Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

August 9, 2018
by Maha Bali

Sara Ahmed and @VConnecting

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I was reminded of a post on citation practices by Sara Ahmed, so I started re-reading it and it struck a chord with reference to my recent keynote on how Virtually Connecting challenges academic Gatekeeping.

Here is the quote I will unpack:

If you are screened out (by virtue of the body you have) then you simply do not even appear or register to others. You might even have to become insistent, wave your arms, even shout, just to appear. And then of course how you appear (as being insistent) means you still tend not to be heard.

This. This is sooo what Virtually Connecting is about. Many of us possess bodies that are invisible in the academic scene, or would be, if we didn’t have digital presence. But when people are in a gathering in person, our digital presence becomes less significant to them. Ours are not the faces they see, the voices they hear, the hands they shake, the folks they sit with at dinner or chat with over coffee. And this matters so much for social capital. I will always remember the day I read a post by Lee Skallerup Bessette on “shameless self-promotion” and understood and accepted my behavior in my first year On Twitter. I have not had to do this for a LONG time now, and I count myself fortunate. But this is a privilege that I got only after shouting and waving for a year or more until people noticed me. And then I realized they noticed me digitally but not… There was an entire body attached to me… And vconnecting does not bring bodies to conferences, but it does bring voices and ideas of those people into conferences and makes their faces remembered when normally they would be temporarily forgotten. I’m not even just talking the actual virtual folks in each session, but what they represent : the absent majority.

And this quote

When we think this question “who appears?” we are asked a question about how spaces are occupied by certain bodies who get so used to their occupation that they don’t even notice it… To question who appears is to become the cause of discomfort. It is almost as if we have a duty not to notice who turns up and who doesn’t.

That’s right. They don’t even notice it. Unless you make them notice it. And even then they may ignore it. And this is where empty invitations come from. Folks who invite you to a space in the name of diversity or presumably respecting your work, but do not follow through with support for funding or virtual options… Or those who offer a second-class virtual seat with no one who cares about how well you are integrated.

One of the best virtual presentations I had was at Unicollaboration. There was an IT person who tested with me the day before and just before and stayed the whole time. I even learned how to pronounce his name in Polish! There were two old friends involved in organizing who helped me before and during. There were a couple familiar faces in the audience who came to say hi before the session. There was a vconnecting session right after and people responding to my keynote. It was… Wonderful. I felt I was there. I heard others and I was heard. I was a human with an almost-body there.

And this, which she is quoting from her book:

When you realise that the apparently open spaces of academic gatherings are restricted, you notice the restriction: you also notice how those restrictions are either kept out of view or defended if they come into view

She goes on to critique open calls that are really not open at all.
She writes later,

If privilege means going the way things are flowing, then letting things flow, will mean that’s who ends up going.

And this

I express a sense of what is lost when academic gatherings are restricted to certain kinds of bodies

I will stop here. But someday I’ll come back to this again

August 8, 2018
by Maha Bali

Using Mozilla’s Internet Health Report for a class assignment

Reading Time: 1

I am so in love with the Internet Health Report 2018.

There are links to key categories and each link takes you to a description of the issue and several articles that give context and detail. Topics are privacy, openness digital inclusion, decentralization and web literacy

My idea would be for groups of students to choose one of the categories, and depending on group size, read a number of the articles there and present to class. A further step would be to read more articles on the topic and/or produce some kind of artifact to explain the issue to others.

August 8, 2018
by Maha Bali

Using the Audrey Test for a class project

Reading Time: 1

I was re-reading the Audrey Test which Audrey Watters wrote to guide critical questions around #edtech.

My original idea was to use it in my class as a group project where different students worked on different questions (of the extended not main questions) early on in a new equity in edtech course I am designing- because it goes all the way towards learning about learning theories as well as asking questions about tech. Instead of teaching all these things, different pairs/teams would work on questions then share with the larger group. Presentations and discussions, then maybe then produce as a class an OER on the topic?

My second thought was for a project for students to apply the Audrey test to a tech company or app. I am unsure if this is actually doable, but Remi and Nate tell me have taken the Audrey test

Funny thing is how Audrey finishes her blogpost as if it really is a test or assignment before reminding us it is more important to keep asking and discussing questions than to answer them. I may ask students to add their own questions to the Audrey test and call it something more contextual…based on maybe how we know Egypt uses edtech or something…

August 3, 2018
by Maha Bali

Did You Discover @VConnecting (included the text this time)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I accidentally published this post missing any body text. So I’m just editing it now and trying to recall all I had written. Thanks to Joe, Chuck and Rissa for alerting me.

My almost 7yo asked me the other day, “Did you discover Virtually Connecting?” and I figured she was going through that phase where you don’t know how to ask if someone made sthg vs discovered it. So I said “I started/invented it with Rebecca”. I hope she doesn’t think I invented web conferencing or Google hangouts… I think she generally gets the main value of connection behind vconnecting and as some ppl noticed today, she knows the difference between a live session on YouTube versus a friendly off air chat. She even knows where to look to find out if we are off air and she knows I am often the one controlling when we get off air.

Anyways. It was cool to feel that my kid sensed I had a leadership role in initiating something that’s important to me and my contribution to my community…. But it also got me thinking about the question itself.

Every now and then I wonder if vconnecting is going to fade away. I mean it is inevitable, right? But then almost always, someone who is relatively new to it says or does something that reminds me of its value. Or someone who knows it well reflects on its value anew. And even I sometimes discover something new about it to value.

For instance, I didn’t realize how nostalgic I was about #digped til I started organizing vconnecting for it…and a highlight for me was seeing my friend from AUC (but who’s been IN UK for several years now) sitting beside Sean Michael Morris. Even tho I saw Sean in 2016&2017 and Valentina earlier this year, seeing them both in one room was sooo special because Valentina was my only colleague at work fangirling Hybrid Pedagogy with me when I first discovered them… Before we became friends and I became part of the community.

Another one that really made a difference was my emergeafrica keynote. Both the response from fellow Africans and also the things people tweeted when I asked them what vconnecting was to them.. So many different angles!

And this by @sallyheroes

And this by @GardnerCampbell

And this recent conversation from #CLS2018 that somehow turned into a strategizing how to embed VC more fully into conferences (I only joined near the end. Must listen to it from beginning)

And u know just simply seeing onsite buddies (whom I always thought were generously doing us all a service – and they are) constantly saying how much they enjoyed it and how it added to their learning and conference experience and connections.

We still have a long way to go to make this a sustainable model that can grow without losing hospitality and humanity. But there are enough of us willing to try and it’s gonna be worth it inshallah

July 29, 2018
by Maha Bali

Where We Can Be Who We Are

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today I spent a big part of my day with someone really special. And something really interesting happened that was an important reminder of this one thing: where we can be who we are, our full selves, is different for different people.

Professionally speaking, I tend to be able to by my full self in writing, on my blog or on Twitter, and quite often on Virtually Connecting, but I am slightly less so in person. For a variety of reasons. I mean, I’m still me, I’m just not able to express it all as deeply or fully or something.

Today, I met someone in person with whom I had conversed very briefly online over the past year or so. And in one car ride she opened up to me about so much and then over the course of the day, I discovered so so so much we shared in common. Common values, discourses, aspirations and passions. And I felt like we had lost some opportunities to start these conversations online earlier… But it hit me that maybe not everyone would feel as comfortable making themselves that open in an online context. Or in a written medium.

This should not at all surprise me, of course. We all know the student who is a great writer but quiet in class, or the eloquent speaker who can’t express themselves well in writing. We all know that many people can’t connect, affectively or perhaps even intellectually, with others online, or do not find it as satisfying.

Maybe this all surprised me because this person learned about me by what I do and what I am online. Perhaps because she works in digital literacies and education stuff… And now that I know her, we share even more in common. But I made assumptions before meeting on how deep this relationship would go and I am so happy to realize I was wrong. And now I hope we can find a way to keep this going after she leaves now that we’ve established the face-to-face. Inshallah

This comes just a day before the start of Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute – where via Virtually Connecting (see schedule) I’ll be seeing many people I met last year f2f inshallah. Feeling sentimental and reminded again of the power of this combination of f2f and online to deepen and sustain intellectually satisfying relationships that also truly fill me with love and joy as well.

July 21, 2018
by Maha Bali

Parity of Participation vs Inclusion – Metaphors of Seats and Tables

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We had a really deep and thoughtful discussion today at #Wikimania in Cape Town – it was another of our hybrid conference sessions with a similar group of people we’ve been having throughout the year (people including Christian Friedrich, Taskeen Adam, Sukaina Walji, Rajiv Jhangiani – and multiple others who were not in every one of these). Anyway, today’s was entitled “Ubuntu for Who? Equity By Free Knowledge” (read the description and the provocations by Paul Prinsloo and Taskeen here). I want to reflect on a lot of things here, but I won’t have time right now for all of them.

For now, I want to unpack part of our conversation on how problematic the term inclusion is, and what about parity of participation as an alternative (which I read in ROER4D work or was it Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams work? or both?)

Anyway… first, there is a podcast I recorded recently with Greg Curran, which you can listen to here and he used a previous post I wrote on unpacking terms around equity, power and privilege (a really popular post over time, with many people). Among things I talk about (and was talked about in today’s session by others) is how inclusion implies power to invite. But how do you as a privileged person do better? Same issue with diversity used in tokenistic ways.

So I mentioned that in my keynote earlier this week at eMerge Africa (slides and video here) I talked about tables and chairs as metaphors of inclusion or what it can look like when we pretend to be inclusive but really are not. I used images which really helped open up the conversation and I think they’re a good metaphor… so I’m doing this here. As I post the images, I’ll comment on what it means to “include” in a hybrid conference conversation, too.

In my keynote, I showed this quote:
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” – Shirley Chisholm (first African-American woman elected to US Congress)

Courtyard Marriott – Pirate Theme Event – Feb 2015 – 26 flickr photo by FestivitiesMN shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

When I showed the above image, I asked “if someone invited you to pull a folding chair to this table, how would you feel?”. And participants looked at it and said “it’s too crowded”. We also talked about how uncomfortable and inferior a folding chair would feel beside this table of fancy chairs.

Later in the keynote I asked people whether vconnecting (or indeed a hybrid conference session) was an inferior seat at a pre-set crowded table… or was it creating a table with new rules, a parallel thing to a traditional conference?

But what about this option below, where everyone is in a different chair… that sounds like it’s easier to fit in no matter how you look.. since no one looks the same… Where all the misfits go? Where diversity is the rule?

flickr photo by Jen_Mo shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

or this one – where the chairs are a different color but have something in common… and are staring out at a lake in a relaxed atmosphere?

Lounging Muskoka Style flickr photo by `James Wheeler shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

or this campfire, so informal with people sitting around… but might be uncomfortable for some people who are afraid of the heat, of sitting too close to others, or who physically would struggle with sitting on the floor for example:

FS-wsmoot-20130810-023 – Version 2 flickr photo by worldscouting shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Today in the Wikimania session I felt the virtual folks quickly managed to have a deep conversation because many of us already followed each other on Twitter, and some of us had met f2f (in fact there was only one person I didn’t already know and only 3 I hadn’t met f2f… 2 ppl had met my kid f2f even). You can go really deep when you haven’t just met 30 minutes before a conversation. But also the really excellent provocations by Paul and Taskeen helped push the conversation deeper.

N.B. I’m not mentioning other names here or what they said coz folks in the session have not approved us to upload the video yet.

July 21, 2018
by Maha Bali

On Being African: Possible Class Activity

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I watched this video by Trevor Noah, reflecting on the reaction of the French ambassador to his joke about Africa winning the world cup.

It reminded me a lot of my recent blogpost (written while preparing for my Emerge Africa keynote, which I was doing while watching the World Cup final…) where I was reflecting on my intersectional/hybrid identity. He also talks about context – what it means for a French person to refer to the players as African vs what it means for an African to do so.

I have a sense it would make a really interesting class discussion… are there elements of our identity that cannot co-exist? Are there dimensions of ourselves that society encourages us to suppress, hide, deny, in order to fit in with others? For example, are Christians in Egypt better off naming themselves non-Christian names (religion-neutral names) in order to fit in? what about Muslims in the West, naming themselves common names like Adam and Nora and Sarah rather than something that is clearly Arabic like Omar or Mohamed… and I hope students will bring up some of their own stories and reflections.

N. B. ADDED later. Someone tagged me as liking my response to the video. Thru that, I saw some other responses to the original video, so I will add those to my class as well

I think it’s a good starting point to understanding different approaches to immigration that are integrationist (US) vs assimilationist (France) and how it all looks different if you look at it from a postcolonial or African perspective. I think all Western (previously colonial, currently neocolonial) states fail at this along racial and cultural lines. And i think Egypt fails along religious and refugee lines. The latter is harder to discuss.

I am wondering if I should encourage students to look up multiple viewpoints on this one, recognizing that perhaps, as Africans, we get Trevor Noah better, but that we may not get the French players with African roots better. Or whether I want to delve into Egyptian applications of hybridity than get too deep into this particular issue.

July 15, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

On Being African (and other things) ahead of @emergeAfrica

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I give a keynote at the e/Merge Africa conference in a couple days inshallah (Tues July 17 at 2pm South Africa time, noon GMT) – slides open for comment a couple of blogposts ago.

I was watching Tutaleni Asino’s keynote from last week… And in it he talks about how he will say “African” even though he would usually be against such generalizations about the diversity of the continent and its (sub) cultures. And its different experiences of colonization and so much more.

I was reminded of an article Laura Czerniewicz (another keynote speaker at this event) had shared a few weeks ago tagging me: questioning how African North Africa is. It reminded me of a lot of discussions about identity I have had. If asked about my identity, which elements would I consider most important? Culturally and geographically I am all these things: Egyptian, Muslim, Arab, African. All of them. I’ve been to many Arab/Muslim countries but never any other African country or Muslim non-Arab country. What do I really know about Africa beyond Egypt, when we are all the way up in the North East corner and surrounded by Arab neighbors and Mediterranean which also adds to our culture which is v closely linked with (especially) Turkey but also Greece and Italy (with many Alexandrians having Greek and Italian ancestors and so many Egyptians in general having close Turkish ancestors including me on both sides of my family and my husband on his. This is, like, typical).

In some ways Egypt is so completely different from all Arabs and all Africans. Pharaonic history with agriculture and writing and science and all that (so not nomadic like Arabia, but I guess the phonecians and Babylonians had writing and agriculture before we all shared the Arabic language.

Egypt has been invaded so much in its history. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, French, English. I guess the Arabs brought their language and religion and those remain.

Let me say this… I’m half watching the World Cup final as I write this. When there are Olympic games… Here’s what happens. When Kenya wins, I’m African. When Pakistan wins, I’m Muslim. When Jordan wins, I’m Arab. When Egypt wins, I cry. So… Clearly… I intellectually belong to all but emotionally, Egypt is different. But I was born and grew up in Kuwait and I feel extreme affection and belonging to Kuwait. I had British schooling (most of my k-12 and all my graduate work) so, intellectually, I cannot say my mindset and culture are fully Egyptian/Kuwaiti/Arab/Muslim. My brain is a hybrid of those cultures. And my bachelor’s and full time work and teaching has been at American institutions… And my Mid-Atlantic English accent leans more towards an American one (influence of pop culture not education). While living in Kuwait, I had many very close friends from Pakistan. One of my best friends to this day is Pakistani. Some of my close friends online are from everywhere in the world – yes many a are Americans, British, European, Turkish (I separated British and Turkish from European, see?) men and women, of different colors, different sexuality… All my South African friends are white or Asian (another diversity being generalized) for some reason. Perhaps the only things in common with my online friends is we’re all in education in some way, on social media, and probably mostly liberal in our politics.

I’ve lived in the US and UK for around a year each and I didn’t have any extreme cultural clashes. I made friends with other Egyptians but I also had a strong affinity with Arabs and Muslims and Africans. When in the US, I read a lot of novels about Indians and Pakistanis and Afghans who lived in America because they resonated so deeply with my experience.

But you know something. As a person, I think very much of my identity as a woman, as a mom, as an ALT-academic, as a semi-privileged person, marginal yet powerful in online and offline spaces. As a critical pedagogue. As a human who realizes every day that not all humans are treated the same and that while my own suffering is different from others, that I care about what we have in common and what we don’t.

I’m an extreme extrovert who loves to write and speak and isn’t afraid to show emotions and fall in love with people and their hearts and minds. And that sometimes is all that makes the difference in my interactions. Sometimes I’m nothing but a mom. Or nothing but a wife. Or nothing but a daughter. Or nothing but a friend.

So yeah. I mean, we can’t generalize about Africa. I share some things w South Africa but not apartheid history. I share some things w Tunisians but I don’t actually understand their Arabic dialect. I share a lot with Sudan but more with Jordan even though Egypt and Sudan used to be one country. I was born and raised in Kuwait but share more with third culture kids than I do with Kuwaitis…

And I’m thinking that vconnecting matters to people who are marginal in different ways: women, people from emerging economies, unaffiliated academics, graduate students, people with health problems, visa problems, ALT-academics… And those who just have dissenting views or care to listen to marginal voices.

Gonna stop now 🙂

Oh and who am I supporting in the world cup? They’re both great. I support France coz of all the African-origin players (let us have this) but I also support Croatia as a really brilliant underdog this entire tournament. P. S. When France won they played a Cheb Khaled song C’est la vie … So…. NORTH African singer. Ha. Algerian like Mbappe’s mom!

July 14, 2018
by Maha Bali

On Western vs Imperial Knowledge

Reading Time: 4 minutes

While working with a group of wonderful educators on a conference workshop, Sukaina Walji shared this wonderful article by Raewyn Connell on decolonizing curriculum. I remember at the time tweeting many parts of it, but now re-reading it, I feel the need to blog some quotes and thoughts to enable me to keep coming back to it.

One of the most important distinctions the article makes is that the significant critique of power in the state of knowledge is not so much that it is Western as that it is Imperial, in the sense of having been built during colonial expansion. It is interwoven with the knowledge of the colonized but organized and legitimated and given power and privilege by the colonizers.

The basic problem in the coloniality of knowledge is not a clash of cultures, but the operation of social power. It is power that has allowed unequal appropriations of knowledge, and marginalization of other knowledge formations. Shaped into the hegemonic curriculum in a selective education system, it also delivers privilege. Thus higher education has been connected with wealth and poverty, gender, racial divisions and language – all around the world. The growth of a ruthless transnational capitalism, abetted by neoliberal state elites, is making this worse.

The basic problem in the coloniality of knowledge is not a clash of cultures, but the operation of social power. It is power that has allowed unequal appropriations of knowledge, and marginalization of other knowledge formations. Shaped into the hegemonic curriculum in a selective education system, it also delivers privilege. Thus higher education has been connected with wealth and poverty, gender, racial divisions and language – all around the world. The growth of a ruthless transnational capitalism, abetted by neoliberal state elites, is making this worse.

I think of the historical role of Arabs/Muslims… Themselves at one point colonizers. We (Arabs/Muslims) take pride in the ways in which Muslims took past knowledge from Greeks and Romans and translated it and made it accessible in modern languages and extended it. Which was then used by Europeans. I guess both what the Arabs did and what the Europeans did is imperialistic? I don’t know enough about either to be sure. The author here writes of knowledge produced in the Islamic Golden age in a positive connotation, even though at the time, this knowledge came from the dominant majority and not the colonized. I guess it’s also important to recall Bhabha’s point about hybridity. The colonized are no longer coming from a pure culture we can separate out and “return” to. We are already hybrid and the concern is not to return to some pure form of indigenous culture (i don’t even know what that means in Egypt which is historically such a mix of cultures) but to ensure our hybridity is reflected in our approach to knowledge, neither eschewing the dominant and colonial (for it offers social mobility and power) nor more local knowledge (which is harder to gain and maintain but we should strive towards bringing it forward).

Despite the superficiality of my historical knowledge… I can say for sure that it’s not the use and expansion of knowledge that is the problem, but rather the use of particular forms of knowledge to assert and exert power and exacerbate inequality that is the problem. Connell continues:

The hegemonic curriculum has also, paradoxically, been a means of social mobility, and many challenges to privilege. Research-based knowledge demands critique of received ideas. Universities are privileged institutions but surprisingly often have been sites of dissent against state, church and corporate elites.

I also found this part really relevant

In an education oriented to democracy, all learners are advantaged, not disadvantaged, by others’ success in learning. And that is only likely to happen through curriculum that emphasises shared knowledges and cooperative learning.

Much of the way education is organized around individual achievement makes inequality almost inevitable. It is in some people’s advantage to be differentiated from others, whether that privilege is earned or automatic because of cultural and social capital of school fitting well with their (dominant) identity and social standing.

I am always reminded of Shor and Freire’s book Pedagogy of Liberation, where they emphasize the importance of learning both the dominant and non-dominant cultures, and of learning to be critical of both, rather than privileging one over the other. Edward Said refused to work with Palestinian leaders to create a nationalistic curriculum because it is not the answer,but rather an unproductive (though understandable) reaction to coloniality.

I keep thinking about how so much of what we see as problematic concepts in cultures outside our own, can both have resonance in our own culture but with a contextual twist, or end up being worth considering even if foreign. For example, the practice of democracy in Western politics seems highly problematic to me (and I guess not really democratic in the sense of truly sharing power) but the practice in my own country and region is obviously nowhere near ideal and quite oppressive. But Islam has a notion of “Shura”, which is about how decisions should be discussed among the people and not made only be leaders or those in power. Achieving this (if it gets practiced at all) may look different from democracy, but the idea of sharing power exists. When teaching young people about such notions, it matters that they learn both the Western way which is currently dominant and being applied (and its critiques) and to know that one’s own culture carries similar ideas, how they intersect and differ, and the critiques of the theory and the practice. I think in some ways, social action is very difficult to cultivate if one always feels like knowledge is something important from outside. Which is how much of education would be if we don’t stop and do something about it.

I’ll give a quick example before I end this. So much of the critiques of digital platforms and how they use and abuse our data comes from the West. So much of it does not resonate with me because political surveillance seems so much more dangerous than platform capitalism. I realized that Zeynap Tufecki’s critiques here resonate the most with me, because she connects both, bridges East(ish) and West, and it appears clearer to me when she talks about it from her background as a Turkish academic, not just a Western(based) one.

July 8, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

Upcoming Keynote #emergeafrica (recording available)

Reading Time: 1

**Note: this blogpost is updated with slides and video recording at bottom**

I have a keynote coming up for emerge Africa’s online conference called Festival of e-learning… and it is the first time I decide to just talk about Virtually Connecting in a keynote. I never did before for several reasons:

  1. Vconnecting is not mine alone and never was. So it feels like I should always be co-presenting it
  2. Vconnecting is my baby (conceived and nurtured in community) so it feels like bragging

But I decided to break my rule for this conference because it’s a conference focused on Africa and I felt like it is worth sharing a model of open practice that was co-founded by an African…me.

But I am still hung up on it not being about me…so I put out a call on Twitter because I wanna hear what it is for others and to incorporate that into my talk. I will also cite existing blogposts of course!

If you’d like to participate, here is the Twitter call and thanks in advance:

My slides are ready – embedded below and open for comment

Keynote recording available on YouTube here:


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

Join other followers: