Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

January 23, 2019
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

A New Approach to Late Assignments

Reading Time: 1

I’ve been thinking. I kind of like students submitting assignments on time. But if a chunk of them are going to be late anyway, I have an idea. Note that almost all my assignments are blogposts. Here is how I will pose it to students (for feedback, but please give me your feedback too, as reader):

  1. If you submit on time, you follow the original assignment instructions
  2. If you submit same day but late, you need to follow original assignment instructions PLUS a paragraph reflecting on the class discussion around that topic.
  3. If you don’t submit on time and you were absent, or you submit more than a day late, you create a blogpost synthesizing ideas in blogs of 3 other students in class.

Does this seem fair? I don’t know if all should be eligible for full grade, though.

What do you think?

January 21, 2019
by Maha Bali

Podcast interview with me on Leaders and Legends of Online Learning

Reading Time: 1

I’ve been giving a lot of podcast interviews lately 😉 So just a couple days ago I shared the one with Terry Greene on Gettin’ Air.

Today I am sharing one I did with Mark Nichols for Leaders and Legends of Online Learning. Here is the link to the podcast page. I talk about vconnecting of course and generally my values about online learning.

It’s such an honor to be the 9th person interviewed for this podcast, after people like Tony Bates, Martin Weller, Laura Czerniewicz and Tannis Morgan, who are arguably legends!

The way Mark chooses folks is by recommendation of other folks, so I am lucky Laura recommended me (thanks Laura).

This interview is quite edited down, so I asked Mark to share the full version with me also, and I put it on DropBox in case I find that useful someday. I’ll share it, too, once I upload it somewhere 🙂

January 17, 2019
by Maha Bali

Double Duty Slides: Copyright & Fair Use #CCCert

Reading Time: 1

I decided to create these slides and have them do double-duty. They are an assignment for the Creative Commons course I’m taking, for unit 2, but I can also use them in my class this semester to introduce Copyright and fair use, before we go into Creative Commons. I have never been fully successful at getting AUC students to absorb the concepts of copyright (They’re slightly better with plagiarism because more professors mention it, but not really by that much, because I think confuses them about attribution and paraphrasing … as a technical thing rather than an ethical thing). I don’t have time to make my slides pretty for now, but I’ve got the basic text there and that’s what matters for now… I’ll spruce it up later inshallah 🙂 My class doesn’t start til end of January.

In any case… here are my slides, open for comment. There are several open questions there that I don’t answer in the slides, because for my class context, they will be open for class discussion without necessarily one definitive answer. There’s also mention of a story which is difficult to write but easier to tell in person. But I tried to expand on the basic details of all the things that the assignment for CC required me to cover.

Special thanks to Kamel Belhamel (from October CC cohort) and Helen DeWaard (from July cohort) whose previous assignments I looked at for inspiration before creating my own slides.

January 17, 2019
by Maha Bali

More articles on social justice and digital colonialism

Reading Time: 4 minutesI’m still reading around these topics a bit more intensively than usual and taking notes and blogging just to keep my thoughts a bit clearer and share.

So first, Rajiv Jhangiani shared on Twitter this open access book on Design Equity – It is about design more broadly, so I started by reading the chapter on Information Equity since it’s most relevant to my context (I assumed).

Some quotes:

if people in a society do not have access to information they need to advocate for their interests, that society is not really a democracy.

This made me think of how one of the key ways an authoritarian regime enforces its power and hegemony is by making information obscure, unfindable, confusing, or nonexistent.

The other thing I really liked about the chapter is the emphasis on how information equity impacts both personal agency and social capital. Well, social capital is also a chicken and egg thing, right?

Information is key to building social capital and is a key benefit of having social capital—to finding and meeting and interacting with people who will benefit you and offering them advice and support in return

And I am thinking of how VC enables this kind of thing. Well PLN and connectivism/networking in general…but VC too. We always said VC helps build social capital so not really a surprise, but still.

The chapter goes on to talk about how governments and corporations can restrict our personal agency by limiting our access to important information- but also by tapping into our data in ways we don’t understand and using it for surveillance.

And here is the key point about why access is not enough (a reminder of Nancy Fraser on economic justice vs cultural and political):

Let’s say that we were able to provide everyone with the same access to the same information in the same format. Would that solve the problem? Would everyone have personal agency, the ability to build and sustain social networks, and the opportunity to participated in democratic society? It depends on what the information is and whether or not everyone is able to understand and use it

The article also talks about what is needed for key stakeholders to participate in decison-making. One key thing is obviously that they need to know where and how to find information in a timely manner. They should also know which paths to take if they wanted to participate or participate in decison-making, and more importantly than all this, their participation should impact the final decisions, or else it’s more like that lip-service listening i mentioned before. Involve people and let them talk but do nothing about it. Illusion of participation.

And then this really important point about process and, as I have always said, a process itself may be unintentionally or intentionally exclusionary. It may be implicit or explicit..even participatory situations are exclusionary to some groups of people.

When are you allowed to speak and what recourse do you have if the decision goes the other way? You also need to feel comfortable speaking up. Who do you think is comfortable speaking up in a public meeting? Who do you think people in power might be more inclined to listen to or agree with? Who might not feel comfortable going to a public meeting at all?

And that is something we recognize in Virtually Connecting very much. That we are synch video and livestreamed and recorded is probably uncomfortable if not downright intimidating For many of the people for whom VC advocates and attempts to offer opportunities for building social capital.

The two other articles I am reading and will comment on soon are

Paul Prinsloo shared this powerful one by Michael Kwet: Digital colonialism: US empire and the new imperialism in the Global South. It speaks very clearly and strongly about how the US and its corporations are able to exert a new imperialism by economic and cultural and political digital means. The economic comes from dependence on GAFAM tech corporations for devices and software used in global South countries in education and all kinds of advancement (including what you purchase and what you rent) and also cultural and political in terms the kinds of data collected and the reinforcement of both state and global imperial surveillance.

How will the Global South be impacted by the spread of digital technology? More importantly, should the Global South adopt the products and models of US tech giants, or should they think differently and pursue other options? Can the countries of the Global South shape their own digital destiny?

I haven’t yet finished the article but am really looking forward to his suggestions for taking a different approach, which the abstract promises is “a different ecosystem that decentralises technology by placing control directly into the hands of the people to counter the rapidly advancing frontier of digital empire.“. I may use this and the above book chapter as articles in my class next semester! Inshallah

The third article which has been on my reading list for some time and I have finally gotten around to reading (but not yet finished!) Is Sarah Lambert’s Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education which also (like Hodgkinson-Williams and Trotter) builds on the work of Nancy Fraser and others. She defines social justice as

A process and also a goal to achieve a fairer society which involves actions guided by the principles of redistributive justice, recognitive justice or representational justice.

The three categories she uses here seem to be parallel to economic (redistributive), cultural (recognitive) and political (representational) justice. it’s probably the same thing? I probably need to read more closely. But I was particularly struck by the key difference between recognitive and representational. To recognize different cultures is important but not the same as having those cultures present, participating and representing themselves. Reminds me also of the pluralist feminism idea of going beyond recognition.

Lambert’s paper takes the approach of analyzing some key texts on open education for how they refer to these different principles of social justice. I’m excited to read more of it.

I will keep posting notes as I read further, as (clearly) my reading is non-linear.

January 13, 2019
by Maha Bali

Social justice, design justice, pluralist feminism and indigeneity

Reading Time: 3 minutesI started writing this blogpost on my commute to work this morning but someone called me before I saved and apparently I lost it all. Here is take two.

There are 4 articles/essays I read over the past week or so which have been impacting my thinking deeply. 3 are by authors whose work I already respect, and one is new (on indegeneity). I’ll only give a brief on each below and I’m doing work in the background with them.

Social Justice Framework for OER and OEP

“With all the good intentions of the open education movement, unless the economic, cultural and political dimensions of social justice are adequately addressed, amelioratively in the short term and transformatively in the longer term, the value proposition of OER, and their underlying OEP, will most likely not be fulfilled in the Global South”

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. A., & Trotter, H. (2018). A Social Justice Framework for Understanding Open Educational Resources and Practices in the Global South. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 204-224. Retrieved from

I liked this article’s practical application of Nancy Fraser’s work to OER. The most important thing for me was recognizing how different contexts and different audiences means impact of an intervention may have negative, neutral, ameliorative or transformative impacts on each. And the difference between economic, cultural and political social justice. I was aware of Fraser’s work before but this framework helped further my understanding. I annotated via

Design Justice and Intersectionality

I’ve been familiar with this work for a while but this article really expanded on it further. By Sasha Costanza-Chock where she highlights intersectionality and matrix of oppression. I also annotated with

I was particularly struck by my lack of knowledge of the matrix of oppression including white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism and settler colonialism. I hope to read further on this as I am slightly confused about the way the categories are framed but still find this frame helpful to clarify the oppressions we need to consider in intersectionality and their impact on design. I wonder why settler colonialism but not cultural imperialism is named, and why gender and sexuality form one category.

I also love the design justice approach and the level of detail they include for participatory design practices.

Costanza-Chock, Sasha, Design Justice: Towards an Intersectional Feminist Framework for Design Theory and Practice (June 3, 2018). Proceedings of the Design Research Society 2018. Available at SSRN:

Pluralist Feminism

This one impacted me really deeply but is a bit more difficult to write about because I am reading it off a borrowed eBook at my university library and the stupid annotations don’t export the text from the book! So frustrating. But the essay is published as a chapter in María Lugones’ book
Pilgrimages/peregrinajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppressions.

If I had to summarize the idea, it is that white women, when thinking of women of color, tend to pay lip service to difference, acknowledging it, but then ignoring this in more concrete practices. When they try to connect, they look at the ways a woman of color “is like us” rather than the other way round. It’s like they try understand or approach the experience of women of color by mirroring or reflecting their own, rather than interacting (the term Lugones uses) to understand from the viewpoint of the woman of color on her own terms. She also speaks of the complexity of difference… how race, colonialism and imperialism are different kinds of difference and need to be dealt with, in their intersectionality and complexity.


I also learned (though I should have already known) about my limited understanding of indigenous experience. Thanks to folks on Twitter for helping me understand better.

The article is by Zoe Todd about her experience of academic violence as an indigenous scholar, even when invited to speak at events. Entitled Your Failure of Imagination Is Not My Problem.

what I have come to realize is that many of the hostile encounters I have experienced in academia are, at least on some level, about failure of white people’s imagination. Failure to imagine Black, Indigenous and other racialized bodies in the hallways of academe. Failure to imagine epistemologies beyond those that fester in euro-western academic paradigms. Failure to imagine possibilities beyond jealously guarded white (often male) syndicates. Failure to imagine that white folks occupying space on stolen land ought to perhaps….ahem…tread a big more humbly. They are also about racism, white supremacy, sexism, classism, elitism, insecurity, jealousy, and greed.

I have a big reading list coming up..

Will report back as I go along 🙂

January 10, 2019
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Creative Commons Then & Now: Egypt Perspective

Reading Time: 1 One of the cool things about the Creative Commons educators course I’m currently taking (aside from a really well-written syllabus and a great community to be in) is that I was told I could suggest alternative assignments if I felt the assignment does not fit my needs or context.

So for our first assignment about the history of Creative Commons, I did not want to reproduce the same knowledge others had already done so well and just do it in a different format.. I wanted to add value.

I also felt like…the whole point of doing something openly is to allow others to reuse and remix, right? So I basically took Christina Hendricks’ really cool infographic and cut it up and scattered it around on Google slides…and interleaved it with my own thoughts from an Egyptian perspective on copyright and CC.

Here are the Google slides and they are open for comments, so feedback welcome!

January 3, 2019
by Maha Bali

Listening and Epistemic Injustice

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So I’ve written a couple of posts about listening. I love that I was writing simply about listening. And honestly, to a great extent, it was about listening. But a couple of conversations on Twitter helped me realize I am really also alluding to some deeper philosophical ideas. And I should capture this while I can so that I can come back and dig deeper later. As I read more about these… I realized the ideas apply to a lot of what I think and talk about in terms of practices that could learn more from feminist and postcolonial and decolonial ways of knowing. And surprisingly, really shockingly, what Virtually Connecting is and can do. Bear with me.

First, someone I don’t know mentioned my comments in 2018 on how I think Women’s ways of knowing should be applied to digital literacies to approach it differently. Thanks to him (Steve Covello) he introduced me to this approach called Legitimation Code Theory

From what I understand, LCT is about making explicit some of the implicit ways knowledge is legitimated… and it seems to also be challenging some of the more traditional ways it is (but I need to read more. The language is confusing but I get the drift).

I got more interested, though, in Miranda Fricker’s notion of Epistemic injustice. Which is not new to me as a concept (first heard of it through Thomas Mboa I think, and have used it loosely) but I was not aware of Fricker per se

So I downloaded a sample book and here is a quick rundown of what blew my mind.

Epistemic injustice is all about hearing/listening and about how some people don’t get heard because the hearer has prejudice against their credibility or because social systems have made it more difficult for them to be understood (hermeneutical epistemic injustice).

  • Examples of testimonial epistemic injustice are police not believing someone coz they are black. My examples: journals editors never passing a paper for review altogether because it comes from Egypt – yes this happens- or academics not considering someone’s views because they don’t have a PhD or are at a community college
  • Examples of hermeneutic injustice given in the book are women experiencing sexual harrassment but not having the language to express it or be understood in the culture they’re in. My examples relate to being a postcolonial scholar and being unable to express exactly how or why some Western theory doesn’t apply to my experience and how difficult sometimes it is to convey this to a Western audience without being deemed lazy or sub-intellectual. Also things like how entire culture’s knowledge is not considered because it does not exist in written form. Or how narrative research building on people’s lived experience is (in some contexts) considered less scientifically valid/valuable than “objective” research by outsiders. Or how much of published knowledge about Africa is created by non-Africans such as for an African to publish about Africa they need to cite those non-Africans, in Western languages, in order to get heard.

This is my interpretation of it. A lot of what I have been saying about listening here and here is about developing a sense and sensitivity of epistemic justice. A lot of what I have been writing about over time related to academia becoming more inclusive of global South scholars and marginal scholars relates to these two things. A lot of what I have been saying about Wikipedia needing to not reproduce epistemic injustice can be explained by these two things *which I have been saying for a while* (who is credible on Wikipedia and has power to decide who else is credible? And what social systems result in Wikipedia’s criteria of what is credible and how does it reproduce inequality and power by using existing knowledge systems that are inherently power imbalanced). It also relates to how I mention things like Women’s ways of Knowing and building both empathy, awareness of bias, and a sense of equity to our critical approaches – because epistemic justice would entail a sensitivity to the ways traditional epistemology and rationality are blinding us to understanding the experience and legitimating the knowledge of others who may have something valuable to add but have historically been marginalized and cannot express their experiences in traditionally framed ways. Not because they have a problem with expression but because the systems were created without their participation…so the systems need fixing.

Let me back up and give some quotes I highlighted from the book sample. So this is just from the intro.

testimonial injustice is caused by prejudice in the economy of credibility; and… hermeneutical injustice is caused by structural prejudice in the economy of collective hermeneutical resources.

(Emphasis mine. Kindle location 28 in sample)

I think this separation at individual and systemic levels is important and our awareness of them (like the difference between bias and othering, maybe?) Is important for how we strive towards righting the injustice.

Another really important quote

power is affecting our functioning as rational subjects; for it eradicates, or at least obscures, the distinction between what we have a reason to think and what mere relations of power are doing to our thinking. (Location 44 in Kindle sample).

I think what I had been thinking of in terms of bad listening relates to this somewhat. Systemic knowledge structures makes it difficult, particularly for the dominant, but also for less conscious once-dominant others to fit radically different ideas into existing schemas for many reasons: they don’t appear in a form or language familiar or considered credible to them. They simply don’t appear frequently enough or in connection to other familiar things, so they don’t stick even if we intend to listen to them.

The book, Fricker, also talks about the importance of situated approaches not just abstract theory. We need to look at how our epsitemic practices create injustice. Situated analyses allow us to look at the interplay of power and epistemic authority.

I want to give more situated accounts of how I interpret all this but I do not have time right now. I will add a couple of quotes before I hit publish, though:

Any claim of injustice must rely on shared ethical intuition,

And for me this is a crucial thing. Nuilding this shared ethical intuition is not easy and requires participation from diverse people in our lives. Something i have argued for for many years.

More on hermeneutical marginalization:

the unequal disadvantage derives from the fact that members of the group that is most disadvantaged by the gap are, in some degree, hermeneutically cally marginalized-that is, they participate unequally in the practices through which social meanings are generated.

our collective forms of understanding are rendered structurally prejudicial in respect of content and/or style: the social experiences of members of hermeneutically marginalized groups are left inadequately conceptualized and so ill-understood, perhaps even by the subjects themselves; and/or attempts at communication made by such groups, where they do have an adequate grip on the content of what they aim to convey, are not heard as rational owing to their expressive style being inadequately understood.

I need to also go an read this book I got earlier last year Epistemic Freedom in Africa: Deprovincialization and Decolonization by Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni

January 2, 2019
by Maha Bali

Lip Service Listening

Reading Time: 2 minutesI recently wrote a post recommending a new approach to listening. This post attempts to concisely explain a kind of surface listening I see around me often. I call it “lip service listening”.

Briefly, it is when someone realizes they should be listening to another person’s ideas, and they want to show they are listening by outwardly amplifying that work, but in reality they have not deeply absorbed the work or engaged with the ideas. Person A is the listener. Person B is the person whose idea they pay lip service to.

For example:

  1. Person A constantly includes Person B in Twitter lists of people they appreciate but never engage with their ideas in specific ways, like actually quoting something they wrote
  2. Person A cites Person B’s work in articles but after the citation, proceeds to ignore person B’s ideas in the rest of the article. It *looks* as if Person A has cited Person B, but it is a technical citation. Ticking a box. Not a real engagement with the ideas. Occasionally, this includes misappropriation or misunderstandings of Person B’s ideas (so actually looks like engaging with the ideas but actually does not use them the way Person B intended. Tricky one).
  3. Person A invites Person B to be part of a group or team. But the team continues to work exactly as they have before person B came, which makes it difficult if not impossible for Person B’s different ideas to be included or integrated at all

The funny thing is that Person A is probably genuinely recognizing the importance of engaging with person B’s ideas, but unable to go beyond the surface and it’s a tokenizing type of listening and a showing off of their ability to listen. Like, that they need to give evidence that they listened. Hence the lip service.

Bet you have seen this quite a bit, eh?

December 28, 2018
by Maha Bali

How We Feel About What We Write and Teach

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I came across this list of notable Africa American literature (thanks Remi Kalir) and decided to go to the Kindle store and get some. Then Amazon of course recommended others. So I got some of those, too. Well, I got some samples and bought some. Quite a few on that list are not yet published.

One of the first ones I started reading was a collection of essays by Zadie Smith called Changing My Mind (recommended by Amazon, not the list) and the first one comes from a speech she gave. It’s Ch7 That Crafty Feeling. It’s about her writing process and it made me reflect on my writing and teaching. So here is my capturing a few thoughts.

How We Feel About What We Wrote Before

She talks of how she and another author are almost terrified or ashamed of things they had written earlier. I was recently telling a friend (and I tell this story often) that my most frequently cited academic article is among my worst productions. I find it shallow and not radical enough, and my thinking about it changed between the time it was accepted for publication and when it was actually published (maybe 6 months?). So I get that feeling. If that article is all you ever read by me, then you don’t know me at all. Please hide me somewhere. But, around the same time I wrote that article, I wrote two others. One for a journal, one for a magazine. Both of these were published faster. Both of them were a source of pride when I published them. Both continue to be used and cited today, and both I am still proud of. One of them was such a timely piece for its time. But its message somehow seems to continue to have relevance and I continue to recycle and expand on its ideas to this day. It was a moment of clarity near the end of my PhD dissertation and I worked with the editor of the magazine to help me write it for a wider audience of readers. It’s Critical Citizenship for Critical Times, written during 2013 ouster of president Morsi in Egypt. But the messages in it apply all these years later to many different contexts.

I’m thinking now… I think maybe I haven’t had anything as good as this piece ever published. But I also haven’t had something as awful as that other article people cite so often. Maybe I learned a lesson never to publish something half-assed? I don’t know. Maybe I try to publish stuff I have thought about for a long time? But I also blog. Maybe the blogging became my space for incomplete and incoherent thinking, for a string of thoughts over time, such that I have more room to think more clearly for stuff I publish elsewhere? I am unsure. I think the speed of blogging and getting things out there immediately helps ensure ideas are current and can get immediate reactions… and that helps my thoughts develop better. As I write them, and as they get written. But these are not novels, of course. Novels are a different beast.

On Scaffolding

“If you are writing a novel at the moment and putting up scaffolding, well, I hope it helps you, but don’t forget to dismantle it later”

This seems obvious but I realized something we do in teaching that doesn’t follow this properly. We need to know when students need support and when we can remove the support rather than keep it there and encourage dependence on them.

As I start thinking about how I hate rubrics because I don’t want students to be suffocated by them…but I want to be transparent with them and help them become better writers… I need to think about how to give them guidance that will later enable me to pull away and have them evaluate their own writing and improve it on their own.

On Editing

I have always known this about editing. But now it’s explicitly there and I know I have always had this problem editing other people’s work if I have to do it over and over in a short period of time.

Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer…

that’s true of the professional editors, too; after they’ve read a manuscript multiple times, they stop being able to see it.” (emphasis in Original)


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

Join other followers: