Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 19 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Keynote inshallah. Post 1 of my #OER17 journey 


Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 19 seconds

I felt hugged by this keynote announcement for #OER17, but I was invited a long time ago!

I got a DM from Josie Fraser late August 2016. Her name was vaguely familiar* but I couldn’t place it. She was asking for my email, saying she might have something exciting to share. I checked her Twitter profile and responded to her DM. I was excited already. I had no idea (yet) what about. I’m kinda like that.

The email was not at all what I had been expecting. It was an invitation to keynote at the #OER17 conference in London, April 2017! I was…ecstatic! I have (as many people know) a lot of difficulty traveling for conferences. I need to constantly balance my family’s needs and circumstances if I choose to travel and the end result is often that I don’t. Something beautiful came out of this – Virtually Connecting. I love it. I love Rebecca and Autumm and our entire lovable and loving community. But I love meeting people in person much more.

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

By some miracle, I managed to work it out with my family so that this trip to London was conceivable and possible. So inshallah I will be keynoting in London next year. Announcement comes right after Egypt floated the dollar. It will be tight, but at least we got the plane tickets.

I was told that if I accept, not to tell anyone. Yes. I have been harboring this secret this long. I am so bad at keeping secrets. Even Josie almost gave it away ahead of time on Twitter. I am so glad I can talk about it now… and I want to share a few things.

First of all, I remember the call for proposals for OER16 and thinking “well I don’t have anything to propose here – I don’t do OERs… i do open pedagogical practices”. Then Suzan Koseoglu surprised me by inviting me to co-propose with her a new concept of “self as OER” and I said yes! The idea was partly inspired by Mariana Funes’ term “human OER”, but Suzan and I developed it beyond what Mariana meant and beyond what people usually understand to be open scholarship and such. It’s one of the most satisfying collaborations I have worked on, and beyond our presentation we co-authored a Prof Hacker piece that developed it even further, and recently gave a webinar for GO-GN on the same topic, where we modified it even more. It’s still evolving. Check the hashtag #SelfOER. I never asked Josie why they invited me to keynote, but the Prof Hacker piece had just come out and it might have had something to do with it. I also noticed at OER16 that keynotes by Jim Groom and Catherine Cronin were not at all typical of talk about OERs. So I thought the UK crowd might be along the critical spectrum of open (well I mean Jim and Catherine are American-European but you get my point).

I also wanted to share something else. You may have noticed that I have been writing a lot recently about the importance of including marginal voices in academic conferences and more. This writing all happened after I knew I was invited to keynote. Why? Because just like having a black president did not reduce racism in the US, having a non-dominant keynote speaker (while admirable and important and, I daresay, necessary) does not solve the problem of  privilege in academia. But it is still a good move and I applaud ALT for doing it (as they have done before). I remember when Laura Czerniewicz was a keynote at ALT, I thought, yay, UK conferences can invite African scholars as keynotes! Maybe in 15 years’ time I will deserve that honor. So it humbles me to have this honor so early in my career, particularly that I did not know the conference chairs (Josie and Alek) beforehand at all. And it humbles me to be invited to keynote when I seldom travel and very few people have seen me present in person. (I know people like Jim and Jesse and Bon enjoyed co-presenting with me, and that I co-presented with rhizo buddies at altc, but that’s not much in the larger scheme of things – I presented virtually as formal conference sessions something close to 30 times the past 2 years). I also appreciate the added expense of flying me from Cairo. That’s maybe the same cost as 2-3 other speakers they could have gotten locally.

But the other reason I wrote those posts about making academia more permeable to marginal scholars is this: I had never felt more impostery in my life. And i had never felt more confident in my life.

I noticed myself doing things I probably wouldn’t have done before. I would notice conversations on blogs by white men discussing edtech and open ed and decide I had something important to contribute and I would blog strongly about it. Because yeah. I was now a keynote speaker quality person in the field. I wonder how many people feel that way? And then, on the other hand, I look at keynote speakers who preceded me at most of these events and feel…impostery. I look up to people like Laura Czerniewicz, but I have so much less experience than her, and she is such an influence in our field. It shocks me that I got my PhD before influential women like Bonnie Stewart and Catherine Cronin or around the same time as Tressie… but I don’t feel I am anywhere near as strong a voice in our field as they are. I realize, upon deeper reflection, that I am around the same age as Jesse Stommel and Amy Collier and yet I am nowhere near where they are careerwise. Or even, I think, internet-influence-wise. And yet people listen to me. Western people listen to me. And I perform in such a way that they continue to listen to me. And that matters, even as it  makes me question myself and my place in this world. And I make an effort to intentionally amplify voices of others and to get to know different people and learn with and from them.

You would think I got invited to keynote because I already know something about open. But it also gave me a different kind of confidence in my contribution to the conversations about open. Feeling entitled now. And yet doubting myself because I learned nothing more after responding to Josie’s invitation email than I had learned before (it was 1-2 days’ difference). I did become more careful since to listen closely to convos and yet to be careful not to echo them.

And so I would like to do something here. I would like to do an open keynote in several ways. I would like to narrate my process of developing this keynote without fully “giving away” my keynote. I would also like to make it open in the sense of it not being all about me, but also about you. I sometimes think that being given time and space to speak on a stage, a stage previously not occupied by one like me (a Muslim, Egyptian, headscarved woman in her late 30s – thank you btw for catching me a few years before I turn 40) – that I should fill that space up because we never know when someone like me will get it again. And yet. And yet that’s not how I imagined my first keynote would go (arrogant to say I that I had imagined myself as a keynote someday, but there are reasons, including another keynote invitation I had received before this one but which I must keep secret as well and which is much farther date-wise in the future inshallah). And so even though I suspect I will focus a lot on marginality in open education, I also hope to do a keynote that is different from keynotes I have seen before and more communal in a way. I have loads of ideas jotted down but I don’t want to do something that’s gimmicky so I need to think deeply about why I am doing it, and whether I can do it well.

I have, since being invited, looked much more closely at how other people do their keynotes. Looking for tips. Finding what I like and dislike. Even knowing I can only be myself when I go up there. Even knowing that my first keynote, like my PhD dissertation, is not the end of the road. A first keynote is a passage of sorts, like the PhD is a passage. I don’t need to exhaust all my energies into it as if it’s the last talk I will ever say. And yet I cannot help but pour myself into it.

Back to the blogging thing. I noticed a surprising increase in engagement with my blogging about open since I got invited to do the keynote. It kept making me wonder if particular people knew about it, because of their association with ALT or because they were on the OER17 organizing committee. But they didn’t, Josie assured me. So, somehow, the keynote invitation MADE me focus more on what others were saying about open and focus on my unique contributions to those discussions. And somehow, some way, made people notice me more. It’s so strange.

Anyway. Inspired by Laura Gogia (who inspires me in so many ways) and her work with others on the Open Dissertation (their practice, my term for what they did, which I love that they have now adopted and used), I am making this the “open keynote”. Why? Because I wish someone would tell me how their process of developing keynotes works, but also: I am no Audrey Watters – I cannot write out a keynote in advance and make it so strong and powerful that way. I don’t know if I could possibly speak as strongly as Ruha Benjamin (her ISTE keynote is my favorite keynote of all time) or make people cry like Amy Collier in DigPedCairo or Sara Goldrick-Rab at OpenEd16. I know Catherine did some open blogging before her keynote, and saw Sava do something similar. But I am thinking of something a little more.

And I have different superpowers. I think my superpowers relate to the extent to which I can make my vulnerability explicit, and my anger, and my love for people. And my strengths are in how I bring people together, connecting them and their ideas. And then coming up with a contribution to those conversations. This keynote is 6 months away and I already have around 20 pages of notes. If you find something incredibly compelling about open edu please share it with me (already, unwittingly, people have been doing so…because clearly I am giving off some subtle or not-so-subtle signals).

I knew I had a place in this open edu community when I looked at the list of presenters at OpenEd16 and found a whole big bunch of “my people” there, including a huge (10+) number of Vconnecting buddies.

So yeah. Even though I have almost never developed an OER…even though my institution barely knows what an OER is (beyond my department of course), it seems that I am part of this community. And you’ll hear more from me over the next few months. Inshallah

So my first question to you is…what examples of openness in keynoting have you seen? At the moment I am asking about behind the scenes process. I have other ideas about the actual keynote itself. But for now – who has blogged their process before? What has that looked like? I may collect ideas and write a Prof Hacker piece about it… and I’ll attribute whoever gives me ideas as I go along 🙂 Thanks in advance!

(note: this blogpost is possibly longer than my keynote will be! And this is just the first of several I plan to write!)

*I realized later that Josie’s name was so familiar because I had been working with Virtually Connecting to try to set up a session with her during ALTC this year where she was a keynote! I realized this maybe after a couple of weeks of chatting with her! It was a funny moment


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