Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

March 15, 2018
by Maha Bali

Too Critical, Not Critical Enough

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This post is a response to the work of 3 great people I respect. I’m going to link all the things now so I can focus on writing my response freely. The first is danah boyd’s SXSW keynote, Renée Hobbs’ response and Benjamin Doxtdator’s response. There’s also been a Twitter thread that’s… Probably unmanageable at the moment but with notable contributions by folks like Mike Caulfield, Frances Bell, Benjamin, myself and George Station who started the thread (I’m the one who linker danah boyd before watching her video to the end, someone, i think Leo Havemann, linked Renée and I think Sundi linked Benjamin’s article). I apologize in advance for all unreferenced anything else in this post. But all of the refs are probably in the reference list of my thesis.

If you missed any of these… I’m going to offer a partial summary of key points. To me, danah boyd’s keynote has two main threads. One identifies a problem which reminds me of something Mike Caulfield had mentioned recently and which many of us who teach encounter: critical thinking turning into unstoppable skepticism such that everything seems equally questionable to people, particularly young people. I had responded to Mike that William Perry’a model of intellectual development calls this Multiplicity and it is a stage of “anything goes” that precedes the more mature Contextual Relativism. Perry’s model is problematic, however, given it’s based on mostly white male Harvard students and has been extended and modified by many folks including Baxter Magolda who modifies it with Belenkey et al’s work on Women’s Ways of Knowing – finding pathways to mature critical thinking that aren’t based on skepticism but rather on empathetic understanding of the other, connected knowing, on the path towards constructed knowing.

Back to danah. Her keynote included several statements that struck a chord. But the most important ones, I felt, related to how traditional ways of teaching critical thinking and media literacy are about asserting authority over epistemology. It’s… A strange phrasing imho, but I kind of think I get what she means… I think overall, critical thinking, North American model, focuses on technical skills of detecting fallacies and constructing rational arguments… In order to “win” an argument (an instrumental end). And because there are no social justice values linked with this, one could use one’s critical thinking for good or for bad (Richard Paul calls the bad “weak sense” critical thinking which only confirms our own biases/worldviews, vs “strong sense”, which involves seeing multiple world views. Something like that).

Now danah boyd’s solutions to the problems she poses are… A little less than impressive, which I think is what Renée and Benjamin detail in their responses. But danah also makes a strawman out of media literacy, because she seems to be saying things like the critiques of fake news are meant to make us go back to trusting mainstream media…. Whereas my (limited) understanding of critical media literacy is that it does in fact encourage us to question not only how messages are represented and how images/words are chosen to pass particular values/impressions on, but also to question the power structures behind anything in any media, and so of course, just as fake news is fueled by powerful corporate and political interests, traditional media has always been fueled by these, to a certain extent. Just perhaps different in magnitude and more accountable than the complete fakeness that is more common now. Meaning, news was always biased, but completely untrue news was held accountable. Although, really, don’t get me started on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq which the US used to invade Iraq but were never found… But you know.

Renée calls this out directly ” those who teach media literacy as a valorization of mainstream media or who present it as merely making simplistic distinctions between fact and opinion.” and she also makes an excellent point here: “it’s important for young people to learn about the economics of news as an industry and as a political force without promoting either blind trust in mainstream news media or cultivating debilitating cynicism.”

To me, Renée’s post is really good in pointing out what media literacy is. Because danah boyd’s talk was unfair to media literacy as a whole. But Renée recognizes that some people are taught a dumbed down version of it, and that’s probably what danah was talking about, and I’m wondering if that’s what is taught in schools – because many people won’t go on to college and that’s all the formal media literacy they’ll get. But Renée mentions also empowerment via media literacy and gives examples that seem to be targeting k-12…so I don’t know.

One word I don’t see in Renée’s post is justice or social justice. I found oppression once. I’ll circle back to this. But it’s not a shortcoming of her post. It’s just something I want to add.

Benjamin’s post (which Renée points to) mainly critiques danah for her simplistic/individualistic/psychological take on the matter because of several things

  1. She does not mention the role of platforms in perpetuating these problems, nor does she critique the power they hold or the values behind their designs
  2. She ignores power structures and focuses instead on working on students’ minds.

Benjamin critiques danah’s call for cognitive strength training – which in her keynote entails promoting in young people, abilities to understand different epistemologies (a call to empathy?), to look at things outside their context (presumably to be objective?) and to work on overcoming confirmation and selection bias.

Like Benjamin, I agree these are good and needed but not enough. But they’re good and needed and important not just because working on individuals is within our circle of control as educators, but because I do believe if more human beings in the world had more understanding of the other and more awareness of their own biases, we might go towards having fewer programmers who created algorithms which took biased training sets and gave us back injustice in the form of algorithms claiming to be neutral but were really algorithms of oppression as Safiyya Noble calls them.

But what is altogether missing from danah boyd’s talk is that any kind of literacy, if taught as a technical thing, including her list, without teaching about

  1. Values of social justice
  2. Deep consciousness of the ways in which power and oppression work in the world and have historically worked in the world

Teaching literacy without these can always backfire. The solution to this issue is much larger than a set of steps.

What Benjamin emphasizes in his post about recognizing the power of oppression the platforms hold is in itself a dimension of critical literacy youth and all of us need to develop. Benjamin writes this very clearly here :

We’re not fighting a misunderstanding between two parties with the same amount of power. We’re fighting active disinformation fueled by hate groups and spread by algorithms outside of our democratic control. boyd, who works for Microsoft Research, never once mentions a tech company or platform. At a minimum, we need to be literate about how those platforms shape our understanding of the world.

But I’m going to circle back to something. Maybe it’s not directly there, but checking our own selection and confirmation bias is in itself helpful to developing a social justice orientation. As are danah boyd’s other recommendations (and I have no idea why she refers to them as cognitive strength because I’d never heard the term before and it sounds a bit off to me).

Yes the platforms have power and it is oppressive power. But if the recipients of all the platforms produce are critical, empathetic individuals who care about social justice, and who also understands how platforms work… Wouldn’t those platforms wield less power over us?

Danah boyd’s solution is missing the questioning of oppressive power structures while overly inflating the importance of individual agency.

The problem with people who focus on agency is that they don’t keep in mind what Martha Nussbaum calls “combined capability” which is the ways in which the environment can restrict someone’s ability to do what they are capable of. Given what we know about algorithms and platforms, individuals’ agency is limited. But it’s not zero, and it’s worth working on.

On the other hand, focusing only on the power of the platforms can make us despair because they are outside our circle of control and sometimes even sphere of influence.

The platforms reproduce oppression because

  1. Oppression and injustice are already the status quo
  2. Algorithms and platforms sometimes mirror the status quo
  3. Algorithms and platforms sometimes exacerbate and amplify the injustice in the status quo
  4. People who work on these platforms and people who hold them accountable don’t have social justice as their bottom line
  5. Society has huge chunks of people who don’t have a problem seeing oppression and social injustice – as long as it’s mainly happening to someone else

I am no scholar of media literacy or propaganda or any of those things. But I don’t believe Hitler could have brainwashed people if they had no seedlings to start with.

I don’t think Trump made Americans more racist. I think (and I know Tressie Mcamillan-Cottom has said this) America already harbored lots of racism. Trump just kinda made it OK to be overtly so. Platforms are helping normalize what is unacceptable. But they’re not creating human cruelty and violence.

What am I getting at? Let me try to summarize this…

  1. I think there’s a key difference between critical or literacy as a technical thing which can absolutely be used “wrong” vs critical as critical pedagogy meaning conscious of oppressive/unjust power structures
  2. We cannot work on individuals and ignore the broader power structures
  3. BUT ALSO we cannot just stop at critiquing the broader power structures. We need to also work at the individual level to nurture agency that can stand up to this broader injustice at the individual and colletive level, not just for advocacy. Otherwise, the power of the platforms becomes debilitating.

Benjamin cites Chris Gilliard’s recent article:

Silicon Valley is literally built on segregation, which makes white supremacy a feature rather than a bug as Chris Gilliard argues: “design of these platforms, well-aligned with their racist history, promotes notions of free speech and community that are designed to protect the folks in society who already benefit from the most protections.”

Big yes to this.

But what are we doing to combat the racism and injustice in the world itself? How do you create a society that is both deeply aware of historical and current injustices within it, but is also working to actively do something about it? Neither psychology nor sociology alone will fix this.

Criticality does have a cognitive dimension (which can include some technical skills, but also digging deep into power structures), but it also has an interpersonal dimension (how we behave towards others) and it has an attitudinal dimension (where inclination towards social justice and empathy come in) – and it should also have an action dimension (clear in critical pedagogy texts, but not critical thinking; see also Barnett’s work on criticality as well; rarely mentioned in US literature). I’ll give a quick nod to Mike Caulfield’s Three Acts which go through the basic fact-checking, down to questioning broader power structures, and into possible action students can take – this latter really important so students don’t feel frustrated by what they’ve learned and don’t turn into mere perpetual skeptics. I think!!


March 14, 2018
by Maha Bali

Frustrated Joy

Reading Time: 2 minutes

That moment when you hear some really wonderful news.. That you aren’t allowed to share with your PLN just yet, so you share it with your family. And it takes 20 minutes to explain to them what your PLN would have understood in 30 seconds. And you wonder if you might try to share it confidentially with someone at work, but you know if it’s gonna take another 20 minutes to explain it, it will deflate you.

The joy of it isn’t going away because I can’t share it and celebrate it. The joy is still there.

Do I question the value of what I’ve achieved if no one around me gets it?

Except my kid. She somehow immediately understood what had happened to me and wondered if it would happen to her, too. Strangely, though she wanted it to happen to her without having particularly achieved something, I guess the idea of it appealed to her. Or maybe she’s just that age where everything mom does, she wants to do. Or perhaps it’s that my joy rubbed off on her, but no one else felt it in the same way.

But what if all the work I’m doing makes no sense to people around me? Is it less valuable because people don’t understand it? Or is it just too cutting-edge?

I will always remember my boss once saying this in a talk. She was talking about blogging, and it was maybe 2008? And she said something like, Maha told me this was a big thing five years ago but I didn’t realize it until now.

Granted. Lots of what we think now might be big things eventually don’t become big (remember SecondLife? It’s still there but never really became mainstream) whereas other things start slow and their value doesn’t really become clear until they reach a critical mass (Twitter for me). And some things seem insignificant to you but they become so much a part of the lives of people even less tech savvy and digitally literate than you that you seriously just have to keep using them because that’s where your people are (for me WhatsApp and Facebook. No comment. Don’t get me started. I’d have a rift in my family if I left there and all kinds of social problems. Really. It’s very unfortunate).

Anyway. So. Frustratedly joyous, I am, since last night 🙂 Yay me.

Postscript. Today is April 13 and the reveal is at #ccsummit in Toronto. That I was chosen to be one of the women in the Uncommon Women coloring book. Thanks to Kamel for tweeting me my first sneak peak

And at 4pm EDT, we’ll do vconnecting with Kelsey Merkley to unveil the whole book… Here’s a link to all VC sessions from that conference

March 11, 2018
by Maha Bali

I’d Rather Not Be a VIP

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I found myself in a situation today… Where I got special and exclusive treatment that helped me finish my business in 15 mins without standing in lines (a huge achievement in Cairo) while I saw so many elderly men and women who could barely walk, having to queue up in the cold then wait their turn in lines. It’s a coincidence that today there were that many elderly people but regardless.

I should not be the VIP. These elderly men and women should have gotten the VIP treatment. Yes, I am glad I was privileged enough to finish quickly so I could get to work on time… But standing in a queue would have been less of a hardship for me. If a place is capable of giving exclusive treatment to some people, then the elderly should also automatically qualify for that treatment..

I remember seeing in the US and UK all kinds of discounts and special things for people above 60 (and although 60 is really not that old, people’s health is different and some people can really benefit from special treatment at a point in their lives. They don’t have to use it if they’re feeling well, but the option should be available to them).

I know that opening this door might open it to other things. Like pregnant women. I remember being 7-8 months pregnant and having to spend long hours in really uncomfortable governmental institutions (with bad bathrooms – horrendous when you’re in your late pregnancy).

In some supermarkets there’s a special express lane for the elderly and that’s cool.

But there should be more. People wait all their lives. When they’re older they should not need to rely on people’s kindness to give them their place in the queue. Kindness to them should be institutionalized and generalized. Does that even make sense? It should not be a favor a couple of people do to you if you’re lucky. It should be a right you’ve earned.

March 10, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Empathy and Excuses in Class

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So I read about an exercise called Empathy and Excuses in this article and I decided to do a pair then full group activity to kick off my class last Thursday.

I asked students to pair up with someone different from them in some way (it turned a bit awkward but they managed) and to share stories of

  1. Something someone or some people do that annoys them
  2. Try to find excuses that would make you forgive them

Their stories were then shared with the whole class and we reacted to each other’s stories. Some, like poor parking, annoyed everyone, and excuses like “being in a hurry” or “doesn’t know how to drive well” came up. Some people bonded over shared things like height – apparently short people get treated quite strangely (e.g. Leaned on by strangers, or literally talked down to). There were also many cases of “we cannot think of a good excuse for that” but also situations where people told stories of how they eventually discovered things (e.g. Someone’s grandpa finally realized why some elderly people were noisy eaters because they had orthodontal thingies… Umm fake teeth). We also talked about how annoying it was when you were going through something tough and a friend’s response was to share their own suffering. We all sort of understand this to be a form of support, mirroring or such, or maybe even empathy, but it still annoyed us.

Strangely, even though the class was meant to promote empathy for the annoying people, it ended up helping us build empathy with each other about things that annoyed us – and we shared lots of funny stories and had fun.

Now the thing is, as much as I enjoyed this, the rest of the class was about empathy towards people who were really in crisis. We reflected on Lina Mounzer’s article on translating stories of Syrian women refugees and played two digital narrative games – Spent (about poverty) and BBC Syrian Journey (about Syrian refugees)..I find Lina’s article more touching and deep than these games, but for some reason, this particular group of students seemed really really into the game Spent. Many didn’t leave when class time was over. Some played it again. They made facial expressions and noises of distress when they had to make tough choices while role playing a poor person (most of my students are very privileged).

Anyway, I enjoyed the exercise but I’m gonna try next class to do the Liberating Structures exercise called Heard, Seen, Respected, for students to reflect in pairs on times they felt unheard, unrespected. And then we’ll reflect again on Lina Mounzer and more digital narrative games they would have played on their own over the weekend… And start imagining what kind of game they might develop themselves about a cause they care about.

Oh. One last thing. I got annoyed by how often the students asked a particular question about where to find links for things and after repeating it like 5 times, I told them I was getting frustrated. I should actually think of excuses and try to understand why they had trouble understanding this. Where was I unclear? Is putting a link in two different places confusing? Is something unclear about my instructions? Is someone having trouble hearing me because of a noisy person behind them? Is the font too small on the board?

Difficult to practice what you preach in the moment…

March 5, 2018
by Maha Bali

Open All Night – Tuesday March 6 for #openlearning18 & @muralUDG

Reading Time: 1

I’ve got an exciting evening lined up tomorrow (Tues March 6) a and I’m just gonna share the links here.

First up, I’m co-facilitating a week on Open Access with Sue Erickson as part of #openlearning18 (more details here), including annotating Peter Suber’s book and hanging out with Peter, Thomas Nkoudou Mboa and Ivonne Lujano on Tues at 3pm EST/8pm UTC/10pm Cairo time. There’s room to join the hangout if you like. Let me or Sue know.

Right after that (4pm EST/11pm Cairo) , Robin DeRosa and I are hanging out with the UDG Mural folks doing work at the U of Guadalajara in Mexico (Tannis Morgan, Grant Potter, Alan Levine). Details here.

So I’m basically open all night until midnight – see you there!

March 3, 2018
by Maha Bali

Formal Teaching Philosophy… For now

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’ve finally gotten round to writing up my formal teaching philosophy which I need to submit next week. Thanks to Rissa for encouraging me to keep a lot of what’s there and to refer to stuff I’d already written before. Here goes….

My teaching philosophy is influenced by my studies and research, and my reflection on my own practice as a teacher.

When I first learned about curriculum theory, I knew immediately that my approach to designing and enacting my curriculum was a process-oriented approach, which is an extremely student-centric approach. My syllabi have learning outcomes and reading lists, and before my semester begins, I have a structure in mind, with several building blocks that I can include in my courses. Then, when I meet my students and start interacting with them, I tweak what I am doing to enhance the learning experience, and some new ideas emerge from things happening outside of class that are relevant to the topic we are learning about. A process-oriented curriculum is built around the flexibility of the teacher to negotiate the curriculum with the students and valuing the learning process itself. Occasionally, I give students choice over which text to read, and sometimes I even ask them to find their own readings on a topic, and where possible, I give them choices over topics to work on, and choices over the multimodal format of their assignments. This latter approach, which I talk about in my article and workshop on Inclusive Teachingfits well with the Universal Design for Learning approach that suggests faculty present information in diverse ways and allow students choices in mode of expression and opportunities to pursue their own interests.

I am also heavily influenced by critical pedagogy, which I delved into while doing my PhD researching critical thinking. Critical pedagogy differs from critical thinking in that it has a particular social justice focus. This focus applies both to how I teach, being aware of power relationships within the class and how the external environment influences the classroom; and also in what I teach, where I find opportunities to raise students’ consciousness of power and social justice issues. Two of the reasons I give students choices within my curriculum is that I would like to nurture and encourage their sense of agency over their own learning, and also that I care about creating an equitable learning environment that gives diverse students opportunities to thrive.

In my teaching, I have adapted the ideas of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, so that in an AUC context, it means I try to ensure students are not only assigned material coming from a Western context, but that they are also exposed to scholarship by Egyptian, Arab, African and Asian authors, where appropriate. I also encourage students to bring their whole selves to the classroom and we all build on each other’s lived experiences, not only academic experiences.

Another key element of critical pedagogy is that it encourages praxis: action with reflection. I am constantly reflecting on my teaching practice with peers, writing about it on my blog, and conducting Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (see those sections under both of my courses) and one constant in my pedagogy is that my students are constantly asked to reflect on their learning, usually on their blogs. I would like to do more community-based learning in my classes, but at the moment I have assessments that require students to produce media related to causes they are passionate about, such as the games they create to raise awareness. Critical pedagogy encourages questioning of the status quo and I have done assessments that promote this, such as the assignment to hack Bloom’s taxonomy into their own model for learning. A final aspect of critical pedagogy I strive towards is that I believe in the value of being a learner even while I teach. This was obvious when I was teaching graduate students, but I also learn from and with my undergraduate students. Critical pedagogy is difficult and complex to apply in practice, which I wrote about in my article, Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities.

As someone who uses technology in my teaching often, I insist on using a critical approach to using it, which in my field is usually referred to as digital pedagogy. I encourage students to develop their digital literacies and have choices over which tools to use and to question how they use each tool for which purpose. Students aren’t just required to use a tool, but we discuss why and how we use it. One key reason I use technology a lot in my teaching is to infuse an element of internationalization. Over the past few years, my students have interacted on Twitter and their blogs with people from all over the world. Last semester, I also included web-based cross-cultural video dialog in my class via Soliya, a program I was familiar with as I had volunteered with them before as a facilitator, coach trainer and later consultant.

The overarching value behind my teaching is care for my students as people and their growth beyond the course. Even though I only teach in the core curriculum, students often ask me to write references for them because they feel that I know them well and they know I will remember them and their strengths and interests. In my article Pedagogy of Care Gone Massive, I quote Nel Noddings, who emphasizes that: “Caring teachers listen to [learners] and help them to acquire the knowledge and attitudes needed to achieve their goals, not those of a pre-established curriculum.”

As an open and networked educator, I often reflect on my teaching on Twitter and my blog, and get feedback from others, which helps me refine my teaching. I have co-taught many times and this has enriched my teaching so much and I found it was useful to be able to talk to another teacher about students we are both teaching in the same semester. I also get inspired by other people’s practice which I read about online, or hear about when giving CLT workshops, or observe from my co-teachers.

March 1, 2018
by Maha Bali

#FOEcast – The Values Behind Our Forecasts

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So this week Bryan Alexander is leading ideation on what people think #FOEcast should be like (start here) … I don’t have a lot of time to blog, so I’m copying some text I had written in the Slack team (for background, the Slack team was created right after NMC went dark, and includes people who were part of that community/network in some way or another).

So I was writing on Slack that I felt we should take a critical look at the values behind what we do when we forecast edtech trends.

So apologies for keeping the text really informal as in Slack, but time is tight. I Was asked if I had specific critiques:

I do. I think definitely transparency over process (which is partially there) but also things like checking each year against prev year forecasts… And values behind choices. How do such reports influence choices in edu, and is this what we mean to do?

[Bryan confirmed what I had assumed – higher ed IT folks were influenced by NMC Horizon reports. A lot of what I say next has most probably been said in some form or another by Audrey Watters, probably more critically]

Which bothers me. Because I had no opportunity to really clarify [when voting for NMC] that even though I see something looming on the horizon, I want to share cautions and objections. I mean, they would be in the discussion forum and perhaps in articles i link and in a section i was gonna write.. But when someone sees a summary and see trend X, does it make IT Higher ed folks decide to invest in it? The thing is, is foecast about what we think is going to happen or what we think *should* happen, and in what ways does the reporting itself influence decision-making to fulfill our prophecies.. And so how should *that* influence how we do it? (sorry, no time to blog)

And finally, a response from Taylor Kendall, with this video

March 1, 2018
by Maha Bali

#FOEcast – The Values Behind Our Forecasts

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So this week Bryan Alexander is leading ideation on what people think #FOEcast should be like (start here) … I don’t have a lot of time to blog, so I’m copying some text I had written in the Slack team (for background, the Slack team was created right after NMC went dark, and includes people who were part of that community/network in some way or another).

So I was writing on Slack that I felt we should take a critical look at the values behind what we do when we forecast edtech trends.

So apologies for keeping the text really informal as in Slack, but time is tight. I Was asked if I had specific critiques:

I do. I think definitely transparency over process (which is partially there) but also things like checking each year against prev year forecasts… And values behind choices. How do such reports influence choices in edu, and is this what we mean to do?

[Bryan confirmed what I had assumed – higher ed IT folks were influenced by NMC Horizon reports. A lot of what I say next has most probably been said in some form or another by Audrey Watters, probably more critically]

Which bothers me. Because I had no opportunity to really clarify [when voting for NMC] that even though I see something looming on the horizon, I want to share cautions and objections. I mean, they would be in the discussion forum and perhaps in articles i link and in a section i was gonna write.. But when someone sees a summary and see trend X, does it make IT Higher ed folks decide to invest in it? The thing is, is foecast about what we think is going to happen or what we think *should* happen, and in what ways does the reporting itself influence decision-making to fulfill our prophecies.. And so how should *that* influence how we do it? (sorry, no time to blog)

And finally, a response from Taylor Kendall, with this video

February 27, 2018
by Maha Bali

Stealing Time

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I would never, I think, intentionally steal something… But time. Time seems like the only indivisible commodity that we can’t bottle up or save up for later. Because so much of me resides online, it seems and really often feels like I can be in different spaces at the same time, and there’s no time wasted moving between them because it’s a click of a button, not a car ride through Cairo traffic.

Offline time is so precious to me, particularly when I spend it with people I normally know online. Making eye contact, and touching, seem essential. Almost a compulsion. And the thing I value most, and which is most difficult to achieve, is alone time. Private time.

First time I met Rebecca f2f in Manchester, my favorite moment was 5 minutes I spent in her hotel room while she grieved. It seems counter intuitive but it’s true for both of us. All our other moments were with other people (at least my kid, but mostly other people in general).

Today was the third and last day of my department’s 15th Anniversary Celebration, where we had Paul Prinsloo, Nagla Rizk, Tim Sullivan and George Siemens (virtual) as keynotes (see recordings and other stuff here – and I also had the privilege of having Sherri Spelic keynote my class the week before!

I’m just going to say something real quick here about the serendipity of how all the speakers’ talks worked well together. The one thing all the speakers have in common is that I suggested them all (but I had quite a few other people on the list of suggestions – these were the ones my boss chose or the ones who could make it, etc). Among the memorable things in their talks are overarching questions of what teaching is for, what it means for students to learn, what is valuable for us to be doing together. And one of the things that stands out for me, although perhaps never overtly mentioned in the keynotes, is the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the student. Singular. Not plural. Our relationship with the individual student is separate from our relationship with the class as a whole. And every time I’ve had such a relationship with each of my students, the class as a whole went better. It’s not about knowing the individual as separate from the class, but about knowing the student as a person, not as a transactional relationship. This also came up in a student-faculty co-design session we had during the event (which I’ll definitely write about somewhere soon!)

Now back to stealing time. I was fortunate that Sherri arrived a few days ahead of the event so I could spend some time with her. I suggested a place near my kid’s school so I could pass by her in the morning after dropping my kid off at school. That worked great for our first day together when she guest visited my class. People may think I’m crazy. First day I meet the person f2f, she’s teaching my class. But I’ve known her for years. And much of our relationship is private on Twitter DM. And I knew this would be great and it was. Not only because I knew her, but because I knew her mind and her heart. You know?

Just spending time in the car to and from campus several times was precious. Every little conversation was deep and made me think and feel. Making use of the commute time to be together feels like stolen time. It’s time I would otherwise be on my phone talking to someone virtual, or reading or writing. But I was instead DMing with Sherri.

I spent much of Friday with Sherri and this was precious unstolen time at my home and near it, with my kid. But it was also kinda stolen because usually Fridays are family days and we do in-law things – but thankfully this Friday worked out so we could spend it together. But it was still stolen because this was the few days before our event and I kept having to check email and answer urgent calls.

The next day I was scheduled to spend half the day with Paul and Sherri with my kid. For several reasons, it ended up being only about an hour or so over lunch that I could join them… But it was still something. Being with these two people especially just meant so much. Kinda like a group DM but with my kid interjecting all the time 🙂 And there was a special moment where a kid from the next table decided to come and talk to us (and ended up hanging out with us for like 20 minutes or something).

And then the next day our event began. And I realized how difficult it would be to find time. Between doing my role at the event and anything that popped up… It was difficult to find time to make eye contact and speak to people. Whether the local AUC speakers at our symposium, or the guest speakers or guest participants from AMICAL, some of whom I knew from before… Others I knew via email and wanted to talk to. It takes a lot of intentionality to make eye contact, to take a moment to stop and tell someone something personal and just for them, that isn’t just part of rushing by and trying to find time in between. Stealing time. I managed to steal time to have conversations about human rights in Manus (yes, really), adoption and fertility (yes, really) in between calming down nervous speakers and addressing needs of various guests, and literally stealing time to go to the bathroom or pray.

Today, the last day, was arguably supposed to be my busiest day. But I had realized I had been too busy to spend alone time with Tim (my friend since I was a student and he was a provost) and Paul (my online friend for years), so we stole time. Even while doing my role at the event, I was literally being told “can I steal you for a moment” and getting interrupted by someone else saying the exact same thing. It wasn’t so much that I was in super high demand, as that I was running around so that time had to be stolen.

Those moments where someone is within touching distance and you have to say… Let’s talk online when you get back…

But you know it’s going to be different. Once you’ve met face to face, continuing the conversation online is different than it would have been had you never met f2f. There’s a connection and a memory that changes the relationship and it is another thing. So all is not lost. Those touches and eye contact make all the difference. Even though you’re stealing time.

And I’ll repeat something I’ve said before and I’ll say over and over. When you’ve known someone online deeply and privately, when you know their heart and mind, meeting f2f is so much deeper than meeting someone new. And when you’ve known someone f2f and you don’t see them for a long time… If you stay in touch online it really makes getting back together qualitatively different. You really aren’t needing to catch up from that many years ago. You just continue the conversation.

Today, George Siemens said how the new thing with technology is that social progressives have become technology conservatives. I’m guessing I’m one of those, in the sense of how I critique the tech and how people refer to the tech. But most of us who do that still embrace, to whatever extent our privilege allows us to embrace, the capacity for new technologies to connect us. Someone recently wondered aloud whether we could starve the platforms that feed on our data. I wish I could. But I need my people and I can’t reach them via telepathy yet. Though when they’re next to me, perhaps the eye contact gets us close to that.

Today, Paul asked me “how are you?” and after I said I was good, he asked “no, how are you?” and the answer to that, going back and forth between us, took half an hour of stolen time. Because.

February 26, 2018
by Maha Bali

Quick thought on #engageMOOC

Reading Time: 1

I’ve heard #engageMOOC will stay live for a year.. But in case I want to keep using it in my classes, I’m gonna ask my students to point out to me and each other.. And vote… On which readings and videos and activities resonated with them most and why. And what kinds of things they wish there was more of… And hopefully next year if there’s no access to #engageMOOC itself, those would be readings in the pool of readings – or perhaps in a year, a more up-to-date reading list that is either by same authors or same topics or same type of topic.

For example. Last year, I divided Mike Caulfield’ s book Web Literacy for Students among 4 groups to read and present. This semester the engagemooc reading kinda does this more succinctly and we can spend more time practicing the four moves. Just one idea..


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