Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Four finds today: goals, whys, Ubuntu & purpose


I’ve had an extremely inspiring day on the web today* and I just needed to write and share these inspiring thoughts, will keep them brief for now:

Michael Weller’s blog post reflecting on the last week of #clmooc changing goals. It made me realize that we need to explicitly value something more than just student-created goals (important as this is, revolutionary as it is) – we need to also let students know that it’s ok to be flexible about goals, to change them as they grow, and also to manage expectations and sometimes adapt them. Being a mom has taught me that a lot, but so has being a teacher. It might be important, I think, to also help students, to support them, in thinking through managing expectations and goals, and how this might hopefully help them maintain balance but also satisfaction in their lives.

Ubuntu: I received an extremely inspiring comment (made my year, i think!) on an earlier blogpost by someone I never met: Sally, and I learned several important things from her. First, I learned the value of a heartfelt comment on a blogpost by a stranger. I’ve received wonderful comments before on my blog or on my peer-reviewed or other publications, but to know how your writing is impacting a complete stranger? It was amazing. So I checked out her blog and learned about Ubuntu (Zulu word, I believe) which means, from Sally’s blog:

Stephen Lundin: “Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual.”

She also cites Desmond Tutu:

A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole…

Do you see how this concept (probably quite old?) fits well with the ideas of open and connected education? I am amazed, and it draws me to realize how much we have to learn from other cultures… That maybe some ideas seem new to us because Anglo culture/education has for so long been focused on competition and individualism (I put myself within Anglo culture because as an Egyptian who grew up in Kuwait, I am still highly Western educated – school through PhD – and living in a country whose horrible education system still bears the brunt of what colonial forces made it into, something even worse than the colonizer’s own education, promoting more obedience and less questioning). The ideas of open and connected learning seem new, innovative, while all they really are, is the social media, digital form of ‘ubuntu’ – right? I’d need to unpack this concept and study it more critically. Maybe it promotes conformity, for example, is hierarchical, i don’t know. But what I read so far, I like, and the way Sally tries to embody those ideals in her blog is inspiring (Sally if you’re reading this, I hope you join #ccourses).

Speaking of… Asking “Why” (this is the intro to unit 1 of #ccourses, probably written by Mike Wesch, someone i am dying to talk to about digital ethnography) – I always struggle to help other educators think of what is really important about their course instead of focusing on just the content or how they’re delivering it. That post does a great job of briefly urging educators to ask “why” questions that dig deep into their core reasons for doing what they do teaching what and how they teach, by starting with the WHY… Which leads me to…

Finally, I just finished read Gardner Cambell’s blogpost From Open to Connected for #ccourses and I am so in love with what he’s written and how he wrote it. I love how he takes it from talking about open, to opening and that a course should not just be open, but opening. It really resonated with me when he talked about how the paradigm of openness and connectedness is the reason he became a professor. I think for me, too, it’s the reason I became an educator, and finding a community of people with these ideals in the past year has transformed my life and given me hope – we need that kind of community support in our struggles as educators who want something more than what institutional structures and societal boundaries have been allowing us to do.

So thank you Michael Weller for reminding me that our goals can and should remain flexible, because as Mike Wesch writes, the “why” is the most important starting point, and I would change me goals, my method, my everything, to meet the “why”. Thanks to Sally and Gardner for helping me think through “why” open and connected education matter to me. That’s why I’m in #whyopen and #ccourses and so excited to be here 🙂

* (which is really cool when you wake up to no water and multiple electricity cuts, which caused the water problem btw, but are lucky enough to have your toddler nap for 3 hours while electricity did NOT cut- cyberheaven)*


  1. Hi Maha,
    I second your comments about Gardner Campbell’s post for the upcoming #ccourses. I read it as well, and am really looking forward to it! Not only for the great conversations that I’m sure will come out of it, but I am hoping to be able to (someday!) teach a course using open and connected principles. Thanks for the post. I really enjoy reading your blog, and thinking about your comments.

  2. And I have been inspired by the curation of your inspirations! What a powerful list. I think I mentioned that we are open to having people jump in to look back across the #clmooc to see how it and the learning pathways within it emerged. Let me know if you are interested. It is definitely going to entail digital ethnography, visual rhetorical analysis, and all the awesome emerging methods of analysis it sounds like interest you. More on it here (questions at the bottom of the post):

    • Hey Anna, yes, you tagged me on this on facebook and I am definitely VERY interested! Will continue this conversation privately to let you know my thoughts…

  3. And I am happy that I succeeded in making you happy because of my comment. 🙂

    I am also pleased that you like my blog and the Ubuntu concept. I like how you related it to nowadays social media. It makes sense to me. I realized that it is very true that history repeats itself – may be in different ways. I guess sometimes we are repeating what our ancestors had done in the past with adding some innovations (apparently, not all the times).
    And you hit the spot, what I am really trying to do through my blog is to create an un-individualized community of learning without the competitive feeling of “ I know more, then I am better.” , but rather a community whose members cooperate to benefit each other ( as teachers – the integral tools in education) to positively participate in students’ learning…. a community with members who define themselves with how many students they could light their lives up – directly or through other teachers.
    The second reason is that I strongly believe that complete intellect and creativity in this world cannot belong to one person only. So if we want to develop professionally for our students’ benefit, we should cooperate –each with his/her potential.

    As for #ccourses, I like the idea of the first unit … It is very inspiring (especially for me now, as I am planning for the new academic year). A friend of mine once told me that teachers spend the first part of their teaching experience trying to master “what” they teach and the second part trying to excel in “how” they teach it and the third part – if they are not burnt-out and considering quitting by now – they tend to think about the philosophy behind what they have been doing throughout their lives so they ask “Why”. I second what was mentioned in #ccourses that it is important to figure out the answer of “Why” first to better answer the rest of the questions. I am very interested to take such a journey … At the end of the day, it is our eye for the details that distinguish our reflection.

  4. Actually, I think you were the one who reminded me about goals being flexible, because I hadn’t really considered the idea in those terms till you wrote about it here and on my blog. 🙂

    I especially like this:

    “It might be important, I think, to also help students, to support them, in thinking through managing expectations and goals, and how this might hopefully help them maintain balance but also satisfaction in their lives.”

    It’s a challenge for me to help students monitor and reflect on their goals – I suppose we could call it an “area for growth” – and I’m thinking about what the idea you’ve expressed would look like in my classroom. Maybe writing about my struggles to strike a balance in my own life is a starting point?

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