Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

April 18, 2019
by Maha Bali

Going Meta: Doing autoethnography on the internet

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So 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 minutes

As 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!

April 3, 2019
by Maha Bali

Web Conferencing & Webinars – Options and Samples

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just now, someone asked me about good webinar tools. I have so much experience with this, it seems a waste not to post what I emailed her on my blog. I should one day do a proper comparison table of features and stuff.

I think key considerations when choosing a web conferencing or webinar tool are:

  • Interaction. What kind of interaction do you need? Is it mostly one speaker or panel, or do you want audiences to interact? Via text, orally, or some other way?
  • Recording and livestreaming – do they matter?
  • Mobile access: do you need people do be able to access it easily on mobile?
  • Bandwidth: do you need people to be able to access it at lower bandwidths like 3G and 4G?
  • Cost. Do you have money? How much?

Hangouts. If you want something totally free: My preference is Google hangouts on Air (called YouTube live) Completely free to record and automatically livestreams and records to YouTube (you can make those completely public, private or unlisted). Only limitation is max 10 people per session but audience can interact via Text on YouTube chat while it’s running and comments after it’s over. Also has a good mobile app and works well on 4G and slow connections. It’s what we use for Virtually Connecting most of the time. Example of a session:

ZOOM, If you have a little money: My preference is Zoom. Affordable, you can try it for free, allows audience interaction and recording, lightweight, works well on 4G connection and has mobile app. Free version gives you 40 minutes, 100 audience members and recording on computer. Example of a session (this was a panel discussion I was part of): (Zoom also has a really cool breakout room function if you have a large group and want to split them up into smaller groups and then bring them back together)
[I use the two above ALL THE TIME]

Blackboard Collaborate. This you may have if you have an institutional Blackboard, but not all campuses buy it. AUC has this. It’s a bit clunky but check if your institution has a newer version. It’s not great, but possible to use on mobile/4G. Here is an example of a session: (I like the whiteboard function where people can draw/type on the screen – it might be available in other tools but have not used it much except in this webinar)

Adobe Connect. You need to install some stuff first – here is a sample recording:

Elluminate (have never used the back end… here is an example of a session

Big Blue Button (open source, I think)

Hope this helps! Have I missed a big one? Have I missed an important feature? There are others that are just audio conferences but the person who asked me wanted something more like a webinar. This is also why I only focused on ones with recording options (so not Google Meet for example). I also focused on ones that have had longevity as totally new ones come and then disappear (like and others).

April 2, 2019
by Maha Bali

Ideas for Useful Assignments for my Dig Lit class

Reading Time: 2 minutesSo I’ve been thinking of a few assignment ideas for my class that I think might produce something OER-like for future students to use, or for others in the world to benefit from. Here are the broad ideas

  1. Whole class “fake vs true” assignment where students work in pairs and then add all their material to ONE place. They create or curate (up to them) memes and infographics and such… some of which are true, and some fake or partly fake… so maybe each pair produces 3 of these. Then we include all of the class’s contributions in one space (so for 25 students I would get roughly 12 pairs, 3 contributions, remove any duplicates, end up with maybe 30 of these. We can discuss how best to poll people on them on campus or online. This is inspired by a suggestion from last semester which we as a class modified into this version.
  2. Individual assignment about “digitally literate Egyptians” where they pick a particular Egyptian social media phenomenon and write about them. A YouTuber, blogger, instagrammer… or a hashtag or facebook group. Someone who’s using their digital literacy to do something in Egypt. I could then curate these somewhere and others in class could use them. Perhaps a class assignment after this would be for students to develop their own understanding of what digital literacy is or what dimensions it should have for their own contexts. Maybe. I’ve had students hack Bloom’s taxonomy really well before. Digital literacies are at least multifaceted and more contested, so why not?
  3. Digital Literacy Awareness campaign. Students often wanna give back when they take this course. I thought they could take any aspect of the course they wanted, in pairs or trios, and either develop a brief awareness campaign on it (post on YouTube, create electronic posters, etc) and share to a community (their colleagues, school kids, etc) OR they could research the level of awareness on campus to see how well understood something is (e.g. how secure people’s passwords are, or how deeply aware of their biases).

What do you think?

April 2, 2019
by Maha Bali

Reflecting on #openlearning17 until #openlearning19

Reading Time: 4 minutesAnother iteration of the Open Learning cMOOC is happening now, a shorter version, run by Sue Erickson #openlearning19 and I wanted to reflect on my experience with this MOOC since #openlearning17.


First off, I think the majority of people working on facilitating it had been from Virginia but for some reason someone (I wanna say Steve Greenlaw?) thought I might be interested, and I was paired up with Sue Erickson, whom I did not know at the time, to work on the week on Open Access. It was a delight getting to know her, and we organized a annotation of Peter Suber’s book on open access.

One of the things we did was organize a hangout around the topic of open access, and I wanted to bring in different perspectives on it, so I had Frances Bell (critical view of open), Chris Friend (open peer review) and Chris Gilliard (also critical perspective on open). But also while tweeting about the session, I think I tagged Peter Suber because I was talking about his book, and he also decided to join us in the session. This somewhat impressed people. Though, honestly for me, because of Virtually Connecting, I am used to inviting high profile people to hangouts, and used to them agreeing, usually 🙂 And I also deeply valued the different perspectives that every one of the guests brought to the session. Here is that recording.

Coincidentally, that same week was OEGlobal conference in South Africa, and we were doing Virtually Connecting from there, so even though our guests didn’t really speak about open access, they spoke about open in general and Sue joined that session (guests I think included Laura Czerniewicz, Rajiv Jhangiani, Catherine Cronin, Sukain Walji and perhaps a few more folks…. I got to meet these wonderful folks at OER17 just a few days later? And Frances Bell from the earlier hangout, but I had already met her, Catherine and Laura before at ALTC 2015). I also got the wonderful opportunity to meet at DigPedLab that summer of 2017 my co-facilitator Sue Erickson (she participated in my track), Chris Gilliard (we co-keynoted) and Chris Friend.


For #openlearning18, Sue and I had another hangout and made a more intentional choic include global South voices. With Peter Suber again, we also invited Thomas Nkoudou Mboa and Ivonne Lujano (watch here) but unfortunately Thomas’s connection wasn’t great. We caught up with him later via vconnecting at a conference in Berlin, I think, OpenCon? One of the funny things I realized about the session at openlearning18 is that it was immediately before or after a session i did with Robin DeRosa for Tannis Morgan and their team at Guadalajara, Mexico and my blogpost is called “open all night”. You’ll see why this is even funnier in a moment.


Which brings us to 2019. Sue contacted Autumm Caines and me to do a pre recording discussing Virtually Connecting as form of open faculty development, and we set up a time and invited other VC co-directors to join in… but unfortunately I was having a stressful day and week and for some reason fell asleep and didn’t wake up for my 11pm alarm. Autumm and Helen had a great convo with Sue, though, which you can watch if you scroll down here. The article Autumm and I wrote A call for promoting ownership, equity, and agency in faculty development via connected learning is being annotated this week if you want to join via on the PDF version. We don’t call it “open faculty development” in the article because our audience is more traditional and we wanted to frame it as transformative, heutagogical, equitable learning based on connected/connectivist principles. But every example in there is totally an example of open faculty development.

This is all slightly funny because apparently Autumm was presenting our paper at the effordability conference and discussed it with Robin … and now Robin has been here in Cairo the past few days for the AMICAL conference, theme of open, and there’s a video of Robin talking about her new position at Plymouth State as part of OpenLearning19, and Robin told us she is totally using what is in our article… that video in OpenLearning19 is right under the video on Virtually Connecting …and in Robin’s blogpost connected to her keynote in Cairo, she had a section on Virtually Connecting and I love this quote from it:

What would happen if we thought about classrooms, or online courses, as liminal or in-between spaces rather than as destinations or locations? I think about the difference between a VConnecting session and a keynote. The keynote is like a traditional classroom: information is broadcast and, even when it’s inspiring and well-crafted, usually happens more in monologue than dialogue. But the VConnecting session is more like an in-between space. There is no linear agenda, just the goal of sharing, questioning, reflecting, and connecting.

So it’s an open ecosystem I guess.

And even though I didn’t facilitate a week on open access, I moderated a panel on OA at AMICAL this year and one on OEP with Robin yesterday doc links to slides) and participated in Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams on OER Also at AMICAL… so yeah. It’s been an open celebration this week!

And I’m so grateful for having had the opportunity to be part of this cMOOC each year. I think it has provided some good resources and opportunities and I am grateful for all the conversations I was able to have each time, and I hope others find them useful as well.

April 1, 2019
by Maha Bali

Q&A About Research in the Social Sciences

Reading Time: 1 I’ve been guest facilitating (on and off..more off than on..) this online free course on Research Writing in the Social Sciences offered by INASP. Andy Nobes invited me (all AuthorAID mentors, I think) and I sometimes login and answer questions but it was getting difficult to commit, so Andy did this amazingly helpful thing. He curated some questions and then had a hangout interview with me to answer the ones I said I could answer well.

So here is the video

And here are the questions covered in it, in case it’s any use for you. In the course, he cut up the answers so it’s easier for someone to open each question with its answers. But perhaps the full video is useful to some folks also.

  • How can I avoid plagiarism? (one of the most common questions asked on all our courses seems to be ‘where can I find a free plagiarism checker?’, rather than ‘how can I cite and paraphrase correctly’)
  • How can I find an appropriate journal? (where to search, quality, prestige, suitability etc.)
  • Do you have any tips on collaborative writing?
  • What tips do you have for writing in academic English? (especially for ESL researchers)
  • How can I cut down on the number of words in my paper? i.e. how can I wrote in simple English?
  • What does it mean to write in active voice? (as opposed to passive voice)
  • What online resources and tools would you recommend for researchers/authors?
  • How often do you write? How can I motivate myself to write?
  • When would you use qualitative or quantitative methods? Does population size matter?

This last one I loved answering. Enjoy!

April 1, 2019
by Maha Bali

What Problems Are We Solving with Open? And why AMICAL?

Reading Time: 3 minutesThis is always a necessary question. We know open is usually not free to produce/create, and we know it’s not an absolute, universal good.

We’re starting the last day of the AMICAL conference today, and I wanted to do a quick reflection before the event is over. But first, a quick overview.

AMICAL is a consortium of American style liberal arts institutions outside the US. I am currently on the coordinating committee and have previously benefited from AMICAL funding to attend nearby events in Beirut, to bring Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute to Cairo in 2016 and to partly fund my department’s 15th Anniversary event last year. I believe in the uniqueness of AMICAL in how they are all English language, US inspired institutions but in non-US contexts. We have a lot in common despite differences in size, resources, focus – but we share that liberal arts outside US thing.

So in terms of Open Access and OER… what problems do they solve, and why AMICAL?

Let me start with Open Access. During our panel on this yesterday, the biggest objection came from faculty who felt their departments didn’t value publications unless they were published in established (often subscription-based) journals, and there were the usual concerns over quality.

If we accept that this will be difficult to overcome (though many fields have good quality OA journals, I can’t guarantee they are the top ones each department values) there is almost always the green route *check Sherpa Romeo for each journal’s policy) – archive a version of the article in a repository.

And AMICAL’s role would be in providing a consortial repository for institutions who don’t already have one. For those that already have one, perhaps a way to feed/link automatically from the institutional repository to AMICAL’s.

The advantage to everyone of having their work available in green OA is

  1. It doesn’t cost individual faculty anything but a moment of their time. It’s still, I know, a moment many will not take…but perhaps some library support can help?
  2. Faculty work will be more widely visible and so hopefully more widely cited. This is an advantage to anyone who publishes, but more so for people from our parts of the world, the non-Anglo scholars on the periphery

Let me move next to OER/OEP

I have often said that the drive for open education can be guided by a pedagogical imperative (i.e. it helps you teach better) or a social justice perspective. So either of these justifications works for me.

I think possible ways AMICAL members can benefit by working together are

  1. Extending existing textbooks and OER from US and such, by contributing examples from our diverse countries. Each institution could obviously do this alone for their local benefit, but if we all did it, and shared back to the world, wouldn’t this create richer textbooks with diverse cases for everyone to have broader worldview? This then meets both a pedagogical and social justice perspective in the sense of representing marginal knowledge. I think this problem exists but is often solved in less visible ways inside classrooms.
  2. Developing open curricular resources together, whether through faculty or students working together, can help all of us create and offer better material as people from varying expertise and context work together- again, our contexts are sufficiently different from US and often similar enough that existing material does not fully meet our local needs.
  3. Translating into multiple languages- whether local work or English work. Sitting in a room with 20 AMICAL people means you may have at least 10 languages spoken in that room (I say 10 because Arabs speak same language and some Americans in our institutions only speak English).

The biggest problem of course with any of these is that it’s not the librarians or faculty who need to put in the labor for this (unless we’re developing Material on information literacies or digital literacies or such). And so unless faculty

  1. Are personally motivated to do so OR
  2. Institutionally incentivized or rewarded for doing so

I don’t see how we can achieve this.

There’s something to be said for just sharing what you have (like syllabi) but also something to be said for people who feel the need to protect this kind of thing for all kinds of reasons (including their own precarity).

I think the green OA option is a win-win situation. It just takes a tiny step from individuals and a commitment from institutions.

I think the OER one is more difficult because of amount of labor involved in making it work. Still mulling this over. I know this is just some early morning thinking and not fully organized yet…

April 1, 2019
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Feedback Requested on My Students’ Games

Reading Time: 1

As I do every semester, I’m posting here links to my student’s digital narrative (choose-your-own-path) games for the semester. This is their first draft, so please give them feedback to help improve their games. These games are created to promote awareness or empathy for a cause students care about and they do either some introspection (if it’s their personal experience) or some light research (if it’s not something they have personal knowledge about). Background on the assignment if you’re interested is here.

  1. Mohamed Radwan, Are You Thirsty?
  2. Malak and Farida, Special Olympics
  3. Mohamed Mohamed, No Need for Speed
  4. John and Merna, Beggars and Parking Helpers
  5. SAlma and Alia Peer Destruction 
  6. Nour, Striving/Struggling Family
  7. Dalia and Omar, A Day in a Slum Resident’s Shoes
  8. Mahmoud game
  9. Yahia, Clean Pile
  10. Khaled Good Citizen *first draft not playable/branching*
  11. Omar and Nourhan, Manufactured Evil (I love this game name!)
  12. Fatma and Salma, Harassment
  13. Habiba Social Inequality
  14. Carol Narchi Bullying
  15. Zeina Bullying
  16. Youssef Imprint
  17. Ramez What is Your Decision?


The short link to this blogpost is:

To give structured feedback to students on their games, please use this form:

March 29, 2019
by Maha Bali

A Quick Note on the Female Anatomy

Reading Time: 1 Thank you God for all the pleasure I have had in my youth with the special parts of my body that made me give nourishment to my child and build an emotional connection with her… and the parts that made me enjoy my husband’s love.

But can we now talk about modern Western medicine and all the ugly tools used to degrade and crush and violate the female anatomy in order to check its owner’s health? Is there truly no other way to examine a female body than to hurt it worse than the pain of the dentist drilling into your gums?

If I could start a new career from scratch, I might want to dedicate my life to modifying the instruments used to examine women in ways that are as respectful and loving as those body parts deserve. These are the parts everyone’s mother (everyone has a mother, right?) used to conceive, carry, give birth to, and nourish them in infancy. Gently, and with love. They deserve to be treated gently even when they are no longer (or not yet) healthy and functional. If nothing else in our bodies deserves this, these parts do. Will someone someday do it, or are women’s bodies not important enough for anyone to care?


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