Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Private & Tangential Behind Public & Open

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Seeing this 2015 re-cap by Jesse Stommel prompted this post. I write my own for my blog and for my annual faculty report for work, but somehow never feel I write them thoroughly enough. I will explain why in a minute.

In Jesse’s post he lists his publications and some of his achievements and changes in his life in 2015. In it, he refers to our co-authored #moocmooc prompt (on feminist critical pedagogy, published in January) as one of his personal favorites of the year.

Here’s what I want to say: I don’t know why that is one of Jesse’s personal favorites but it’s one of mine NOT because of the final product, but because of everything that took place behind the scenes that others cannot see in the final product. I loved the conversations behind the scenes that had nothing directly to do with the article but which brought Jesse and I closer to each other. There were emotional moments, intellectually stimulating moments, mild frustration, sharing of confidences, real life interfering and what I think resulted in a building of trust between Jesse and myself – which I value so much more than the actual article, beautiful as it may be.

Not every collaboration between two people results in this. Sometimes collaborations bring you closer and sometimes they push you apart as you struggle to work together. But in all cases you learn a lot.

To this day, I cannot believe how tenure committees devalue multi-authored work. I mean, I understand the concern regarding slackers and names being included in articles proof did not work for. Believe me I know firsthand from not my own work but work of others in public universities in Egypt that is exactly like that.

But this ignores what happens when people really Do collaborate. The personal development of the scholar, whether the collaboration goes well or doesn’t – it’s like group work in our teaching. There is value in learning to work together, whether or not it goes smoothly (you learn a lot when it doesn’t go smoothly) and whatever the quality of the final product.

So I published a lot of collaborative papers this year. I also worked on a lot of stuff that got rejected. My university asks us to report on grants that we wrote that didn’t get accepted. It doesn’t tell us what to do with articles that got rejected (ultimately, I think we will eventually publish them somewhere or other, so I guess that’s something, but the actual process of editing an article to make it publishable and the getting up after an awfully critical peer review? Those are major achievements that we don’t usually write about).

And then there are all the people who barely get mentioned in acknowledgements, if at all, who are part of our thinking behind what we do.

Thinking about virtually connecting. I love of course the product of this that you all see in the recorded videos. What you don’t see? How my relationship with Rebecca developed while creating this. The amazing encouragement from Whitney Kilgore that helped Rebecca and I take this beyond one conference (and the resistance by other people that we overcame). What you don’t see is the legwork and networking and really hard work that goes into inviting onsite speakers and getting things set up and getting the word out and inviting virtual participants. You don’t see our beautiful Slack group where we have amazing discussions. You don’t see the “off air” convos before and after a session that make it work better. You don’t see how we build relationships with conference organizers to help make this better. You don’t see how we re-cap and discuss what doesn’t go well. All of this is amazing learning and lots of important relationship building that is invisible to most people but matters so much to me. And there’s nowhere to really write about it properly (well, except here).

I think about a collaboration like DigiWriMo and how Chris Friend caught onto the process of our work together (Kevin, Sarah and me) and made it into something explicit by chatting with us about it in his podcast (which he considers one of HIS favorites – and funnily enough the backstory and process behind THAT one is interesting too! Very meta). I guess the #rhizo14 untext was one such attempt to make a private collaboration public.

So here’s the thing. When designing an open online experience – how do we encourage the private and tangential? When designing my own courses f2f even, how do I encourage the off-topic? Because it’s the off-topic that often helps the most in building relationships and taking something from being more than just about creating a product and into something more sustainable and long-term. And it’s often the private that drives the public.

I haven’t blogged in nearly two weeks. I was partly busy with family, partly realizing no one would read coz of holidays but mostly? I have been doing a lot of private writing that you won’t read yet. Some of it collaborative and some not.

Which reminds me – I need to write about how I created a student project where I did not grade the PRODUCT at all. I only graded the process. Seriously. Will write about this very soon inshallah

2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this Maha, what I think you point to, and which I would heartily like to endorse is the acknowledgement of all the invisible work that is needed to make collaboration work, to make partnerships work, to make groups work….the checking, and replying, and confirming and negotiating and confirming and working around and repeating and setting up and affirming and compromising and checking etc…..and all of that invisible is simply not considered. Just because it is invisible doesn’t mean it is not happening. In fact we should always assume that when good collaboration is happening loads of invisible work must be inevitably taking place. So here is to acknowledging it!

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