The hashtag is #BrainBlownOpenByJonathan 😉
I think you are spot on with an initial assignment / activity that allows for this kind of self-expression. When I’ve taught ds106, we would do a repeat one we call “keychain stories” where we ask students to do a self video where thy tell a story about something on or represented by something on their keychain (it could also be jewelry, the idea is something a person carries with them always).
Its partly about getting them to talk to the camera, to deal with an audience they do not see, but also, to share something. And they do not have to put their face on, it can be their hands, or a stuffed animal. No specifications beyond a story.
The accidental benefit was getting a chance to see where in their homes or offices students chose to this- we get a glimpse into their surroundings — this was an online course so getting to see and hear students was helpful for breaking down the idea that its more correspondence course.
On the grading of these kind of assignments (which is most of ds106) I have an approach that works for me– I am not grading them on the artistic merit of what they produced, or whether they met some checklist of outcomes. I grade them on how well they can describe (in writing on their blog), what they did, how they did, and why. And I give them latitude do take my assignment in a different direction if they can justify it in their writing.
I am happy to hear you are trying to do work getting your students working with NGOs (this year http://2015.projectcommunity.info) – this has been the focus of a design course (in the Netherlands) I have been part of for 4 years- the students are in an engineering school, but learning principles of project and media design, plus collaboration, but working with NGOs mostly elsewhere in the world. The students words this year when they showed their project videos clearly showed how these projects went beyond a class assignment, they got involved and interested in what the NGOs are doing.
It seems to me the ideas of asking your students to look at how their people and country and city are represented in the world is exciting. Young people are working enough to sort out who they are, but to frame that to for them to explore what their culture and identity means in the world outside where they live has all the ingredients to be of interest.
Of course that’s my opinion, I am not Egyptian! But I would love to learn more about Egypt from the way people who live there can express it, not from news.