, love, learn and leave a legacy” and sometimes the part about leaving a legacy is a passion so strong that we will work on doing it even if our basic needs aren’t fully satisfied. That it’s not a hierarchy of needs.

Then again, I think about sustainability of openness if no model is in place to ensure it is financially sustainable, and I also think that for some of us, dissent and being on the cutting edge might also be a need, such that we will always be working on something in some way unorthodox and unfunded.

And for some of us the need to share is a drive, difficult to stop. In the same way that we need to understand that for others, there is a need to NOT share, be it a personality thing or because they risk real harm or have experienced real harm from sharing in the past. But also to ask someone NOT to share when sharing is a way of being for them? It’s really hard.

Just my messy thoughts.

But there’s no me without us. So tell me what you think!

May 5, 2017
by Maha Bali

Reading the Non-Native Writer

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This blog needs to be written. And it needs to be read. If you supervise non-native speakers of English (or whatever language you use academically), you need to read this.

I have had friends doing PhDs who have complained bitterly that their supervisors focus so much on correcting their English and their grammar and end up not giving them substantive feedback on their work. They suffer from this. And I don’t know if it helps their English much, either. I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope most Universities offer some type of writing support outside of the supervision itself, so supervisors can focus on what they do best. Their academic area and hopefully nurturing the relationship with the student. I understand how difficult it is to read incoherent student work. But you need to find a way to help students express themselves clearly so you can focus on the substance of their work.


Now here’s another part. I’ve been fluent in English most of my life, been a relatively good writer most of my life, and even though I am human and make editorial mistakes in my own writing, I am usually a good editor of other people’s work. This means that I know that even though I can pick out mistakes in the work of others, I can often miss mistakes in my own. I have corrected written work of native speakers who teach English, who teach literature, who teach composition. I have.

Now here’s the other thing. I write for different spaces. My writing gets “edited” by different people. And not all editing styles suit me. Some editors use a very heavy hand that can modify meaning to the extent it’s ridiculous and feels colonizing. Some editors try to modify style to an extent it’s insulting. Some are very good at getting what they need from a writer without imposing, and end up helping the writer do it better – the process with them makes me feel like it’s still my article but better. You know which ones I like 🙂

So here’s the thing. If you’re not the editor of a work I am submitting to, and I ask your feedback, I am asking your feedback on the substance of what I wrote, not asking you to correct my English or modify my style. That is downright insulting, even though I know you don’t mean it to be. Even though you may be rephrasing me in ways that do end up sounding slightly better, it’s not worth insulting me that way. I know I am a writer, it’s part of my identity, and I write in English. Not even my PhD supervisors corrected my English because my English is good dammit and unless you’re correcting a glaring typo, there’s no need to rephrase my stuff because that’s not what I asked you for, it’s not your role.

Thanks for listening. Xo


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