Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

July 16, 2017
by Maha Bali

Reaction to Let’s Play on Ceebeebies

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So my kid discovered this show on YouTube a couple days ago. It’s kinda cool. It is called Let’s Play, where each episode is a role play of a particular identity or job (e.g. this episode on Race Car Drivers). The two main actors, Rebecca and Sid (black British) are cute. At the start of each episode, one of them gets chosen to take on the role, and then they discover what it will be. We learn a bit about the role and they use that new knowledge throughout the episode. The other actor puts on various disguises and plays different roles, but not as themselves (so not named Sid or Rebecca). 

So I noticed something almost consistently. Almost all the traditionally male roles end up being done by Rebecca. She’s the mechanic, the doctor (ok this one really shouldn’t be traditionally male so much, but people still do), race car driver, even knight! So that’s kind of cool.

But here’s the other thing: why do they do this thing at the beginning where they do this skit/song “let it be me” (as in let it be my turn to role play) and one of them gets chosen? Why is it a competition and not both of them taking a role? They both act anyway…

I noticed my kid doing something. As soon as she realizes the man (Sid) gets chosen, she doesn’t wanna watch! She only wants to watch the ones where Rebecca gets the roles. Something about not liking to play with boys. Which is not something I raised in her, so I am guessing it’s a social thing that happens at school and such… I’ve noticed it before in her language, but not in her behavior… She plays just fine with boys, usually. So I guess I will have to spend time reminding her of all the boys she enjoys playing with. And then regret this when she reaches her teens haha 🙂

So.. To recap, Educational show, defies gender stereotypes, but has unnecessary/inexplicable element of Black male/white female competition that’s affecting my child’s viewing experience! Why do they do this?

July 12, 2017
by Maha Bali

Reflections on a Critical Pedagogy Workshop 

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I had a really interesting and enriching working day today. I was asked to (for the second time) offer a workshop on critical pedagogy for an NGO. The participants are, like, interns training to be social workers for orphanages in Egypt. Something like that. I gave the workshop once before and I loved it, but felt uncomfortable about a few things in it. One being that I had trouble expressing critical pedagogy in Arabic. The other is I was so indirect about it that I did a lot of structured activities and an unstructured role play – and it turned out they had tried lots of this kind of thing before… So something was off about it…

I think today went better, from my POV, though I can’t know for sure until I get their reflections/feedback later.

The Arabic 

First thing, I wanna thank my friend and colleague Sherif who alerted me to the existence of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in Arabic. Simply reading the translator’s foreword and bits of the book in Arabic helped me recognize which parts were most relevant to Egyptian Context (Don’t laugh, I swear this wasn’t self-evident for me for this audience) and it helped me use the right words in Arabic so that I almost ran the entire workshop in Arabic with no important words in English. Almost. I was so proud of myself. This isn’t easy, it really isn’t, when you aren’t used to expressing academic thoughts in a different language. 

The Oppressions Activity

One of the problems w critical pedagogy is that, duh, you can’t like “teach” it because it’s all about consciousness-raising of everyone in the room. It’s not about the “participants” listening to the facilitator, but about the facilitator listening to the participants – helping them express their thoughts and dig deeper to reflect on what they might not have been thinking beforehand, reflecting on their practice and thinking of how to change it. But also, when you’re introducing critical pedagogy to people who are in positions of being pedagoguess,you’re not just working on empowering/liberating THEM but on helping them imagine how they might do so for/with others. All these terms are tricky. Empower. Liberate. For/with. Etc. But more than the trickiness of the terms, there’s the difficulty of, in one session, a few hours long, offer a glimpse of critical pedagogy, something it took me many years of reading followed by many years of experience to start to feel like I understood how it could be. And even then it is a really difficult thing to apply in any context, and it is completely different in each context. And it’s a dialogical concept. Which is why I prefer conversational books by Paulo Freire like Pedagogy of Liberation w Ira Shor or We Make the Road By Walking w Miles Horton. 

So anyway. I did this exercise called TriZ from Liberating Structures.* Basically, in order to help people solve a problem or improve, ask them how to achieve the worst possible result, then get them to reflect on how much of that actually happens and then move towards solving problems. In our case, I asked them to break up into 3 groups of 3, each group working on a different topic

  1. In what ways would you oppress orphans most?
  2. In what ways would you oppress the admins of orphans most?
  3. In what ways would you oppress students in schools most?

Each person writes on their own then shares in small groups, then share in larger group, then we discussed how to go back to their own context and imagine ways of supporting people there to raise consciousness and liberate themselves (again the language is really annoying for me, but in context of real life examples it sounded more feasible and less arrogant than this).

Time was tight and I was afraid I would leave them frustrated, but as I asked for some final reflections before I left, I saw that different things resonated with different people and they asked when they would see me again. Which I took as a good sign.

Oldies but Goodies

I still used the collaborative introductions at beginning, the distributing snacks and using them as a segway to talking about difference and inequalities… And I used the humility walk exercise again even though I know they’d done similar before. I emphasized the difference in what we were looking for while interpreting it and it went well.

Overall it was an amazing day, I fell in love with them and I learned a lot. Like a lot. Like just how they’re able to work with orphanages and turn some really difficult situations into potentially positive ones was amazing. 

I did, however, realize a little more than usual, how critical pedagogy is actually for adults, and that I might need to see what the parallel theory is for children, because even though the participants seemed to need the part about adults, they also really need the part about kids. And Freire isn’t it, I think. I mean you could apply it, but there must be something more directly for kids. And I need to find it because it might also help solve some parenting philosophical dilemmas i have as I try to balance my critical pedagogy w practice of everyday parenting…

ANYWAY. That was today.

* I first learned of the exercise from Arthur Gill Green of UBC (the website is awesome btw and has MANY cool structures for activities that are variations on open dialogue). Been wanting to use it for a long time but today was my first time.

July 12, 2017
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Little Things That Can Spoil a Great Book

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So I’m reading this awesome book to my child, one that’s about a successful female (love these books!). And there’s this one page where they talk about how she became the best/smartest student at her university. And my daughter notices something, and I notice another. My daughter notices that the image behind those words is of the woman holding a notebook, smiling, and two men looking upon her frowning. My child asks why the men are frowning. I presume they’re frowning because they’re jealous the woman is smarter than them? What do you say?

The other thing I noticed is that her notebook has her initials on them. But they’re the wrong initials. Because at this point she isn’t married, but the initials are those of her married surname not her maiden surname (I checked they don’t start with the same letter). 

On another page, there is news of some discoveries the female figure and her spouse have made. Instead of showing a lab or some other things that would help the reader understand what those discoveries are, as scientific discoveries, the image is of the woman hugging her husband. Really? I mean …. I am sure they hugged when happy, but as a reader, wouldn’t it be also useful to learn more about those scientific discoveries and appreciate their value? Or something? Showing human love is valuable, I really think so, but shouldn’t we also show like the image that relates to the subject of the page?

In a couple of different pages where this wonderful woman receives awards, there is so much emphasis on how her husband is clapping for her in the audience of one page, but how there is an empty seat in the other one (because he’s dead by then). Of course it matters that her husband supported her. But I (almost) don’t ever see the opposite happening – where a man’s success story is told with a heavy emphasis on the role of his wife (or mom, even) in supporting him and how her presence or absence mattered, or how they celebrated when he made a discovery or such. Thinking about this a little more… I can think of a few country presidents (Obama, Clinton, Sadat) whose wives seemed prominent, but I think it’s more about the strength of the woman that compels people to notice her role. I don’t know. 

Perhaps I’m being too picky. But I do think it’s telling that my daughter noticed the frowning men’s faces.. And she strongly noticed the absence of the woman’s husband in the second half of the book.

And these are just a few tiny ways that a feminist book can be imperfect. It is an otherwise lovely book…

July 10, 2017
by Maha Bali

Who’s Standing on Your Cape?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yesterday, a lovely package arrived from Catherine Cronin, in which there were many lovely things for my daughter and me, including the poem (in a book) by Sarah Kay called B.

I tweeted out this line: “when u step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape” Sarah Kay

And then I sent it to two people…

Then this Twitter convo ensued… based on Terry Greene talking about stepping on his own cape…

And now I’m thinking… maybe I’m stepping on my own cape as well… maybe I’m the person who’s in my own way most of the time…

Wow. What an exercise for self-reflection… in what ways might each of us be standing on our own capes, or like Hoda said later, tripping over it.

 Sometimes we give ourselves a goal and put on our superhero capes. And yet the people we want to save stand in our way. But maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe we’re standing on our own capes or tripping over them. Maybe we should not be donning capes at all, and instead working in other ways to fix things. Perhaps the cape would make you fly so high you would lose touch with those you’re supposed to be working with (not for). Perhaps we are standing in our own way by creating unnecessary capes…

So I’m just thinking about this and how it’s useful to reflect on what may be standing in our way to meet our goal – is it someone else or is it our own selves or our approach? Or is it the arrogance of donning a cape in the first place?


July 9, 2017
by Maha Bali

Towards Equitable Digital Learning in Developing Countries 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m writing this in preparation for something else I’m involved in. Writing it out will help me solidify my thinking on this. The idea is to consider practical steps towards enhancing digital learning in places like Egypt (building on this article I wrote a while ago), and for me, this involves a focus on an equitable approach to doing so. It involves, importantly, recognizing existing inequalities in access to technology and in capability to use existing technology. If I were an investor in digital learning in my region, these are the steps I would take to ensure equity:

  1. Where people have Internet access, support the development of digital skills and literacies for educators and youth, so they can become agents in creating their own Internet content in their own language and culture, empowered active but critical participants in social media, and can be critical consumers of existing Internet content. Improve the culture around digital learning. 
  2. Where Internet infrastructure is available but not high-bandwidth, work on ensuring important apps work on low-bandwidth, offline or asynchronous modes, so that learners with limited bandwidth or access can still work and benefit when they get access. People with limited access include populations where there are frequent electricity cuts, people who live in regions where bandwidth is low even at its best, and individuals (particularly females) in households with few devices but many family members competing for these devices. An additional suggestion here is to ensure apps are fully functional on mobile devices, as lower-income households in developing countries like Egypt are more likely to have internet-enabled mobiles than full-fledged computers. 
  3. In locations where people may not have internet access at home, providing public spaces for Internet use can matter. Not just internet cafés, but (zero-cost) spaces in schools after school hours (parents are more likely to agree to girls staying there than going to Internet cafés) or public libraries or internet-enabled buses that go around an area
  4. If you care about spreading digital learning in a systematic way: Improve Internet infrastructure throughout the country and not in some regions but not others. But don’t work on the infrastructure and ignore step 1 which involves developing digital skills and literacies of adults and children. It’s no use to have internet access if you don’t have the literacies to use it for learning and empowerment, and it can all backfire if all the content is in a different language and culture than your own and you don’t have the critical thinking to evaluate it.

Have I missed something important here?

July 8, 2017
by Maha Bali

If We Could Hear Ourselves… 

Reading Time: 1 minutes

At a recent department retreat, a colleague asked us all to (using Nearpod) contribute a word that reminded us of each other person in our team. The name of a person is displayed on the screen, and each of us contributes a word. It was originally meant to be professional, one word that the person says frequently. It ended up that many of us contributed a fun phrase that person said frequently. We had loads of laughs. It was so interesting to see how people remember particular things about others…which phrases or statements they choose. Sometimes people would let someone notice they said something a lot that they didn’t actually realize they said a lot. Some were more obvious. 

Anyway. It made me think of a different thing. If we only heard ourselves saying certain things, we might be more careful not to say them. It’s not something that came out of the game above, but I imagine if u could play it anonymously with someone you wanna give critical feedback to, it could be really powerful.

Sometimes someone says something, and I wanna tell them, “Can you even hear yourself talking? Do you realize what you just said? Could you tolerate someone else telling YOU that?”

And, you know, the same applies to me. I wonder if there are things I say that I don’t realize are hurtful or worse. I think it’s hard to imagine unless someone tells us in our face.

I also want to note that in some situations, a person would not be upset to hear certain things said to them, but need to understand the impact on others is different from impact on themselves, whether because of differences in power or different personalities. 

That’s all I wanted to say…

July 8, 2017
by Maha Bali

The Risks of CC-BY and Republication 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Here comes another blogpost where I expect people from the open ed community to either think I am crazy or I am backwards or something. But those who are really open will read it with an open mind 🙂 your choice, really.

The trigger for this particular post is an article I wrote for The Conversation in January, There is More Than One Story to Be Told about Trump’s America (their title not mine btw, but I approved it) which was afterwards republished in the Huffington Post (and therefore got the attention of my institution’s marketing folks and was sent around). My understanding from The Conversation from the beginning is that the work is republishable without my permission (basically CC-BY, if I remember correctly) and from my author dashboard I can see where it’s been republished. This is more info than I would get if I was publishing on my own blog CC-BY.

I had never bothered to read the Huff Post version of the article, assuming they had republished as is (I should not have made that assumption because it’s not ND). It didn’t occur to me they might use different photos (they didn’t) or modify the text without clarifying (they kinda did. And that’s what this is about). 

As an academic, it is VERY important for me to reference other people’s work properly. To say who said what and let the reader know (via link or reference section) where to find the original where those words/ideas come from. We teach this stuff and we need to model it. More importantly, I personally believe in its value and importance, not as a set of rules, but as courtesy and respect to other authors, to readers, and my own self.

The Huffington Post version of my article distorts the quotes I am making. In the Conversation piece, when I quote someone, the text is indented and italic and there is a link to the original. In the Huff Post version, none of this is there, so it looks like the entire article is my words…so basically they created a derivative of my work that has distorted citation. I only noticed this because someone quoted the article on Twitter and it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adeche’s words not mine. And I saw how the article formatting on Huff Post doesn’t at all show whose words they are.

Now, I could contact Huff Post about thus, because I know Huff Post republished it. But if I didn’t (CC-BY basically says reuse, remix, translate, without permission, even for commercial purposes) it’s possible other entities take my work and make those changes and I would be none the wiser.

Some of the arguments re monetization of CC-BY content annoy me. Along the lines of “it’s really unlikely commercial entities will take your free labor and profit from it”. Well, hello! This just happened. And could continue to happen. If Huff Post liked this article, they could follow my stuff elsewhere which is CC-BY (not my blog, it has NC) and keep republishing it without paying me (but continue to profit from having it on their site). Now I actually don’t mind having my article on Huff Post (and much of my other writing won’t interest them, but if it did…), but I do mind the incorrect citations. It affects my reputation as an academic. What if Chimamanda saw it, and thought i was not citing her work properly? What if people continue to quote these words as if they were mine? I guess this is how misattributed quotes are formed – poor journalism!

Look, when you publish in a peer-reviewed journal, anyone can take a quote from your article and use it out of context, interpret it incorrectly, or make mistakes in citation. It’s just hopefully that the latter is less likely because they’re academics too and hopefully know the proper way to cite. The misinterpretation or taking out of context is inevitable and you can’t do I that much about it.

There’s always also the risk of someone whose values you disagree with republishing your work, so that someone who doesn’t understand how these things work could misunderstand and assume you endorse that publication. 

I gotta go but had to get this off my chest. And it’s 7 months later but i should still contact Huff Post about those citations 


Check out this Twitter thread

Led me to 

  1. Email The Conversation and they said they would communicate w Huff Post on my behalf (turns out they moved to some new interface recently which might explain formatting issues?)
  2. Discover The Conversation license is CC-BY-ND – so actually it’s not CC-BY (thanks Kelsey Merkley). 

The modification on the message on this blogpost is that (as we all already know) licenses aren’t foolproof,  but yeah, being ND is a strong and clear case to take up w Huff Post. But also, Andy Nobes and Carrie Schroeder both think it is a violation even if it were a CC-BY licensed work.

So this has been an interesting Twitter day for me! Thanks Kelsey and all

July 7, 2017
by Maha Bali

Where to Host My Class Website and Blogs Next Semester?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For several years now, I’ve been co-teaching a course on Creative Thinking & Problem Solving, for which we have this awesome domain:

I’ve been using that url to mainly aggregate student blogs (I syndicate using RSS) and I also sometimes post my material there rather than on the LMS (makes it easier to find the next year tbh). My co-teacher and I recently also wrote a book chapter about how we assess learning in our course and we link to the course website (we’ve also linked to it in presentations and such).

Now I’m not teaching that course next semester inshallah and I’m not sure if my co-teacher wants to continue aggregating WordPress student blogs, or if she’s moving to a new platform (I haven’t asked because I’m not teaching the course, so she’s free to do whatever she likes).

I’m stuck on something else… which domain to host my new course?

Yes, if you’re not in Egypt, you’re thinking, buy a new domain for the new course. But the cost of this is not trivial in Egyptian pounds. I’m already paying a teacher account for hosting (so I won’t pay more hosting) but I’d have to pay for the domain name, and I don’t want to create a new domain for every course I teach and then have to renew it annually and depend on it forever or lose it or transfer it.

I could, in future, I think, use a link (hoping doesn’t disappear) for all my courses, so that if I ever switch the domain, people can still find it. I recently went through the process of letting go of domain and moving the site to (technically very simple with minor glitches, thanks to Jim Groom and Reclaim Hosting cPanel clone function). I’m not comfortable with having as the main domain for edcontexts… Edcontexts was the brainchild of Shyam Sharma and me, and had a team of around 6 people. Archiving it on my own website isn’t ideal, but it’s what everyone agreed to – because it wasn’t worth renewing the domain if we weren’t adding to it regularly.

Now for my new course… I’ve got concerns. I don’t know how long I’ll be using it, but I also don’t want to create it on because I’m spoiled for using the self-hosted – I get frustrated by little restrictions you get with .com and so I know I prefer to host it.

But should I host it under Like or such? Or is that tying the course to my personal name problematic in case I co-teach or someone else teaches it and we share resources in future? Or should I host it on which is REALLY misleading, because CORE2096 is NOT a creativity course but a digital literacies course… but it’s a way to ensure that domain gets used since I’ll be paying for it anyway…

In reality, I’m paying for and ANYWAY so it doesn’t technically make a difference where I host CORE2096 (I’ll probably give it a meaningful name related to course title, but I’m just abbreviating here to make my point).

I sense it would be confusing to host it under and not strange to host under since I am teaching it alone anyway. Maybe if I teach it enough times it will eventually be worth moving it… and the thing is, if I link it as, if I ever move it to another site like or whatever, I could always still keep as a redirect, right?

YES! It’s settled then!!! I’m keeping it under my name domain for now because that’s going to be easier to transfer in future without causing disruption.

Thanks for reading as I thought through that (now seemingly obvious, stupid?) question!

July 5, 2017
by Maha Bali

Would You Use Categorization of People for Team-building? 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

So a colleague and I were working on some team-building activities for an upcoming work thing. We both really enjoy this kind of thing, and we explored some useful sites (this one’s good for light activities, this one’s great for complex serious ones about listening deeply and such).

There was also an activity he proposed about personality types. It’s an MBTI-based personality thing, where the categories like ENFP (which I am and surprisingly many of us seem to be) is called “The Campaigner” (why are you not surprised? Haha).

Now for background, as an undergraduate student I volunteered and worked at my university’s career center where several of the leadership were getting certified to conduct MBTI. So I was involved in several iterations of trying simple and actual versions of MBTI and getting the discussion afterwards about whether our test results fit our views of ourselves and how it affects our future careers and our ability to work in teams and such. I have consistently been an MBTI. The top two jobs I got were preacher and teacher (not computer scientist, you will notice, because E people. N PEOPLE. F, P. Not at all computer scientist stereotype). Those seem to fit this lighter personality type “Campaigner” thing. 

So anyway. In complete honesty, I enjoyed this every single time. And it did help me understand why I can’t work easily w ISTJs and not to take it personally. Which reminds me now I got one of those at work and I need to stop sweating the small stuff.

But anyway. Categorizing ppl is problematic. And btw, sue me, but I also enjoyed doing learning styles and multiple intelligences and things like that and found them useful (even though I know there’s no evidence that teachers addressing learning styles help learning – how would you even prove that, really?)

But anyways. 

I’m always reminded of Irvin Yalom’s words from Love’s Executioner where he reminds us how categorizing people can make us lose a sense of who they are and we need to sort of accept, respect, maybe celebrate and appreciate that the “other is never fully knowable” (1989, p. 185) and the parts of people that “transcend category”.

I’m thinking back to James Paul Gee’s writing on 4 dimensions of identity (there’s a free pdf which took me a while to get on my phone ), and how some of those are natural (biological, like sex and skin color – even if categories of these like gender and ethnicity and what a skin color means as power are socially-constructed), some are related to institutional identities (awarded) and some to affinity identities (self-claimed) and some to individual traits like personality. Sometimes focusing so much on the latter ignores the power involved in exploring the other 3 dimensions of identity, and in a workplace environment, that can really make a difference. Certain practices may be said to work well for certain personalities vs others, but it may be more important to tackle how such practices reproduce power or marginalize women or minorities or such.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that approaches that focus on psychology of the individual and their personality ignore the social context and intersectionality, and it’s important not to lose sight of these. And it’s also important not to make individuals focus too much on the categories coming out of these tests to an extent it paralyzes them by narrowing their own views of themselves. For example learning style tests bring me out as highly verbal and active, lower on visual and reflection. And I believed that for quite some time. I’m nowhere near as reflective as someone like Kate Bowles or Sean Michael Morris, but I am still pretty highly reflective, much more than other people I know. But yes. I am much more active than most people I know. So maybe action and reflection aren’t binary. Oh wait, isn’t that what Freire calls praxis? Aren’t we all meant to employ both? Exactly. Thinking also of visual vs verbal. I know I am much more verbal (like I don’t mind non-visual cues) but I forgot when I kept seeing that test result, that I used to be very artistic as a child – I could draw portraits of people with very close likenesses. I used to draw and cut my own paper dolls and dress them up. Lile hundreds of these. I loved reading comics. As an adult, I love making videos that are mixes of other photos and videos. But that learning style test result kinda reduced my perception of myself as that person and we should never allow a test to do that to us. 

Sigh. I don’t know if I said anything that isn’t obvious already here 🙂

I think for my class next semester, it’s worth having a critical discussion about these things before we do any tests so students go in with eyes wide open. I think it’s useful to have the discussions anyway because they might get exposed to these tests or generally find themselves categorized in different ways anyway . So that’s where I currently stand. Thoughts?

July 4, 2017
by Maha Bali

Natural Highs 

Reading Time: 1 minutes

I’m inspired to write a positive post here because boy, do I need it, and I have Rebecca Hogue to thank – an old blogpost of hers I was re-reading reminded me I hadn’t read that book I bought at the time, on Chocolate and Morphine… Instead, it inspired me to reflect on my personal highs. They’re going to be diverse, OK?

  1. Getting a kiss from a child (not necessarily my own)
  2. Cinnamon. On anything. Anywhere 
  3. The little DM notification on my phone. Sue me
  4. When students share something with me in confidence
  5. Hugs from ppl i love
  6. Getting invited to speak at events, even if most of the time I can’t go (it then often converts to a low)
  7. A good Virtually Connecting session (especially the pre and after-shows that aren’t recorded)
  8. Being surrounded by my extended family. Even if it’s for sad reasons
  9. Reading a good book. Simply buying books, esp children’s books
  10. Dancing. Oh dancing.
  11. Flowers. Oh flowers
  12. Watching Rafael Nadal win a tennis match. Not so great when he loses tho
  13. When I make something useful out of what would have been trash
  14. When I find out something I did helped someone, whether intentionally or not
  15. Teaching a good class or workshop 

I’ll add more later…what are yours?


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