Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

March 22, 2017
by Maha Bali

Tourists and Terrorists

Reading Time: 1 minutes

When you come to our country we treat you like tourists 

When we go to your country you treat us like terrorists

We treat you with open arms

You treat us with arms (as in weapons)

We treat you with hospitality 

You treat us with hostility

I found it interesting how these words, in English, look so similar but have vastly different meanings. I can also totally see a reversed perspective on the us/them in this piece. As in, who the us are and who the them.

March 20, 2017
by Maha Bali

On @vconnecting as Affinity Space 2/2

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This is a continuation of y/day’s post, reflecting on Virtually Connecting as Affinity Space, using the attributes mentioned in Gee and Elizabeth Hayes article Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Games-Based Learning. 

(I have also now re-listened to 2/3 of the focus groups we did ahead of OER17 so I have that feedback at the back of my mind also)

So the next few points are all related to knowledge and how it’s constructed and negotiated in affinity spaces, so I will just list this here and discuss it all in one go. These are attributes 5-9 as described in the article :

  • 5. Content is transformed by interaction and “is a product of not just the designer…but of ongoing socual interaction in the group” p. 13. Content isn’t fixed, and people negotiate not just content but also norms, values, etc. 
  • 6. The development of both specialist and broad, general knowledge are encouraged, and specialist knowledge is pooled. Everyone sees their knowledge as partial and people share a good amount of what they know, hence benefiting from different strengths of people in the group. 
  • 7. Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged. “Nurturing Affinity Spaces tend to foster a view of expertise as rooted more in the space itself, it the community that exists in the space, and not in individuals’ heads” p. 16
  • 8. The use of dispersed knowledge is facilitated. This means not all knowledge is in the space itself, but people link out to other spaces as well 
  • 9. Tacit knowledge is used and honored; explicit knowledge is encouraged. So whereas tutorials are common, there is still a reliance on personal contact to spread tips and tricks

So commenting on VC. Lots of this seems to apply for people who are “inside” VC running the show rather than people outside who are participating as guests. There are some of us who have more experience on the virtual or onsite side. Some of us do more Twitter, others do more of other stuff. It’s not always the same person exploring how hangouts is changing and what we should do about it. We also get feedback from participants and conference organizers and discuss how we might change our norms to make it easier for people to participate. We discuss what kind of license to have on our videos. We find ways to make it easier for folks to watch later, to calculate timezones, and this kind of learning is distributed among us. We will link out to existing tutorials outside and make our own for our stuff (we need to do more of it) and yet there are still subtle things that come up in interaction that aren’t clarified somewhere. I think we need to do better on

  1. More formalized knowledge for newbies 
  2. More personal contact for newbies who want to ask questions – though usually someone will most definitely be there to respond if someone asks, some people may need a little more explicit invitation to learn more

Here comes my absolute FAVORITE one of all the attributes because it came up in the focus groups and I realized it is totally ok and acceptable and embraced:

10. There are many different forms and routes to participation. Some people participate peripherally and some centrally, daily or sporadically. 

Now even though we recognize it’s difficult for people who don’t know VC or don’t know anyone inside VC to actually participate, I think anyone who considers participating has a wide range of ways of participating to choose from (this came up in focus groups and in Slack discussions over the past month or so)

For virtual folks, they can

  1. Watch a recording later (spectator). This is important because times will never be suitable for everyone 
  2. Watch live and tweet along, or not, either is fine. (Active spectator if tweeting)
  3. Be inside the hangout live and either participate orally or in writing in the text chat (some people prefer the latter)
  4. Be a virtual buddy organizing the hangout from a technical and facilitation perspective, or be the backup buddy doing that also in a backup capacity (we have more details on this now in an orientation video for virtual buddies) 

And it’s perfectly ok that some virtual participants only ever join us once for that one session that interested them. I And also ok to join many of these but never become a buddy (I’m looking at you George!). And it’s also ok for anyone to become a buddy even if they had never participated at all (we have quite a few of these, Joe Murphy, Ken Bauer, Nate Angell come to mind). Therw are people who are part of Slack and participate actively there but rarely can make live sessions (Harriett Watkins comes to mind, and she said in the focus group she watches many sessions afterwards). 

Useful suggestions from focus group 1 on making this kind of thing easier for newbies is to have faculty bring their students with them (happened before, can be done more intentionally for education students) or for any Participant to bring a buddy with them (again, happened before but can be encouraged further). 

There are also different ways to participate onsite, and focus group feedback (esp group one) questioned how we can be more inclusive about this. How can we be more sensitive to the (social capital?) needs of onsite “little people” who are privileged to be at an event but not privileged to have anyone to talk to over coffee, let alone talk to keynote speakers the way VC allows). Currently, we have 4 kinds of onsite Participant

  1. Lead onsite buddy, using their device to connect us, bringing guests, communicating with virtual buddy, finding a good space to meet and such, facilitates conversation 
  2. Backup onsite buddy, helps with above, takes photos 
  3. Onsite guest: someone we invite to join us. Sometimes personal invitations via Email or Twitter , sometimes open calls. Sometimes someone will ask to join when we didn’t know they were there for example. Open invitations tend to bring more privileged folks. Women and less famous people rarely respond to open calls
  4. Onsite Participant/drop-in: people onsite who are interested but weren’t originally invited. They can either watch off camera or on camera, depending on their comfort and how crowded the session is. Some rooms allow them to sit behind guests so they’re with us but less prominent. It depends 

Anyway I will move on from this attribute to the next one!

  • 11. There are many different routes to status.  This is particularly relevant to VC in the sense that many people who are highly respected within VC aren’t really high status in their f2f context. But like Bonnie Stewart’s research about Twitter, this really just creates a parallel hierarchy type of thing. It’s not the same people as in f2f, and it’s definitely more fluid and permeable, but there are still status differences, inevitably. The key in Gee and Hayes is for a nurturing affinity space to be accepting of people who don’t seek high status or the commitment that goes with it. And that, i feel, is the case for VC. That some people are more or less committed and that’s fine
  • 12. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources 
  • 12. Roles are reciprocal (the article has two 12s, really!)
  • 13. A view of learning that is individually proactive, but does not exclude help, is encouraged 

These three seem related somewhat. I think in some ways we do this well but not consistently and not always. There are for example 3 co-directors and different people take leadership of particular events, but we are told we still don’t delegate enough. Partly we don’t do that coz we don’t want to ask volunteers to give more than they’re able to commit, but we have seen how, for example, someone who gets comped registration steps up and does much more work. There’s still an impression and certain people get more credit for this movement (I’m looking at you, mirror) when it’s really based on the coordinated work of a good number of people PER SESSION, let alone per event or as a whole. Coordinating across events is even challenging and doing work in between to enhance onboarding and such? All of that work is shared and different people step up to do it. Doing research to improve VC? This has never been just Autumm, Rebecca and me. It’s always involved others. Almost all our conference presentations ABOUT VC involve other people from the team. 

 I do think we have the reciprocity of roles thing. Different people lead different parts and follow others.

The one about learning – in the article about being welcoming of newbies questions and mistakes. I think we try to do this. It may or may not come across as nurturing, but for the most part, most of us in the core group want more people to learn so they can do more work independently and we value people who can problem solve. We often have discussions on Slack as people try to solve a problem and others help.

  • 14. People get encouragement from an audience and feedback from peers, though everyone plays both roles at different times

I’m gonna interpret this ooneas fluidity in roles where the same person is sometimes a buddy and sometimes a guest or Participant. When we did focus groups recently, we got feedback from people who were participants mainly but also from people who are part of the team.  We listen to these perspectives as we go, session by session, event by event, but it helped to pause and seek it explicitly. 

====beyond the attributes =====

Some other interesting points in the Gee and Hayes article:

  • These attributes are easier in online spaces than f2d because people are bound by common interests/passion and come by CHOICE. Fewer status differentials or institutional or geographic boundaries. YUP.
  • “Humans do not learn anything deeply by force. Humans do not learn anything in depth without passion and persistence” p. 25
  • Authors suggest the main things affinity spaces teach is how to assess success and take alternative routes when something isn’t working. This is written in the article in a weird way. I do think we individually and as a group are constantly learning to navigate and improve as one thing we try work or doesn’t. On the technical level we do this all the time to make hangouts just work! But also on a strategic level we try different models for working w conferences and for including new people as guests and participants and buddies
  • Pareto Principle: this one is Crucially important and mostly true for VC. That 20% of the team do 80% of the work and 80% of the team do 20% of the work. I was SO RELIEVED to read this. I thought we were doing something wrong, that some people were much more committed than others. It was good to know this is expected. I’m not sure where the Pareto princple comes from, but it seems to be that Gee and Hayes found it the case in online gaming spaces. Who the really active 20% are can change over time, but the overall ratio seems similar.

The article goes on to compare nurturing vs non-nurturing affinity spaces. Cordial vs antagonistic behavior. 

So here is where I think VC is at (based on focus group feedback from first 2 groups) and my own reflections 

  1. We are attempting to be a nurturing affinity space and have many aspects of it
  2. We may unintentionally or out of neglect (the latter is important because it is something to work on) be not very welcoming of new people in terms onboarding to the team and not be clearly welcoming to new participants because we look to be an “us” that they don’t feel part of. 
  3. VC may be an affinity space for a particular kind of virtual experience and not for everyone. Most extroverts who are comfortable with social interaction and making mistakes in public would enjoy it. Some people who are introverts can benefit from it and we need to see how we can help make that experience possible 
  4. We need to be clear on what our shared passion is. We are definitely not covering conferences in Chemistry or History. It’s education or edtech (and ePatients as a parallel venture). And our mission is in enhancing the virtual experience for those not privileged enough to be at events. How are we doing this well? How are we missing the mark? The focus groups gave us great feedback on this
  5. Who from our target doesn’t realize they’re invited and how do we make this easier for them? Again, focus groups helped with that.
  6. What about onsite people and conference organizers? Though they aren’t our target beneficiaries, they both benefit from, and more importantly, make VC possible. Without willingness of onsite people and conferences to have us, we would be doing much less impact, right?

I will listen to the last focus group soon and finalize some of my notes across the 3 focus groups and post those.

March 19, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

On @vconnecting as Affinity Space 1/2

Reading Time: 4 minutes

(continuing reflections on our (OER17 vconnecting presentation coming up)

“…Human learning becomes deep, and often life changing, when it is connected to a nurturing affinity space” – Gee & Hayes p. 8

I’ve been aware of James Paul Gee’s work for some time now, mostly because I teach educational games and I use his stuff for that. Recently I came across his work on identity which benefited me in a cross-cultural learning workshop. I was always aware of his work on affinity spaces but I don’t think i read any of it properly until this week. Thanks to a comment by Laura Gogia during the vconnecting focus groups (I promise I was listening to other participants in the focus groups!). 

The article I am reading (I am only 2/3 of way through) is by Gee and Elizabeth Hayes and entitled Nurturing Affinity Spaces and Games-Based Learning. (It’s available open access). I know there’s earlier work but this is the one I have been reading, so bare with me. I don’t *think* it’s different in its explanation of affinity spaces. It goes further, though, to talk about what “nurturing” affinity spaces. I found lots of parallels with vconnecting and what we have been thinking about and finding in our research as well.

The “meta-thing” around social practices 

The article talks about how some of the value-added of Games-Based Learning isn’t just in the game itself but in the social practices surrounding it, such as fan sites for games which involve players interacting and supporting one another.

This is very much the case with Virtually Connecting. There are the actual sessions which everyone can watch online or which people can even join and be part of the conversation. That’s the “thing” and it is valuable to many people. But there is also a meta thing that has more value for those who are part of it: the backchannel on Slack of “buddies” who organize and plan and execute these sessions, from choosing which conference to go to, to coordinating with organizers, to inviting guests, to coordinating an internal team of onsite and virtual buddies, to creating hangouts and announcing on blogpost and promoting on Twitter and inviting virtual folks to join in. Whew. And that’s not even counting the work of finding suitable spots onsite, running the actual hangouts and so on. So much happening offline or in the backchannel that helps build a sense of community within the team, but also so much happens with guests and participants (who aren’t on the team) to make them comfortable in hangouts. We haven’t necessarily been doing the best job ensuring others at conferences know they’re welcome to join in, though.

Defining Affinity Spaces

It seems affinity spaces arose because “community of practice” didn’t seem to cover what Gee and Hayes needed to express what they were observing. Namely, that affinity spaces were usually “geographically distributed, technologically mediated, and fluidly populated social groupings” p. 5. They’re talking about online game fan communities. But this is so much of what a lot of connectivist/connected learning experiences are, including vconnecting. 

Group Membership continuum

One of the key things Gee and Hayes say is that affinity spaces are defined as spaces precisely because group membership is unclear, fluid and a continuum. This will come up again, but overall, they’re talking about how someone can be a lurker or occasional Participant whereas others are more fully committed and a continuum. They consider thus an “one of the attractive features of affinity spaces”.

Of course much of what describes affinity spaces is an ideal that’s difficult to apply in practice and to sustain. And what we all know is that even affinity spaces that count as or try to be “inclusive, supportive, and nurturing” (p. 7) may end up giving the sense of “us” vs “them”. And that’s not even considering how some affinity spaces are more competitive than not cooperative in the first place. 

Features of Affinity Spaces

So there are 14 features of affinity spaces Gee/Hayes identified (and it’s hard to be critical of ones they might have missed, because 14! But I did feel some were redundant). I am going to list them and comment on VC

  1. Many people in the space have a common passion (not identity). This seemed obviously the case for VC, but I struggle to name the passion. Is it a passion to enhance virtual participation at conferences? Is it a passion for edtech or open education? Is it a passion for connecting? Probably the latter or all of them? In the affinity spaces Gee/Hayes studied people also were able to hide their identity if needed via pseudonyms and avatars – that’s not the case for VC for obvious reasons. However, status in the real world is not a factor in VC. Nadine Aboulmagd mentioned how new she was to the field when she joined and how this didn’t stand in her way. However, others have told us they’re sometimes intimidated and don’t feel like VC is for them, or that our discourses intimidate them…this bears further unpacking. An additional point here is that even though human relationships form within the affinity space, it’s the passion for the “thing” that keeps them together not the relationships (though they help of course!)
  2. Not segregated by age. Obviously the case. If we take age here to refer to experience with VC, the article talks about sharing expertise and knowledge with others. That’s a lot of what VC is about (and will come up again) BUT we do a better job onboarding some people over others. And we have been working on improving this aspect. 
  3. Newbies, masters, all share a common space. This depends. I guess we are talking the backchannel here and all our Slack channels are open. So i guess so. Anyone can step up to do pretty much any task: buddy onsite/virtual, create hangouts. Twitter and WordPress is more limited but we give it to whoever needs to use it. It would be a bit crazy to have everyone of our 100+ team using our Twitter account. One feature of a nurturing affinity space according to the article is that “not everyone in the space needs to be passionate or fully committed” and this is definitely the case for VC (more soon). Of the 100+ people on the team, some get involved just in one event, some are spectators abd others just support on Twitter. Others do just onsite. Others do almost everything. I am not sure how well we make “entry for newcomers easy” (p. 12) – this has been uneven but we are working on it.
  4. Everyone, if they wish, produce and not just consume. Consumption here would be watching videos. Any other role is a productive role, honestly, even tweeting while watching or being a guest is an active role. And it’s easy(ish) to join the team, although sometimes just fact that ppl aren’t comfy w Slack can be a barrier. We often TALK about Slack inside Slack to newbies.

I need to stop now. Will write a follow up post with the other 10 features of affinity spaces and how they apply to VC

March 18, 2017
by Maha Bali

Contextualizing @Vconnecting – on heterotopia and local optimum

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Autumm Caines (co-director of Virtually Connecting) recently wrote a reflective post, summarizing her thoughts after we conducted 3 online focus groups to explore inclusivity (or lack thereof) in Virtually Connecting. Read her post and the really insightful comments it’s getting (also great feedback on Twitter). The research started as part of a presentation we are doing at #OER17 inshallah (with Martin Weller, Sue Beckingham, Rebecca J. Hogue and Mia Zamora – and Autumm and me) but really turned into helpful exploratory data for VC strategic planning (this was unintentional but really helpful to start thinking about). I feel really proud of this particular research project and I feel we dug deep to listen to critique even though some of it was pretty hard to listen to. 

I am nowhere near as ready to post my full reflections the way Autumm has. I was there in all three focus groups and took notes in the one I wasn’t facilitating…but I am still thinking of how I feel about it overall.

But I have a thought followed by a brainstorm to share. So I won’t wait on this 🙂

Vconnecting as Heterotopia 

The term heterotopia intimidated me for a long time. Laura Gogia told me she called VC heterotopia before, but when I looked the term up before, I wasn’t sure what it meant, so I kind of let it slide, I think? But now, encouraged by Frances Bell, I made myself read this article by Lesley Gourlay Open education as a ‘heterotopia of desire’. 

Heterotopia, as a Foucauldian concept, made me feel as I have felt about Foucault before. A lot of what he says doesn’t sound like rocket science to me, possibly because others have built on these ideas in ways more accessible to me. Or perhaps I just am not a fan of giving complex terms to simple(ish) ideas. Or maybe i don’t understand the depth of what he’s saying and this is a simplistic understanding of it. In any case, heterotopis are apparently spaces that compensate for shortcomings of the status quo (as quoted in Gourlay p. 316)

…their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumble. This latter type would be the heterotopia, not of illusion, but of compensation” (Foucault, 1967/1984)

Crucially, for Virtually Connecting, which challenges the way conferences currently reproduce privilege, is this point where Gourlay cites Foucault for how heterotopis may appear open but in reality “hide curious exclusions”. These hidden exclusions depend on all kinds of privilege/marginality. Yes. Yes. We knew this about VC. This came up a lot in our focus groups and are what Autumm is naming “paradoxes of inclusion”. If you’re too friendly (which appears welcoming and inclusive) you exclude some people. If you privilege conversation over content, you challenge the status quo that privileges content as broadcasting presentations but you replace it with a privileging of people, centering people (as stars? As community) as your draw to VC. 

We thought a lot, I think, from these focus groups, over the question of “for whom do we VC?” and “for whose benefit do we VC?” and therefore “who should we care/strive to include?”. Because yeah. If you’re someone who gets to travel a lot to conferences and have a good network of people onsite, VC isn’t here to serve you, although you’re welcome to participate. VC is more here to serve those virtual folks who can’t go to these events often (while people at those events make it possible with giving their onsite time – out of generosity or love or enjoyment or…any other motive – the VC buddies put a lot of heart and work into it on either side). And if there are some people (whom we intend to address) we end up excluding unintentionally, we should care. Sure, some people don’t want to join sessions and prefer to watch online. That’s fine and apparently this is helpful to some people. Other people don’t like the informality and prefer to interact via Twitter or watch broadcasts of keynotes. That’s fine, as long as VC doesn’t get in their way, I see no problem there. There are other problems…which I won’t delve into right here… But the key point I feel is that there will be multiple hidden exclusions, some of which require our attention, and others that are less of a priority. I mean we don’t wanna annoy or infringe upon anyone’s comfort. But if someone is exactly the type of person VC exists for, and that person feels excluded for some reason, then we need to stop and take notice.

This made me think a lot about intersectionality and how almost any kind of open education, any kind of educational intervention or reform, is likely to benefit some group of people above others. It made me think of how each of these things, despite their imperfections, their hidden exclusions, may have merit in challenging the status quo. Just not universal merit or complete dismantling of privilege or status quo. And it made me think about local optimums.

Virtually Connecting as (striving for) Local Optimum 

Figure above created by me, demonstrating concept of global and local optimum. In reality, most complex problems are multidimensional and that figure is just a simplified model. The general idea, though is this:

In mathematics and computer science, a local optimum is the best solution to a problem within a small neighborhood of possible solutions. This concept is in contrast to the global optimum, which is the optimal solution when every possible solution is considered. (source)

The good news is that a local optimum may have benefit for a particular set of conditions. The bad news is that sometimes you are stuck in a local optimum and you can’t see the possibility of a global optimum farther away from you.

As a computer science undergraduate, I used this modeling to optimize algorithms for my neural networks (using a particular genetic algorithm, something called population-oriented simulated annealing, kind of an evolutionary theme). Sometimes, even though you could tell you were at an optimum beside the spots in your immediate surroundings, you needed to allow for occasional large jumps, lest you find a higher local optimum, or you find the global optimum.

So here is where I think VC may or may not be heading 

  1. Figure out what our main context and conditions are. Whom are we addressing (not a monolithic group) and which conditions do we aim to challenge? For these, figure out a local optimum close to what we currently do
  2. Imagine the possibility of another nearby local optimum that’s higher than ours. Would it fit our context and conditions or not? What does our success look like? That’s something our team would have to agree on. And based on this, maybe decide which experiments are worth venturing into (based on focus group feedback and other suggestions we give/get)
  3. I personally don’t believe in social life there is a global optimum. But I also think conditions change and what is possible changes, so we will probably always be in the lookout for how those might influence what we do.

Those are my messy thoughts for the day.


March 16, 2017
by Maha Bali

Keynoting with a Child #OER17

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This post started as an explanation of something for others and ended up as a self-reflection on the anxieties of a mom doing a keynote. Oh well. I warned u. Tl;dr I reaaaaaally wanna socialize at OER17 because I really wanna spend time with folks…but this “time” is heavily dependent on my child’s needs. 

I can’t remember who has this Twitter background pic, but I know there’s someone giving a conference talk while carrying a baby. That woman is not me 🙂 I asked her once and she said that was her third child.

That woman also won’t be me 🙂 I am fortunate that so far (this upcoming OER17 being the second conference I travel to with my child) I have babysitting for the keynote day, in the form of my husband 🙂 inshallah 

Having said that… Traveling with husband and child has its downsides for me professionally. 

Day 0. First off,  we arrive the night before the conference inshallah and I hope to spend time with anyone who can be at the hotel that evening, but priority #1 has to be the kid who just got off a 5+-hour flight – getting her fed and in bed at a reasonable time. Scouting the area for a supermarket that stocks stuff she needs like milk and fruit and stuff. Hopefully she will be energized to meet my friends (she usually is) and inshallah also those who are close to me will be amenable to walking around and exploring the area or such. Maybe I will get lucky and someone will be up for an alcohol-free dinner somewhere nearby that makes food that my kid will eat and has good veggie/fish options for me.

On the conference morning itself. No wait.

I’m now remembering the night of my PhD viva. When my kid WOULD.NOT.SLEEP. It was amazing. Probably I had too much adrenaline and, as she was still nursing at the time, the breastmilk passed that adrenaline on. Or something. 

Hopefully this time she sleeps.

Day 1. Then hopefully she wakes up before I have to go. I’m the opening keynote inshallah and I need to leave the hotel by 9am to get to the venue by 9.20 or so to keynote at 10ish inshallah. So that’s like… I gotta be up by 7am? And i should probably be done with breakfast by 8.30 (hopefully meeting some folks at breakfast?). Hmm. Do I want my kid with me at breakfast and risk her spilling, spitting or otherwise spoiling my clothes? On the other hand, do I risk leaving while she’s asleep and waking up crying and being upset with me coz I am not there when she wakes up? Or if she’s not upset, how will I know she had a good breakfast. Ok. Relax. Breathe. She will be fine and have fun until I get back inshallah.

Hopefully throughout the event I get a chance to talk to people in between and during sessions. I don’t have a lot of free time (my bad for doing 2 sessions other than keynote, but the Virtually Connecting one was essential because I didn’t wanna focus my keynote on VC, and I felt VC deserved a UK presentation and OER17 is the perfect place).

I’m still unsure how to let people know they’re welcome to come and talk to me, and at the same time, I don’t know how i will get a chance to talk to all of them. I counted the number of people I know at the event and it’s at around 50 now. I counted them because I have gifts for them. And I know who is getting which gift. I am sure I will mess that up on the day. I’m SURE. Autumm: heeeeelp.

First evening, I can’t go on the OER17 social gathering (that’s the main reason for writing this post) because:

A. I have spent all day away from my kid and whatever energy I have left after 3 presentations and hopefully lots more.. She deserves

B. She has a bedtime and I wanna be there for it. Otherwise I would have left her back in Cairo

C. I wouldn’t go on the outing even if I didn’t have my child with me, because people drink in these outings, and much as I love karaoke, I really don’t like being around alcohol (partly for religious reasons but not all Muslims are like that).

Day 2. Tricky. The plan is for me to be at the conference from the morning up until 11.30 when I have to rush to a doctor’s appointment for my kid (we couldn’t book any other day). So I am missing most of the second day of the conference and some really interesting sessions 🙁 unfortunately. I am free that evening but I don’t know where I will be exactly ahead of time. But maybe I can make plans for then. Wish I could go back to the conference, to be honest!

Beyond that. I am around for a few more days. And doing kiddie outings with my family. Folks welcome to join in with these. Just let me know.


March 12, 2017
by Maha Bali

Speak Softly?

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Here’s a quickie

Today at a meeting with folks in my uni who are in admin positions but old friends…  I was saying something enthusiastically and my boss was supporting me enthusiastically and the highest admin position person in the room was shaking his head. This 4th person told me and my boss to wait. He would convince him. So we shut up and watched. As he repeated exactly what we had been saying. But in a softer voice and more serious tone.

My jaw dropped. And I said, “but..but…you just repeated what I said!” and he said, “yes, but look, he’s writing it down”. Uhhhh. The theory is that we just needed to say it in a calmer voice.

I am not convinced. Although I totally get how saying something in a serious tone and softer voice (vs boisterous enthusiasm) can get you places in academia… Knowing that will probably never be me… I don’t know 🙂 I tried it a bit for the rest of the meeting. I think people take you more seriously when you’re not passionate but I think it’s ridiculous. Any research on that? I have been told to smile less and I’m like…dude!

March 11, 2017
by Maha Bali

Reflecting on #DHIB2017 w @nadinneabo

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Today was a really special day in my hybridity. I gave this workshop at the Digital Humanities Institute in Beriut, co-facilitating with my colleague Nadine Aboulmagd (thanks to @djwrisley for inviting me to this initially and for agreeing for me to participate virtually). Nadine was onsite, I was virtual. For FIVE hours (2 hour break in the middle). The workshop title & blurb were:

Digital Pedagogy in the Regional Context

This workshop focuses on issues of hybrid identities & empowerment in digital environments for educators/learners outside of the US/UK and critical approaches to the implementation of educational technology. We will explore challenges,opportunities and complexity of learning online across national and cultural boundaries, sharing and eliciting case studies.

The hands-on component of the workshop will involve exploration of tools and practices that can make digital pedagogy more inclusive, including sensitivity to poor/unstable infrastructure and learner diversity. Participants will be invited to share their own experiences and preferred tools.

We will end the workshop with a collaborative document outlining recommended practices for inclusive networked learning.

Best thing about the workshop was the participants and all they brought to the table. Nadine was an excellent Facilitator, balancing listening to participants and bringing me in. I wonder in hindsight whether we could have accommodated a couple virtual participants as well.

In planning this workshop, Nadine and I did a lot of early planning, got into a small funk just before (partly because I had personal reasons and haven’t been going to work regularly) then in the last few days we added some really cool stuff! We ended up not covering everything we had prepared in terms of content and activities, but the discussions were just so good and totally worth it.

I need here to give Rayane Fayed of AUB a huge thank you for making sure the tech worked. The entire time, I could hear the room WELL and they could hear me. There were around 6-8 participants at any time and I could hear all of them. This, as Rayane knows, is a huge difference from a recent experience where she was an attendee and I was virtual and the people at the event failed repeatedly to get the tech to work, occasionally losing one thing while fixing the other (i almost never had both audio and video simultaneously in that event). In contrast, between AUB tech support competence and the care Rayane and Nadine put it into this one, it was a smooth day. I am so grateful Beirut Internet cooperated. I gotta ask Rayane the specs for that awesome mic!

I was joining via Google hangouts and occasionally Nadine would share her screen so I could see where on PowerPoint she was.

A basic outline of what we did is

  1. Collaborative introductions
  2. Quick exploration of our different understandings of networked learning and inclusivity (i love that initial response to networked was about offline networks) 
  3. Identity exercises and reference to the iceberg idea Nadine had found and different dimensions of identity by Gee (which I found like 2 days ago but v appropriate) and discussion of power in how we define identity 
  4. Nadine discussed digital literacies with an angle to contextualizing it in terms of key issues/interpretations for our region (participants were from Lebanon, France and Pakistan)
  5. We started sharing case studies of networked practices and barriers using DigPed UMW workshop (Kate Bowles, Paul Prinsloo and me) but it was lunch time so we didn’t finish 
  6. Break
  7. We showed this fun video Nadine had found on privacy as an ice breaker as people trickled in
  8. We did an asset mapping exercise of people highlighting their strengths in pedagogy and tools and compared notes
  9. Nadine did a critical tool parade. Described a tool or set of tools for a purpose then opened up for critique 
  10. We had originally planned for each to share case studies from their practice and brainstorm barriers/challenges then later collaboratively work on action plans to address those. But there was no time

The discussions were really valuable, so even though we didn’t achieve all our goals, I think the session went well overall. We could have maybe gotten Participant feedback on what they wanted to do second half,  giving them choices and either splitting the room between Nadine and myself or finding ways to meet different needs. But we can always share more resources online AND we can hold a webinar follow-up via AMICAL Digital Pedagogy committee to discuss some of what we couldn’t do before.

March 9, 2017
by Maha Bali

Fixing the shirt but spoiling the trousers #OER17 Open Call for Your Stories!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So I am finally getting around to solidifying (inasmuch as someone like me can solidify something this far ahead of its date) my OER17 keynote. There are slides, people. 90 of them. Some will have to go, because I also intend for my keynote to be a bit interactive and imagining time for that will be difficult to gauge.

So here is one way to give myself a bit more flexibility and options.

There is a part of my keynote where I plan to refer to an Egyptian expression, which, literally translated, means “when you tried to fix the shirt you spoiled the trousers” (must remember to say trousers not pants in the UK or they’ll think I mean underwear). It conjures up an image of comedy of errors or such, where trying to fix a problem creates new problems.

I think of “open” as having many such problems that arise out of its solutions, and I already have some examples in mind, but would love for the community to offer me more examples of this. I also want to make sure I don’t just bring in privileged white male voices (the people most likely to raise a hand in a crowded room, I think) or to privilege the people in the room – hence asking in advance. The easiest way for me to track these responses would be for you to either

  • Comment here
  • Tweet to #oer17 tagging me
  • Blog and send me a link here or on Twitter

If you’re present at #OER17 I might ask if I can call on you to tell your story quickly to the audience instead of me telling it when you’re sitting right there 🙂

It could be a story of something you have observed in others, or it could be a story of something that happened to you. It could be a personal story, or a story about a larger policy/issue. I have both kinds in mind.

March 8, 2017
by Maha Bali

Thinking vs Writing vs Talking: keynote edition 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dominique Joseph is a gem. She shared this post with me and something totally clicked in my head. The gist of what Will Myddelton is writing is that when we transfer our thoughts into speech for others to hear/discuss, the thoughts are transformed and often clarified. And he says from talking to writing it becomes even more clarified. 

It gave me an epiphany. About myself and something I have been stuck on. But all the epiphanies first 

  1. I usually go straight from thinking to writing, but my writing is mostly stream of consciousness, so it’s really closer to talking! 
  2. I definitely think better after discussing things and that’s why social media matters to me and Virtually Connecting. Without these, I don’t have enough sounding boards for my crazy thoughts
  3. When we talk about something we are going to write it is sometimes a tough transition because it looks different when you write it
  4. When we write about something we are going to talk about we may be losing parts of the animation potential it has.

And the two big epiphanies

  1. For my OER17 keynote i have been mainly writing my ideas but I will be speaking them at the conference. I have mostly taken feedback on parts of it via Twitter and Slack by sharing ideas as writing. Surprisingly, i feel better about the keynote each time I talk about it with someone who isn’t in open education. The latter was an idea Christian Friedrich suggested in a recent hangout. But I realized I had done it once and it helped me, so after Christian suggested it, I did it again and it helped me again. 
  2. There’s a different piece I am trying to work on which is writing but which I talked about a lot with my co-author.  for some reason, writing it is harder. But i get it. It’s harder coz it’s not talking. It seems obvious but it isn’t. 

So back to the #oer17 keynote (which is still open – see why here), some ideas for getting myself better prepared for it

  • Record my own voice practising. Can help also with timing and such
  • Practice the whole thing or parts of it f2f w ppl at work
  • Practice parts or whole w ppl online on a hangout. Maybe record the hangout also…

Of all these, i will probably just so the top one because i don’t actually like over-choreographing or practising things and am likely to change it up a vit last minute anyway, so…

Well but actually Teresa Mackinnon is doing a hangout w me ahead of OER17 as part of openedsig (i think! For Open Education Week) so that might give me a sounding board for some things, too. Reminds me of Jim Groom once saying he liked doing VC sessions before his actual session onsite as it helps him try ideas out. Or something. 

The other thing i Realized is that no matter how much I reduce the interactivity in the keynote, I have already imagined it as conversational/dialogical. So I don’t know yet what it will be like, exactly. But I have a feeling about how I want it to feel like…if that makes sense…

March 7, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Perspectives on #OpenAccess During #OpenLearning17 hangout

Reading Time: 1 minutes

We just ended the first of two #OpenLearning17 hangouts, with Frances Bell, Chris Gilliard, Chris Friend and surprise guest, Peter Suber, whose book on Open Access we’ve been reading this week. The hangout was co-facilitated by Sue Erickson and myself, and I also invited folks from the community to participate, so Amy Nelson and Jim Luke joined us and enriched the discussion further. When putting together the guest list for this, I thought of reaching out to people with diverse approaches to openness, and I think while we all have a similar orientation towards openness and social justice, we definitely took different approaches to it in the hangout. From Chris Friend talking about openness in the Hybrid Pedagogy review process, to Frances Bell providing her perspective on open access over time, and offering critical questions (what Frances has to offer is so multi-faceted it’s difficult to summarize, honestly), and Chris Gilliard talking about digital redlining – and Peter Suber answering questions on different topics, but particularly giving his views on Gold Open Access that involves Article Processing Charges. There were some great questions from Twitter and within the hangout and some useful resources/links shared to the #OpenLearning17 hashtag on Twitter (Storify here). To watch the hangout:

The second hangout is planned for Thursday March 9th at 1pm South Africa time (6am EST) and will be a Virtually Connecting session from #OEGlobal (in Cape Town) with Laura Czerniewicz, Catherine Cronin, Rajiv Jhangiani and Caroline Kuhn. That session will be livestreamed and recorded also, and the link to watch is below:

See you around!


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