Estimated reading time: 15 minutes, 19 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Open Web Stories – for DMLL @ Coventry


Estimated reading time: 15 minutes, 19 seconds

So, I’ve been asked by Daniel Villar-Onrubia to write my story to contribute to the open web stories that they’re collecting. I am a hybrid visiting DMLL fellow at Coventry University, which includes an onsite day this month inshallah, among other awesome people like Mia Zamora, Alan Levine, Catherine Cronin and Tannis Morgan.

These are the instructions we were given:

1) WHAT DOES THE OPEN WEB MEAN TO YOU? [you might want to share your own definition of what you consider to be the Open Web, how you first fell in love with it, how you use it in your professional practice…], 2) WHY SHOULD WHY CARE ABOUT THE OPEN WEB IN/FOR EDUCATION?, 3) WHO ARE YOU? [a few lines about yourself, your work, interests…].

Here goes ( please note this post was written with Google voice typing so there may be punctuation issues and stylistic issues because this was spoken and not written text, and there may be some typos that I didn’t correct.)


First off, I want to say that to me open is something separate from the web and openness is itself an attitude and a worldview that exists outside of the web, before the web, but can also be enhanced via the web sometimes. (see my work owth Suzan Koseoglu #SELFOER)

So for me, the main thing about openness and the web is the ways in which it allows anyone who has access to internet and who has access to the language being used (so for the most part English) to access things normally they wouldn’t have access to but more importantly to contribute; so it’s great that we can find a lot of things online but it’s actually even greater that we can contribute to the body of knowledge that exists online. For years, the knowledge disseminated has been the knowledge of the dominant. With the open web, there are opportunities for more marginal voices to exist side-by-side. This does not mean it’s an equal opportunity; this does not mean that dominant knowledge still doesn’t have any hegemony online; but there are opportunities, and there are spaces where non-dominant knowledge can spread slightly better than it does offline, but not for all, and not equally so.

But more important than all of this exchange of content back and forth, to me the more important thing is the social processes of the internet that allows us when were lucky, to interact with people in different places, outside the hierarchy of the official rules and institutions. To be able to interact with others, to be able to have deep and meaningful conversations with people different from themselves across time and space.

I first fell in love with the web or the open aspect of the web when I was trying to finish my PhD during a time where Egypt had a lot of political conflict and I was unable to leave the house because I had a young child and the library at my institution was closed. I needed some resources, and even though I had access to some online resources, I actually needed some paper based resources that did not exist for free online, and at the time, what I fell in love with was green open access stuff that was placed on repositories, and honestly pirated stuff, that was placed online so that I had some access to some articles and book chapters that I wouldn’t normally be able to access from home. And it was that transformative moment for me where I decided that if I publish things, I would like as much as possible for the things that I publish to be openly accessible to other people.

So my first foray into open was really the open access movement.

My second foray into the open web was again while I was doing my PhD I was doing my PhD remotely at Sheffield in the UK, and so I used to meet my supervisor once a year in Sheffield, but also communicate with him by email and eventually we started Skyping, but it wasn’t very common that we did that. One of the things that I realised, is because I was remote and at an American institution here in Egypt, I didn’t have almost anyone who had a PhD in education around me, or who was doing one. I had no peer community, and I moved to Twitter, where I found hashtags like #socPhD and #PhDchat and started finding people there who would share some of my common concerns and questions, and we started helping each other out. That community didn’t become my permanent network, obviously, because then I finished my PhD and then I was focused on people who are in my field, specifically, but for that time of my life, I benefited a lot from that interaction.

Two other really important things that happened to me were 2 MOOCs that I participated in.

One of them was offered by University of Edinburgh, and it was called #edcmooc, eLearning and Digital Cultures (2nd run) and it was beautiful. I learnt about it because I was I was peer reviewing a paper in a journal special issue where I was publishing an article also about MOOCs and I learn about the format of it that it was somewhere between an xMOOX and cMOOC. It was something else completely. I loved that it allowed me to interact with others. It had a Twitter component and I got to interact with a lot of people from all over the world, and I still got to learn a lot from the facilitators and participate also in the discussion forum. What was interesting for me at the time was that it wasn’t… I wasn’t this anonymous person in a MOOC: people actually got to know each other and I got to make some friends from then who remain my friends today, and I was inspired by that MOOC in different ways.

The second MOOC that really really launched my my passion for openness was #rhiZo14, which was led by Dave Cormier. This was a few months after #edcmooc and I joined #rhiZo14 just as I started blogging, and so blogging was my start to contributing content of the open web. I had previously contributed articles to already existing online magazines, and I loved that and it gave me a lot of exposure, and it allowed me to makes a lot of my thoughts available to others, but having my own blog give me a different kind of freedom: to write whatever I wanted whenever I wanted not to have to worry about editor deadlines not having to worry about whether it met their editorial standards in terms of is this topic relevant to them or not so and then blogging with #rhizo14 was my opportunity then I participated on Facebook, on Twitter, via blogging, reading other people’s blogs. I wasn’t just me blogging for myself, but it was more of a community of people blogging together, and responding to each other, and linking to each other’s blogs, building off each other’s ideas, in a way that I think is one of the most beautiful things about the open web (regardless of all the kinds of concerns that I still have and people have always had about who has access to these and the ways in which the algorithms of Facebook control what we see and what we don’t see and who gets amplified and who gets almost hidden or silence will become invisible and it made me more aware of you know people are in different spaces and depending on which spaces are at they see different things and they see the web differently they see a course like rise of 14 differently).

I guess my final love affair with the open web has to be when I co-founded Virtually Connecting. So virtually connecting is an organisation that is a volunteer movement that enhances the virtual experience at a conference for people who can’t be there for whatever reason, and to me, it’s one of the ways that marginal voices become part of these academic conferences that are usually full of the Social and cultural capital of networking. In the past, I have had to attend a lot of conferences virtually, because I have a young child, and I couldn’t travel a lot. Wjen I attended virtually, I used to enjoy them and interact a lot, but I was still quite peripheral and I kind of felt like there was more that I wanted from this conference is then just a live stream and the Twitter. Thanks to Rebecca Hogue who co-founded Virtually Connecting, what we do is that we have conversations with people on site using using Google Hangouts and Rebecca and I realised that it wasn’t just myself and her who wanted to do this, but there were a lot of other people who wanted to do this, and so we’ve been growing this community for quite some time – for 3 years now! The important thing is that not only are these Hangouts not possible without the open web, but it’s because of the open web that I am able to access high profile people at these events and that they know me so that they respond when I invite them to join these hang outs, and then othe people meet them, they get to see the real (or at least a casual version) them not the staged version of them and this really makes a difference for people who are early in their careers or students, who are themselves never/rarely able to go to conferences and things like that. So it’s not just about the actual Hangouts that get recorded and live streamed and made available to other people, but they’re also the connections that happened behind the scenes between the team working together and then the guests we have. We have a beautiful team of volunteers. Spiritually connecting both empowers us, and gives us opportunities to empower and include others.

I sort of wanted to stop there, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I also want to talk about how I’ve used open educational resources (OERs) and the open web for my own teaching. For example, I have used an OERu course for part of my teaching, instead of having to develop the stuff myself. I’m planning to use some of the modules on UMW domains (that were created, I believe, by Lee Skallerup Besette and I assume other colleagues at UMW DTLT) and relevant to my course. I’ve also benefited a lot from interacting with people online on Twitter and involving my students in ways that students from all over the world or experts from all over the world can give them feedback on the work they’re doing and things like that. so there is also that dimension of it in my own my teaching.


We have different reasons for caring about open. For me, we should care about the open web because it has a lot of potential to break down barriers of time and space. But we need to be also very cautious about the hyperbolic claims that are being done about it. For example, I’m doing this blog post via Google voice typing. Google voice typing is free whereas dragon dictation is not. And we know from the work of people like Audrey Watters and Chris Gilliard and others and all the kinds of news we’ve been hearing all the time – anything that is a web service that is offered for free means that if you’re not paying with money then you’re paying with your own data. And I am assuming, for example, that Google Voice typing is free because it’s harvesting my data to improve its algorithm. If it’s improving its algorithm with my data but not doing anything else with my data, and I can guarantee that, then I would be ok with this, but do I know that Google is just using this data to improve its AI and to improve its ability to understand non native speakers accents in English? or might Google be listening into what I’m saying and using that for something else? Of course this post is going to be public anyway, but what about my text messages (oh wait, Facebook owns WhatsApp… There goes everything)… but are there any other guarantees about my privacy that someone won’t take this voice and cut it up and make something new out of it? Or worse. The possibilities are endless. On the open web, we implicitly consent to more than I think we mean to.

But really, for me, in the open web has allowed me, someone who would normally be a marginal scholar, or take years of publications to build a name… (because I’m all the way here in Egypt) not to have a space if there was not an open web. I would not been known or build relationships because of my tweets or my blogging. I would not have an opportunity to collaborate with people from all over the world in the way that I’ve been doing. I might have those opportunities without the web, but they would be much less I would be much less up to date with what’s going on – because how many journal articles are books can you read in a week vs how many virtually connecting sessions can you do and how many tweets can you read and how many hashtags can you look at? It is so much easier to keep track of what everyone is doing via blog posts then dig deeper into more academic and less accessible stuff after you get the broader conrext… so scholarship as a whole becomes easier and more accessible not in the technical sense of open access, but in the social and cultural capital sense.

For me, open access is important because openness in academia should be inherent to most of us, open is an attitude and the web sort of allows us to do this better across time and space. I think most of us are in teaching and education because we care about spreading knowledge and nobody really wants to keep things to themselves and most people would like to benefit from and give benefit to other people by sharing that knowledge and interacting with them.

The key thing is to recognise the social justice roots of open educational. Lots of the time (and not just the instrumental benefit even though the instrumental is important because it will bring in some people who don’t care about social justice and that matters too) but I think the social justice imperative is important to keep in mind that we keep checking our selves – what is it that we might be doing that doesn’t allow us to reach that ideal who of has access to the open web in the sense that when we publish something on the open web, what kind of privileges do we have that give us the power to have a space there – things like the English language, having the capacity for a good bandwidth on in the internet to do something like virtually connecting, having TIME to spare and being financially comfortable, being naturally willing to expose yourself and make yourself vulnerable – you have to have a lot of privileged to be willing to make yourself vulnerable. Because some people are already vulnerable and marginal and they cannot take certain risks online. So the open web is not a panacea. We need to realise that and maybe we need to work towards making the open web a safer place for different kinds of people with different needs and different levels of risk. If you are interested in this, join our hybrid #BreakOpen workshop at #oer18 or #oeglobal18


It’s very difficult to answer the question “who are you” because you know there are so many elements of identity. So I am a mom of a young child and this changed who I am and I change all the time as she grows older, and it’s central to why open matters to me. I am an Egyptian. I am a Muslim. Yet I am a cultural hybrid born and raised in Kuwait and willingly colonized by my British and American education.

I’m an educator. I’m a blogger. I’m a Tweeter. I am the co-founder of Virtually Connecting, and my full time job is in faculty Development so I work at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American university in Cairo, and have done so for the past 14 years 15 years now, and I also love teaching, even though it’s not my main job.

I consider myself an open educator, a critical pedagogue, a digital pedagogue, i.e. someone uses educational technology from the critical pedagogy perspective, which might sometimes mean not using technology at all. And I think for all of this I consider myself a learner. You know the expression of lifelong learning, BUT I like to say I’m a learnaholic, I never want to stop learning, I need to learn to survive. And I also love writing, so I guess I’m a writeholic too.

And I would have to say that maybe one of the characteristics of my personality is that I love people. I just have this fountain of love for meeting new people, for deepening my relationships with people, and I guess the open web sort of gives me that opportunity beyond my day to day work, and part of the reason it’s important to me is because again I’m a mother of a young child and I don’t have opportunities to go out and meet my offline friends after she goes to sleep at night. So even though I still have relationships with my face to face friends and I still see them every now and then I can spend more flexible time and space with friends that I make online and this really makes a difference to me socially and emotionally. As an insomniac, it also means I can find a friend to talk to any time of day or night. And this is essential to me.

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