Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

June 24, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Through @VConnecting Glasses

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I wonder if my perspective on our profession (loosely edtech, digped, open ed field) is tinted by a Vconnecting perspective. 

Today, at OERCamp17, while talking about VCONNECTING to folks in Hamburg, I mentioned how the majority of our team were people who were on the radical side of edtech, liberals politically and in our educational practices/philosophies. This automatically influences our conversations, right? (I am making a generalization here of course, but I think the ethos of vconnecting naturally appeals more to this kind of person rather than to  someone with a more conservative nature or philosophy or stance). 

So I’m thinking about myself as one who doesn’t go to many conferences (and the ones I had planned for this year are both on the very liberal/progressive edges – OER17 and Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute inshallah) but experiences them through vconnecting…. I’m wondering if I’m getting a skewed sense of what’s happening at those conferences. I’m not complaining about this. Just observing. 

If there wasn’t vconnecting, I would still get a skewed sense depending on whom I follow on Twitter and whose blogs I read. With vconnecting, though, there is an added layer:

Whom do we invite to be guests?

This is possibly one of our least transparent (because also constantly evolving and very personal in its execution) processes. 

When vconnecting started as et4buddy, i was basically inviting my own friends to chat with me. As we grew, and the focus became less on me, those choices changed, but for some time, I remained the main person inviting folks to be our guests. Then at some point I realized that and stopped being that person. I still help out occasionally when it’s an event I am fully invested in or if it’s someone I know and can email…but for the most part, the virtual and onsite buddies for an event make those decisions. 

How do we make those decisions? I don’t actually know the exact process each person goes through, but from conversations we have here and there, these are some of the criteria and things we do (which, again, is imperfect but evolving into something hopefully more inclusive of different views):

  1. Keynotes. For some events we go straight to keynotes, especially when we know them. Strangely, for others, we don’t focus much on keynotes. I think this relates to either accessibility of keynotes to our PLN, or that it’s a conference whose ethos we don’t necessarily agree with, so keynotes don’t appeal as much. I’m just guessing here
  2. Diversity/inclusivity. AlmoSt all of us try to make an effort to not reproduce white male panel types of sessions. It’s not really that hard to include women (so many great women in our field!) but a little more challenging to include people of color and international voices when the conference is North American. We also try to invite students, whenever we know they’re present at conferences. 
  3. Oldies but goodies. Then there are some people who have been on Vconnecting many times but who are such fun to have and we keep inviting them again. Occasionally, #2 takes priority and so some ppl let #3 slip. I’m probably the only one with this hangup (?) but I worry that ppl in #3 would get offended if we didn’t invite them
  4. Bring a Newbie. This is one of my fave things that happens occasionally but we hope to do more of. When someone (buddy or guest) invites someone along with them who is new. Sometimes it’s spontaneous (someone just passing by) or planned. Either way, it can be really cool
  5. Open Calls. This is probably the least successful, but we do it in big events anyway. Put out a call on Twitter for folks onsite to offer to be guests. We’re considering doing this more formally on our blog so it’s easier to find the link to the form later. The issue we’ve had in the past is that most people who respond to open calls are white men. Rarely women or POCs, so we often send out personal private invitations to them

I need to get some sleep but needed to write this one 

My point is, though, that these choices are not neutral, even when they aren’t always explicitly thought out or meant to advance a particular agenda (i don’t think they ever consciously are). But those choices influence the kinds of conversations we keep having and the perspective on a conference we get – which isn’t a problem for some homogeneous conferences… But most conferences are more heterogeneous. 

Question is: do we define inclusivity as creating space to listen to marginal voices, or “all” voices,  including loud ones whose politics we don’t necessarily subscribe to? Does getting someone on VC as a guest appear to be an endorsement of their perspective (it should not be and i hope it isn’t taken that way, but i can see how repeating the same people would inevitably SEEM that way).

Still thinking about this…

    June 21, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    2 Comments

    Turkle Curse?

    Reading Time: 1 minutes

    Everyone probably agrees with Turkle: when we are spending quality time with family, we really shouldn’t be on our phones doing email or social media or work or whatever. I’m one of the people who isn’t always good at that. I put my phone away for a bit, but I spend a long time with my mom when visiting her and often need to get it out to do some stuff. Or else I would have to spend less time with her as I get work done elsewhere. It’s a tradeoff.

    But lately (past month or so) my email doesn’t work when I am at my mom’s house. Seriously. I can’t send an email from the gmail app or from the web. As soon as I leave the building the email gets sent. This makes no sense. I am using 3G/4G while at her place, which is the same network as when I get out of the building. Also the internet works. I can Tweet and Slack and browse and I can receive email but I just can’t send email. I eventually realized the problem was local to my mom’s building this month coz I spend a lot more time over but get in and out to do errands and the email works as soon as I step out. 

    Any idea what’s causing this Turkle curse? 

    June 19, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    8 Comments

    Paralyzed at Home

    Reading Time: 1 minutes

    I can’t speak about this directly, so I’m writing this poem instead. Don’t ask what this is about, I’m not able to say, it’s real stuff that I can’t talk about online, but I need to write about it, writing therapy

    You steal my home

    From under my feet

    You make me

    A second class citizen

    In my own space

    You pit me against my brothers and sisters

    You pit me against my children and parents

    And you want me to move?

    You paralyze me

    And then you ask me to move?

    You spit on me

    And then you ask me to smile?

    You hit me, over and over,

    And then you expect me to comply?

    You set out to destroy my home

    Wall by wall

    Brick by brick

    Heart by loving heart

    Turning it dark

    Stealing all the light

    Breaking apart

    All the love

    And then you expect us to… what?

    June 17, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    7 Comments

    Lines Not Drawn – and Invitations of Sailors #digciz

    Reading Time: 7 minutes

    It’s serendipitous (or rather extremely stressful, but coincidentally useful to reflect upon) that the week I am co-facilitating a #digciz conversation (w Kate Bowles) with a hospitality focus turns out to be the same week I have an actual iftar at my place with 35 guests.

    I don’t think it’s obvious to other people, so let me spell this out

    1. Iftar (during Ramadan) is the most stressful kind of “entertaining” because you have a hard deadline for when food needs to be on the table (sunset time)
    2. Iftar is often a social event with family, sometimes friends, but recently younger people like us don’t do it as often
    3. It’s more stressful to entertain your spouse’s friends than your own. Your own friends are more likely to help out and less likely to judge
    4. 35 is a huge number given the size of our apartment. It isn’t a small apartment, but still!
    5. Getting the house and meal ready while fasting is extremely exhausting, even if you have help, and especially when you have a young kid and unhelpful partner 
    6. For some reason, the moms on both sides get involved and it’s extremely exhausting 
    7. It’s hard to be hospitable to 35 people especially when you know some of them better than others

    So that’s sort of a backdrop to what I was working on this week and finally transpired today. So something funny happened. Here’s the short story

    When you invite folks to iftar, they will usually either bring dessert, or a gift for your house. Usually if they’re visiting for the first time, they will get a house gift. So if you know many people are NOT coming for the first time, you expect lots of dessert. And usually you don’t buy/make any. But it’s kinda hard to just not do anything, so I made a fruit platter. I forgot to take a picture because I made it on this pretty two-tiered plate ppl use for English tea things… Anyway. I made it with apricots plums peaches and grapes. And I expected no one to eat from it, so I put very little fruit in there, just artfully arranged.

    My husband says the platter looked so pretty people thought it was decor! Like the only reason he knew it was real is that he knows I was making one and that he bought grapes today. People liked the grapes so much I had to replenish the platter (that, despite 6 kinds of other dessert on the table, desserts more commonly used in Ramadan).

    Side note: i was a little naughty. I assumed no one would really eat the fruit, so I put in some plums that added nice color but which I knew didn’t taste great. Ooops. 

    So… That. And also today I tweeted about it and referred to an Egyptian expression “invitation of sailors”, which means you invite someone, or offer them something, but you don’t really mean it, or it’s something they can’t really accept. Because imagine a sailor, already at sea and you can’t reach them physically, holding out their meal and offering that you share it. Yeah. They don’t REALLY mean it. 

    I was wondering if I was genuinely expecting people to eat the fruit, would I have arranged the plate differently, added more or different fruit? I mean I am happy people ate the fruit, but my primary intention was to offer the looks of having included a dessert without really competing with the “real” desserts others had brought (it’s kind of part of the etiquette to open all desserts others bring with them and offer it back to guests).

    After this was all over, I engaged a bit on Twitter and read a couple of #digciz blogs. 

    First point regarding lines not drawn (the title of this post) is a really important one. Aaron Davis wrote, referring to his rhizo14 experience 

    “it felt as if you knew you had crossed the line even if there were none”

    It made me think of Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness and how she shows us that not having explicit structures, hierarchies or lines doesn’t mean they aren’t implicit. It actually really means that only a small number of people have power that others aren’t privvy to. That structures exist or at least evolve or become even if we don’t set out to create them, and with them comes power: power of knowing and power inherent in any structure or hierarchy or lack thereof. And also,  i would add, not creating structure in a space does not remove any power dynamics that come from the macro power external to it, like race, class, gender, etc.

    When we talk about hospitality and citizenship, even though borders aren’t explicit in the ways nation-states now have borders, there are boundaries each of us draws in their minds. Sometimes you wish to not draw,these out a priori, but to develop them in community. Kate and I talked about the importance of doing this early on in our DigPedLab track – asking folks to highlight their own boundaries in a way, things that trigger them they wish others not to touch upon, and things they’re ignorant of they would like others to be patient with them as they learn. Or something. We’ll figure out a way with our participants… I think it’s important to both allow for a group to set these, but also as individuals. 

    In a discussion on citizenship, I think, it makes more sense to allow these lines to be drawn by the community rather than to have them drawn top-down, because of course we don’t have laws and such like countries, but also because citizenship in countries need not be defined by abiding laws, but can be a much more critical/resistant role/action.

    One of the difficult invisible lines, when anyone invites you to anything, is finding the delicate balance of critiquing politely. Adam Croom recently wrote something (re digciz) about how my writing somehow challenges him without offending him or something. He wrote (about me)

    has always been incredibly accepting to varying perspectives and challenges them in ways I don’t feel threatened by

    And it made me think of how I worked on my tone a lot, after my first year blogging, to make sure I could critique and be heard at the same time. Because I know as a listener and as a critic, it’s difficult to listen to criticsm, but tone makes a big difference. I’m not as good at finding that tone in f2f meetings with lots of hierarchy where i am critiquing people with more power than me, but online I think I have mostly found it. And maybe f2f for a Western audience. 

    But I digress.

    I meant to say that one of the invisible lines of any invitation, of any hospitality, is that no one’s hospitality is unconditional, unbounded. 

    Sure I had 35 guests today and I tried to spend time with them all. But some are close and old-time friends and some are not. The ease of talking to some is different from others. It is assumed that people will stick to certain parts of the house and not others. It is assumed that some people will take their plates to the kitchen but not others. It is assumed that I will put their desserts on the main table. It is assumed that people will NOT comment on how bad any food is, but that they WILL comment on how good SOME of the food is (at least) and to thank me for hosting them (and for me to say it was nothing). I had a great time today. I love hosting people. 

    But here’s something important to add. We had a water problem in our building today. The water was cutting in and out. This made things really complicated. While getting ready all day (including making food but also not being able to take a shower before ppl came – NOT fun) and the stress of water cutting out while people were here (fortunately it worked out mostly ok in the end, but STRESS).

    Sometimes there’s something in the background that’s causing stress to the host. But nobody knows it but them. And it’s something that could blow up and create huge problems, but you hold the fort and hope for the best. And sometimes you get lucky. Occasionally you don’t. 

    So some things related to digital hospitality 

    • When someone invites others to critique, they’re definitely not inviting snark or antagonism or abuse, though people have different levels of tolerance for these.
    • When you invite openly or large numbers, there will also always be people you can give more attention to than others. Sometimes this is intentional because some people need more of your attention. Other times it’s unintentional, just that you spend more time with the people you like more or who are talking about what you enjoy more. It’s like…normal. As long as no one is all alone, as long as someone else is talking to them, I don’t really feel the need to necessarily engage them (I got lots to do anyway, besides engaging with guests, right?) 
    • Sometimes you know an element of your identity isn’t welcome in a space. E.g one person today who was a smoker recognized he was the only one and he went outside to smoke and came back. I loved the sensitivity of that, whereas others just smoke in the room without caring about others. My husband probably told him “it’s ok, stay” but he knew it was a polite, sailor’s invitation. It’s similar in digital spaces, i think. Sometimes your favorite thing to do is not the thing to do in this context even if it’s ok in others. And we should all be tolerant of that. Even public spaces have context.

    Some other notes from today? These tweets


    Also – one of the most touching blogposts I have read in a while (and that’s saying a lot because so many touching posts this week alone!) by Chuck Pearson – so much beauty there and exploration of what it means to leave home or stay and (just read it). This quote by Isbell from Chuck’s post:


    Which also kinda reminds me of this post I read earlier today about how an Egyptian-Canadian (Pacinthe) recreated Ramadan community when she was away from her family. Worth a read – heartwarming one.

    Oh and yday at #nmc17, this hangout w Gardner Campbell and Christina Engelbart touched on hospitality and belongingness and how we are changed by our interactions with the other.


    Right. Gonna call it a night. 

    June 11, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    8 Comments

    Home and Away: Rambling thoughts on hybridity, home and hospitality #DigCiz

    Reading Time: 10 minutes

    Rambling post ahead, about all the different places we choose to make and spaces we choose to exist in, and how we bring different parts of ourselves to each of these, and how this influences how we interact with others there… digitally and face to face… ideas firing in my brain from Twitter conversations with Suzan Koseoglu and others re Self OER, #DigCiz, #MELSIG, #Domains17 over a couple of weeks or so…

    I’ve been working with Kate Bowles on two related things… a week we’re co-facilitating on online at #DigCiz (that’s starting June 12 inshallah) and a week of face-to-face co-teaching for the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at UMW. They’re related on purpose, as I felt that that doing something online at #DigCiz would be both a good preview for our DPLI work, and also help us solidify some of our thinking about DPLI.

    The trio of hybridity, home and hospitality, as alliteration, is a little gimmicky, but initially intended to just help me remember the three dimensions we were discussing… and they’re really all appropriate terms for what we were thinking about anyway. We also thought about another (really coincidental, but cool) alliteration of parallel verbs: being/becoming, belonging, and bridging. They fit really well. It’s almost like we’re developing a model or something 🙂 I hate models and frameworks, though they’re often helpful. They’re always missing something or oversimplifying something as they try to clarify another.

    My thoughts are banging around in my head. They have been for a while now, thinking about this, and how it’s intersecting with work I’m doing with Suzan Koseoglu on Self as OER – where we are rethinking the “OER” because we know we never really meant OER…. and  I think in a way, even though we are focusing on the self, we’re hyperaware of how we’re talking about the self in social spaces as part of communities and/or networks. And so it’s not so much just the self, and it’s not necessarily identity as a fixed thing, but a more dynamic thing, as not just being, but also becoming (that’s where the “becoming” part came about).

    There was also the recent #MELSIG event about digital placemaking, where I think I am struck by the “making” aspect of it all – the agency it seems to emphasize in how we make the places we “choose” to be in, digitally. In a physical world, you can “move in” to a place, that can be a hotel that’s temporary and will never be yours; or you can be an expat or refugee (with the different connotations of these terms) and always feel temporary, in one celebrated, the other scorned and barely tolerated… or you can go “all in” to a new place and make it your own, make it your home… and yet, do you truly feel at home, what makes you feel at home in a place?

    And then there was the #domains17 conference which I followed from VERY far away… Ramadan and all, I didn’t participate in a single vconnecting session but watched parts of them, and I didn’t follow Twitter too closely but read some and saw some blogposts.

    The blogpost that struck a chord with me most was Amy Collier’s on Hidden Immigrants and Belonging. I read it after Kate and I had agreed on what we wanted to do for our week of #DigCiz, building on what had already been happening on #DigCiz (last week alone I wrote two #DigCiz posts, “citizenship in spite of…” and one on surveillance) and upon reading Amy’s post I realized that I think we were missing an important dimension in our work…

    For background, if you haven’t read Amy’s post, the main thing that struck me about it is how she goes beyond the Visitor/Resident metaphor and discusses Third Culture Kids (which I hadn’t known was her dissertation topic; nor had I realized she viewed herself as one – and as one who considers myself a third culture kid but has a similar “not looking like a third culture kid” look… I totally get it) and how she uses the PolVan Cultural Identity model to represent more complex positions than visitor/resident. Positions like the “hidden immigrant” who looks like the people s/he’s with, but deep inside thinks differently, and the “adopted” who looks different but thinks alike (I’ll come back to these). (I took the PolVan model table from Amy’s blog – let’s hope it’s not a copyright violation or such)

    And I’m thinking of a couple of things here…

    1. The more complex positions of how we relate to different places/spaces than just home/not home. It’s more than a binary. And even the PolVan model is problematic as I’ll explain in a minute
    2. We go to many places other than home. We meet others in places that are not our home, in third places. And the terms are neither theirs nor ours but someone else’s, whether a commons or a commercial space or other. We can, digitally, call our own domain our home, but if we never venture out, into other people’s domains or into common spaces (even if commercially controlled like social media), we would be living a very solitary or very limited life at best. And that culturally speaking, we meet in third spaces, that are dependent on our hybridity and our intersections with others, and that again, if we lived only within our own hybridity without intersecting with others, we would not progress into knowing others.

    There was a tweet a while ago by someone that people aren’t truly educated unless they’ve ventured out of their home and lived elsewhere. Someone took offense at that tweet because of its elitism. I get it. I truly do. And I get the elitisim behind calling people who haven’t as less than fully educated. But if you skip the educated part, I think it’s important to highlight a couple of really important things you miss out on if you’ve never traveled outside your home (country). If you don’t travel outside your home, you don’t really experience “otherness”. The experience of otherness is a truly humbling experience, if you’ve been dominant all of your life (so I would exclude, in the US, people of color here, because they experience otherness more regularly, and they don’t really need to venture outside of the US to feel this one).  And you don’t experience the full ability to be “curious” about the “unknown”. This latter helps you question a lot of assumptions that you don’t realize you’ve got.

    Kate reminds me (she often reminds me of really important things, Kate does) that we cannot generalize from our own experience to others…

    For me, sometimes it’s important to be explicit about my own experience in order to move beyond it, and to help others understand where I’m coming from… and I need to talk/reflect about my hybridity here before moving onto anything else (And I suspect others will need to do the same, in DigCiz and DPLI)

    Growing up…

    I was born and raised in Kuwait. This is tricky, because it’s a country that speaks my language (different dialect) and practices my religion (albeit slightly differently) but does not give me citizenship because I was born there. I love it because of a lot of its beauty and in spite of a lot of its faults. I love it very differently from how I love Egypt, because if I had to be honest, I had a wonderfully sheltered and privileged childhood there and Kuwait gave me so much and took away from me so much less, in material and emotional ways. But in Kuwait, I was always an expat, an “other”, and at the same time, raised to, for some reason, believe that Egypt was superior because of historical civilization reasons. My direct interaction with Kuwaiti culture was pretty limited; a few Kuwaiti friends here and there (many of them hybrid with a Lebanese or Egyptian mother, many of them hybrid in the Westernized sense I’m about to mention next) but I understood the dialect well and because Kuwait had people from everywhere, I understood most Arabic dialects well in ways Egyptians rarely have to do here in Egypt because most Arabs can speak with an Egyptian dialect (popular culture thing from TV and such).

    The other aspect of my hybridity comes from Westernized schooling. Two different British schools in Kuwait and a couple of years in Egypt that gave me a glimpse of this horrible education system here. I recognize that not all schooling in Britain is anywhere near as good as what I experienced in Kuwait –  more equivalent to good quality private schooling or whatever is considered good there. But the point being… this Westernized schooling is empowering and disempowering at the same time…

    I joked about this in my OER17 keynote, stand-up comedy style. We weren’t allowed to speak Arabic in these British schools, and so as a form of resistance… we all developed American accents (learned from TV). Seriously, every single one of us who grew up listening to British/Australian accents in school, all of us have American accents unless we had an English parent. It’s quite odd, and I remember the moment I made an executive decision not to switch between can’t/can’t (you know, tomato, tomato) and stick to just the American.

    But I digress.

    Hybridity in Digital Spaces

    I was wondering how the PolVan model and how it translates into digital spaces… like what does “look alike” and “think alike” mean in those spaces? Does “look alike” refer to our profile pictures, or does it refer to something else (I changed my Mastodon profile picture to one that’s less obviously of me and more avatar like, even though it’s still a picture of me – I used the one from OER17 that’s a sketch on a wall – it seemed to fit that space better). OR does looking “alike” refer to digital behaviors? Does it refer to using hashtags “just so” and using the right jargon and acronyms? Do all academics really “look alike” in the way they communicate, in general, or online? Does the process of a PhD enculturate us into a dominant mode of communicating? And if you don’t develop this, you lose?

    Sometimes, I think of myself in the midst of any conversation on Twitter, recognizing I’m one of a few non-Westerners there (even if we’re talking someone like Rusul, she’s lived in Canada for a long time now, we’re not in the same boat, though we have a lot in common) and in a lot of ways, I fit right into these conversations, and I feel, well maybe I’m “adopted”…. I “look different, think alike”. I feel that way most of the time. But sometimes I think it’s the other way around. That it’s not about my profile picture, that actually, for the most part, I appear to folks as if I am just like them, because my behavior, not my looks are similar enough to theirs, that they actually forget I am different from them deep down, so maybe it’s more like a hidden immigrant, maybe I “look alike, think different”, because of course the context I’m coming from informs me very differently, even as I get to a common space where I can have these discussions with folks. They only seem me in the common spaces, the intersections, the borders. They don’t see the big picture of my context, nor can I communicate that in 140 chars or more.

    And this is where these models break down for me. Of course I’m neither this nor that and I’m something else altogether. Because also I’m not pure anything. I’m not pure Egyptian. That’s the obvious aspect of my identity that seems non-negotiable to outsiders, but really negotiable for me. I don’t even feel third culture is enough, as I think I’ve got like 4 cultures within me… living in the US and UK after being immersed in those cultures all through my education brought home how familiar they were to me before I had to live in them… and that’s just the obvious nationality type culture things… there are also the academic identity type culture things…

    Just today, someone told me that I was one of the first people (I just checked, she said *first*) to welcome her into the whole digped type community. And i stopped and my eyes teared up a bit because I realized this. She lives right in the middle of the US surrounded by people doing this kind of work. I don’t. And yet, virtually, somehow, I managed to be more hospitable to her, to welcome her into this, from miles and miles away… and I thought: wow. How is that even possible? [of course, some others earlier welcomed ME into that community from afar; but the difference is that they were already surrounded by it before welcoming me in; I’m welcoming people into an adopted space that wasn’t mine to begin with]

    How is it possible when I’m so much “other” yet made these spaces my home, to be the one welcoming other people in. And what does this mean, exactly? Both Kate and Amy talk about kinship and I tend to feel a a very special kinship with a lot of the women I meet online. Our contexts will always differ, but there are just some things about being a woman that transfer easily across time and space.

    In a recent post by Kate, she wrote:

    “I have no kith here, and I shouldn’t. It’s not my place. It’s not my place to love, to ask it to love me back.”

    And I thought about this. I grimace as I think about the computer science labs on campus and how I felt there. Not my place; not gonna ask it to love me back. Looking at the backs of the heads of the other computer science students working on computers, hunched over and focused. Feeling out of place and not wanting to spend my life doing that.

    Kate’s talking, in that particular context, of Australia vs home. As not her home where she grew up. I think about how Kuwait is where I was born and grew up, but where I might never return again, possibly (gosh I feel a fist around my heart at the thought of never seeing it again, even knowing I have not been there in maybe 15 years now. Oh it’s painful to imagine), but I think about her particular emphasis on it being her “place” to love, and the emphasis on “asking” it love you back. Chuck Pearson said something on Twitter about loving a place anyway even if it doesn’t love us back. And I think about this and I think about these things:

    1. Sometimes we don’t love a place itself, but we love the people within it; and it does not matter whether the places loves us as long as our people are there; if our people moved, we would move with them wherever they went; and I’ll tell you, digitally, if all my Twitter peeps migrated to Mastodon, I’d be in Mastodon in a flash; because Twitter isn’t “it” for me; it’s just where my people are; and the reason I still tangentially hang out on Facebook is that my Egyptian and childhood friends and family are on Facebook and not Twitter and if I left Facebook I’d lose touch with them
    2. Sometimes you DO love a place itself and it doesn’t matter whether it loves you back. I love Kuwait and I know it never considered me as “one of their own”. I love Egypt and it kind of officially considers me one of its own but I don’t feel really loved by it; maybe I feel the right to ask it, but I’m not sure I want that answer…
    3. Sometimes you need to venture out into a place that doesn’t love you, that isn’t your home, where you don’t belong, in order to be with others… and sometimes you need to stand your ground and stay for love, or for a purpose

    Then I think about this song. I wasn’t familiar with the song til I saw the Sarah Ikumu rendition of it on Sherri Spelic’s blog

    It’s a powerful song and powerfully sung by this girl (you won’t believe she is only 15 years old!)

    And just the lyrics of that song (talking about a man, yes, but it’s more than that, I think):

    I’m not living without you
    I don’t wanna be free
    I’m staying
    I’m staying
    And you, and you
    You’re gonna love me, oh ooh mm mm
    You’re gonna love me

    And I read that and wow.

    And I don’t know where I’m going with this 🙂 But I feel better having written all of this. If you’ve gotten this far, let me know what you think… I should go sleep or something 🙂

    June 7, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    3 Comments

    What Kind of Surveillance Are You REALLY Concerned About?!? #digciz

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    I’m gonna go right out and say this one. Because Audrey Watters said this about me earlier today:


    I’m by no means fierce nor fearless by my own standards (or really by anyone’s, if you know all that’s hiding below the very open surface), though I attest to being sleepless. That’s me alright. And probably I look like I’m schooling people out of arrogance that maybe what I have to say is important and folks should listen. When they listen it feeds my ego. So I keep writing. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worth learning from..

    But listen to this one.

    Two things grate on my nerves big time

    1. When people whine about surveillance that happens for commercial/capitalist reasons, rather than actual government intelligence surveillance ; and
    2. When people who are white and oh so privileged whine about protecting their data at the US border

    No. Really, no.

    Sure, it annoys me that YouTube was giving me web hosting ads when I was Tweeting with Jim Groom all those years ago. And it annoys the heck out of me to hear that Facebook sends people ads related to conversations they had near their phones.

    But what scares the shit out of me is who ELSE is listening to that kind of data and what they can do with it. 

    Which brings me to point #2. I laughed, I really laughed, when they said the US visa application would now ask for social media information (I just got my visa before this new change happened but had heard of it before. Side point: my husband’s application asks for way more detail than mine. Because male?). But get this. To get my US visa, unlike most European countries, I just had to submit applications for myself and my family, show up, and give fingerprints (the latter was a problem for me for several weeks due to an injured thumb, but thankfully worked out). Sorry. Tangent. My point being this: if they don’t need documentation, they already HAVE ALL THE INFO THEY NEED. I’m pretty sure they have all my social media stuff anyway. It’s mostly public anyway. What are we, ostriches? If employers Google potential employees, am pretty sure the US government (aka FBI/CIA) have the tech and access 10 steps ahead of Google to find out everything they need. Ok?

    Which brings me to the second point. What the HECK ARE YOU RISKING when people at the US border ask for your phone and social media passwords? How likely is it that something innocent you did could be misconstrued? Like, how likely are you to be kicked out of your own country or to be detained unjustly? Really. If you’re a white woman? Or even white man? Really. Be serious. Even if they search you, take your phone, are you seriously scared? Seriously? SERIOUSLY? 

    And I think of who I have on Facebook as friends. There are friends I grew up with who have strong Muslim brotherhood connections (ok this scares me on a local level as MB are more problematic here than US, I hear). The friend I used to play Barbies with.. The guy who had a crush on me who used to play squash with me. The brother of a close college friend (the former has been imprisoned and tortured, the latter afraid to reenter the country). 

    Yes. That.

    I’ve never personally had anything horrible happen to me beyond the demeaning bodily searches they do at Manchester airport (didn’t happen in London this year, yay?) and the frequent random checks (fewer now since I travel with my child more often).

    And honestly, I’m not concerned about myself so much as I know, I know, if some government wanted info on me or my contacts, they already have it. 

    And do you know what else? I bought a new phone (because deleting data doesn’t mean they can’t retrieve it) for entry into the US. I read all the ways ppl can do stuff to make their passwords and social media accounts seem invisible to border officials. But you know what. Doesn’t doing that just make you seem more suspicious? I mean seriously. If you go to lengths to hide stuff from the government, it makes it look like you got something worth hiding. And if you’re a person who looks Muslim what does that imply?

    And of course I don’t want anyone wading through my data. My kid’s health information for example. My family’s. My friends’ whatever. Because it’s not cool. But it’s not literally what’s dangerous. And most people who are complaining about this for their own selves are annoying me. If you’re concerned and advocating for other people who will be innocent but targeted and possibly hurt by this, that’s great. But if you stand a very low chance of getting hurt by this, please. Don’t complain in front of me because it just makes me angry.

    But maybe I’m just being naïve. 

    June 6, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    3 Comments

    Citizenship in spite of… #DigCiz

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    So I’ve been thinking about this for a few days… a discussion on Twitter re #DigCiz where I asked whether we’ve interrogated “citizenship” before the “digital” side of it. And as this discussion unfolded and other things came up on Twitter and on Slack, I realized something. Here I am talking about citizenship with a network that is mostly people in North America, or at least in some Western country, and their understanding of citizenship will be so vastly different from mine simply because our experiences of citizenship are so vastly different…

    Even though much of how I theorize citizenship and digital anything comes from Western modes of thought, I want to focus on how I experience citizenship.

    We Love “In Spite Of” not “Because”

    But first, this: it is possible that when we are in the process of falling in love with someone, we have reasons, we love them “because” or “just because”… but then we get to know them closely, and if we’re lucky that the love continues, we get to know a lot of awful things about the person if we spend enough time with them, we see their ugliest side, and we love them “in spite of” this.

    Our parents, our children, whom we don’t “choose” per se, usually. Unless there’s a huge problem, we usually love them “just because” (even if they have great qualities). But more than that, we love them “in spite of” everything we know about them that isn’t beautiful.

    I think that for me, and many others, we tend to love our country “just because”. I don’t love Egypt because it’s beautiful, even though a lot of it is. I love it “in spite of” what’s ugly about it, and I see that ugliness because I’m here much more than I did when I was growing up in Kuwait. And I see the ugliness more because I love it.

    We don’t all have choices related to our citizenship. We are born into one (or more, or none) and we may make choices that give us other options, but so often those options are not even on the table for some of us, and many are blocked to us. And yet, I have made decisions time and again to stay here in Egypt. I’ve lived elsewhere and considered immigration, but I’ve stayed. And I’ve stayed for two main reasons: For the people here, and for the country. The people are the key thing. I stay for my extended family. I’m an only child with an only child – my extended family matters to me and to my child and I cannot imagine leaving them long-term. Even though I grew up in Kuwait before the internet age (so we only used to call our family in Egypt once a week or so) I had enough family who lived in Kuwait, and my grandmas visited often enough, we visited often enough, that I still felt part of my family.

    But I also love Egypt itself. Which makes very little sense, really. I stay not because Egypt is wonderful, but in spite of all that’s wrong with it – and for some reason I want to help fix anything I can, even knowing that there is sooooooooo much to fix, whatever I do is probably going to be a needle in a haystack, but I want to try. Even a little.

    When people talk about digital citizenship and express critiques on surveillance, I remember how surveillance is the fact of everyday life here and is not veiled at all. When people talk about freedom of expression, I’m not really living a big oppression on that, because I self-censor before I even speak. When people talk about all kinds of political and civil rights, they’re talking about something completely different from my experience. My digital freedoms and rights seem to be so much more than my actual ones… in many ways it’s easier to be a digital citizen for me.

    And yet, I’m a digital citizen in spite of all the risks and potential ugliness it brings. The more I stay, the more I can see this, but I stay. We have much more mobility with our digital presence than our physical presence, don’t we? And yet I stay for the people. And maybe, just maybe, my staying some place will make a difference, no matter how small.

    So maybe a digital citizenship of hope…

    Thinking about my upcoming course with digital literacies focus, I think of this article by Autumm Caines, Sundi Richard and others on digital citizenship where they conclude that “successful initiatives will build on local interests, opportunities, and needs” – and how I would need to focus on how digital literacies/citizenship has worked for Egypt in the past – during the revolution, before and after it, and how different and similar our citizenship is to that of other countries and contexts. And then how that affects how we interface with the digital.

    May 31, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    1 Comment

    Reflecting on @VConnecting as Digital Placemaking #MELSIG

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Wednesday, May 31st. Andrew Middleton had invited me to talk about Virtually Connecting as Digital Placemaking at #MELSIG event – so I invited a bunch of buddies who live on a similar timezone. Of those, Martin Weller, Teresa MacKinnon, Simon Ensor, Christian Friedrich, and Sarah Crowson agreed to join me. Sue Beckingham was going to participate with us onsite, but circumstances prevented her from being there.

    Andrew suggested we do a regular VC hallway conversation first, to hear about the conference, and then to do a presentation about VConnecting. Both were announced on VC blog (where videos for both sessions are embedded for anyone to watch later).

    One of the interesting things about he hallway conversation is that initially, the setup was using the large lecture hall, where we (virtuals) would have been on a large screen and our 3-4 onsite guests would appear as tiny dots “down there”. Given that the event was about digital placemaking, I asked if we could move the conversation to a smaller device like a laptop or iPad and the onsite folks could huddle around it… we joked about placemaking and Alex Spiers, Claire, Andrew, and later Tunde joined the conversation from someone’s tablet. It was much better and felt more intimate to see them up close and be able to talk to them that way. It was a really interesting conversation about metaphors of place/space that can be then used for digital spaces.

    Right after that one was over, it was time for us to present about Virtually Connecting as Digital Placemaking. This was an interesting thing for me, because Andrew had sort of given me a title and a short blurb and asked me to speak to it 🙂 So it just sort of prompted my thinking of it as something I hadn’t particularly thought of talking or thinking about before… and amongst our team, between us we came up with really interesting points to make (watch the hangout) especially about hospitality, ownership, agency, messiness (loved Sarah’s point about VC as kitchen table!!!) and more – and I loved the points Martin made about the benefits to onsite folks and Christian about how VC can be an outlet when you are onsite at a conference is more conservative or such (I love it every time someone says that because it helps me see more clearly why our onsite buddies continue to do it).  We couldn’t see the audience, unfortunately at ALL and they had no questions for us (we couldn’t see them so we didn’t know how many were in the room!) but Tunde asked a couple of good questions which helped us expand some more on what we were talking about.

    Here are the slides I used to kick off our presentation (I literally modified slides from #ICA17, using same pics but different text and adding a picture of all the buddies from the VC session right before our presentation – Just in Time slides). I used them mainly to show the pictures, more than to actually present particular things… so people watching could sort of imagine what VC is and what the spaces look like, how informal they are. I liked how Tunde noticed the front picture and how we look like we’re huddled around the phone having fun… and I loved how Christian was drinking from the VConnecting mug at the end 🙂

    Here are the slides I used, with the link to the YouTube hangout embedded in them)

    Side note: I’ve been to Edge Hill University – it is a beautiful beautiful campus, although it’s in a really rural and cut-off part of England (or it feels that way to “city girl” me – and I’m someone who has lived in Norwich, which is a very small city but Lancashire where Edge Hill is was a very strange experience for me, speaking of placemaking…).

    May 29, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    1 Comment

    Participating and Streaming #ICA17 Closing Plenary

    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    A few months ago, I was invited to participate in #ICA17 Closing Plenary. It was an honor to be invited, but I couldn’t take them up on the offer because I had already planned my trips this year (also based on invitations) and I couldn’t imagine adding the stress of one more trip to my already complicated family dynamic. I also wasn’t sure I would manage to get the US visa in time (also because of other trips requiring visas and passport availability). Thankfully, they accepted my offer to participate virtually, and thankfully, the timing works well for me given the crazy Ramadan schedule here. The session takes place at 12.30 Pacific, i.e. 9.30pm my time and I will livestream the Google hangout here inshallah 

    Which all seems appropriate as my plan is to speak mostly about Virtually Connecting at this event inshallah. Which is of course all about that: how to have a presence and a voice at academic events if one cannot travel. There is so much privilege in the way academic social capital is built around conference attendance.

    Thanks to Anne-Cong Huyen, we had a Vconnecting session the other day with micha cárdenas and Leah Komen, so I got a favor of the conference from them. We talked about borders as algorithms, micha’s Instagram project #holdyourboundaries, Leah’s work with mobile learning in Kenya, and Anne’s work with FemTechNet and establishing digital learning/scholarship at Whittier.

    I am really excited about this conference because it seems to have a critical focus, and they seem to have been intentional about including diverse and marginalized voices, and my understanding from speaking to Paula and JP is that they are also being hospitable to folks who couldn’t travel in person because of the recent upheaval and bans in the US.

    The closing plenary has the title “Pedagogical Interventions: Transforming the Academy via New Media, Mobile Technologies & Gaming”

    Here is the panel abstract

        This closing roundtable explores the potentials for new and mobile media, emerging technologies, and gaming to disrupt learning in academic environments from the classroom to the conference. From Cairo to Florida, Nairobi to Texas, these scholars explore their efforts to employ locally available technologies to interrogate common practices of teaching, and learning, and to initiate innovative forms of collaboration within and beyond academic walls. The #ICAplay development team joins the panel to reflect on their strategy to disrupt participant flows in our first ever ICA Conference Game.

    May 24, 2017
    by Maha Bali
    3 Comments

    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!

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