Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

October 18, 2017
by Maha Bali

To #YogaMOOC or not to #YogaMOOC

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I woke up this morning thinking: I’m not ok. My fuse is short lately, and I wake up every day deciding I won’t lose my temper today (I haven’t yet, this particular day) but I found myself more mindful of the kinds of things that build up in the first few hours of my day that I need to work not to lose my temper over…and i realize why eventually, I do lose my temper.

I came across #YogaMOOC by coincidence yday. I remembered how I had so much trauma during my pregnancy (country in revolution, dad having accident, husband hospitalized, bleeding due my pregnancy, dad passing) and yet I was really unexpectedly calm throughout most of it. Possibly the pregnancy hormones. But I also had a daily 20-30 minute yoga ritual (before pregnancy I exercised regularly for about 2 years at the gym and at home – these yoga moves I got from iTunes videos). I’m doing neither of these things right now..and I’m really stressed at work and at home, even though nothing really by itself warrants this amount of stress.

So maybe I’ll give this yoga MOOC a try. It’s offered via University of Texas at Arlington and as with all their MOOCs I have tried, you can do the EdX route (yuck, not for me) or you can do it your way (blogging etc). So here goes. I’m not sure I have the stamina or time for a MOOC, but if this one helps my wellbeing any, it might just be worth it! Let’s see! About a year ago Jim Groom and I were joking about virtually meditating… This might just be it šŸ™‚ two weeks ago, Maren Deepwell was joking about vconnecting via interpretive dance if mics don’t work…so, really, why not yoga MOOC?

October 15, 2017
by Maha Bali

The Invisible and Intangible Dimensions of Teaching

Reading Time: 2 minutes

ā€‹A couple of things inspired this post…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is for someone outside of the student-teacher relationship to really see the teaching that’s happening.

For example, I have a colleague who observes most of my classes this semester, and with whom I brainstorm what I plan to do for the class, but I also have some privte interactions with students which influence how I behave in class, but these interactions are invisible to her. I was thinking about how peer observations of teaching would not clarify certain things unless it comes up in conversation between the teacher and observer.

I was also thinking about how conducting peer observations of another person, even if you do it multiple times, gives you a window of what that person does in their classroom, but teaching is so much more than that – there’s also how the teacher interacts with students outside the classroom, how they give feedback on assignments and such, how they decide what to do for next class, and so on. I know that a good peer observation would involve pre and post discussion where things like that could potentially come up, but they don’t always… Because they’re a million tiny things and you won’t always realize which of them is relevant when… 

And then there was the question someone (Rissa?) asked me on Twitter about a recent blogpost – I wrote about how my students’ narrative game prototypes were breaking my heart…and that maybe that should be a learning goal…and she asked about the process in class to how we got there.. And even though I shared all the text of the assignments we did leading up to it, and that we had brief discussions in class (which I recall vaguely as being good but not overly long) , I can’t honestly put my finger on what led to such great assignments… I am thinking it’s possibly something Intangible and not necessarily tied to that particular class session or such… Also that it might have nothing at all to do with me but more to do with the students themselves. It could relate to an email exchange or some other thing I did like shared something of myself. I literally don’t know. I might actually ask the students tomorrow about this, but I’m not even sure THEY know!

What do you think of this?

I’ve always always always felt a syllabus was a poor representation of how good a teacher/course would be, and obviously a couple of observations of someone’s teaching may or may not indicate something. And looking at a couple of student assignments will never be enough. And then even a teacher’s own reflections will always be limited… Even when it’s ongoing because what you choose to highlight in the moment will differ from what seems important in hindsight and such.

Anyway. Bottom line: I’ll ask my students! 

October 14, 2017
by Maha Bali

Learning Goals for Humanity: Invite Students to Break Your Heart

Reading Time: 2 minutes Ok, I didn’t actually literally invite this. But it’s what is happening and while my heart is breaking, it is also swelling with pride at the depth of empathy and humanity my students are showing in their proposed digital narrative games this semester. I’ve been teaching freshmen for several years, and it’s my first time teaching older students (mostly juniors but my sophomores are as mature as my seniors this semester – a really beautiful group). 

So the assignment is in multiple parts (details and links on our course website here). First we played a couple of digital narrative games in class (Spent/BBC Syrian Refugees) and reflected orally then they played more games of their choice at home and blogged reflections. We reflected a bit in class, then they had time to create their own prototype game as a blogpost. If you want to give them feedback on their blogposts, just go to and search for the keyword “Prototype” or “narrative game” and you’ll be able read their posts and leave a comment.

This semester, I have students thinking of games to educate and promote empathy for orphans, domestic abuse victims, streetsweepers, cancer patients, drug addicts, Mexican earthquake survivors and homeless people. 

Last semester, one student game really touched me. It was a board game about mental illness and one of the team members was herself suffering from mental illness. I didn’t ask all my students how closely they knew the people they were promoting empathy for, but I’ve asked them to do additional research, speaking to people in those situations or counselors or such.

As I was looking at one of the blogposts now, and giving feedback on it, I was thinking of how these games have dug deep into their emotions and inner strength to consider creating games like these. I am sure some have taken risks of exposing M ore about themselves than they thought they would be doing in this course. And I have a feeling that once these games become the digital games they’re destined to become (it’s a digital literacies course!) they might have value beyond the course. I can’t wait to have my heart broken over and over again.

October 10, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Sometimes Open Matters #OpenEdMOOC

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Open matters

Because some of us live inside these walls

Locked inside 

And we don’t have the key

Open matters

Because some of us keep hitting our heads on those ceilings 

We never signed up for

And we can’t see beyond 

Open matters

Because you can have vision 

Even if you can’t see

Open matters


For those who face walls

For those with no keys

For those with no eyes to see

No voices to speak

No choices to seek

Open matters

Because sometimes it’s the only thing we have

The only thing we have to give

And you ask me what open looks like

And I can’t tell you

But it’s inside my heart

And you ask me why open matters

And I can’t tell you

Because sometimes I see nothing else

Nowhere else to go

But open

Because every other road

Is walls

And doors

And ceilings

And sometimes open is what matters

Because open is the only way to breathe

Sometimes open matters

Because open is the only way to be


Above is an emotional reaction I got after watching a couple of videos from the #OpenEdMOOC. I had forgotten about this MOOC for some reason until Autumm blogged and then Ken blogged… And then I realized I should give this a go. Two of the big men of open made a MOOC, about open, it better be good. I like the conversational style of the videos I saw…but I had this emotional reaction (also partly triggered by the beautiful protoype digital narrative games my students are thinking of and which I was reading just before Ken’s post) and I thought I should write it immediately…so there it is. I may write a more straightforward post later šŸ˜‰ or I might not šŸ™‚

October 10, 2017
by Maha Bali

Humanity not Humanities

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Only through the humanities can we prepare leaders of empathy, imagination, and understandingā€”responsive and responsible leaders who embrace complexity and diversity.
Peter Solovey, President of Yale

I beg to differ.

Beautiful as the humanities are, this quote gives them far more credit than they deserve. 

I think if we replaced “the humanities” with “interacting deeply with different others with humanity”, it might fit.

Sure, you can gain empathy through reading the points of view of others and feeling what they feel through novels and music and film. But that is nothing like living for an extended period of time with people different from yourself and experiencing their joy and suffering. 

Sure, you can gain imagination vicariously by studying the humanities, but you can also become better at imagination if you develop a close friendship with someone whose culture is extremely different from your own and try to learn to see the world through their lens.

Understanding, responsive, responsible leaders do not learn any of this by studying it. They learn it by living it. By experiencing it. You do not understand, respond and become responsible for something you study in college or elsewhere. You become that by enacting it and perhaps reflecting on it in an academic environment – but you don’t develop it there unless that environment encourages you to live those experiences. 

Humanity is not the purview of the humanities. It should pervade all our learning and all our behavior. Nurses need to be empathetic and I don’t think they need humanities to develop this – they just need someone to get out of their way and allow them to have human emotions even as they learn to become professional caregivers. Computer scientists need to be empathetic, to better create things that meet the needs of other people – and I don’t know how the humanities can help with that, but I do know how working closely with other people can. Political scientists need to be responsive (God, do they need to be responsive!) but that comes from dialogue with people, not by studying humanities. 

This is not at all a rant against the humanities. I think the humanities inspire a great deal of beauty and enrich our lives and hearts and minds and souls in so many ways. I can’t live without them. But I don’t think any course of study itself achieves any of those things the president of Yale is suggesting. I think all of those things develop with human experience, and you don’t need to be a humanist to do that.

Unless I have misunderstood something. Please enlighten me. I am objecting to the “only through the humanities” (historically theoretical disciplines which I believe can promote all of these things but that they are not sufficient nor necessary in themselves for this, whereas deep interaction with “other” human beings is necessary – but probably not sufficient – for this)

October 5, 2017
by Maha Bali

Jam – Podcasting, annotating, and other stuff

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just a brain jam worth recording. 

I recently recorded a podcast w Melissa Mallon for Leading Lines (out of Vanderbilt University) and it was published this week. Take a listen here.

This all comes at a perfect time. I’m about to start doing podcasts with my students (sometime soon) and they’ve started discussing digital literacies, so I might ask them to listen to it.

Interestingly, I talk about my desire to do a discussion on terms and conditions w my students which I keep not managing to do. For reasons. But I need to get over it. Sigh.

I also talk a bit about #edcmooc, possibly the best MOOC I took on Coursera and just before #rhizo14 (which is probably when I became Internet famous, ahem).

Anyway the cool thing is..the team from Edinburgh had recently published a new version of their Online Teaching Manifesto. Really cool. And then Tanya Dorey-Elias copied it into an upcoming creativity in the open event website she’s organizing and started a annotation for it. So I now think my students might benefit from joining THAT party. AND I have a workshop coming up w Nadine Aboulmagd where we introduce faculty to annotation (text and multimedia) so we can use that one for the workshop as it’s quite provocative.

Interestingly Tania also has a little audio  exercise that can be a mini prep for Podcasting for my students! 

So yeah. It all comes together! 

P.S. Do u know what’s hilarious? While getting links for this, i saw my name and noticed that Tanya writes that the annotation was MY IDEA! I checked my email and she’s RIGHT. Lollllllllll. Total brain block. I’m glad it’s had such a good response rate. It’s a provocative manifesto.

October 5, 2017
by Maha Bali

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I find myself using “twas” a lot and I just thought a quick blogpost would explain … in case it’s not obvious.

Twitter has the 140 character limit, so instead of typing “it was” (6 chars) I type “twas”(4 chars) to save space.

You’re welcome.

And do I remind you of that poem… “twas brillig…” (Jaberwocky)? OR something else? I promise I don’t speak in old English šŸ™‚

October 4, 2017
by Maha Bali

Using Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers in Class – Part 1

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So I have an assignment for my digital literacies class where students will work in groups to read parts of Mike Caulfield’s book, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, and present it to their colleagues in 15 mins or so with an activity to demonstrate the skill(s) they’ve presented. Earlier in the class, like our second class, I showed them the doctored video of Trump/Mecca (see my blogpost on that)Ā  and they easily found out it was a hoax and the original, but we all wondered why someone would do that.

Before students go off and do the reading, I thought I’d let them try a tricky search (which I hadn’t myself tried first) and see how they feel … and I gave them feedback without going through Mike’s steps. So Mike’s latest blogpost recommended a few climate-related questions. And it was a really interesting exercise, because, as I was reflecting on the activity with a colleague today, I realized what I already knew about the importance of discipline and domain knowledge is essential here.

For example:

  1. Many students found the Daily Mail. A few of them knew or figured out this was a UK newspaper. They did not know it was not a very serious newspaper on par with The Guardian, The Independent or the Times. I’d never buy it when I was in the UK unless it was the Sunday version and it came with a cool free gift. Seriously.
  2. A student found a site called and went deeper to discover more about the site, who owned/founded it, etc. As that student dug deeper, no alarm bells rang for him when he discovered the connection of the founder with Rush Limbaugh. For me, it was immediate: Republican person, affiliated with Rush Limbaugh, probably a climate change denier, probably not very accurate science. (no offense to anyone about my bias here…)
  3. A student did something really smart and checked out if there was any info on NASA. The problem is, when she found stuff on NASA website, she could not understand a thing. It was so far outside her domain of knowledge, she could not understand what the website was saying.
  4. Later, when I got home, and I searched, I ended up finding out pretty quickly about a Russian mathematician who made a claim that made some people misunderstand and publish the exaggerated claims, but they retracted it later and…. and I discovered of course something about on one of those fact-checking website (Snopes I think) and confirmed my bias is probably on the right track (as we like to hear about our biases – I got lucky with this one, but I don’t get lucky every time). Sorry I didn’t chronicle my process in detail as I would want my students to do… I’m just highlighting how my search process was different from my students’ because I was more aware of US politics and quality of certain sites by experience.

Next up, students will work in groups of 3-4 to present to the rest of the class different chapters of Mike’s book (all of them should read chapter 1 so they should get the general idea of all the skills/steps)… I’ll post more when we get there.

I’m still wondering if it’s too late for my students to participate in answering difficult questions that Mike had curated, or if they can come up with their own… and whether they’ll want to do stuff on Wikipedia for example (possible immediate gratification) or something else…

September 30, 2017
by Maha Bali

On Transformative Learning – my class and #facdev

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We might ask ourselves as faculty development professionals, do we offer programs that incorporate the processes that enable deeper understanding, discovery, or transformative change? Are we aiming for increasing knowledge and skills as primary program outcomes, but falling short of creating opportunities in which faculty can critically reflect, reconceptualize, and engage in soul learning? Wouldn’t it make sense to imagine that at some point, in some faculty members’ careers, they will seek deeper understanding and affective as well as cognitive transformation? Are we considering how, and are we willing to offer a palette of opportunities that include a broader array of learning and development? Though time and budgetary resources are stretched, must we provide only the most popular programs, and not venture into opportunities that may promise a different kind of development?

Connie Schroeder 

I found myself thinking a lot about transformative learning these days because my boss just got promoted to Associate Provost for Transformative Learning and Teaching. 

I am guilty of occasionally using the term, even while knowing there was a theory on it put forth by Mezirow. I’m not surprised by (or I remember from earlier reading) the different dimensions of transformative learning, that it involves critical reflection and can influence beliefs, self-awareness and behavior. After I read up a bit again now. I am particularly struck by the importance of the “disorienting dilemma” to challenge learners’ assumptions. I was wondering how far we do it in our classee, recognizing that different learners will have different moments in the class that do this for them. I’m thinking that maybe we do need to do some of this in facdev.

I’m thinking maybe I went through a disorienting dilemma while I was in the US because my assumptions were challenged so deeply in ways I was not at all expecting. Not at all.

I was thinking how uncomfortable it was (God it was painful and still is) and how far I want to do this with students for their own good without pushing them over the edge of sanity. Is there literature on dangers of aiming for too many disorienting dilemmas?

Yday I watched an episode of an English/Indian drama called The Good Karma hospital. It was really full of  potentially disorienting dilemmas:

  1. There was an English woman who came to India to get a kidney transplant (and an a Indian doctor who treated her like scum for doing this unethical task of buying a human being’s organ). In Egypt the law is against this, but if someone offers or is family, it’s ok, as long as it’s not bought. But what do you do if it’s your child who needs a kidney transplant but you can’t find a match within your family? The reality is that people buy. And I under that Iran has a system to regulate this but it doesnā€™t turn a blind eye
  2. There was a poor man who got run over by a car. In the end, his leg was about to be amputated because they couldn’t afford to pay for a vascular surgeon. However, the direcror of the hospital pieces some clues together by coincidence and discovers the car that ran him over belongs to a famous vascular surgeon and makes a deal with him to do the surgery and she won’t report him. Is this ethical? Moreover we discover later it was the surgeon’s daughter who was driving…. These are useful questions to tackle from different ethical perspectives (consequential, value-based, etc)
  3. There was a famous movie star who was trying to get drugs out of the hospital for a drug habit she has. A nurse who was dazzled by her wanted to help her while the doctors tried to stop the movie star. The nurse tried to talk the woman out of it, but in the end failed and gave her the drugs. To me this one seems less controversial, but it’s still a situation (if abstracted) that someone could face

On another note, this Good Karma Hospital thing drove me nuts because of all the derogatory speak about India. I understand it’s realistic about how English people would view India, and I’m hoping that watching it regularly will be a transformative experience, challenging people’s assumptions about India!

On another note. My personal belief is that personal experiences of difference are a much stronger disorienting dilemma than theoretical discussions. I do think that if you have the personal experience but don’t get the opportunity to reflect in a supportive environment, ig can be damaging. But as a teacher you can’t always know when this moment will happen for each learner, so I’m curious if anyone has had experiences implementing this. It feels like a more structured model for critical pedagogy and difficult to imagine in practice but I’m pretty sure I can find papers on it as a practice with research data. 

September 29, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Brainstorming a Workshop on Curriculum Theory and Future Trends in EducationĀ 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been asked to give a f2f workshop to young(ish) enterprising ppl interested in education. As far as I understand, this doesn’t mean they’re entrepreneurs, but rather people who care about education and would like to make a difference. 

I was asked to cover two topics and to cover them both in a row (in 3 hours)

  1. Curriculum theory (i was originally asked to talk about educational theories but I changed it to this – someone else will do educational theories)
  2. Future trends in education 

So what I’m thinking about is to do an activity where different groups of participants build something (with my Bornimago magnets) using different “rules”. The rules would represent the different approaches to curriculum theory. And then we would discuss curriculum theory and apply it to their own education and context and experiences. And then we would take a break and look at certain “future trends” in education such as MOOCs, blended learning, flipped learning , maybe I could solicit from them what else they consider to be future trends. And we would unpack the discourses around these trends and how one would evaluate them based on the various curriculum theory approaches. 

So I may or may not do the Humility walk at some point, to also illustrate how different approaches to curriculum theory would look at it.

So here’s the magnets activity (feedback welcome). There would be the following rules for each team

  1. Team members are given some content to read about magnets and buildings. They are not given actual magnets but there will be actual magnets around, near them, but not given to them (this represents a curriculum as content approach that doesn’t tell you what to do with the content)
  2. Team members are given a particular outcome to produce and some magnets to work with. E.g. They’re asked to create a stable structure that is 50 cm high in 5 minutes with a fixed number of magnets (this represents the Curriculum as product approach)
  3. Team members are given freedom to create a creative structure of their choosing as long as they democratically choose how it will look and decide together how they want it to be judged (this represents the process approach where focus is on the process of working together not a particular outcome)
  4. Same as the team above BUT one Participant only is able to hold the magnets while other participants are only allowed to give instructions to that person. I might add a secret additional role where one participant either igesture allowed to talk but is allowed to gesture…or something like that (this represents the Curriculum as praxis approach because we’re highlighting the power differences and not assuming democracy is easily achieved simply because we ask participants to do it)

I’m guessing in the post-activity discussion some unexpected things might come up and may open up additional avenues for discussion. 

Then I’ll re-cap the pros and cons of different approaches to curriculum theory. We’ll discuss how curriculum is usually framed in Egyptian schools and universities and what shifting the approach might entail.

 I may do Humility walk to wrap up or not, depending on time.

When we get to future trends in education, I’ll describe some of the trends and ask them how to evaluate its usefulness… Maybe taking on the hat of a funder or policymaker or teacher who’s considering investing in this… And from their responses to clarify how each response uses a particular curriculum approach. I’ll ask them if there are particular trends they’re curious about – maybe I should do this first before I talk about particular ones…though i think my blurb for the workshop already lists some trends I plan to talk about 

Feedback welcome 


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: