Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Reflections on #DigPed – Part 1: Hybridity

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I’m still recovering from the emotionally overwhelming experience that was my US trip this year, which ended with one of the most important professional endeavors for me – Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in UMW.

Let me just say a few things for context. I went with my husband and daughter (nearly 6) and even though I wouldn’t have it any other way, this was an extremely difficult dynamic to handle. Extremely difficult despite how sociable my kid is and how much she loved interacting with my friends. Difficult despite how welcoming and accommodating everyone was (including days onsite when she came with me and I got help babysitting her – too many people to thank, I can’t even begin).

I also need to say it’s extremely difficult to travel for a work-related thing without a laptop. I was in Chicago for a week before UMW visiting family and it was difficult to work off my phone plus iPad (which I had hid in my checked luggage). For someone like me who does 90% of my work on my phone ANYWAY, I was surprised. Jesse lent me a laptop during the week I was in Fredericksburg and that helped a lot. It was a Mac and I’m not a Mac person. I can work on Macs, but they aren’t “home”, you know? 

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Kate Bowles and I developed (not entirely in a planned way) these two alliterations that describe how we were thinking about and framing intercultural learning, our #digciz week this summer and our #digped track:

  1. Hybridity, home, hospitality 
  2. Being, belonging, bridging

Been trying to organize my thoughts in order to blog them, and I think these alliterations (which map nouns to verbs btw) will help

Hybridity, being: Who I Was at #DigPed

I think one of the reasons I was emotionally overwhelmed was that I had several overwhelming roles at DigPed, intersecting in ways different from everyone else. Some roles I carry with me all the time, but not all people carry these roles when they go to professional events

  1. Mom. I had my kid with me. She’d be there mornings, evenings, and sometimes onsite during the event. I know being away from our kids doesn’t make life easy, either (which is why I take her with me when I can) but for an event of this intensity, where I was busy 90% of the time and not just presenting once or twice like regular conferences? It was… A bit much. It made it difficult to spend time with Kate preparing for the next day. Or with Chris to work on our keynote. For example 
  2. Wife. This meant compromises on what I could do when because another person had a right to decide what we as a family could do outside the event time limits. I often (selfishly) forget that until I face it
  3. Friend. So many friends. Some i was meeting for the first time f2f. A few I was meeting for the second time (Autumm, Rebecca, Sean, Jesse, Amy). That helped. That not everyone was new to me. But it was still overwhelming to meet so many close friends f2f for the first time and to be in close proximity with them for 5 whole days. Kate. Chris. Lora. Laura. Britni. Remi. George… I could go on and on. It was also overwhelming trying to figure out how to navigate the social. Between meeting new people and strengthening relationships with friends. Choosing whom to be with for lunch and dinner and even breakfast. It’s important to me that people know I value them and also that I stay open to getting to know people I am meeting for the first time ever. I somehow managed this. But it was overwhelming still. Even for a hyper extroverted person like me. Overwhelming. 

And those were the non-conference roles….then there were the conference roles

  1. Co-teacher of the Networks track with Kate. And I knew (and I was right) that being with Kate would be a calming thing. Even when she was jetlagged or angry about something or whatever – Kate is still a soothing presence. We have very different personalities but some common core values and beliefs about both intercultural interaction and about teaching. I don’t think I had ever before taught with someone who is as much (or even more) responsive to what learners/participants in the room want. This is not to say that we managed to meet expectations in the room. There are always dominant and outspoken voices in the room and others who don’t get heard as much. There are always people we manage to speak to and spend time with outside the official time together, and this influences our thinking. There are also a lot of personal internal factors that affect how we respond. So what I’m saying here is not about the outward behavior of our responsiveness (as I will always feel this is imperfectly and incompletely done) but of our intentionality and attempts to put it into practice within the constraints of… Everything. I have a lot of concrete examples here but I don’t really think I can write them all. I just needed to write this thought 
  2. Closing co-keynote with Chris Gilliard. I could unpack this for a while, but I’ll summarize. Closing keynotes, imho, need to reflect something about an event, and so I would not have been comfortable (nor Chris) in planning a full keynote ahead of time. We had thoughts and ideas and a good chunk of stuff, but we kept modifying til the last minute, responding to what was happening all week, and Listening to others around us.
  3. Co-director of Virtually Connecting. I didn’t really do anything onsite for vconnecting (hello all the roles above?) but I wasn’t TOO worried. We had a big team of onsite folks, lots of returning guests, and I had done a big chunk of the pre-work of inviting guests, scheduling the sessions, prompting, etc, with the team. I wasn’t at all worried about Dan, Sundi, Britni or Rebecca. And we had a special room. Only thing is that people kept asking me questions expecting me to have the schedule in my head…and it wasn’t. Too much other stuff in my head
  4. International Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab. Which… Probably doesn’t mean much to anyone, but it was part of the way in which I am intimately connected to this event. Sean and Jesse offered me that role right after Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo was over. Which is another thing…
  5. Previous host of a DigPed event. This carried with it a lot of experience and expectation. Some of which came true: people expect more practical stuff than they’re likely to get (and I gotta say, in our track, even when we tried to offer that, our group were highly reflective and took conversations deeper rather than more pragmatic) 

There were also the ways in which I was the only headscarved person in the event. I was also one of only two people who were not coming in from an English-speaking country. I had lived in America before, but I experienced it differently and much deeper in that week (ok 2 weeks if you count Chicago, but really the Fredericksburg week) than I had living for an entire year in Houston.

And now I need to stop here and continue later! 


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