Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

May 29, 2018
by Maha Bali

Breaking Promises

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I had everything set. Toys and colors and sticker book in my bag. Check. Change of clothes and underwear. Check. Alarm on my phone to make sure I pick my kid up on time. Check.

Except I forgot one thing. I told my kid I was picking her up but I didn’t tell her bus supervisor or any adult in school that I was picking her up. I thought I was gonna get there before they started boarding the bus so I didn’t think. I was wrong.

I got to my kid’s school to pick her and up and they told me she left by bus. I open my phone to call the bus matron and it turns out she tried calling me several times. My kid told her I was picking her up but she osn’t allowed to leave her at school unless I inform the school that I’m picking her up.

It worked out alright in terms of someone being home (at my mom’s home – I called and made sure my mom and the nanny were home). But the guilt is still killing me. I called my kid to apologize and she was, understandably, really upset.

She’s actually obsessed with me picking her up from school. Like, really obsessed with this. So it is considered a treat for her when I pick her up and today I was giving a workshop at a building in the street next to her school, so I was planning to pick her up during the break time and keep her there, playing quietly, until I finished.

You know what’s worse about this? That she doesn’t blame me. She blames the bus matron for not believing her. So even though I am so guilty here, when she saw me she hugged me coz she missed me and wasn’t angry with me for my mistake. Maybe she’s too young to realize it’s my fault even though I told her it was.

Not that I could feel worse about this, but my mom told me she cried when she got home.

It is one of those mistakes where 10 minutes would have made a difference. Seriously unlucky. But also lack of concentration on my part to just make sure I told someone at school…

You live you learn, I guess.

May 27, 2018
by Maha Bali

Reflecting on 2nd Semester of Teaching Digital Literacies Course

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I originally named this post “what I wanna do differently next semester” but that would imply this was not a good semester… And that’s just not the case. I am writing this after submitting my grades and getting the inevitable emails. My favorite is the student who wasn’t disappointed with his grade (slightly less than he expected) and said it didn’t matter, he enjoyed the course and would take another course with me if he could. And that he’d like to pass by me sometimes. Love. Love. But also there were the ones who felt they were unfairly treated and I explained. Actually, there were a few of these that I preempted. Ones who I wanted to know that I appreciated them but their performance just wasn’t an A.

The thing is. I think I’m getting somewhere good with the holistic self-grading thing. I’ve broken it down so students rate themselves on particular things that matter in the course before they give themselves a grade. More than half the students gave themselves the grade I gave them. Of the remaining few who got a different grade, most of them gave themselves the grade I thought I would give them… But some of them did slightly better and some slightly worse. Ok a couple of them way worse. They need to work on their self-assessment skills. Which in itself is a skill I should work on more.

So here are some things I wanna change

  1. Be more explicit about how to do well in the course. I usually am, but some people add the course after drop and add, so I need to repeat it not just at mid and end of semester. And while I always ask students to think for themselves about this, I can still give vague guidelines
  2. This semester and last semester I encouraged students who have special circumstances/needs to let me know so I can take it into consideration. Many do, some don’t. Usually I’ll excuse absences and allow late assignments. But I realized a couple of things which I’ll mention in my next two points
  3. Some really serious students ask if they can make up missed classes. I realized the exercise of thinking of how someone can make up a missed class is useful for me. And it makes those students catch up better (my class isn’t sequential but they’ll have had similar experiences). Next semester, though, instead of just asking them to submit a blogpost reflecting on the topic we talked about in class, I might ask those who missed class to discuss it. Some will, some won’t. But something.
  4. This semester I pro-actively allowed students to make up for poor participation or missed engagemooc assignments by doing some ds106 and netnarr assignments. I don’t know that I wanna make it a habit for students to skip stuff, but I also made this a one-time deal. They could use this “make up for missed work” thing only once in the semester and for particular things or just to boost their grade if they’ve been slacking earlier. Just thinking of how to revise it and to clarify which kind of assignments it makes up for and which not.
  5. I always struggle with keeping up w posting grades. I read student blogposts on time and I post notes for myself on them and refer to them in class… But grading on Bb is exhausting for me. Especially with the problem w my hands (arthritis) making it really difficult to navigate the columns. But perhaps if I had a system of simple grading following Peter Elbow where I grade on 3 levels: done well (2), done but needs improvement (1), not done (0) then I can work directly with those who need improvement. I am wondering also if students should be giving each other feedback on their assignments and by doing so, get better at assessing their own work. I could, at the beginning of the semester, ask them to assess blogposts of other students and say which ones they liked best and which ones need improvement and why…
  6. Lateness. Part of me wants to allow lateness to class because circumstances like traffic happen. I’m clear w students that some assignments cannot be late for reasons, but most other assignments it does not matter. I take into consideration people who consistently submit on time, but allowing lateness a lot is my way of accommodating people with mental illness, health conditions and family/personal issues (I had about a quarter of my class in that situation this semester, that I know of). But I also feel like students need to learn to be punctual and know when it’s essential to be punctual. I flipped this semester when several students came late to their OWN group presentations!!! I do not care if students are late to my class, but not to other people’s presentations and definitely not to their OWN!
  7. Students have asked to do more group work and presentations. I’m gonna try to do some more low-stake group presentations in future and use these as sessions where being on time is more essential.
  8. I have failed (as I often do) to teach students proper citation of images and how to get CC images. I need to push this more next semester. The citing of other stuff (written text) works ok. Because I’m not the first person to suggest it. But the images. Man. (Pauline Ridley provided this awesome resource on image citation she made/uses which also cites Alan Levine who is awesome on this topic, and offers multiple resources so I’m likely to use it)
  9. I’m thinking of assigning students more articles I’ve written myself. As a way to make sure they have an easy-to-read intro on a topic. I used to hesitate to do this, but then it’s like flipping the classroom with an article instead of a video! Why not, right? Especially that I don’t lecture at all in class.
  10. Soliya continues to be a confusing experience. Some students love it (but they’re a minority) and many truly hate it. And quite a few have technical problems. I want to find a way to turn even the bad experiences into good ones, or at least into useful reflections. I still believe in its value and in intercultural learning in general but haven’t found my equilibrium yet. And every class and student will be different. The long (8 week) Soliya felt like too long for my students last semester. The compact (4 weeks) this semester seemed too short (if someone missed out a couple times, they missed a lot).
  11. I hesitate about whether to use Twitter each semester. I’ve finally decided to use it anyway at least once. Some will love it, some will hate it, but it’s worth the exposure of how to use it academically, even if they never use it again
  12. I always use lots of tech in my class and let em know it is because it’s a digital literacies class. In future, I should factor in time to reflect on why we use each tool for what purpose and such. I do know that Slack grows on students eventually…

I’m sure more will come to me over time

I tweeted this earlier and it already has 100 likes!

May 24, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

@VConnecting as Making Our Own Table vs Making a Seat at the Table

Reading Time: 6 minutes

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” – Shirley Chisholm

I came across this quote on Jess Knott’s Instagram and had an immediate light bulb moment.

This is exactly what Virtually Connecting was for me. But also what it can do for people who cannot do that for themselves.

Because as much as I love love love that quote, it’s incomplete. And I’ll explain why.

In real life… When you’re in a place and you want to sit at a table… It’s not easy to invite yourself even if there are seats available with nobody’s name on them, right? I’m thinking kids in school and lunchtime and how difficult it is to invite yourself to a table if you don’t know anyone there. Or if you are explicitly unwelcome there. But if someone calls out to you to join, you will probably go.

Also, there are situations where the table is full and there’s no space for one more, even if you had the guts to try to squeeze yourself in. And if that’s the case, it takes even more guts to go find another chair and bring it forward. In my experience, if you know you’re welcome at a table but there’s no space, it’s easy for some people (like me) to go grab a chair. A more welcoming move would be if someone (usually a man) gives up their own seat to make room for you, then they go get another chair. But there are some people who would not at all go and get themselves seats. Whether it’s shyness or pride or something else. And if you sit at the table and people ignore you and don’t pause in conversation to acknowledge you, it doesn’t feel great.

So taking this metaphor somewhere, I would say that allies should be in the business of giving up their seats at tables. Such as men who refuse to be on an all-male panel and suggest women who could take their place. The table is already set and it is too late to change the table, but they can still switch seats.

The other issue I take with that quote is the folding chair. It implies inequality. That you accept to take an inferior seat at a table you weren’t invited to, rather than no seat at all.

And I think Virtually Connecting might be that inferior seat but it might have evolved into something more.

When Virtually Connecting first started as et4buddy, the dynamic was very particular. I had lots of friends at the conference, Rebecca had few. The desire to make the virtual connection was kinda egalitarian. I wanted to talk to my friends, they wanted to talk to me, Rebecca wanted to meet new people and this made her conference experience more enjoyable. As if I was there introducing her to new people all the time. Rebecca calls herself an extroverted but shy person. She loves being around people but would not have felt comfortable walking up to folks who didn’t know her and chatting with them. I’m guessing more so if they’re high profile. I have the situation of being friends with many high profile people in my field but not being able to travel.

I guess… This reminds me of something Kate Bowles said about hospitality and vconnecting.

In one sense, vconnecting is getting a folding chair, an inferior option, to join a table.

In another sense, with vconnecting, I (or nowadays with a big team, WE) own the table and we are extending invitations to onsite folks to chat with virtual folks. So it would be considered an inferior chair at the conference, but if you look at the world in a more hybrid way, vconnecting is its own corner of a conference with its own rules that eschew academic traditions. Keynote speakers and early career scholars and students can all be invited to be onsite guests. Onsite buddies can be high or low profile people. Virtual buddies and guests can be anyone. Who gets to invite and facilitate these conversations? Virtually Connecting volunteers, many of whom are marginal in some way (international, grad student, low travel budget, alt-ac, contingent…. You name it) but a few of whom are high profile and established (although often this is their online presence/reputation more than their actual position they get paid for…which doesn’t afford them much travel… Think Bonnie Stewart, Alan Levine, and me).

So back to this metaphor. Beyond vconnecting creating this new table at conferences, even though we have seats open for virtual participants to join in… We often need to explicitly invite them in if they’re new. Not only won’t they grab a folding chair, they don’t realize that vacant seats are welcoming them. Or they think they can only watch from afar rather than actually join a hangout and converse.

So… Still working on that.

Also, some people want to grab a seat. But they keep slipping out. Such as if they have internet/electricity issues or demands on their time from family for example. All the disadvantages of synchronous video.

So vconnecting remains a very particular table that breaks down barriers in some way, but some barriers remain.

So I think vconnecting was originally Rebecca and I creating a folding chair that we started carrying to different places… Then we started to expand the team and Autumm joined us to help us expand this so that it became our own table with our rules and our volunteers facilitating access to our own folding table…

So this is my quote about vconnecting:

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding table and seats, make your own rules, make them more welcoming to people who can’t always join the original table, make it so awesome that people wanna be on your table and no longer see it as inferior” – Maha Bali

This breaks down though. I often get invited to things I can’t attend. Some people are really cool and understanding and they know they’ll need to pay more to help me reach their table. E. G. DigPedLab last year made it affordable for me to bring my family and for a dinner invitation, Jesse made the first half of dinner alcohol-free. One conference organizer invited me to be on the organizing committee and offered to pay my trip and accommodation not just waive registration because he knew otherwise it would be almost impossible for me to go. Some conferences invite me to keynote and when I can’t make it, welcome my offer to keynote virtually. And some of them (like OEPS and Unicollaboration) do a great job of being hospitable to my keynote and it’s a great experience for all of us.

Then there are the stupid ones. Who invite me to go to somewhere like the US like 2 months in advance (how can someone who has a kid, lives halfway across the world and a limited travel budget manage that in this kind of time frame?). Then when I offer to participate virtually…. They NEVER GET BACK TO ME. I am still mad about this. Do people think that inviting someone from a developing country is a favor? Did they tick their diversity boxes by throwing me a folding chair and hoping I’ll catch it and get there? What kind of invitation is that?

If you really value someone, you make an effort to include them. You don’t just send an invitation then promptly forget about them.

So here’s a big thank you to everyone who has ever helped include me or others at events that build social capital… Who helped modify a format so that others could be there. That’s a lot of vconnecting buddies but also conference organizers and onsite guests who valued the virtual presence and invited and embraced and advocated and cheered us on.

Featured image: a photo I took of a table at my house with an ancient Egyptian pencil case full of a smorgasbord of different types of my kid’s color pens and pencils.

Post publication – George Station posted on Facebook a warning that we need to make sure when we’re invited to the table that we’re not on the menu. Discussion ensues on Facebook as to whether this quote is from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? or Elizabeth Warren said it or… something earlier… It’s a good point, in any case, because it could totally be the case!

And then just now I saw this poem by Najwa Zebian which I think is also soooo appropriate for the above (even if her context is different)

May 19, 2018
by Maha Bali

Too Radical for Trust? Too Peripheral for Power?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Remember that you are a work in progress. You are not perfect. You are not expected to be. Do not allow the fear of falling to stop you from jumping. Do not allow the fear of responsibility to stop you from committing. Do not allow the fear of exposure to stop you from shining.

– Najwa Zebian in Mind Platters (emphasis mine)

I’m at a crossroads. And as often happens to me, when I’m at a time in my life where I need to reflect deeply and make decisions… I see signs in different places. I have Najwa Zebian’s book, Mind Platters, but I haven’t finished it (possibly a good Ramadan read besides Quran). But I actually saw that quote on her Instagram account. I actually got (back) on Instagram FOR her, to follow her there. (I still don’t “get” Instagram fully. I keep wanting to ask “how do you retweet something but I know it’s the wrong question to ask).

But anyway. Back to this quote. What does it say to me, I’m wondering. I’m particularly struck by the parts I put in bold. Do not let the fear of falling stop you from jumping.

I’m at a crossroads where I need to decide where to go next and I have realized that I was thinking about my future in terms of what others would lay out for me, rather than what I could potentially lay out for myself. Thinking now this…

That what I wanted was not so much a promotion as much as recognition. And I realized that while I am *appreciated*, very much, I do not feel sufficiently recognized internally as I am externally… And that should be ok. I think many of us who are radical and peripheral suffer from this. Being visionary and having valuable ideas and thoughts and practices is rarely something institutions of higher ed can value in the moment, but possibly in hindsight. Also, that thinking takes loads of persistence AND SPINE to stay the course and use our energy and our everything if needed to actually cause change on the ground rather than in the cloud.

I think what’s affecting me most is that, within my own place, where I’ve been radical for years, proving myself in retrospect for years, delivering a lot (though imperfectly on everything), what I am missing most is trust. I feel that I’ve been too radical to trust, too dissenting for mainstream. I don’t ever wish to be mainstream. But I do feel like by now I should have earned trust. I have a track record that should mean something. Even with my imperfections.

There are several things I never want to give up that I see (some) people in administrative positions give up. I hope I never give up my ideals even if I know they aren’t in line with power. I hope I never stop thinking of people who work with me as individuals and whole people, that I never think of them as positions on an organizational chart. I hope I never have to stop myself from critiquing something that is clearly unjust or wrong. And I truly hope I never have to work with people I don’t love, doing work I don’t love.

So I’m thinking this. If there is no opportunity for me to get everything I want… What are my priorities? Can I jump as high as I want in an area that’s wide open with no prospects? Because the other alternative is to bang my head against the wall, and that’s just… No fun at all. For anyone.

There are many different kinds of power and I’m not getting deep and philosophical about it, but just simply stating that there’s power that comes because someone gave you a position that comes with power. And there’s power that comes from within and shines despite your position and you can’t lose that, because it comes from inside you. Anyone can take away your position, but no one can take away the power that comes from inside you.

We don’t need someone else to give us power to make a difference. We just need to trust in our own power. We do not need someone else to trust our vision if we are resourceful enough to trust our own vision and see it through. I’d rather have vision than position, especially if the position would suppress my vision.

May 19, 2018
by Maha Bali

Google’s Quickdraw – More Cultural Dominance in Machine Learning (a kind of AI)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hospital. Ambulance. Camouflage. Angel. Baseball bat. Nail. What kind of images come to mind when you see these words? How would you doodle them if you only had 20 seconds?

Google’s Quickdraw is an online web-based game that you can have fun with while you teach Google’s doodle recognition AI (yes, you’re helping train Google’s AI for no pay, but you already do that each time you use Google, so what’s new?)

Also not new? The way this neural network reproduces dominant culture. It does not harm anyone in the sense mentioned by Safiya Noble (stereotyping objectification of women of color) or Cathy O’Neill (increasing discrimination against African Americans in courts)… But it’s an almost transparent look at how the neural network learns from data sets and is therefore fascinating to watch… A bit like my undergraduate thesis, but more obvious to non-techie people because it’s visual.

Here is how it works. The game asks you to doodle a word it shows you in 20 seconds. Like pictionary. The Google AI is supposedly blind to that, and tries to guess what you’re drawing as you draw it, and if it guesses correctly, you move on to the next word. If not, you get the full 20 secs to keep trying. After 6 of these, you get to see your results. If you got it wrong, you can see what Google’s AI thought your drawing looks like. And what others had drawn that it considered correct.

Here are the main issues I have with this game (they’re not really issues I guess, except maybe the first two)

  1. The name Quick Draw. I originally didn’t think much of it, remembering a cartoon I once saw of a Western (mouse? Horse?) character called Quickdraw McGraw. But as soon as I mentioned this to hubby he asked me, “You know what it means, right?” and I suddenly realized it meant someone (cowboy I guess) who draws his gun quickly. Ugh. In a time of gun violence in the US causing so much tragic death in schools, and the ugly history of the West and what they did to native Americans.. They couldn’t find a more neutral name?
  2. Linguistic incompetence. I was pleasantly surprised to find the game available in many languages including French and Arabic. Not so pleasantly realizing you have to read the word Arabic in Latin alphabet to open the Arabic version and at way bottom of the screen not top. Not the coolest, and an easy fix imho. But that’s not a showstopper. However, the weird thing is that the Arabic version, even if you get one right (as in, Google’s AI recognized it as similar to what it learned) , when you click later to see details, tells you Google’s AI didn’t understand your drawing.
  3. Baseball. I cannot believe the French and Arabic versions ask for baseball as one of the key terms. Do they not know that very few people in the Arab world (much of the world?) play baseball? Rolling eyes
  4. Church and ambulance. A key aspect of what identifies a church or ambulance is a cross sign. You know in Israel they use a David’s star and in Muslim countries we use a red crescent, right? But the majority of data this neural network is seeing comes from Christian-culture countries. I’m gonna keep playing and see if the Arabic version expects a crescent. It should…. If it learns each language on its own… Or if it starts to connect across cultures. I think it connects across cultures because…
  5. Angel. I consistently got this one right. Even in the Arabic version (even though it says I’m wrong in the image I inserted earlier, because see #2). The reeally weird thing is that in Muslim culture (which is dominant among Arabic speakers), angels don’t look like this at all. I don’t know what they look like because we’re not supposed to depict them. So this is either a sign that the AI learns across languages… Or that Arabs doodle angels that look like Westerner angels because they don’t have their own imagery for angels. Interesting?
  6. Camouflage. This one was damn annoying. First of all, because connotation of camouflage for me is just how butterflies or chameleons blend with their background so their predators or enemies can’t see them. Apparently, the connotation for Americans is army uniforms intended for the same purpose. And to get it right, for the AI to understand me, I have to think like an American. Grr. Also, when I mentioned the term camouflage to an American yday she started saying it had an uncomfortable negative connotation for her and so obviously I understood she made an immediate connection to military. Not at all what came to my mind. A reminder that fluency in a language and familiarity with a culture are never identical to living that culture and being native to the language.
  7. Nail. I don’t know why they chose that word because it has multiple meanings. Nail as in fingernail or toenail, but also as in nail/hammer. Apparently most people thought fingernail coz the AI couldn’t at all understand the other kind of nail. I think eventually it will get smarter but that requires users to not learn to follow the AI, you know? For example, if people keep doing both types of nail, the AI should eventually learn both are OK, in the same way it understood a face view and a side view of a kangaroo (this is really cool btw).
  8. Envelope in Arabic. This one was just weird. The word it used to say envelope in Arabic made no sense to me. And I am familiar with 3 different dialects of Arabic. I don’t understand where the word they used come from. I’ve already forgotten it, actually!
  9. Stop sign. Oh no. The Arabic stop sign expects u to write Stop in English not Arabic. It clearly isn’t differentiating between languages. It’s possible it’s not programmed to find that difference. I wonder if it might learn that on its own or if it has no idea what language input the user sees… Depends what variables it’s allowed to consider while it learns (and that’s how machine learning differs from human learning).

So that’s my reaction to it.

It is a fun game though. I let my kid play as a fun way to practice reading and drawing and we discuss the cultural connotations, too. It’s fun for me to see how other people draw things…

And I discovered this game by a fun coincidence that my students discovered it while doing some ds106 assignments for extra credit! Lucky me 😉

May 12, 2018
by Maha Bali

Quick Cynefin Example

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I need a quick Cynefin example to use in a session with educators who are not necessarily academics so I need simple language to demonstrate complex ideas 🙂

Here is the example. It may be off base, so please tell me if so. It relates to a student who is struggling with reading

  1. If the student reads well up close but badly from afar, this is a SIMPLE problem with an OBVIOUS solution. Get theirceyes checked and get them glasses. Or move them to sit forward in class closer to the board.
  2. If the student reads equally badly up close and afar, and also has spelling issues, consider Dyslexia, which is less well-known in Egypt and not usually an opthalmologist’s domain, but an expert can analyze, figure out if iti s dyslexia and what degree it is, and ther are ways to gelp the person become a better reader with time, usually. This waa a complicated  problem that needed expert opinion and analysis, but once the expert works on it, they can figure out a solution with time.
  3. If the student learned to read and passed tests one year then the next year were unable to read, this seems like an unknown problem with unclear solutions. It could be any number of social, cultural, psychlogical or physical things, and will require probing. It is a complex problem requiring us to try different things to understand and solve it, and an expert cannot work alone on it because it needs to involve other people (stakeholders) to solve it
  4. If an entir class of students suddenly cannot read and they have an exam tomorrow this is a chaotic situatuon (in this case probably sci fi hehe) and you would not know where to start but you try all kinds of things coz there is no time to probe first…

I am less confident about the 4th one. Do these sound reasonable or am I conflating things? 

Thanks in advance for feedback. I am not using any of the examples usually used with Cynefin coz they didn’t feel right. But I will look them over now.

May 9, 2018
by Maha Bali

Yes, But… Addressing Complexity in Egypt’s New Educational Reforms

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been asked to participate in a panel on Monday with two other educators/researchers responding to the new educational reforms proposed by the Minister of Education. A couple of items have been postponed, but the bulk of the reforms will start 2018/2019 inshallah.

My response to all of these suggested reforms is a “yes, but”. Tl;dr I feel that the Cynefin framework would help explain my critiques, as I feel the reforms assume an “ordered system” with simple or complicated problems which can be solved by analysis and engineering designs, technical solutions, whereas the execution of these good ideas is going to be highly problematic because in actuality the education system is a more complex system with non-straightforward solutions, that need more probing and multiple pathways and more digging deep into human and social and administrative and cultural concerns in order to solve them, and solutions will have to be partial and contextual and emergent over time, needing some post-structuralist analysis in order to see the multiple overlapping but also dynamic dimensions of the system. Whew. That’s the tl;dr. Now the details. Remember I’m not an expert in K-12 education neither by study nor experience – most of my experience is in higher ed, but I also do lots of educational theory and much of that applies to K-12. I am also a parent and lived through Egyptian education in middle school for 3 years back in the 1990s.

Arabic as Mother Tongue

Learning in one’s home/daily language is known to be a good/preferred thing. I know I’ve read this about k-12 and I know Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy suggests this for adult literacy. What Paulo Freire talks about is using vocabulary from the oppressed working class’s life to teach literacy. So you don’t use discourses that are unfamiliar or Culturally distant from them.

In theory, I agree completely with the idea to teach everything in public schools in integrated interdisciplinary curricula to learn language in context. My own British schooling was like this. We learned a “topic” and read books on it and wrote poems on it and did artwork on it and sang songs about it… Which strengthened our vocabulary and knowledge in tandem.

However, the real problem in Egypt is diglossia. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) that we read and write across the Arab world is NOBODY’S mother tongue ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. I grew up in Kuwait, so I spoke Egyptian dialect at home and with friends, but I also understood fluently Palestinian and Kuwaiti Arabic which I was exposed to via friends and TV. Those latter two dialects are very different from Egyptian and each other, but appear to me to have more vocabulary in common with MSA. And so being exposed to all 3 made learning MSA slightly easier for me. Egyptian kids don’t have that kind of exposure.

Now you can potentially teach MSA by picking specific vocabulary from MSA that is close to Egyptian dialect and start with that. However, Egyptian Arabic language curriculum fails miserably to do so consistently. It does it sometimes (because some words are indeed identical like the Arabic word for lion and rabbit and elephant and dog, and some are similar but different pronunciation like horse and donkey and cow) but some are incredibly different and confusing. And those are taught in first 3 years of schooling KG1 to year 1.

So my main concern is with how well they’ve reformed this aspect and I passed this on to a friend who’s been working on this.

English from KG1 and in middle school

I applaud, in theory, the decision to teach English language from KG1 and bring up bilingual kids. That’s empowering. And to teach math and science in English from middle school also empowers students to learn on their own using the internet. I know Kids who went to STEM schools needed the English to be able to learn independently and that’s important.

However, I have two concerns with implementation

  1. Do we have in Egypt enough teachers qualified through primary years to teach English at a quality level? To the extent kids can learn science in English from middle school onwards? I know currently most public school teachers of English aren’t good. I’ve taught them. I know. So how do we fix this? Feels like a long-term fix
  2. Do we have enough teachers at middle school who can teach science and math in English? Same problem as above
  3. Do we recognize the cultural and social capital limitations of this experiment? That parents at home who are only semi-educated and don’t know English won’t be able to help their kids with seemingly simple questions and they may resort to private tutoring even more than they already do

Private Tutoring

I don’t even wanna get into private tutoring. It’s a “wicked” problem for sure, as Ellsworth describes. Definitely a complex one according to Cynefin. A systemic cultural issue with many stakeholders and I’m pretty sure no engineering solution will work. It needs creativity and loads of probing. I’ll stop here for this.

In fact, I have many more notes but I’ll stop here for now in general and come back again later.


نعم و لكن… نظرة في الجوانب المعقدة لنظام تطوير التعليم الجديد في مصر

تلقيت دعوة لأشارك في ندوة لمناقشة نظام التعليم الجديد المطروح من وزير التعليم. الندوة ان شاء اللخ الاثنين القادم في روابط

رحم الله امرئ عرف قدر نفسه. أنا لست خبيرة في التعليم قبل الجامعي. عملي بالجامعة الأمريكية و أبحاثي في مجال التعليم العالي و النقدي و استخدام التكنولوجيا في التعليم و اشياء كن هذا القبيل.

و لكني اهتم بالتعليم في مصر كأم ابنتها في الصف الألول الابتدائي و استاذة جامعة أدرس لطلبة مصريين و أيضاً درست جزء من عمري في مدارس مصرية في المرحلة الإعدادية…

أود أن أركز كلامي عن النظام المقترح في فكرة رئيسية و هي مبنية على نظام كنيفين الذي يقول ان المشكلات التي تواجهنا انواع… منها المشكلة البسيطة ذات الحل او الحلول الواضحة للكل…فهي لها حل أمثل… و مشكلات مركبة حلها غير واضخ و تتوجب التحليل من خبراء لايجاد حل او حلول لها فقد توجد حلول جيدة لكن ليس من اسهل التوصل لحل أمثل.. و مشكلات معقجة يصعب فهمها من عمق تعقيد مكوناتها و جوانبها و تتطلب منا التعمق و التدقيق في ايجاد الحلول و التجربة للحلول في كل سياق بعينه… لنعلم أن الحل الذي يعمل في سياق قد لا يعمل في الآخر و قد لا نعلم مسبقاً أي الحلول المطروحة سينجح في سياقنا و ظروفنا.. إذا هنا الحلول ليست كاملة او مثالية و لكنها حلول تناسب السياق نكتشفها بالتجربة و اعادة التجربة و هذا شيء مستمر و الحلول ناشئة دوماً…. و بعص المشكلات فوضوية كالكوارث يجب ان نحاول حلها سريعاً لانه لا يوجد وقت للبحث و التحليل.

في رأيي أن حلول الوزارة تعامل مشكلة التعليم كأنها مشكلة مركبة ذات حلول هندسية جيدة نطبقها فتعطينا نتيجة…. في حين أن حقيقية مشكلة اتعليم أنها مشكلة معقدة متعددة الجوانب و الأطراف و لذلك يصعب حلها بالطرق المطروحة رغم أنها أفكار جيدة… لكنها لا تأخذ في اعتبارها السياق الفريد لمصر… بداية بطبيعة المدرس و الادارة و ثقافة الشعب و صفات اللغة العربية كلغة تدريس و غير ذلك. و سأركز على بعض الأمثلة على سبيل المثال لا الحصر.

أولاً اللغة العربية الفصحى ليست اللغة الأم لأي منا. لأننا نتكلم العامية التي تختلف كثيرا عنها

Need to stop now. To be continued

May 7, 2018
by Maha Bali

Introducing Cynefin to Your Team

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’ve had a brainstorm about possibily introducing Cynefin to my department because I suddenly realized it would help us conceptualize and strategize about some things.

So I looked up games for introducing Cynefin and I found one that introduces Cynefin using Legos! And I read it and it is actually VERY similar to a game I do using Bornimago magnets/balls to introduce curriculum theory… Few things excite me as much as using tactile game play to explain complex theory! Legos ftw!

Ur welcome 🙂

Also, I just started realizing that one of the disconnects between AI in education is that the more technical/scientific trained people tend to expect complicated problems and frame them within good or best pratice. Whereas people in most social science and humanities recognize the complexity and…so technical people will tell you why AI can replace teachers by listing 10 characteristics or functions of teachers and ticking them off. As if you could actually list JUST 10 things that ALL teachers in ALL contexts do, and prioritize them properly (let alone the aspect of an IT person probably choosing the wrong list anyway). Creating the list gives the impression that it is tick-off-able. But i you need to question the list first!

In education there is rarely ever a best practice. Some things are good practice. Most things, honestly, are “this worked for me that way with those students that year in that context and worked again slightly better next year when I did this, but failed miserably the year after even though I did exact same thing”.

Also, the breakdown of Cynefin is not that different from the break down of social theories from instrumental to constructivist to poststructural (more difficult to identify critical within Cynefin, as it’s sort of mixed up with poststructural I think). I only noticed this NOW because of how similar my magnets game is to their lego game, like some of the instructions are almost identical. It’s uncanny, really.

What I would do is play the game then ask my colleagues to reflect on which aspects of our work tend to fall in which domain and whether sometimes we overthink something that’s simple/complicated and other times we oversimplify things that are in the complex domain.

One of the things I’ve been trying to explain for MONTHS now is that when you’re innovating (and here innovating means new to YOU) things will always be a bit emergent until you find your feet and then maybe something that was in complex domain moves to complicated, or maybe not… But it’s rare (though possible) that something was in complicated domain and you overthought it by treating it as complex and created emergent practices from scratch when a good practice already existed that you could have used.

One more example of something in complex domain? Questions of inclusivity. They will always be poststructural, solutions will always be partial emergent and contextual. Always. Heck, including a blind person differs dramatically from including w deaf person. Many solutions will be mutually exclusive to some.

I’m gonna stop here for now

May 7, 2018
by Maha Bali

Honor in Company #oes2018

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two nearly identical tweets made my day (my month?) today

Much as this is great for the ego, there’s some extra special things to add here

  1. The honor in this slide resides mainly in the company on that slide. People who are inspirations to me but also many of whom are friends (my kid looked at the slide and immediately recognized Amy and Chris from DPLI and Catherine and Audrey from OER17) and others with whom I’ve worked and conversed closely (Robin) and two women whose work I respect highly and follow (Safiyya and Tara). The honor is in the company because of how great and influential their work is, so I’m honored to be counted among them
  2. The honor in the person who is mentioning us, Rajiv, also a friend and inspiration and himself a critical open educator I highly respect and love. Coincidentally, earlier today I was checking out his #ScholarSunday list where I think he pledged to amplify the work of (I think mainly) women and I definitely noticed many of the women who ended up on that slide. Rajiv just modeled how you can come up with a list of 8 influential people in the field of open edu, all of whom are women, POC (or as Tara pointed out, 3 of us are WOC). I had a moment of “take that every idiot who manages somehow to quote only white men in a paper or presentation”
  3. There was honor in the two people who tweeted a picture of the slide. One very close friend (Bonnie) and one really good friend (Terry), both of whom are part of vconnecting and which reminded me that so are Rajiv, Robin, Chris, Catherine and Amy. So that’s also a point of pride, that so many of the people I consider to be critical open educators (coz I agree w Rajiv) choose to be part of vconnecting.
  4. Such lists are always always partial. Incomplete. And also of a moment. Maybe a month from now at a different conference Rajiv would choose 8 others. If and when I make such lists I often forget someone really important. Or you gotta leave someone out or you’ll end up listing your entire Twitter list. So I take my presence on one of these with pride and humility together… And loads of appreciation. And a sense of responsibility to keep living up to these expectations. And a recognition that my work is louder than that of others (e.g. Virtually Connecting is the brainchild of Rebecca and me, and grew because of the work of Autumm… And works because of around 30-40 consistent volunteers, many of whom are women and critical open educators in some way, but I get more than my share of the credit). And that my work, particularly my global South and postcolonial critiques are co-constructed with others from my region such as Shyam Sharma, Laura Czerniewicz, Paul Prinsloo, Sukaina Walji, Taskeen Adam, Thomas Mboa, Rusul Alrubail… And Rajiv himself!
  5. My husband saw the term “movement” and got worried about politics. When Uncommon Women Coloring book came out, he was shocked by the term “activist” under my picture. Although my critical open advocacy and work is not political in the sense that worries him (aka can’t get me in jail in Egypt) it is inherently political in other ways. I don’t know if my family will ever “get it” about what I do or how this is an honor. It’s hard to explain it if u don’t know who Audrey Watters and Catherine and Rajiv and all of em are (and my husband has met half these people, but he wouldn’t know, right?)

I’ll stop here. I need to either sleep or write my next blogpost. Whichever I get energy for!

May 6, 2018
by Maha Bali

Cultivating Our Seeds at Institutions #oeglobal18 #unicollab2018 #rp18

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was in a Virtually Connecting session recently from #OEglobal where Robin DeRosa was a virtual guest… We had invited her and Rajiv to talk about their Open Pedagogy Notebook project (check it out and contribute!).

Anyway – key thing is that Robin said something about persisting to make institutions listen, and when I asked for more, she talked about the importance of cultivating our seeds, and that in the conference circuit it feels like so much is going on at the edge and things are happening, but actually, to get any of this going at institutions takes time and patience and persistence on our part. And it seems obvious now that she said it, but OF COURSE that’s what happens. It’s been happening to me ever since I started working in education. I’d say something about a new technology or a new concept, and at first I would get quizzical, if not downright derogatory looks, then when I kept persisting, people would start to give me tolerant looks “here she goes again” and then, sometimes, just sometimes, we would reach phases where more and more people became on board with the idea or approach, or the institution would start to be more interested. Just 3-5 years later. This doesn’t happen for everything of course, because I wouldn’t claim that all my ideas are good or scaleable or institutionally feasible.

But I still remember my boss speaking at a conference or something, maybe in 2007 or something, and talking about blogs and saying “Maha told me about their potential back in 2003 but I didn’t realize it until recently”.

I also think a lot of what happens at institutions is about snatching up opportunities – like the open textbook we’re currently working on, our first, came out of an idea for a MOOC that Edraak refused to take on – and I’m so glad because an open textbook is way more useful for this thing we’re doing.

I remembered how my OER17 keynote talked about our intentions as seeds that we needed to cultivate… And I meant, back then, that when we have good intentions, we need to keep working closely with how these seeds get executed or implemented, to keep checking them against our intentions and see if they’re achieving what we promised or hoped.

I’ve been part of two hybrid workshops on #BreakOpen (check out provocations here). And we encouraged people to critique the ways in which open can disempower, marginalize, colonize, discriminate and so on. For the most part, open doesn’t intend to do so. But quite often, open does not honestly and critically assess its own self… And that’s an iterative process we should never stop doing.

I think about Virtually Connecting.. And something Bonnie Stewart did recently. She was keynoting or presenting about the ways in which digital and networks have both the bad (platform capitalism, surveillance, online violence, biased algorithms) and the good (participatory culture, potential democratization). And they’re both there, side by side, and it’s a HUMAN problem. Humans have agency despite platforms. And she talked about (ok i haven’t heard her talk, just saw the slides) the Cynefin framework (gotta love that framework) and how some problems are just complex and will only ever have partial solutions in context… And that will always be what Virtually Connecting is (I think that’s how she used it, as an example of using the digital for good, but it’s a partial good, solving part of a problem for some, but not all, constituents).

The key for me, is this. Whatever our intentions, we (and I mean everyone in the world, really, but more specifically those of us who care about open education and work on it) need to remain sensitive, alert and responsive to critiques of our work, from our community and those external to the community.

We had another vconnecting conversation with Thomas Mboa and Lucy Patterson at re:publica 18 in Berlin… About hacking the ivory tower (their panel there) and how things like hackerspaces were done to make open science accessible to all, so that science could happen and come from under resourced parts of Africa, by empowering groups to hack their own equipment and create their own knowledge. And yet hacking discourse and culture isn’t really accessible to all. It takes time for people outside that culture to “get it”, and persistence and working to make one’s language accessible is as important to hacking culture advocates as it is to academics in the ivory tower doing good work. And it’s as important for those of us in open education working in circles where this is so much against the grain that it will take time and patience and persistence. And in the meantime, our Personal Learning Networks online give us support and ideas and keep us going. And yes, the occasional conference. For me, I need more than occasional conference conversations. That’s why I thank God every day for Virtually Connecting. And lest you think I’m here thanking myself for co-founding it, I’m not. Virtually Connecting would be nothing if it weren’t for first of all Rebecca offering to do it, then Autumm helping us imagine how to expand, and people like Whitney Kilgore, Bonnie Stewart, Michael Berman, Alan Levine, Jesse Stommel – and the et4online conference organizing committee – cheering us on from early on… And then our growing group of volunteers who are onsite and virtual buddies and advisors and advocates for expanding access to marginal voices… And onsite guests who join these conversations as a joy and not as a burden.

And yet we are imperfect in many ways and seek to improve the dimensions of ourselves that we can. So I have failed several times to connect with Thomas Mboa synchronously when he’s in Cameroon. So I find him in Berlin. Partial solutions to tricky problems.

So we talked about the issue of different languages in cross-cultural dialogue that Francesca Helm brought up after my keynote in our vconnecting conversation at #unicollab2018 – and I still don’t know what partial solutions we will come up with, but I suggested we intentionally create these situations more often in order to work out good models.

In this blogpost alone, I’ve referenced educators and conversations with educators from more countries than I can count. Vconnecting sessions in Germany, Netherlands and Poland. Key people from Italy, Cameroon, US and Canada.

And I can be proud to have collaborated with folks from Vancouver to Capetown this year. And I am. But I also notice the limitations of everything I do, digital or analog.

And I think we need to continue noticing and also listening closely to those who critique us, especially our friends who know what we’re doing and what our values are, and to keep checking ourselves against these… To ask ourselves, as Suzan Koseoglu suggests in her #BreakOpen provocation, to question “othering” practices that separate “us” (who’s us!? Those who advocate for open!?) from “them” (who may actually share similar values but differ from us in their reservations, which may really be legitimate if we understood them).

I need to stop now. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.


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

Join other followers: