Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Reciprocity of Openness


At some point in the summer, I realized that people who were having to teach online because of COVID-19 were struggling about how to create community online. Some found it possible to develop their own relationship with their students, but harder to promote community among students… some were giving up on this as something that just wasn’t possible online… whereas of course those of us who have been in the field of online learning for years know that the “social presence” is an essential element to design into online courses – even if the newer online courses based on xMOOC models neglected to prioritize this. Note: many still manage to integrate social presence, it’s just different to expect that kind of commitment in a free open course with thousands but is completely reasonable to expect in a paid for-credit course!

Anyway, I felt like, no matter what general guidance I gave folks, it was not clicking. Beyond the workshops I gave locally where I used loads of interactive activities (especially Liberating Structures) I knew people needed more, because some could still not imagine what to do next. Then in a VConnecting session, someone brought it up, and I thought, well maybe some of us should get together and record some videos giving people ideas for how to do this stuff.

So I got together with a few folks and decided to apply for funding for this, and we ended up forming a collaboration between OneHE and Equity Unbound, where Equity Unbound and VConnecting would create the videos (hosted on VConnecting YouTube) and OneHE would host the resources and organize them – and we’d all promote them together.

This is what we came up with:

For a split-second, I wondered if this was maybe a bad idea – to share out so many of my own best ideas for engaging students, to empower other people to use them, so that my own course would become just “normal” in comparison as everyone would be doing the same kind of thing. But that was just a split second. First, the importance of giving students some kind of community during this socially strained and traumatizing time was paramount, and as a faculty developer, it always feels like my duty to help educators do that. Second, each person has their own personality and take on things; even when people try the same thing, it comes out differently depending on their own approach – it is never identical!

But here is what I discovered. This became much more than what I expected it to be! First of all, I made a new friend in Nikki Spalding who is my partner at OneHE who is really making this entire project come to life. We click really well, she understands me, and she naturally envisions how these resources can appear to others and makes it happen in the best way possible! She also understands the urgency of doing this in August so that people starting in September would have things to use immediately.

I also really enjoyed the time I spent with friends who contributed resources – and they enjoyed it, too. People who watched videos where many of us were there, wondered if these would be PD sessions that they could attend in future… so we are thinking of how to make that happen in a reasonable way that would benefit folks, provide more video content for the site, and still not overload anyone.

But more than all of that – I learned a lot.

I learned from Mays Imad more about trauma-informed teaching (even though I’d been following her work for some time and already knew where she was coming from). I learned from Remi Kalir about inviting ststudents to annotate the syllabus, which turned out to be much more than I had at first imagined it to be – and now I’m going to try it this semester! I learned from Mia Zamora that even though I already use ds106 assignments in my class, that it might be worthwhile for students to be exposed to the Daily Creates and do some of them each week as a way to build community around creativity. I learned that many people enjoy the Liberating Structure in Development Mad Tea as much as I do, but also that the word “mad” here can be offensive to people with mental health challenges and that maybe the community will rename it to “wild tea” or “wild networking” or something. I learned while making the videos for Purpose to Practice for developing community guidelines that this is maybe something I need to do in my own class! I learned that it can be really useful for people who want to learn about Liberating Structures to watch video demonstrating/modeling them, where the participants later reflect on what went well and what didn’t… and that maybe they can even share those videos with their students to prepare them. Here is the playlist for just the liberating structures videos. I will embed below the playlist for the full thing… but keep in mind there are some important text-based ones, such as Kate Bowles’ contribution on safety considerations in warm-up and intro activities. I love that we have some intro activities, some warm-up activities for the semester, and some ways to organize conversations so that you can build community around substantive course topics throughout the semester.

Here is the playlist of all the videos – though you may want to open it all in another window so my blog doesn’t go down. Remember each video has text alongside it on OneHE website that describes adaptations and additional resources, tech requirements, etc. If you haven’t seen these yet, what are you waiting for? Many have told me they find these useful, and have shared with other educators (mostly K-12 but I bet many can work for K-12, and my child and Mia’s appear in a couple of them, too!)

More than any personal benefit that came to me from enjoying time spent with friends, to learning new ideas for my courses, to saving time explaining stuff because it’s all online…. what makes me truly happy is to see people benefiting from these activities and hear their feedback on how useful they are to them. I’m also gratified by people enjoying the “home video” style I’ve kept here, rather than polishing them and making them fancy with bells and whistles and stuff. It’s just raw. Raw humans having a conversation. In every video. Just people. And everything the machine brings fades into the background because it’s just about the people and their conversation in that moment. I hope you feel the same 🙂 But positive feedback and critique are all welcome – the posts now have comments enabled so please let us know if you’ve used them or are planning to, and your feedback.


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