Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

May 21, 2019
by Maha Bali

Tell Me, Learning Analytics…

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you don’t already know me, I’m not a fan of learning analytics for several reasons (and I am a huge fan of Paul Prinsloo’s post on decolonizing learning analytics). I was part of the recent NMC Horizon report expert panel, and analytics technologies are among the short-term trends expected to be adopted in higher education (see the report). What I see most often is talk of using LMS learning analytics to identify learners at risk in order to enhance retention numbers. For me, this falls so short of what education should be about. I understand that having large numbers of online students makes it difficult for an instructor to give individual attention to each one (which, you know, is why it’s good practice to NOT ask one instructor to handle large numbers of online students, and give them a supporting instructor or several strong TAs… like, a human solution, but anyway!) but I have strong objections to the premise upon which learning analytics are built.

First of all, learning analytics focus on observable and quantifiable behaviors that are easy for the LMS to collect. When someone logged in, how long they stayed, which tool they used. We don’t know for sure that if analytics tell me someone watched the same video 4 times… if this means they literally sat and watched it 4 times from beginning to end (though some systems do tell how many mins were watched) but we don’t know if they tried again because their internet connection was bad, or because they were distracted by something happening at home, or something else they were doing on their computer at the same time… we just don’t know. We can know that someone has not submitted their last two assignments. But we don’t know why they didn’t submit them, what kind of barriers they were facing, and how to motivate them in future? Providing some kind of reminder in order to catch a student before they fail is helpful and all, but someone probably needs to probe deeper as to what is behind the behavior the learning analytics flag as problematic. And some kind of agency and autonomy should be afforded to the students, so that they, for example, learn to build a time-management system to help them determine when something is due and remind themselves when to start working on it before it’s due, not on the due date. For example, I benefit a lot from email reminders to submit peer reviews for articles I’m working on, but I also put reminders on my calendar (I’m not the best person at managing my time with all my required tasks, but I’m not the worst – but they key thing is that I develop my own system for managing much of what I do, because relying on others to remind me is a crutch).

Learning analytics give us data on student behaviors, but they do not provide explanations for these behaviors, so they do not tell the whole story of the human being, what motivates them, what barriers/obstacles stand in their way. They do not get to the root of lack of engagement.

Also, if what happens once a student is “identified” as needing help, is automated, this makes me extremely sad. Because someone who is falling behind probably needs personal attention and care from the teacher or at least a TA. I hope that most people who use learning analytics use them that way. Offering two-way care, rather than an email or message reminder or threat. This JISC report mentions how analytics data are given to both tutors and students themselves, and that simply being aware of risks helps improve student outcomes. It even says students don’t usually need complicated dashboards, but just knowing something needs to be done. I find that a bit strange, but perhaps these students know where to go for help/support and therefore get the kind of support they need once they realize something is off. Perhaps.

Lots of talk about learning analytics does not mention the reductionism of what data gets collected. Only visible behaviors can be collected by learning analytics. This would be like assuming that only students who spoke in class were there… (though we know in a classroom, what is visible is a lot more – and students speaking is not visible, it is auditory. Bad analogy maybe).

I know there is awareness of ethical issues related to learning analytics and their collection of student data and preserving their privacy. But this just assumes learning analytics are “useful, but…” and I’m wondering why there isn’t more probing about their limitations in the first place.

May 17, 2019
by Maha Bali

Is Feminism Natural or Man-made?

Reading Time: 3 minutesThe title of this post is kinda tongue-in-cheek and inspired by my 7 yo daughter.

Today she was helping me make sambousak and she asked if the pastry sheets we were using were natural or man-made. When I said man-made, she told me they learned that term in school, then she asked, “so it’s not woman-made?”

Me: man-made actually means made by humans. Could be men or women.

Kid: so why don’t they just call it “Made by humans; why call it man made?” Pause. “Or were most things invented by men and not women?”

Me…lists many great women in history we have read about together who were scientists and pioneers and whatnot.

I’ve always always believed that criticality comes more naturally to women because, being girls in a patriarchal society, it’s quite easy to spot inequality in society on a daily basis. In fact, when I was telling my husband the story of our discussion on man made vs woman made…. my kid told him, “you’re lucky”. Why? “Because you’re a man, in a man-made world”.

You could argue that she’s 7 and not a blank slate. She sees and hears feminist discourse around her all the time. She sees how I react to things and hears me talk and has the t-shirts with feminist slogans and watches the feminist cartoons and hears me critique the ones that aren’t. But I would still argue that boys who grow up in these conditions don’t internalize these things as naturally as girls do – because the girls are experiencing oppression (or future potential oppression as they see it happening to women around them) all the time.

Now, how the consciousness of patriarchal oppression comes to young girls, I don’t know. I do remember as a child asking my mom “why are all of God’s prophets men?”* And I remember her repeating the question to her friends, impressed (I also remember her answer being something like “back then, women didn’t go out much”). My mom is, of course, a feminist, but of her generation, and this was not explicit to me as a 6 or 7 year old child. Most women in my family and social circle worked and were strong, independent women and all, and my dad never made me feel like being a girl was an obstacle to anything…but this never really managed to mask patriarchal society as a whole. I don’t know.

My question is…does every social group notice their own exclusion in certain contexts, or does this only happen to minorities or oppressed groups? Or does it just occur much more often to oppressed groups so that seeing it becomes inevitable, whereas dominant groups see it so rarely that it doesn’t become central to their worldview?

I’m sure someone way more intellectual than I has written about this extensively. But in the meantime, I am both happy and sad. Sad, of course, that a 7 year old feels her gender is excluded from the term that signifies human invention and innovation, and that she recognizes she is not the lucky dominant gender… but happy that at 7 she has this awareness. Because perhaps the earlier you are aware, the earlier you can start resisting (hopefully not accepting! Of course many women are not feminists and many even support and reproduce patriarchy).

*Speaking of male prophets. I grew up to later take a course called Women in the Quran, where I wrote a paper arguing that certain women who receive honorable mention throughout the Quran are arguably also prophets because angels or God spoke to them directly, like Virgin Mary, Asia (Pharoah’s wife) and Moses’ mother. Just FYI.

May 5, 2019
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Autoethnography on Virtually Connecting part 1

Reading Time: 6 minutesBefore i start, I should probably write a broad research question. Which is: how has my thinking about Virtually Connecting evolved over time? How has the experience of Virtually Connecting changed my understanding of online communication , relationships , intimacy, learning, hospitality , citizenship , power, social justice?

My research paradigm is within interpretive and critical traditions, but also strongly relies on what Laurel Richardson calls “crystallization” (i.e. the same thing can look different if you shed light on it from different angles (poststructuralist). This means I can entertain ideas of VC advocating for justice and challenging and hegemony while also reproducing inequality in some ways.

In doing an autoethnography of my experience with Virtually Connecting, I need to be mindful of the ethics of what I can include and what I cannot. Much of Virtually Connecting involves interaction with others. The public stuff, like tweets and videos, I am comfortable citing directly and attributing. Some other dimensions are more private, and I think I can refer to them in passing, but not use the details of them in the autoethnography without permission. I guess emails that I wrote would be exempt from this? Not sure!

My positonality is extremely important when discussing Virtually Connecting, and how it started. So let’s start there


I am an Egyptian female academic, a mother of a child who was 4 years old when Virtually Connecting first started (original name was #et4buddy). I’m a faculty member at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. Most of my professional development happens online. I did my PhD remotely, traveling back and forth to Sheffield, sometimes from Cairo, sometimes from Houston, Texas, and sometimes from Norwich, UK. Near the end of my PhD I discovered academic Twitter and MOOCs, and when I got into cMOOCs and started developing my own PLN (Personal Learning Network) online learning became central to my life. I built relationships online and took them deep into collaborations and friendships. I co-authored many articles with people I had never met (many of whom I have still never met!). I co-designed internet games and used them in my classes where my students interacted with people across the globe.

Positionality: How I Got into Collaborative Autoethnography

I took a MOOC led by Dave Cormier called #rhizo14 and we the participants worked on a collaborative autoethnography about the experience. I was one of the leaders of this, because when I finished my dissertation, where my methodology was within a interpretive-critical paradigm, I realized that I would prefer my future research to be participatory, and that I had strong views on the difference between being an agent in one’s own research, and one who is being “researched” by others. Since, as Gadamer says, “all understanding is always already interpretation”, I felt strongly that individuals should have the right to represent their own stories first before others offered up an interpretation of their story for them. There are also ways in which my thinking is influenced by my postcoloniality. Much anthropological and orientalist research represents the colonized from the Western gaze. The internet is a Western space, usually researched by Westerners from their world view. My view on it is completely different. The ways in which social media has empowered me differ completely from the ways it empowers someone in North America or Europe. The risks it poses for me are also completely different. The effort it takes me to have my voice heard in an online context is also completely different and completely invisible to my friends online, who are mostly from US, UK and Australia with a few from elsewhere. For example, I am fluent in English, near-native, but it’s not my native language. I have good enough internet most of the time, but it’s not as stable or fast as in richer countries. I also have fewer opportunities for professional development in general, so online prof dev is essential to my growth as an academic. Which brings me to the next point.

Positonality: How Virtually Connecting came about

Virtually Connecting came about precisely because of my need for online professional development. It was complicated for me for several reasons, which I shy away from detailing in the article Virtual, Hybrid or Present:

I (Maha) was kind of obsessed with the desire to attend Emerging Technologies for Online Learning this year. I was a steering committee member and co-presenter in several sessions, so the sheer number of people I knew at the conference was overwhelming, more than any conference I had ever participated in. I was ready to finally meet everyone in person.

But life happens. For a mom of a young child, living in Egypt, too many things needed to work out for me to make it. Despite many generous offers to help, in the end, I had to let it go. I was heartbroken.

I was more willing at the time to admit to bring heartbroken for not going, than admitting the following fundamental truths

  1. As a scholar from the global South, it is financially much more difficult for me to attend a conference in the US. Not only the cost of airfare, but just spending there, once exchange rates set in
  2. As a mother from my culture, traveling without my child is looked down upon, and taking her with me at age 4 means I needed a husband or mom to babysit her while I went to the conference. This is an additional cost (2 more flights and expenses for 2 more people). At the time, this was not something my family were willing to pay. Later, when I got invited to keynote, and when we needed to go to London for other reasons, we made those trips (usually because The conferences invited me and paid some more – my institution would almost never afford me travel to more than one conference a year)

I was not sad that I was missing co-presenting 5 sessions. I was sad that i would not be part of the hallway and social conversation at the conference. As virtual unconference chair that year (probably because I had been the “top virtual participant” the year before at this same conference, I considered doing some sort of online interview with people onsite. I once mentioned it to my friend, Rebecca Hogue, whom I had met through #rhizo14, and she suggested she be my “buddy” onsite.

When Rebecca suggested the buddy program, I latched onto it like a lifeline. We discussed it with other steering committee members and decided to create a pilot program that I feel enhanced the conference experience for other virtual participants and people following the Twitter stream. Onsite participants also told us they felt it enhanced their experience too. This year’s #et4online with #et4buddy elevated my own conference experience beyond the best I had seen before (which was #et4online last year).

Here is how Rebecca describes it in the same post:

One of my motivations for the #et4buddy pilot program was that it allowed me to piggyback on Maha’s social capital. She knows a lot of peoplAlthough Maha may not describe herself as someone with high influence, she is definitely someone who is well connected. She has personal connections with all three keynote and plenary speakers, as well as members of various steering committees. I was hoping to capitalize on Maha’s connections to become part of the “in” crowd. I was also hoping that Maha would push me out of my comfort zone, encouraging me to approach new and influential people.

When we decided to run this, called it #et4buddy , we decided to use Google Hangouts on Air to allow us to record and livestream to YouTube automatically (Internet bandwidth at my home makes it difficult to record like via Zoom offline and then upload a video. Would take like 6 hours for a 30 min video). Hangouts also allowed us to have up to 10 participants. So Rebecca, channeling some onsite conference participants , me, and 8 others.

We announced the experiment on both our blogs asa dialogue of the process of how the ideal came about. For example:

Rebecca:.. So we could use the conference as an experiment into ways to enhance the conference experience for both virtual and in-place participants. Sort of a way to bridge the divide … I can be your ‘feet on the floor’ for a few specific segments of the conference, which I think would make the conference more meaningful for me too … you can encourage me out of my comfort zone into exploring presentations that I might not otherwise engage in …

Oh that sounds like so much fun!

Maha: oh my GOD YES that is an AWESOME IDEA REBECCA!!!

You know I am also responsible for the virtual unconference, supporting Jesse who will be there on the ground. Are you planning to attend that?

We explained what we were doing and created a YouTube video of the idea:

We announced on Twitter , Facebook, and on the virtual conference pages, and some people joined or watched the livestream. We got immediate feedback that people onsite and virtual liked it.

Somehow, these sessions were unlike previous meetings online, because they were hybrid. Some people were physically together and It made all the difference:

Hanging out with people who were sharing physical space made me feel like I was there. Other virtual participants occasionally joined the sessions and people following on Twitter enjoyed catching us streaming. I was concerned that virtual participants who didn’t know us were at a disadvantage, but we could only do so much with a pilot program.

Here are some tweets from #et4buddy when it first started:

There were photos taken, hybrid selfies like this one

This one was after #dml2015

Note:this post is incomplete. But will publish now so I can write something else.

I will ask others from VC to comment on some of these posts to help complete the picture.

May 2, 2019
by Maha Bali

Doing Autoethnography on the Internet – thinking of Virtually Connecting

Reading Time: 3 minutesSo as I said in a previous post, I’m writing a book chapter on doing Autoethnography online, and I thought within it, I would trace my own thinking about Autoethnography, but also do a mini-autoethnography about Virtually Connecting to sort of demonstrate things in practice. I thought Virtually Connecting specifically was a good example of something to do Autoethnography on because so much of its evolution is documented publicly and privately.

So here are some examples of sources that are public (and also situations where I recognize I need to rely on memory about private aspects):

  1. The initial exchanges between Rebecca and me about it were probably in a Facebook private message not email. I assume I could go all the way back to find it, but it’s hard. We also had lots of unrecorded Zoom conversations about it, during which my kid became close friends with Rebecca…and which is the reason she eventually showed up on the live YouTube (at the time she was 4, and she learned early on the difference between connecting via video off the air and on the air. She now asks if we are “live on YouTube” so she can decide if she’s in the mood to be on the air or not).
  2. There is documentation of our announcement on the et4online conference page, under the unconference. That’s probably findable somewhere. I was co-organizing the unconference with Jesse Stommel, responsible for the virtual side. There was a convo between Laura Pasquini, Jesse, Rebecca and I don’t remember who else, unrecorded, where we brainstormed this.
  3. There’s a blogpost cross-posted on my blog and Rebecca’s which explains what et4buddy (that’s what it was called at the time) is, and there were many private conversations between me and folks, inviting them to participate. Rebecca also had many offline conversations with people at the event about it… and there was loads of comments on the air by people at the conference (and on Twitter by many) where they praised this experiment
  4. There are many blogposts and tweets by people since then reacting to the experience (hashtag #et4buddy) , and some private conversations (prominently with Whitney Kilgore encouraging us to continue doing this, and Dave Cormier, challenging us to expand this beyond Maha/Rebecca, and with Kristen Eshelman who helped us make it happen at #dlrn15 which was one of our bigger events).
  5. There were two posts published relatively early on in the experience. One is on my then-column on Hybrid Pedagogy where both Rebecca’s and my perspectives are discussed. A second one on Chronicle of Higher Education where we had called it Virtually Connecting and were sharing the idea to encourage others to join in. There are actually quite a few more, now that I think of it, in different places, but these were the first two.
  6. There was a survey after et4buddy where we later published our first peer-reviewed article on Vconnecting, and so many conference presentations in different formats. Many of these are recorded, but a few are not. There were focus groups with folks which we used to present at #oer17…. there is another paper on hospitality in the works. In press.
  7. There are tons of Google docs and Slack conversations *some of the Slack convos are lost because we are using the free Slack*
  8. There are many blogposts by me… and I think if I looked at all of them I could trace the evolution of the way I expressed and understood Virtually Connecting. There’s also lots of situations where I solicited feedback from others via Twitter, which I used for example in my Challenging Academic gatekeeping keynote July 2018. And we republish most blogposts people write related to VCONNECTING onto our own website (with their permission of course).
  9. I would want to trace the growth of vconnecting from a two-woman show meeting a very specific personal to a larger and more complex organization that meets a variety of needs other than our own and is a form of advocacy for equity and challenging academic gatekeeping.

I’m almost at work now. I haven’t had time to put in the links to all these things (which I will need to do soon). Got distracted by checking out the tweets for #et4buddy, which included some lovely pics, a reminder of the gifts I had sent through to people during that event, and some lovely tweets about vconnecting birthday a year later. And some blogposts. And some early supporters. So cool. So nostalgic now.

I published, but came back to update. Added some links. Also some less published memories

  1. When my kid asked me “did you discover Virtually Connecting” (i.e. the moment my kid realized I was the co-founder of this thing, but didn’t have the vocabulary for it)
  2. My kid’s relationship with people she meets online then f2f, and when Autumm left us and told her “I’m going to miss you” and my kid said, “Why? I’ll see you on Virtually Connecting!”. Like many people, my kid thinks Vconnecting is web-based video conferencing in general, not the particular kind that happens at conferences.

April 30, 2019
by Maha Bali

Twitter Scavenger Hunt for Digital Literacies & Intercultural Learning May 2 2019 #netnarr

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cat chasing Twitter icon amongst grass and autumn leaves

Cat chasing Twitter. Edited using Sketch app by Maha Bali CC-BY, based on Pixabay image

If you’re aren’t in my class, you are welcome to join our Twitter Scavenger Hunt, scheduled for Thursday May 2nd at 10am Cairo (8am UTC). If you can’t join synchronously, you can always post a mystery photo or such ahead of time, or schedule some tweets then come back later and respond to students or others.

(Note: i am working on some formatting issues)

These are the instructions for the hunt, the goal of which is to experience Twitter (literacy) by practice rather than through direct instruction.


  • Use #netnarr for every tweet or no one will see it
  • Make your tweets welcoming so others understand what you’re doing and feel invited to participate
  • Respond to classmates and others from class by liking, retweeting or actually replying with a tweeted reply or retweet with comment. Keep using #netnarr

Note: if you are completely new to twitter start following classmates. People who have no followers are sometimes invisible to others on Twitter.

First, Engage with tweets and hashtags by other people

  • Send a tweet tagging me @bali_maha indicating you will join Twitter Scavenger hunt. Be as creative as you like.
  • Respond to this tweet using hashtag #netnarr

(Winner is the one who shocks us most!)

  • Find and retweet w comment sthg from #netnarr hashtag and add #netnarr hashtag
  • Find and retweet w comment sthg from #digped hashtag and add #netnarr hashtag in your response

Second, Tweet images

  • Figure out Twitter settings that allow you to add a description to an image you post on Twitter. Turn that setting on. This is to help people with visual disabilities
  • Take a picture from your phone now, that is either of something up close, hazy, or slightly digitally edited so as to appear mysterious and invite others to guess what it is (add a Twitter description to it that doesn’t give away what it is). Tweet with hashtag #netnarr #mysteryphoto

Winner is the one whose photo no one can guess

  • Check out other people’s mystery photos and respond by guessing

Winner is the one who guesses the most photos correctly.

  • Create an image (or find one) that you think represents either (cultural) hybridity or equity. Ask people on Twitter to “like” and retweet your tweet if they think your image represents hybridity or equity well.
  • Winner is the one who gets many likes and retweets.

Third, Collaborate on poetry

  • Invite people to write a poem with you collaboratively… start the first verse and invite others to continue (or find a poem others have started, and continue it). For each verse, use hashtags #netnarr #poem
  • When you have 5 or more verses, you have a poem!

Winners are the ones with longer, coherent and/or creative poems with multiple collaborators)

Fourth, Tweeting from things you read

In class, we often read articles in class and quote our favorite sentences in Slack. Let’s do this for articles online as well.

  • Pick an article you were reading online recently. Find out the Twitter handle of the author or at least of the magazine/newspaper it’s from… and tweet out a quote from it, including “by” the author’s Twitter, and/or “via” the newspaper/magazine/source. include hashtag #netnarr
  • Tweet favorite quotes from here for practice

Engage others

  • Tweet out something you think is fake news and ask Twitter if they think it’s fake or not. You can use items from your Fake News assignment. Use hashtags #netnarr #FakeOrNot
  • Guess about other people’s fake news tweets, and keep using both hashtags (by guess, I actually mean investigate whether it’s fake or not in a systematic way and insert your evidence as to whether it is true, mostly true, probably true, probably fake, mostly fake or fake)
  • Let people know after a few guesses whether they got it right or wrong.

Note- keep checking Twitter for a day or so to see if others have responded to you

Six, Reflect

Post a tweet or brief blogpost reflecting on the experience.

April 28, 2019
by Maha Bali

Unifying & Dividing Labels: POC and Global South

Reading Time: 3 minutesI’ve written and spoken before about problematic uses of terms like diversity and inclusion. Today and yesterday, my Twitter has been filled with discussion of these two contentious terms: Global South and POC. I thought I should capture some of this, and clarify it in context.

The first (Global South) came up because I shared an article about the educational philosophy of Ibn Khaldoun (Arab, founder of modern sociology, 14th century). I’ll write a summary of that article later. But the thing that exploded was the article was part of a special issue on “Doing Southern Theory”shared with me by Sukaina Walji.

The discussion was branching all over the place, but one of the key things we discussed was whether Australia counts as global South (geographically it counts and scholars from Australia often count themselves) but obviously economically, culturally (as Anglophone and Anglo majority), many of us feel…not. Discussions w Australians before showed me they see themselves and their scholarship as often peripheral in academia vs North America and UK. We discussed where Turkey lies (this is also related to a book I contributed to that used global South in the title and we were discussing, a co-editor and I, which countries were contentious).

The most useful conclusion to this discussion was…not a conclusion, but a recognition of nuance that defies labels. This article shared by Leo Havemann is excellent and brief about why Global South is a problematic term (the article used terms descriptively linaccurate, homogenizing and geographically deterministic). We often use it to mean countries that have been colonized, are economically struggling, for example, but those countries don’t actually correlate with geography in that way. It is perhaps more useful to do one of the following (my view here, but others seem to go along these terms and also the article above). Either:

  1. Use the terms centers and peripheries. So recognize that some countries are global centers (dominant economically, culturally, politically) but within them, those at the peripheries/margins may live in conditions more characteristic of global periphery countries. Within periphery countries (poorer, less powerful), some elites are the center and may live in conditions closer to global centers. Obviously all of these are still binaries, there is a spectrum, and economic success isn’t always coupled with cultural or political domination in every sense (think Japan, China, Saudi Arabia?)
  2. Be explicit about what you mean. Instead of saying North/South or East/West… clarify what you mean in the context of your scholarship. I think one would eventually have to use a shorthand term in titles and such, but one can explain what we really mean. Which dimensions are relevant to our purpose.E.g. is dominance of English languag relevant, is internet access relevant, is GDP per capita, is gender equality, is literacy level? These questions also matter for funding decisions and who gets included in research. I am part of an organization that uses the term South Mediterranean countries and it kinda drives me nuts coz it excludes many countries of similar background (Arab/Islamic countries) just because it doesn’t have borders on the Mediterranean . It also confuses me about Israel because supposedly Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are “southern Mediterranean” but Israel is smack in the middle there and considered what… Western European??

If you want to follow the Twitter convo, it stated here and branched

Now onto the one about POC. This came up privately, after I tweeted about how Google scholar is recommending to me authors to fellow, all of whom are white males (first page) and still males (second page).

Now there’s an interesting discussion around how Google’s algorithm works to make these recommendations… but I wanna talk here about POC as a term because i said “white”.

I’m going to keep this quick, coz I gotta go, so I’ll include two tweets I used to represent two viewpoints about POC because I was always confused by whether i should apply it to myself when I’m not technically able to tick any ethnicity box in any application…

What do you think?

Added later. Some useful links shared on Twitter in reaction:

Are Arabs and Iranians white (this article explains the paradox of being counted as white but not being treated with that privilege):

How We Became White (on how olive-skinned Europeans were not always considered white):

And AAPA statement on race and racism shared by Paul Prinsloo

This quote picked out by Sherri Spelic

April 23, 2019
by Maha Bali

Talking about Emerging Technologies and Equity

Reading Time: 1

Tomorrow (Wednesday April 24) at 7pm Cairo (5pm UTC, 12pm CT) I’ll be talking about emerging technologies and equity… if you’ve heard me talk about this kind of thing before, you may not want to listen to it again (it’s a culmination of several different things I’ve been writing and talking about for a while), but if you haven’t you may want to join.
Thanks to Tutaleni Asino for the invitation. This is part of Oklahoma State ETC (Emerging Technologies & Creativity) Research Lab.

To join, here is the Zoom link:

Here is the poster

Poster with speaker series blurb

Here are my slides (open to commenting):

ICYMI here is the video recording

Feel free to leave comments on slides or here!

April 18, 2019
by Maha Bali

Going Meta: Doing autoethnography on the internet

Reading Time: 2 minutesSo I’ve been invited to write a chapter about doing autoethnography on the internet. And I thought, hey, I can do this. I’ve co-authored 3 collaborative autoethnographies, 2 of them fully online with collaborators talking about online experiences… one of them with a colleague and students in my f2f teaching, but the writing of the autoethnography was all digital. I have also written a couple of semi-fictional autoethnographies, one with Autumm and one with rhizo folks for our ANT paper.

So I thought… I should blog my way through this chapter and then build it into the format needed for the chapter. So here’s what I think I’ll be doing.

A. I blogged a lot about why I do autoethnography in the first place. I should include my journey through this, and why I chose this methodology and how it fits my research philosophy as a social scientist. That stuff is mostly already here on this blog from 2014 onward. I could also include a decolonizing piece which is more recent to my thinking as terminology, but was sort of in there before, just unsaid, I think.

B. I would obviously reflect on autoethnographies I’ve worked on before and how that worked.

C. I would do a new autoethnography that is about my life on the internet and about the evolution of my life with Virtually Connecting. What brought this on is that Kate Bowles mentioned vconnecting in her OER19 keynote in the context of #Flyingless and how it helps people imagine conferences with virtual participation differently, but that flying less was not our intention in the environmental sense… but it was in some other senses…and I also wanna reflect on the evolution of vconnecting in general and how I perceive it – and the beauty of this, more than anything, is that there are *so many* artifacts to support this autoethnography from blogs to tweets to Google docs to videos…of myself and of other people and it feels like it would be a beautiful trip down memory lane, highlighting some parts of some memorable sessions and some turning points.

And here’s the thing. I made a decision to write this chapter alone…because I have loads of co-authored pieces and sometimes getting something done alone is faster. But I would be happy for others to write their own autoethnography about vconnecting (we have been wanting to do it for so long) and then perhaps we can write a collaborative autoethnography about it together later for some other venue.

D. I’d have to wrap it up somehow 🙂 not sure with what… I’ll think of something 🙂

So more of this coming soon… feedback welcome throughout this process which I should finish before mid May if I am lucky and end May if I am realistic!

April 6, 2019
by Maha Bali

Social Justice & Hybrid workshop opportunities at #oer19

Reading Time: 1 So if you can’t make it to #oer19 like me, there are a couple of opportunities to participate in hybrid workshops (as well as regular Virtually Connecting hallway convos – schedule here).

Open Education as Social Justice Writing Workshop (led by Sarah Lambert, Laura Czerniewicz and Cheryl Hogkinson-Williams onsite and I’ll help connect virtual participants)

Wednesday April 10 2.25-3.25 Galway time (3.25 Cairo time, 9.25 ET)
Interested in writing a paper on Open Education as Social Justice? Come to the writing workshop (onsite or online) and toss around some ideas for your writing. You might be interested in an upcoming special edition of a journal devoted to Open Education as Social Justice. More information about the workshop and the special edition can be found here.Please register online so we know who to expect at the virtual vs onsite session, and can keep in touch with potential writers.

Can We Decolonize OER/Open?

Thursday, April 11 at 4.00pm Galway (5.00pm Cairo, 11am ET)

Check out the hybrid session which will be run by Tannis Morgan @tanbob, Cheryl Hogkinson-Williams (@cherylHW), Taskeen Adam (@taskeeners) and Maha Bali (me) virtually: find out more about the topic on this blogpost. The session description is here and you can sign up by tweeting to me @bali_maha

April 3, 2019
by Maha Bali

On Competition and Reality TV Game Shows

Reading Time: 4 minutesAs an educator, I hate competition in educational settings. I don’t care what people think about competition and motivation. For important assessments/evaluations, competition is not a good thing for the people who constantly come at the bottom and have no idea how to get to the top. It is bad enough they aren’t doing well. They don’t need further public affirmation of their exact place at the bottom of the ladder.

My kid’s Arabic teacher has been apparently timing kids in how fast they can read new texts. I am seething. First off, it does not take into account the factor of shy people simply stumbling because of the read aloud aspect. It also does not help teach anyone to actually read faster. It just makes them feel bad for being slow readers and feel like failures. What good is that? How is knowing you are slower going to help you get faster? And why is speed more important than, for example, comprehension? I don’t even know as a mom exactly how to help, and I was never given any advice beyond letting her read more. So I am trying to do that.

Anyway. I’ve been wanting to blog for YEARS some of my reflections on Reality TV game shows. I generally find those to be good entertainment, particularly ones related to cooking, music and dancing. I hate the competition aspects of them, but I also see some pros, cons, and inequalities in many of them. And I’d like to share a few.

I love The Voice blind auditions because of the equity angle and how it allows the coaches to focus on a person’s voice not their looks. This is huge, and I recently read about how blind auditions for orchestras increased % of women on orchestras. Cool, huh? I also think the blind auditions probably give more chances to people who look more overweight, nerdy, too old or too young, or just generally not pop star material. At first. Later in the “competition”, everyone sees the person and I am sure it affects coach choices over who stays and who leaves. And then there are audience votes later on which I am sure *definitely* lend themselves to biases about someone’s personality and also their looks. To be fair, if someone is gonna make it in the music industry they need a lot to be going for them beside their voice (unfortunately) but at least the beginning stages give them a chance. I also like the coaching aspect of The Voice. In the competition, people learn from their coaches and each other. They also have to sing well together even while being against each other in the “battles” (awful name). I don’t understand why coaches don’t score singers on particular things (e.g. accuracy of pitch, strength of emotion, performance, whatever!) and find the overall good ones on all criteria, rather than pit them against each other in 2s and 3s. It seems kinda arbitrary, you know? I do love the opportunities for second chances in steals. But many things in this show are sequential and you have much lower chances if you’re near the end. E.g. if all steals are already taken, you won’t get stolen.Why can’t they decide on steals after EVERYONE has had a go? It would be more fair. But less exciting for ratings?

Another one worth looking at is Chopped. The most unfair thing in chopped is that they always cook appetizer then main then dessert with one person “chopped” (eliminated) after each round. This means someone who is superior at making desserts almost never makes it to the end because they get chopped earlier and you likely get so-so desserts by the people who do well in first two rounds.

What I like about Masterchef Australia (and kind of similar Top Chef Jr which I discovered recently) is the use of several teamwork challenges. Life as a chef probably requires loads of leadership and individuality but also tons of teamwork. So this seems fitting. I also like in Masterchef that they get opportunities to learn every once in a while. And I like the opportunities a person who does really well on a morning gets to have “immunity”, so a chance to mess up safely later. This seems to generally work to motivate them rather than the opposite.

Another show that has elements of blinds and coaching is The Taste, but it’s reversed. In early stages of a show, coaches coach their chefs and choose the best spoon for a guest judge to taste…later with the bigger challenge, the coaches taste everything blind and decide whom to eliminate.

I often wish people would get cumulative scores on these things rather than lose on a bad day if they’d been consistently good beforehand. I suspect judges keep this in mind for entertainment purposes if not for fairness. I wish people were allowed to grow over time without getting eliminated. Logically speaking, the people who get eliminated earlier would have probably benefited most from staying and learning. Perhaps it should be 3 chances and you’re out if you’re in the bottom 3 times. Not just one time. As I said, I think judges keep it in mind but pretend to make decisions based on just one day. I think they also take looks and personality in mind (for entertainment value) and not just skill. In a cooking show, there is NO WAY for viewers to know how good that food was!!! Also. Overemphasis on speed. It makes sense for restaurants of course, but still.

Dancing on Ice is really interesting. Definitely a strong element of coaching. Loads and loads of unfairness as people of course have different levels of athletic skill and are getting coached by differentpeople. Also it is highly gendered. Male skaters need to learn to lift their partners while skating and I am absolutely amazed they actually manage to learn this in short periods of time. It seems inconceivable . While female skaters get to be lifted. I know it still requires skill to get lifted, but surely not the same. And the risk a female celebrity takes in being lifted by a professional is way less than the female professional being lifted by an amateur partner. One thing that drives me nuts in this show is that judges score, then audience votes, then bottom 2 (by audience vote) skate-off and then judges pick. This meant that celebs who aren’t great skaters May end up staying longer coz audience just wanna watch them (makes for good ratings!)… and judges and audience keep switching power.

I need to stop now. But hopefully you get my drift. Competition 🙂 Not really motivating for those at bottom!


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