Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

September 24, 2017
by Maha Bali

Possible discussion topic for class: Internet censorship 

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I may decide to discuss internet censorship in my class this semester. I recently discovered that Medium is blocked in Egypt (no kidding). And someone shared this website with me which talks about ways of monitoring censorship in Egypt.

I’m just parking this here for now. So I can come back to it later. It would fit well into a discussion of digital citizenship as well, I think. 

My absolute nightmare would be if Egypt blocked YouTube (therefore no vconnecting) or Twitter.

(article about new Internet law in Zimbabwe, may be worth reading and discussing as well)

September 24, 2017
by Maha Bali

Thursday Annotathon: Copenhagen Letter #digciz

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I saw the Copenhagen Letter earlier this week (thank YOU George Station and #digciz) and saw an opportunity to annotate this with my students. It’s a quick read with important points about how we could take a different attitude about technology. It will also help me connect a workshop on citizenship we’re doing tomorrow with the digital manifestation of global/digital citizenship. I also wrote an article that will come out on DML Central soon reflecting on one aspect of the letter… 

But in general, I’m planning to annotate with my students this Thursday September 28 around 10.30am Cairo time (GMT 8.30). We’ll do it publicly using this link. Join us! All you gotta do is annotate the article, and responding to my students’ questions or comments is very welcome! Join me throughout the day and into the next day – or post a provocative question or comment beforehand…. 

I may ask them to develop their own version of what THEY think such a letter should contain…from their context and experience as mostly non-technical people in Egypt. 

Note: Remi Kalir just shared the theme this year for Marginal Syllabus in collaboration w Educator Innovator is Writing Our Civic Futures. If we tag annotations #MarginalSyllabus we can have our anotathon included as a complementary text.

September 23, 2017
by Maha Bali

Wikipedia editing workshop reflections

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last week, I invited local Egyptian Wikipedia folks (Wikimedians?) to give my students a workshop on Wikipedia editing. 

Before the workshop happened, I asked around on Twitter about resources and such, and I’m including most of what I found near the bottom of this post.

My plan 

It is pretty vague 🙂

Two volunteers from Wikipedia Egypt came and gave the 3-hour workshop in a lab.

I was thinking the goal is to explore the process of knowledge construction on Wikipedia, to see the backend of it and how decisions get made on what stays, what does not, and also what counts as credible references for Wikipedia and what doesn’t.

Because my goal is like that, I was planning to give students choice of which topics to edit and which language (English, Arabic, maybe French).

I wanted students experiment with

  • Adding citations to citations needed articles
  • Editing existing articles
  • Creating new articles (knowing this is harder, especially in English)
  • I was thinking assessment would include reflection on process with screenshots of what they did. I realized later that I could create a course page, have students join it, and therefore see what they did directly (screenshots not necessary, reflection still important) 

How the Workshop Went

First, some context. At the American University in Cairo, we study in English; some students are better at writing in English, some are good at both, a few aren’t very strong in English. In this particular class, for some odd reason, all the students seem to be fluent in English and comfortable only in writing in English. 

More context: I am personally interested in two things: increasing Arabic content on Wikipedia (online in general) and including non-Western perspectives on Wikipedia (online in general) even in English. I could elaborate on this but I won’t here.

Last piece of context; the main trainer here was an extremely passionate University professor who teaches Spanish Literature and edits Wikipedia in Arabic and Spanish. English was not her stronghold.

This meant that while (thankfully) all my students understood the workshop facilitator (they all speak Arabic) there was a lot of talk about Wikipedia Arabic and lots of showing things in Arabic and I think this made some of them uncomfortable. It’s difficult to explain this, but Arabic text is a little exhausting to look at. It’s like… It feels like it always needs to be larger and wider or bold or something. It is hard to look at on a screen. But anyway. 

The other issue is that a whole 90 minutes or so was lecture/demonstration on how Wikipedia works, and students started to get engaged more only in the hands-on part. I learned A LOT from this first part. She also did me a great favor in that she moved me up as an instructor so I could have a Wikipedia course page students could join. I could not have done that without her.

But students were probably itching to practice at this point, so I decided to take over so we could use an English view. Also, I think the facilitator underestimated my students’ tech skills and was going to use the old editing interface, whereas the new visual interface is pretty intuitive and I just asked students to go ahead and try some things on their sandbox (play with bold, links and references) then to move to a live page and edit something small when they were ready. I worked in parallel with them and talked aloud in case they would benefit from that, and I commented on the Wikipedia page of our university and we did a fun thing where we would all decide to make an edit and we would see who did it first. Once they got going on the editing, about half of them did some really interesting stuff. Some were watching over others’ shoulders. We looked at talk pages and such. We discussed what a good reference would be and how to cross-link within Wikipedia. We looked at how to know if a page existed in other languages. We considered if someone could do a Wikimedia images assignment instead of text editing.

Overall I’m ready to start planning a Wikipedia editing assignment but I am still vague. Got lots of great ideas from resources below, but also need to give students opportunities to choose what interests them.

I may participate In the upcoming Wikipedia conference in October. Depends how this goes. Turns out lots of Wikipedia Arabic comes out of translation courses in Egyptian universities 🙂 cool.

In future, I think I will ask students to use tutorials to learn about Wikipedia and start using it, then bring in an expert for an hour to ask questions and share some trade secrets. But not a 3-hour workshop like this time. 

But I can  only say that because so many useful resources were shared with me, so I have a lot to back me up on this.

Resources shared with me – thanks to all who offered help or pointed me to others 🙂

I asked on Twitter

I got all these treasures 

    Useful for finding articles that need work:

    September 11, 2017
    by Maha Bali

    Give & Take as Participation and Empowerment #BeOpen

    Reading Time: 5 minutes

    As part of my preparation for the #BeOpen (OEPS) keynote I gave this morning, I re-read an old favorite article by feminist poststructuralist Jennifer Gore. 

    For background, the reason I went to that particular article is that I was asked to talk about “The Promise of Open: what can open do for you?” and it reminded me of the title of her article “what we can do for you? What can “we” do for “you”” and how just framing the title of the keynote (which was given to me) made me uncomfortable. Of course I could talk about what open has done for ME. But I didn’t feel comfortable stating what open could do for others, assuming it, particularly when I don’t know their context. It’s not like the goals of open won’t have relevance to many contexts, it’s that they need to be contextualized for each context in order to make them worthwhile and so that the intended promise can be converted into a reality that meets the needs /desires of some person or group.

    Gore’s article is excellent in framing how discussions of critical and feminist pedagogy are often too abstract and decontextualized and not at all about how the promised ideals work in practice. She also critiques the discourses as somewhat patronizing, framing teachers and students in ways that seem to emphasize a teacher’s privilege in ways that both inflate a teacher’s privilege beyond its reality AND does not really fit well with the discourses of liberating students and egalitarian power structures in the classroom. Even worse, framing critical pedagogy and power as something teachers have and will give (almost force upon) students completely ignores student agency and their role seems passive in the process.

    Which leads me to a key thing I mentioned in my digped keynote about participation but which I think I expressed a bit better in my #BeOpen keynote (especially after some discussions).

    I was building on an idea from a previous OEPS keynote by Laura Czerniewicz on how open is often open for access not participation. Nagla Rizk also makes that point and I quoted her in OER17 and today. 

    I said something about participation as having a seat on a table. But asking who gets to invite whom to the table. Who decides what gets placed on the table, what the rules are, etc? In the vconnecting hangout discussion after my keynote, you could see this metaphor develop as Sheila, Sarah, Helen and Chuck discussed it and flew with it. Even I had more ideas about it because of how they reacted to it.

    And then later in the day I was part of a panel and something clicked for me.

    I was asked to give an example of a truly participatory design process for OER. I don’t do OER man. So I talked about vconnecting and what it is about it that I think makes it participatory. 

    And it’s this. VConnecting is a thing, that if we boiled it down to its most visible part, the actual hangout (hiding mountains of process which has its own beauty) you find these stakeholders 

    1. The virtual person who cannot be at an event, marginal in some way, supposedly the “recipient”of someone’s goodwill (but wait, because i will challenge this in a moment). This can be an organizer (putting in more effort) or a participant (less effort) 
    2. The onsite person who is “giving” of their time so that virtual folks can be there. This can be an organizer (putting in more time) or guest (putting in less time)

    Ok. But here’s the thing. If vconnecting continued to feel to me as if the onsite person were being charitable to me … I would have stopped doing it long ago. It’s not like that and from the beginning Rebecca explained to me how the onsite person benefits too. Over time…onsite folks have told me it helps them socialize and meet new people onsite (including high profile people like Martin Weller! He likes meeting ppl through VC). Some people like Christian Friedrich and Amy Collier have often also said they feel it enriches the convo onsite and makes them more aware of who isn’t present and the interaction enriches the onsite experience. Sheila MacNeill just blogged about her onsite experience at #altc – she was the lead onsite buddy and that is often the richer (but also more time consuming) onsite experience. 

    I was thinking about how the virtual folks (starting w me) were participants in the design of this movement called vconnecting and how it evolved as more virtual folks became organizers and had a say in how the virtual side is organized. How we invite folks who participate a lot to become part of our team, and some just do it without needing invites. That way, a “recipient” becomes a participant with decision-making power. But apparently onsite folks (can) benefit, too, so it’s a reciprocal relationship. Onsite guests have even told me they find it enriching but also beneficial for their reflection, or even that it’s good PR for their institution. Notice I say “can”. Some might, some might not. Sometimes it works better than others.

    The point is, though, that I think true participation means give and take. That I come to a table knowing I have something to give as well as take. That I am not a beggar on someone else’s dinner table, but a co-chef in the kitchen or something 🙂 but maybe someone is doing starters and another is the main course 😉 or we both provide ingredients for dessert and together we make a better dessert 🙂 or something. 

    Back to discourses of empowerment… I think a critical pedagogy classroom should also be like that. Where a teacher is learning from the student. Where the students have a say in how they wish their agency to be nurtured. In practice, this requires a whole heck of a lot of vulnerability and openness from a teacher, which someone brought up in the post-keynote discussion as well (i think Matt from Liverpool).

    I think for anyone to feel liberated, they need to have a strong sense of their active role in their own and probably others’ liberation. And while this is an abstract part of this blogpost (as is Gore’s article, critiquing abstractness with an article she admits is itself so abstract) I’ve used the example of vconnecting and I’ll come back to it now quickly. 

    With vconnecting, the virtual buddy (ies) is liberated from the constraints of their lives that prevent conference travel and thus limit their professional development and voice in the field (of mainly edtech where we operate). However, the virtual buddy also can hold some power of invitation (whom to invite from onsite to talk to – onsite buddies do so too); the power of inviting others to join virtually, and of actually running the hangouts themselves. The virtual Participant does much less BUT s/he brings their thoughts and conversation into an event that otherwise would have been poorer without their voice (I’m romanticizing a bit here, because some people don’t speak up much, but most people who do it several times eventually do. Some don’t speak up but contribute to text chat so viewers don’t see it). More interesting about vconnecting is that many in our community switch roles often, so they do both onsite and Virtual. This was a novelty when it first happened but our community is so large now it happens a lot. I can’t think of many people in our team now who were only ever on one side of it. And that is SUPER cool to practice different perspectives on giving and taking. 

    So that. I don’t think this is a case that applies across the board. I have to assume I am not the only person who views it as such. I see the direct relationship to teaching where teacher learns from students (I would posit this almost ALWAYS happen, K-16+ but can be more intentionally done and more explicit and encouraged). 

    What I’m suggesting is that open might be one of those supposedly potentially empowering things that doesn’t meet that potential without reciprocal giving. Does reciprocity require SAME giving? I’m not asking for that. But asking for parties to enter into open with positive power positions rather than upper and lower positions.

    September 11, 2017
    by Maha Bali

    My OEPS Talk (happening Sept 11 at 11:10 UK time) #BeOpen

    Reading Time: 1 minutes

    Just wanted to share my slides for today and the livestream video is embedded below (will be followed by a Vconnecting session immediately). Tweet to #BeOpen


    I forgot to say I was participating in a panel at 2:55 and that’s now over and recording is available here:


    And if you missed the livestream of the entire event via periscope, it’s all here:

    September 10, 2017
    by Maha Bali

    Context and Keynoting 

    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    I’ve long struggled with this issue of keynoting at a place where you don’t know the context well.

    On the one hand, people are often invited to keynote because they are experts in something and are outsiders with a fresh perspective. On the other hand, it can sometimes seem like the speakers are talking over the audience or not truly addressing or engaging them sometimes either because they ignore the context or (often worse) make incorrect (unfounded?) assumptions about the context. 

    Recently, because a lot more of my speaking engagements are invited rather than proposed by me, they are a plenary type talks or panels, and this feels like more pressure and responsibility to make it good, to make sure it’s good for the audience, rather than just me presenting what I want to say.

    I may be overthinking it. I’m not sure.

    I do know that while I’m completely comfortable being virtual in many ways, being onsite at a conference makes a difference to the keynoting experience in several ways. I get to talk to people before and after. Even the evening before at the hotel or the morning at breakfast. All of this really gives more insight with subtle hints that aren’t usually available to the virtual Participant. I didn’t change my OER17 keynote much because of those little things, but my intro thanking ALT was different because of it and it made a big difference in my own attitude as I stood there. Even a conversation with Josie and Alek on the way there made a difference. And being there the rest of the day and hearing people refer back to my keynote in their own talks? SO GRATIFYING. SO SO SO GRATIFYING. 

    DigPed was more complex, and even though I don’t think I did a superb job with that keynote, I know it would have been worse if I didn’t have the context to go with it.

    Yesterday I was at a panel here in Egypt. This will surprise you, but I’m not as heavily knowledgeable about k-12 edu in Egypt as I’d like to be because my daily job is higher ed/edtech and my evening informal learning networks are also higher ed/edtech/OpenEd focused. So it’s not my daily thing, not my daily research or teaching or experience or discourse.

    And so because I was at this panel where it’s not my thing and because I couldn’t attend the full two days of the event, I am pretty sure I didn’t do the best possible thing. I did ok given the lack of context (and that I had to speak first UGH) but of course I wasn’t like totally blind to context… But you know, still.

    Anyway. I’m just venting now.

    Tomorrow inshallah I speak virtually at OEPS. I would have loved to go. The location at Dynamic Earth alone seems DIVINE. But anyways. I talked to several conference organizers and several Scottish friends and OU friends (involved in the project) and I feel good about it. I think 🙂

    It’ll be tomorrow at 11.10 and a Vconnecting session immediately after it so around 11.30 (Q&A) or 11.40 (the break time at the conference).  More info and to sign up is here

    September 5, 2017
    by Maha Bali

    Impostoring and Keynoting

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    I’ve got another blogpost in draft for DAYS now and I’ll get back to it eventually. Inshallah 

    But this one. I NEED to write this one. As I prepare for my OEPS keynote next week (virtual) and have had to respond to more keynote invitations with “I can’t, but could I do virtual instead?” and only agree to a few… I still have a strong case of impostor syndrome. I’m always wondering “are you talking to me?” and “why me?” and inevitably “ah yes because of course it’s kinda cool to have a headscarved person from a developing country – diversity yay” (then I feel ashamed, because I’m not giving people the benefit of the doubt, not properly anyway). Because of course there are many women who wear headscarves or come from developing countries and they’re not getting invited to these things, I am. Then I think of all the wonderful women around me who don’t get invited and I think it’s not fair to them. But then again, I write and tweet and vconnect like crazy and I’ve built all this social and cultural capital which is a heck of a lot WORK, I swear it is. But it’s still personality. And personality is hard work. But it’s not…everything that’s important. It’s probably the “in” for people to notice what’s more important. 

    I sometimes feel pain for getting more international recognition than local recognition, then I look at the work I do and it’s so cutting edge it’s never going to be mainstream locally. And if I had to be honest, I do get local recognition and every now and then it’s elating. But it’s not like my international recognition. It’s not in the way people internationally (ok in a very niche field of digped and opened and a bit of mainstream edtech) respond to me. Because of course i write in English about issues a Western audience is more interested in because i work at a Western institution that’s closer to that discourse and I’m so aware of how this doesn’t generalize back into the local that I’m really careful what and how I write for the Arab audience. So I get invited into Western endeavors (NMC recent digital literacies report as an example) and occasionally Arab ones (missed an important Arab MOOC conference, Edraak’s first in Jordan and an important ministry of Education event in Cairo because I was at DigPedLab UMW. And i don’t even really travel THAT MUCH people!) 

    A comment by Kate Bowles on my last blogpost struck me in several ways. I agree w her that impostor syndrome is largely a result of systemic aggressions, which explains why women and minorities feel it most. I mean, of course, when you can’t find a role model who looks like you, something seems…off, right? Must be in the wrong place, right? What am I doing here, eh?

    She also noted the focus on the negative and I’ll admit these things

    1. I focus on negative feedback more than positive on surveys and such. I know the most negative people put comments but i also believe many negative people stay silent. So i care. I also want to know how to improve. I don’t necessarily feel that way about peer review coz it is often clear that a peer review “doesn’t get it” in the first place
    2. I focus on any negative/criticsm about myself because I want to listen but I know I don’t always… But i need the extra humility 

    I am only truly horrible at getting feedback on my motherhood because wow that’s the mother of all impostor syndromes and While i am actually quite professionally confident, the whole motherhood thing scares the shit out of me. So I am really sensitive to feedback on that in the sense it REALLY hurts me deep down and I reject it instantaneously no matter who. My elderly friend Lesley (may she rest in peace) was soooo smart that way. She never gave me advice. She just told me stories of her own motherhood and indirectly helped me learn new things. All the time.

    Anyway. So I got this post out of the way and my OEPS keynote half done with parts to remove (always better than parts needed to add).

    August 30, 2017
    by Maha Bali

    On Agency & Holding Multiple Views at Once 

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Three things came together and collided in my brain… All of it helping me to think about my upcoming keynote at OEPS (unfortunately I cannot be in Scotland in person, but they’re generous enough to take me virtually and I appreciate it).

    The things that happened are

    1. A presentation by a corporate entity wanting to sell us edtech solutions (fancy hardware/software/lifestyle combos) which had me internally cringing at the overselling of how tools can support learning. Not a surprise, but nevertheless a mildly annoying waste of an hour of my life.
    2. I re-listened to this vconnecting session from #digped with a really interesting second half where Lora Taub, Miranda Dean and Jenna Azar (mainly) discussed the application of Chris Gilliard’s approach of not asking students to use technologies where they would need to lose control of their data. Discussion ensues on student agency (Miranda is a fresh grad). Entire session is worth listening to, but this particular part starts around minute 24. I may use it in my class this semester to start a discussion! 
    3. An article was published on Hybrid Pedagogy today written by 3 students who focus on how higher ed should focus on employability (in ways critical pedagogy discourses many of us have often overlook) – and that article and some thoughts around it actually Intersect well with the ideas in the vconnecting session, my part of the #digped keynote and…
    4. …what I plan to talk about for my OEPS keynote regarding the “promise of open” (I was assigned this topic; I’m ok with it but plan to challenge it – it’s the theme of the conference)
    5. And to top it all off, I had a wonderful conversation with Melissa Malon for the Leading Lines podcast right in the middle of writing this podcast (specifically between bullet 4 and this one) on digital literacies, where I got to think/reflect aloud on where I stood on these things!
    6. I paused and in the meantime Kate Bowles wrote an awesome blog critiquing surveillance and data analytics in higher ed (it’s not that she’s saying something I don’t know as much as how eloquently she builds the post – so well said) and Sherri Spelic blogged this on the importance of educators reconciling themselves with uncertainty, even embracing it, even if uncomfortably at times (and here I think she makes explicit some thoughts and feelings many of us usually never share with anyone, let alone write in public).
    7. Omigosh and now Bonnie’s ALTC keynote and Mike Caulfield blogged and I really need to go read Amy Collier’s piece on digital sanctuary…

          So umm the point I think I was going to make was… This blogpost is taking forever to write, but my main point in writing is this:

          OEPS asked me to talk about the promise of open. I would like to problematize and contextualize both “promise” and “open”. And even as I do so, it’s still worthwhile to recognize how some individuals and groups can benefit from open in certain contexts and from certain angles. We should not dismiss the potential of that. But we should also not ignore those limitations. And at the same time we need to not assume who will or won’t benefit from each approach to open. Even as I believe that vulnerable people do not have agency in the same ways as more privileged people, at the same time, we still should not be making decisions on their behalf… But instead supporting their agency (not giving it to them).

          It’s not rocket science, but I like the way I’m building the argument in the keynote. That’s happening Monday September 11 at 11.10 UK time, followed by a Vconnecting session inshallah 

          August 30, 2017
          by Maha Bali

          Patience, graciousness and emotional shortcircuits

          Reading Time: 4 minutes

          Yesterday I lost my patience 

          Today I saw this tweet by Jesse Stommel on how patience is pedagogical (check out the whole thread on empathy for students as well). 

          So what happened yday is that after a full day of stress, and while fasting (which is a religious ritual of not eating/drinking for a long time which is supposed to make you spiritual and often does but also occasionally makes you cranky because, you know, hypoglycemia!) I saw something that triggered me and I lost it. I’d consider myself a person who is patient but in a hurry. I don’t know how to explain this exactly, but I like doing things fast but try to be patient with others (not always successfully); I usually handle stress well, until something triggers me and then I blow up. Yesterday was that day.

          I had my daughter and her two cousins with me in the playground and my husband nearby. They and a couple of other kids were following some cats and found a kitten among them. One of the other kids, a little boy, was going after the kitten and scaring her so I asked him to move away. He did. But a few minutes later he came back with an older kid and a stick in his hand, and they sought the little kitten (which was hiding in a grass space kids aren’t supposed to walk on in the first place) and going after it with the stick. I FLIPPED. I screamed at the kid to move away from the kitten and how could he beat her. If she were older she would have scratched or bitten him, but this one was a baby. Eventually his mom came and calmly took him away. I apologized to her later, because of course I just scared the bejeesus out of her kid and the only thing he learned, probably, was to be scared of the crazy woman (me). When I flip, it’s not pretty.

          Honestly, I don’t know if I would have found a more patient, pedagogical way to respond if I’d been having a better day. Honestly, in hindsight I know I didn’t do the right thing. But honestly, I don’t think it’s always feasible to do the right thing when there is cruelty or injustice taking place right in front of your face. Sometimes you gotta scream to stop something from happening even if that scream won’t give long-term results. But i am sure there are better people who could handle that without screams. 

          This reminds me of something that happened at Digped and throughout my US trip. I could understand why someone was upset about something but not always take it as deeply as them, and I would try to imagine why a person would behave a certain way that hurt others, calmly, patiently, and someone once called it “gracious”. But we can afford to be gracious when we aren’t the target, or when the target is somewhat distant from us. We can’t always afford to be gracious when we are emotionally triggered. And we need to empathize with other people’s emotional triggers in order to understand why they act the way they do.

          Listening is important – but we need to realize that the person expressing themselves (in anger, in hurt) may not be able to express themselves clearly to us, nor is that necessarily a priority for them in the moment. When we see red, or black, we’re not really our rational, reasonable selves.

          What the heck did I teach that kid yesterday? More importantly, what did my own kid (who needs not to be scared of me, who needs not to take screaming as a role model) learn?

          I’ll forgive myself this. Because I know how those emotions felt. But I still feel guilty and obviously can’t stop thinking about this up until today. What could I have done differently? More: did I have control to do something different? And then: what could I do to better prepare myself to do something different? 

          Get me some yoga. I had the most stressful pregnancy including hospitalizations (multiple) and deaths of loved ones and a country going through a revolution. Honestly, I was very calm through it all – partly because of yoga. Maybe pregnancy hormones and some spirituality mixed in.

          Ok now back to this. 

          I also responded to one of Jesse’s tweets with this note about empathy:

          When we empathize, we won’t necessarily get the same emotional triggers as other people, but we start to carry parts of that burden and it’s painful. It’s what happened to me at DigPed and it was driving me crazy. First I didn’t understand, then I started to empathize (which sometimes involved understanding and other times involved absorbing the feelings regardless) and the emotional burden piles up. It doesn’t slide off me. This happens to me at work, too. When I listen empathetically, when this works, it’s a heavy weight I carry. It’s worth it, but it builds up and I can’t just let it go.

          Reflecting on how I reacted to the kitten, I think that my emotional shortcircuit saw the injustice towards the kitten as greater than the needs of the kid. In Egypt this is unacceptable. Respect for animals isn’t huge. And to be fair, this kid wasn’t like 8 or 7, he was like maybe 3 or 4. I probably scarred him. I needed pedagogical patience.

          It reminds me of how I respond to gender (and some racial) slurs in class. The first time I usually am not prepared for it. With time, I learned pedagogical patience.

          So pedagogical patience is contextual and takes hard work and is emotional work.

          But I’ll forgive myself because it was a good cause. And I’ll keep berating myself because I wasn’t a good teacher or parent in that moment, just an animal carer, and I didn’t do the best thing. Time to work on that emotional shortcircuit. 

          August 26, 2017
          by Maha Bali

          Home, Belonging and #DigPed (part 2 of my reflections) 

          Reading Time: 6 minutes

          It was caught off-guard when my almost 6-year-old said Fredericksburg the other day. I didn’t realize while we were there that she’d internalized the place and location. 

          When she imagines going back to the US, she doesn’t AT ALL remember the long plane rides or the jetlag upon returning. Here’s what she remembers:

          The names of her favorite waitresses at the iHop near our hotel in Chicago (where she went every day in hope of reuniting with her favorites – and her wishes came true multiple times)

          The name of her favorite receptionist from our hotel in Fredericksburg, who kept her company while I was at DigPed

          “University” as referring to UMW, the place mommy has a conference, where she could go and hang out a little bit.

          The pictures of the social outings where she got to spend time with my friends – the ones she knew from before and the new friends she made.

          I look at a lot of my daughter’s social butterfly behavior and I think of how it reflects (in an extreme way) how I am now, not how I was at her age (not that I remember – should ask my mom; it may be “only child” behavior) – and how it makes me look at the world differently, through her eyes. She had her eyes to the prize with this trip and she didn’t complain about the trip almost at all… Because she knew there were social rewards for her and that was what mattered.

          A few days ago, I started writing my reflections on #digped and I thought the dam had broken and I’d be able to get it all out in a matter of days, prolific writer that I am. But no. And there is a good reason. It’s because a lot of what I’m thinking and feeling should not be shared publicly in detail because it concerns others. And at the same time, I have something to say that could be of value to others. How do I write something valuable to the person who doesn’t understand the context but something with in-between-the-lines clarity for those who were there?

          I’ll focus on the one thing I feel I can write about today, and it’s something I spoke about in my part of the keynote. For a reason beyond my personal feelings about it, but also those feelings. 

          I spoke about how I look like the most “other” person at #digped – no other headscarved women (a couple of ppl I know of who were at least part Arab/Muslim but not as explicitly so), not many ppl who live outside of North America. Not many people (in fact just one other) who lives in a non-English speaking country. And yet, in other ways, some visible, some not, I belonged so much. When Sean introduced me before the keynote, he said something along the lines of he gets surprised when he meets someone who doesn’t know me. It made me laugh. But I also realized I knew SO MANY people at this event. About a third of the people in my track. Every single track teacher and keynote speaker. A few other people here and there. And my first two days were filled with hugs (yes even to men because I couldn’t help myself even though I had promised myself not to. It got to the point where my husband just expected it and didn’t care at all. Even though it’s the first time he ever sees me hugging other men and I would never hug an Egyptian man, really…never mind).

          I’m thinking about how people tend to “look” like they belong or not, but it’s not necessarily a reflection of whether they “feel” like they belong. For the most part, I felt like I belonged there. I felt like I understood a lot of backstories of a lot of things and therefore received them better, in the Edward Said way of trying to understand the “other” from their own worldview and not mine. But I also realized how other people perceive things in ways I cannot have imagined. 

          I saw how Kate (an athesit) and I (a Muslim) might be open to particular religious messages (outside of or far away from our own beliefs), and that oir acceptance of this could blind us to how it might be unacceptable to others. And this mattered.

          I saw how sometimes tolerance for and trying to understand behavior that leads to injustice can be itself intolerable to those who have historically endured this injustice in ways I have not.

          I loved how Sean opened up by talking about how minorities are welcome at DigPed…and he named them one by one. I loved this sentiment because I also know Sean and I know how much this matters to him beyond words and that he tries so hard to translate it into action. It’s hard work and it’s a long road. But as an example of a time it really touched me? Sean and Jesse know I don’t like being in a place around alcohol, and for one of the important social events for facilitators and such, they made sure it was clear that the first part of the event would not include alcohol. So I could go and leave early (comfortably). I cried when they made this arrangement. I could not go in the end for complicated reasons. But the gesture reached so deep into my heart and squeezed it.

          And people who know you and love you can do things like that for you. But it doesn’t mean they could do the same for others like you or other minorities. In a way, I was not a faceless minority group. I was Maha whom they knew intimately as a person and therefore knew my needs well. It’s not the same as being generally inclusive. It’s somewhat more achievable and more authentic and genuine. It is also the thing you get better at when you know more diverse people more intimately and can therefore internalize their needs better and be able to support them by asking them what you can do to be an ally…

          I learned how race and religion and social class work so differently in America, and that I’m still not sensitive enough to this. That being in the moment with people gave me a totally different perspective on this. And I’m still absorbing it now. 

          I also remember feeling like I belonged one minute, standing beside Kate, and that I didn’t belong another minute, standing beside Kate, just a moment later. Of being acutely aware of my otherness. I felt it seesawing a lot while working with Chris on the keynote. On how to support him in expressing himself how he saw fit without eradicating how I wanted to express myself.

          And it was like I was in my intellectual home but not my physical or social home and the cognitive dissonance of that was overwhelming. DigPedLab Cairo was so different in that regard. I had more control over (yes, I said control) how the pieces of my life fit together and could keep up with my digital and physical self. I was not completely overwhelmed by all the 3D versions of my digital friends. For DigPedLab Fredericksburg, I had met many people before (important ones like Autumm, Rebecca, Jesse, Sean, Amy) but there were many more REALLY important people who were f2f (Kate, Chris, Remi, Lora, Laura, Roz, George…  This could go on forever) and new people to meet and fall in love with. But also to share most of these people with my family. My child especially and how she responded to them and how they embraced her as just part of what this trip was for me.

          And I’m thinking of the metaphor of home…and that there’s an assumption that home is a place where u belong. And yet here I was, acutely aware this was not home, not at all, and like a pendulum swinging between states of belonging and not belonging.

          And I’m thinking of how other people may look like they belong more, in surface ways, but not truly feel like they belong at all. And how much agony an event like this might feel for them. If they don’t make friends easily and have no one to have dinner with (as opposed to Kate, who had many friends there but often chose to have dinner alone). Who may have had no one to walk to UMW with each day. Who had to stay in a faraway place because of funding and not have the opportunity to bump into people at breakfast each day. 

          Or more importantly – who may have had overwhelming feelings inside of them during this event and no one to talk to. I had my husband (because i wasn’t home, but home came all the way with me, for good and for bad). I had Kate. I had Autumm. I had Rebecca. I had at least one night or moment of talking to each of them that helped me get through the week. What if I had none of that? And I was still overwhelmed. Actually, I am STILL overwhelmed and winding down.
          I’ll stop now and write again when I can


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