Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

fish and corrals in the red sea

September 12, 2018
by Maha Bali

Join Us for #UnboundEq Twitter Scavenger Hunts – Sept 17 & 20

Reading Time: 1

If you only have time to participate in a one-hour fun intercultural learning experience, and make my students *very* happy… It’s time for another Twitter Scavenger Hunt fun connecting 🙂 This semester, I’m doing it as part of Equity Unbound (an equity-focused open connected intercultural learning experience I’m co-facilitating with Catherine Cronin and Mia Zamora – across our classes but also openly for any other educators or students to join in).

We have included the description of the hunt activities here and will be using the #unboundeq hashtag as part of the conversation also.

Mine is up first, Monday, September 17 at 10am Cairo (8 GMT, 9 BST), Mia’s at 5pm EDT and Catherine’s on Thursday Sept 20. Timezone conversions for all of these can be found here. I’m happy we are doing several of these because it means that folks who miss out on mine can join another one (including my own students who miss class that day!)

Header image: fish and corrals in the red sea, taken by me in Sharm El Sheikh, this summer.

September 11, 2018
by Maha Bali
1 Comment

On Gatekeeping and Bias in Peer Review #PeerReviewWeek18

Reading Time: 1

The editor of a journal (on whose editorial board I am) recently emailed me thanking me personally for my thorough review. Because people rarely take the time to do that anymore. I can relate. I have reviewed papers really thoroughly only to find another reviewer just ticking all the boxes and offering no comments.

I recently tweeted this:

This comes ahead of a lightning talk I am going to be giving on Twitter/Periscope Tues Sept 11 at 5pm UK time (4 GMT) which I plan to focus on academic gatekeeping and bias in peer review.

Some questions I plan to pose

  1. Who decides who gets to be on an editorial board?
  2. What kind of power do editorial board members have?
  3. How do editors choose reviewers? What happens to radical thinkers and researchers?
  4. Who chooses CfPs? Can CfPs themselves perpetuate bias and gatekeeping? Indeed, who peer reviews the CfPs?
  5. The differences in power and values between double blind, single blind and open peer review (I wrote about this here). Open supportive peer review seems like the more ethical choice perpetuating constructive relationships to advance the field via conversation rather than antagonism.
  6. Do journals offer training or any prof dev for peer reviewers to encourage more thoughtful reviewing? Hybrid PED trained us on supportive open peer review.

Gosh will I manage this in 10 minutes?

I did it in 6. Here is the video. Feel free to tweet questions to #PeerReviewWeek18 and tag @bali_maha

Also see the open access version of my article advocating for open peer review


P.S. Victoria Okoye shared this useful thread with me and I want to save it here

September 11, 2018
by Maha Bali

#UCe-Lab webinar: Critical Digital Citizenship

Reading Time: 1

Cheryl Brown (South African colleague currently in NZ at U of Canterbury) recently invited me to give a talk to folks at her institution around the topic of critical digital citizenship (based around my ideas of emhasizing empathy and social justice as I wrote here and here).

I just finished doing it today, from 7-8am my time. I was honestly kinda worried I would not be fully awake at this time, and so I prepared a few slides with some theory and models and such on them, in case I wasn’t able to focus fully on the fly 🙂 Thankfully, the group were AWESOME and the dialogue was fruitful and led us in different directions that were all relevant and I felt useful for all our learning. I really appreciate it when there is a small group who are willing to interact and bring in their own thought and experiences into a conversation. It makes it richer for all of us, and I learned a lot and enjoyed the conversation very much.

I’m posting my slides here, but believe me, the conversation was worth so much more than anything I posted on the slides. I think we stayed on the first 4 or 5 slides for 80% of the time and I just whizzed through the last ones 🙂 So I’m posting them in case folks find them helpful.

P.S. for some odd reasons, Google Drive won’t let me convert it easily to a Google Slide, so I could not embed it (no time to discover the problem) but I promise they are publicly accessible 🙂


September 10, 2018
by Maha Bali

My #ALTCV for #UnboundEq

Reading Time: 1

I used to have an Alternative CV… back when Sarah, Kevin and I created the activity for #DigiWriMo… but since then, Tackk (where I created it) has closed down and poof… it’s now gone. Which is just as well, so I had to create a new one and it has some things in common, but some quite different things… like the Uncommon Women coloring book 🙂

So I’ve posted it in my #ALTCV page under my portfolio (link to instructions for creating an #ALTCV here), but I’m also going to embed it here for faster access to #UnboundEq folks – so I’m doing this with my class and anyone else who’s following us for #UnboundEq introduction theme starting this week 🙂 (check out the kick-off post we just published)

I am using the new WordPress Gutenberg editor which I’m still not used to, so I had to actually struggle to find the html editor (called “code” editor… why???) from the three dots at the top right – to embed the code for that Google slide. It is annoying me so far, but it does have a cool little feature that makes it easier to move blocks of text around… still not finding anything else that is particularly impressive about it, though.

September 7, 2018
by Maha Bali

Invitation: Launching @unboundeq with @miazamoraphd and @catherinecronin

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is an open invitation to come and join us for Equity Unbound:)

You may have seen the hashtag #unboundeq on Twitter or seen us tag the account or link to our website:

What is it?

Equity-focused, open, connected learning intercultural experiences…anyone can dip in and out, or do them all!


I have been involved in a heck of a lot of intercultural learning and it rarely makes use of the potential of open, connected learning and intentionally focuses on equity while developing digital literacies.


Mia Zamora, Catherine Cronin and I all share this common interest in all these things, and we assume many people in our PLN (and beyond) also do. So we thought of creating a set of activities around such themes, and using the activities across our different classes. Much of this is stuff we would already do in our own classes anyway, but there were possibilities to do these openly and collaboratively. Feel free to jump in, or do offline versions of these, or any combination of the two.

Right now, the website is emergent (will continue to be so!) but we have a skeleton of weeks, themes and possible activities and are building those up as we go. Check out the themes and dates on our website.

Activities include reflective blogging, annotation, multimedia making and Twitter conversations as well as live studio visits with guests.


Starting Sept 9 up until mid-December. Though of course you can use any of the activities any time that suits you!

Who Can Join?

Anyone 🙂 If you are an educator you can join as yourself at any time; or you can invite high school, undergrad or grad students (let us know if doing so) or even other educator colleagues.

How Do I Join?

You can currently subscribe for email updates if you like that kind of approach. Or follow us on Twitter @unboundeq

Soon, we will include forms for adding your blog to be aggregated/syndicated on our site, and opportunities to add your own activities to the list.

Header image source: CC0 by Gordon Johnson (Pixabay)

September 1, 2018
by Maha Bali

Going for 80% at 20%

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I might be really weird or immature, but my main reaction to becoming ill was not to relax and slow down, but rather to push myself to keep living my life as if everything is normal. But it is not.

I am basically at somewhere between 10-50% of my normal energy and ability level (at about 20% these days) but trying to be at around 80% of myself as a parent and as a professional.

Granted, my normal is not 100%. It is more like 120% so this is much less than I would normally do still.

Part of me refuses to rest my body when I could be out doing things with or for my child. The end result, though, is that I get extremely exhausted really fast. Every day. And then my temper kicks in. And I feel like I have already tried so hard and I reach my limit and that is it.

Thing is, I feel like if I did less, I would get depressed. And I need not to go there. On a professional level, as soon as I went down from 9/10 pain levels to 3/10 I committed myself to a crazy amount of work that I did not need to commit to (peer-reviewed writing when i am not on tenure track). I did it for professional affirmation. And because i kept getting invited and i did not wanna let my illness limit me. So this ends up creating more stress for me in an already stressful time of lots of changes for my child (that are physically and emotionally draining already).

I write this and I know I have no intention of slowing down.

One obvious change in my life and energy levels is that I sleep more. I can do much less when awake. I need to walk slower. I get tired faster. My hands hurt after typing for a bit or holding my phone to talk. My brain is often in a *fog* that I cannot exactly describe or explain. I get sick more often than usual (my usual is very rarely). I have weird side effects from meds that I ignore then when I voice them to my medical family I discover I need to check them out. I know exercise should help me but I am too exhausted to do that now.

And yet my social and intellectual needs are the same and my emotional needs have increased – though I have told no one of this up until this moment. I don’t know if anyone would understand and I don’t know why I am writing about it publicly now.

I know I am much better off than many people and that I am lucky I got this now rather than when my child was younger and physically needed me more.

August 22, 2018
by Maha Bali

Designing a New Course on Equity, Ethics in #edtech

Reading Time: 5 minutes

(Note i keep updating this post)

I was kinda waiting to get a clearer picture of what I wanna do in this course, but what the heck? Since when do I share fully complete and polished ideas? Every single time I share half-formed ideas, I get excellent feedback and I am gonna do that now, too, especially that I already mentioned this on Twitter.

So my uni put out a call for folks to develop interdisciplinary courses for the core curriculum (liberal arts requirement) right after some students in my digital literacies course asked if they would find more courses taught by me. So I am considering designing a “capstone outside the major” course at the intersections of education and technology. Given my own background in computer science (especially neural networks aka machine learning) and grad studies in education and work in edtech, this feels like a course I could teach alone or with a smattering of guest speakers.

Now I don’t particularly feel like sharing the formal syllabus and learning outcomes right now, but I wanna brainstorm. I already shared a few assignment ideas which I’ll reiterate now.. but first, I gotta share this treasure trove of other people’s syllabi on ethics in edtech or similar. So so grateful this crossed my timeline:

Thanks to Catherine Cronin who I believe shared this entire thread with me and Mia Zamora (three of us are working on Equity Unbound this semester. Stay tuned for #Unboundeq and follow @UnboundEq and we will keep you posted).

Anyway…among the interesting courses with interesting resources are

    Possible Titles (votes please)

    1. Social Justice in Educational Technology
    2. Equity and Educational Technology: Issues in Social Media, Artificial Intelligence, and Access to Education
    3. Educational Technology: Equity issues in Social Media, Artificial Intelligence, and Access to Education
    4. Ethical issues in educational technology

    Possible Activities and Readings

    It always bothers me that syllabi clarify content more than process. Whereas often I am thinking more of how to teach than what to teach. The what is important, very important, but its importance stems from how it serves to model and serve the values of the course. Because this is a course about values above anything else.

    To do so, the content and activities need to promote thoughtful reflection and hopefully some kind of action (am struggling with the latter) and to connect to students’ own lives and interests, while also keeping them current on hot topics of the day. This means topics are likely to change over time and with each cohort, so I hesitate to keep the details in the title.

    The broad topics I am interested in (also because my students show interest in some of these) are

    • Artificial Intelligence and particularly social justice issues related to this. So the work of Safiyya Noble, Cathy O’Neill and some international Design Justice work which one of my Egyptian profs Nagla Rizk is involved in (important for me to bring in a more local perspective)
    • Critical perspectives on technological determinism/solutionism/neoliberalism particularly for developing/emerging economies. Examples are Warschauer’s work and Selwyn/Facer on digital divide
    • Critical perspectives on Open education and MOOCs. Lots of content here from folks in global South, e.g. ROER4D, A2K4D. Example of OER readings on this are the ROER4D report, and several OA books with critical perspectives on open
    • Possibly also critiques of social media, particularly Zeynep Tufecki’s work

    But beyond the things we are critiquing, students have neither a background in social justice thinking nor in education. Nor actually in IT or comp sci (they will be from different majors), so I would probably want to expose them to ideas of

    • Equity literacy ( Gorski)
    • Social justice (Nancy Fraser?)
    • Social justice literacy (Sensoy and DiAngelo)

    And I need to keep this manageable for students who are engineers or otherwise not used to reading about social science. So no Marx or Foucault. Imho. Thinking now of podcasts that unpack these concepts. Perhaps the several Greg Curran did with educators on social justice.

    They also know little about education altogether. And I was thinking of how Audrey Watters’ Audrey test asks enough questions around pedagogy and ethics of edtech that if students did some research around her blogpost alone, they would learn a lot. If I break them up into groups doing some questions in depth and presenting to others, we could go really far. I described this idea here.

    I also have ideas of encouraging students to use open books related to edtech and pedagogy that I know are light reads. Like How People Learn, Open Faculty Patchbook, the HumanMOOC book edited by Whitney Kilgore, and Matt Crosslin’s book about teaching online. There are probably many more if I just let myself stop and think. Like Steve Wheeler once wrote brief posts about diff edu terms or theories. Do you have any suggestions?

    I would probably need a few guest speakers on topics from computer science like what IS AI? To things like discussing latest issues. Some of these may need to be virtual and some f2f.

    My thoughts on a lot of this is to give students lots of choices as to which books/articles to read and which topics to delve into long as

    A. They know a little about everything so they can make an informed choice

    B. They are constantly sharing back to the class.

    One way of kickstarting this is to use Mozilla’s Internet Health Report to open up some issues. I may use that this semester for my digital literacies course…but could do something deeper with the capstone class. I described my ideas here for a group project based on this.

    Another activity idea is to do a kind of “newswatch” where students curate edtech news somehow and report critically on it, whether on their own or by interviewing experts or colleagues. Perhaps even doing online interviews. Their news reports can be podcasts or written or video or whatever. If we rotate who gets to curate , maybe each pair can do a week, and we could end up with a newswatch magazine for the semester that can be useful for others in future (including my own class!)

    What I am struggling with

    I don’t know what to make the final project and what kind of actual real life experience students can have in the class. Difficult to give them access to real schools in Egypt to assess edtech use there. Could ask them to research and report on recent edtech initiatives in developing countries but it still sounds v theoretical and could be done with the newswatch assignment.

    I am increasingly feeling like I don’t like the idea of one big project at the end of a class but rather smaller cumulative work with different deadlines and a final reflection. But I don’t know if this would work for a capstone course even if it is mostly seminar style in class with lots of blogging and presentations.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Thanks in advance!!!


    N. B. Matt’s comment below reminded me I planned to ask students to try a MOOC all semester (any one of their choice) and reflect on it. Or an OER or follow a hashtag. And reflect both on What they learn and some meta reflections as well. That, i guess, can count as experiential….beyond what we learn ABOUT MOOCs/OERs, they get to experience it.

    August 13, 2018
    by Maha Bali

    To Be Known and Not Abused

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    You may remember that after 9/11, some women in the US who wore headscarves removed them to protect themselves from abuse in the streets.

    As someone who does not believe wearing a headscarf is “required” or an obligation in Islam, I choose to wear it anyway. I’ve written about that before and won’t repeat here.

    When I fear for my safety while traveling, I wear a hat or a wool cap sometimes and it helps. I occasionally wear a hoodie for vconnecting sessions just coz I’m already at home wearing it so I just cover my head with it instead of getting a scarf. I noticed my friend Parisa Mehran does both these things. She is from Iran but lives in Japan.

    She sent out a thread of tweets today describing her experience with Virtually Connecting (you will see how her tweets triggered my post about headscarves in a minute) :

    And in that moment I remembered the value of a totally secular reason why I continue to wear hijab. I wear it mainly for religious reasons. But u also wear it to remind myself not to be vain. And to keep a part of my identity clearly Muslim/Arab. Parisa’s tweet made me realize how… I could have been the same me, doing all I do, facing all my challenges and finding ways to overcome obstacles, and yet if I wasn’t wearing a headscarf on the vconnecting Twitter account photo, she would not have had that immediate moment of recognition and imagined herself in this.

    It will never be my main reason for wearing it, but I am grateful for that photo and the powerful effect it had. (also when I present about vconnecting I like using photos that show the diversity of people who participate… So not just people who look like me….).

    Anyway. Back to the title of this post. There are two verses in the Quran only that mention anything about women’s clothing. One mentions covering bosoms with scarves (no mention of heads specifically, tho it is said the garment referred to is already a headscarf and the new thing was covering bosoms) and the other refers to wearing longer gowns. The latter has an interesting “reason” for why it’s a suggestion that the prophet tell his wives and other Muslim women to do so. All the different translations are here. The crux of it is to dress this way “so that they be known and not abused”. This has many interpretations but I am particularly interested in two dimensions of it.

    The first is that, in the age we live in, wearing a headscarf is no guarantee of protection from abuse and of course, can be the opposite as my first paragraph shows. And is indeed why many choose not to wear it who live in non-Muslim countries.

    And yet it allows the Muslim woman to “be known”, and that in itself is a reason why many continue to wear it in non-Muslim countries. To find each other and recognize each other. In solidarity.

    And then for others to recognize us and choose to be allies… Like this

    I don’t wanna make this bigger than it is because I always felt people were overly obsessed with what women wear (in general). But I wanted to take a quiet moment and celebrate the moment Parisa became involved with vconnecting because it reminded us (as several of our team keep reminding me) of how what we do continues to resist exclusion and Gatekeeping in academic conferences (and borders).

    We are not more or less Muslim when we wear a headscarf of do not. But it does help us know/recognize each other… And that’s kind of a beautiful thing in itself.

    August 10, 2018
    by Maha Bali

    Reading a Graphic Novel with my Child

    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    I just read a Graphic Novel, Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier. It was such a great experience she looked forward to it every night and we finished 190+ pages in 3 nights. I tweeted about how this re-introduced intimacy in the night reading ritual (as she became a stronger reader, she missed the intimacy of me reading to her, but reading a Graphic novel together and switching roles made it a sort of shared and egalitarian experience).

    I think this approach to reading helped her read slightly above her reading level (because I was there the whole time and not just when she asked for help… And we got to discuss lots of the plot and pictures in the story.

    I still want her to enjoy reading on her own for reading’s sake, rather than as a social thing… But who am I kidding? As much as I love reading as a solitary activity, reading with others is its own joy… That’s why I love reading groups and book clubs and blogging and collaborative annotation. We can keep referring to things in the shared reading for days afterwards because we know we shared that experience and can build on that memory. It’s also like watching a movie together versus just watching it independently.

    Anyway. Just wanted to share that thought.

    And btw, she had seen my old Archie magazines and was curious about them… But i was hesitant because I no longer approve of the values/message (Archie double-timing Betty and Veronica). I say this, and I inherited my love of comics (Archie, MAD) from my dad, and he never censored my reading and I think I started close to my kid’s age. My mom never censored my reading when I started reading romance and thriller novels in my early teens before it was (imho) normal to do so. I used to read comics at bedtime, usually, even though I Al’s read longer stuff by from Roald Dahl, Famous Five, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High… And also more serious stuff 🙂 So it’s not that I didn’t read longer stuff… Just that comics helped build my love of reading and I could do it for HOURS.

    So..yeah…why not? I just need to see what she likes out there that isn’t Archie (and it’s such a waste because I have such a big collection of Archie, which also served to introduce me to American culture, I think, in ways she now gets from TV).

    I used to struggle to read Arabic comics as a kid because they used colloquial Arabic, which is usually not written, so I was not used to reading it. But now they’ve made most of it into modern standard Arabic, which is written but not spoken, and she isn’t familiar enough with it to actually enjoy reading it (also without the diatrics marks which tell u which vowel sound to use, which is how mature Arabic readers read but is really quite hard when you’re just starting). So doing it in Arabic might take a bit longer.

    Soooo question for you: which graphic novels would you recommend and comics, for a 7 year old who can possibly read something meant for an 8 year old or 9 year old with some help?


    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


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