(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me


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Q&A with @DaveCormier for @JPDUoB

I am conducting an interview with Dave Cormier for the Journal of Pedagogic Development , an open access journal on whose editorial board I currently serve. The focus of the interview is rhizomatic learning and rhizo14, the recent open online course he facilitated.
We’ve already had a few exchanges and I have a draft interview ready, but I thought it might be interesting to also “crowdsource” some interview questions: give anyone online the chance to ask

Dave questions, with the possibility of these questions being answered by Dave on a hangout, or in the text of the interview.

How do I propose to do this? Three possible ways:

1. Pose question as a comment on this blog post (deadline April 24 at 6pm EST)
2. Pose a question on Twitter, using the Twitter handle for the journal @jpduob (or hashtag #askjpd)
3. Retweet or favorite other people’s questions that you would like answered to let Dave and I know you’d like them prioritized

What happens after questions have been posed?

1. I will produce a storify of all the questions, attributing the person asking the questions
2. Dave will select some of the questions and answer them on video. I have given him freedom to choose which questions to answer. This will take place Friday April 25 10am Atlantic time (=9am EST =1pm GMT) on a Google Hangout hosted by Dave, and facilitated by me.
3. I will take some of these questions/answers and include them in the text of the interview that will be published in an upcoming issue of JPD. Let me know if you’d like to get a link to the published interview

special thanks to Sarah Honeychurch for agreeing to be my backup in case I have connectivity issues on the day.

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Being closed-minded about being open-minded…

One of the interesting paradoxes about being liberal is that liberal thinking can be intolerant. I used to call this being closed-minded about being open-minded. When tolerating different perspectives technically implies being open to perspectives that are not even tolerant of ours… Doesn’t it?

But does it mean it’s ok for tolerant people to be tolerant of intolerance? Can we be tolerant of nazi thinking, for example? Can we be tolerant of racism? Probably not, right?

So being open-minded is nuanced. I agree with Martin Weller, for example, in “you don’t get openness for nothing“, where he suggests that research about open edu or MOOCs should in turn be published in open-access venus. He says he is not dogmatic about openness for every single thing, but this is one he’s a “hard-liner” about. I agree.

Regarding rhizo14 research… I think true openness would respect some people’s right to not want to be open and listen to their concerns, even if the majority of vocal people prefer openness. Because even though I would personally prefer openness, I feel that (indirectly) imposing openness can exclude some people.

I perceive openness in the case of rhizo14 autoethnography to mean “openness to diverse perspectives and levels of openness” which means the collective work can have a level of openness but individuals can choose varying levels of openness, say how they wish to be attributed, etc.

I wrote my last post on mess to talk about this indirectly among other things.

The fact that something fits my personal philosophy and my values, that i think it was ok, does not mean it does not offend, hurt, bother, scare, or otherwise disagree with, other people. And I need to be open-minded about that. Don’t we all?

ADDED 10 mins later

The most surreal thing just happened. An article I wrote for Al-Fanar was just republished in a place called Open Democracy without my permission AND copyrighted, and told if someone wants to republish to contact them. Not me. What is more, they got my bio off my blog, but never thought to tweet me to ask permission! I want my stuff to be CC but not to be republished without my knowledge! Am I crazy here? What if I disagreed with the values of the other publication?


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Mess in education. Mess in research. Mess in ethics

Mess is life
Mess is my life. I have a toddler, after all, and there are few things that toddlers enjoy more than mess. I wear about ten different hats in my life and while some of them synergize, the overall effect is quite messy. People tell me I am pretty organized in my mind (little do they know!) but I am pretty messy otherwise: my desk, my handbag, etc.

I have thought for a long time that life as a whole is not neat, it is messy. And I have thought for a long time that education should replicate life’s messiness to a great extent if it is to prepare learners to deal with the mess outside the classroom. I recently gave a workshop on authentic learning which is based on that same premise. The entire rhizo14 experience was a big beautiful mess of embracing uncertainty, etc.

But let me track back a minute: not everyone is as comfortable with mess. For some people, to deal with mess, they need to impose some kind of order. They do not embrace mess and uncertainty openly. These can be scary.

I think back to my toddler. And as much as she loves her messes and messing about she also loves her routine. She seems to need some kind of order, and if I am not creating it for her, she’s creating it for herself. She makes connections between things and then continues to tie them together. For example, I once got her a souvenir bell and snow globe. She managed to break the snow globe. Now, whenever she plays with the bell she says, “snow broken”. One day, I was feeding her rice and veg while there was some sliced cucumber on the table. She decided to feed me one slice for each spoon I fed her. She then made that into a routine, so she would feed me cucumber every time I was feeding her lunch. She rarely eats on her feeding chair (which is a booster seat i now placed on the floor of her room) but she she sits on it, she demands to play with particular toys and to drink a particular kind of milk. She makes those connections all the time, then she breaks them and makes new ones.

She is imposing artificial structure on messy realities. I haven’t read the psychology behind it, but I am wondering if adults feel the same? Do they need the same? (I cannot answer that question definitively)

Mess in Education – Collier & Ross
I was generally pretty happy with the presentation Amy Collier and Jen Ross gave about mess in education at the #et4online conference. As I said earlier, I believed mess to be what life is like, and that education should mimick that. But some teachers they quoted brought up some interesting things: maybe education should be organized or structured to counter the mess in real life. Maybe structure is a way to help learners approach mess. I don’t know that I agree with that, but it is an interesting idea to consider.

The last class I taught was a bit messy. Well the whole semester has been messy, because I am teaching two different classes in one class, with some common material and some split. But last class was messier than usual because there were several technical things to be done and people kept messing up their passwords. It was frustrating and took up loads of class time unnecessarily. When I got back home, I thought of how to deal with this, and I emailed my students some tips on how to avoid that kind of waste of time again, how to avoid losing time when your passwords don’t work (this was a combination of tips on how to set good memorable passwords, tips on resetting passwords, etc.). What had I just done? I had provided some kind of structure to deal with what I considered unnecessary mess. Because, hey! Not every kind of mess is valuable – it is not valuable just because it is.

There is learning value to a toddler when she takes her food and spreads it around and sees what will happen to it. There is a value to her. Not so much to me. Which means I will allow it to some extent but I will reach a limit when I feel the need to stop her for my own sanity. Or I will put her in the kitchen so that cleaning the mess is easier. Those are ways of dealing with mess.

Someone in the audience asked Amy and Jen how to apply this mess thing when teaching maths. Many philosophical discussions of.better” pedagogy fall apart when confronted with STEM disciplines. This, I feel, is a function of several things:
1. STEM disciplines, at least at earlier levels, tend towards rules/formulas, etc., and have pre-requisites, etc., so there is less room for open approaches (I do not consider Mazur’s think-pair-share and ConcepTests that “open”, though they do seem to me to be an improvement on lecturing and individual problem-solving)
2. There is an assumption about universality – why should we assume that every idea we think works for social science teaching should work with sciences? Why assume it is just a matter of tweaking and imagination? (This reminds me of the red line video!)

But seriously: I do think there is “mess” in STEM disciplines. Of course there is, the world is messy. The world does not give you neat mathematical problems (usually not) and we all have heard of the stories of inner city kids who couldn’t do math in school but intuitively did the statistics for basketball games. It is an example of how a less-than-orderly situation, because it is authentic and of interest to the learner, can motivate them to do math, even though they don’t seem to be formally learning it in school.

When talking about critical thinking and authentic learning, we often talk about the importance of posing ill-structured problems for student to work with. Complex case studies, with no clear answer. That’s life. Those are the kinds of decisions engineers and accountants and journalists and psychologists and doctors and teachers are faced with every day.

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Image source: CC-NC-SA License by Theophilos

Mess in Research
Research, of course, is another of those messy realms of life. Even science research, don’t tell me it’s not. If done the way scientists do it, rather than prescriptive text or lab books, it’s messy. Things can happen like explosions. Little mistakes can affect results and you have to repeat them to be sure. I still do not know how medical research gets done given the immense number of uncontrollable variables that can “interfere” with any causal relationships.

Social science research is even messier, and Ross showed some data from their master’s degree at Edinburgh that shows how each individual’s circumstances and feelings affected how they approached the course. I recently read Apostolos’ blog about his MOOCing, and the complexity of his personal experience defies any neat statistical conclusions consisting of abstract theorizing about numbers (I will not name names).

Rhizo14’s collaborative autoethnography arose from an attempt to find a participatory approach to allow individuals who were/are part of rhizo14 to describe their own thoughts, feelings, interpretations of how rhizo14 was for them. We are still not sure what we’re going to do with the stories we have there, how to represent them, and how to integrate all the other data from blogs to artwork to everything else… But our idea is to keep it messy, because it is messy, and attempting to make it legible might lose authenticity and stop representing the reality (not that we could ever really represent reality whatever we understand it to be). Keith has been blogging about rhizo-rhetoric and finally took me up on the “legibility” thing and wrote about it 🙂 terry will be so happy as he’s the one who brought it up originally.

Mess in Ethics
So, one important thing, though, is that Collier and Ross quoted from the rhizo14 autoethnography raw document. It was a public document that we tweeted and linked to from our blogs, but it was not a published document… And so it was a bit surprising that they did so. I personally did not mind (nor was i personally quoted) but i became more concerned about how others would feel:
1. What if I had not tweeted about it?
2. What if Rebecca Hogue had not been present at the conference?
3. What if they had quoted more extensively, what if they had “misrepresented” or “misinterpreted” us?
4. What kind of rights should authors of parts of the collaborative autoethnography need to be retained? We thought of a “no derivatives” license but that does not protect us from people citing us – and is that what we want to do, when this was meant to be published anyway?

I won’t go into the details here (so much going on privately and I won’t write it publicly). But ethical questions are almost a always messy, especially when many people are involved, and i feel each person should have the right to decide how their data can be used. This rarely happens in traditional research. What if someone wants to withdraw after you’ve published the results in an academic article? Exactly

This has been a messy post of incomplete ideas…

20140413-172820.jpg
Image source: CC-NC-SA License by Theophilos


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What Makes this MOOCaholic Complete MOOCs

I’m going to keep this post as short and punchy as possible, to get it out quickly. It is part of a new emerging research project for #rhizo14 that arose out of several different threads, including reaction to Martin Weller’s recent post in stats for MOOC completion rates.

Thanks to Sarah and Sandra (can’t find her post, though) for starting this series of blogposts

My view is that reasons for completion vary so much with context that the stats hide too much

Four categories of reasons that influence my personal completion (or not) of a MOOC are:
1. Personal circumstances
2. Technical/logistical issues
3. The format of the MOOC
4. The quality of the MOOC itself

Personal circumstances
Once it was just that the MOOC would coincide with the time i was finalizing my PhD, or during a time I travelled, or when my kid got sick. Nothing to do with th MOOC itself. Of course, the longer a MOOC is, the more likely it will interfere with personal circumstances and make it unfinishable for me. BUT, if it is a really good one, and really flexible (see below) I might stick with it in spite of all that. This was the case for #rhizo14 and the MOOC actually became my escape from the personal issues, rather than some burden on top of them.

Technical/logistical issues
I mostly MOOC from my iPad while on the go. Coursera works fine for that. Twitter and facebook and google plus are great for that (but I still don’t “get” google plus to be honest). Other platforms like EdX and CourseSites do not work well on iPad, and so if there is loads to do on them with dates, etc., I won’t have enough free PC time to do them (of course I sit on a PC most of the time at work but I am actually working, not MOOCing). Also stuff that requires flash won’t work on iPad (don,t have the needed browser and don’t think i will buy it for MOOCing!) so same issue.

Everyone who knows me well online knows I am also very allergic to synchronous audiovisual stuff and to videos in general. Too many family commitments and infrastructure issues to deal with. Most MOOCs don’t, or have transcripts, or record hangouts, etc. Twitter chats like for #nwoer were great, I could do some of those occasionally.

The format of the MOOC
I have discovered that I dislike too much rigidity in a MOOC. But most MOOCs with peer review assignments have rigid deadlines for that reason. It worked for me with #futureed coz the MOOC Topic was v relevant to me so i wanted to do the assignments and did not find them taxing. But did not work for a stats MOOC – too much work

I also prefer MOOCs with high potential for social media interaction and with enough people on the social media to benefit from that interaction. Definitely the case for #edcmooc, #rhizo14 and to a lesser extent (but v high quality interactions) on #futureed

The quality of the MOOC itself
The question of quality is complicated.Very low quality MOOCs can be easy to “complete’. A cMOOCish thing like rhizo14 has no particular definition of success and I like that – it fits with the ethos of the course as we each define what success means to us. All MOOCs should be like that. For me, #flsustain was very good and useful for me, but I did not complete it because that was never my objective. I just wanted to get some resources and meet some people, i blogged a bit, tweeted a bit, downloaded some stuff, got some great ideas, and left 🙂

I also realized i lately do better at MOOCs most directly related to my professional interests – so education mainly. But also ones that meet those interests in ways I like 😉 like social media, like being a bit flexible (#edcmooc had just one assignment and that is flexible enough for me)

Some MOOCs suck me in completely like #rhizo14, others do it quite well but do not take over my life like #edcmooc. Others, I engaged with non-traditionally like #FutureEd (barely watched videos, read some articles, didn’t post much on the forum but engaged a lot on twitter and blogs, plus the organized #moocmooc twitter chats)

more important than anything, for me, is the connections with wonderful people like the rhizi14 gang, and someone like Shyam with whom I just wrote this article: Bonds of Difference: Illusions of Inclusion
Anyway that’s it from me for now 🙂

Looking forward to whatever comes out of this 🙂


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This Is How We Do It: coloring our vision?

A couple of incidents have triggered this post. I might be wrong in judging that the root cause behind them is an unreflective sticking to tradition or habit, but that’s what I think today 🙂

The first incidence relates to my students feeling they had to meet f2f to work on a collaborative project when they could work perfectly well online (synchronously or asynchronously). This coincides strangely with a similar incident mentioned by Rebecca on fb recently.

The second and the one I plan to elaborate on relates to online journals. I am frustrated by an article I wrote last summer about MOOCs. It was accepted after peer review for publication in November, but is still not published yet (particularly frustrating because my views on MOOCs have changed a lot since then so the article won’t even make that much sense to me anymore. I know scholarly publication takes time (my first ever took about 10 months from acceptance to publication) but but in the meantime I have had many other articles published in a more timely manner using three different models, and I would like to understand why every online journal does not consider having at least one of the below policies:

1. The most traditional journal I recently published with (Teaching in Higher Education) have an advance online publication policy: as soon as an article is ready it gets published online and promoted. Then when the full issue is out, the article gets an issue/volume number, etc. I like this because: who reads a full issue unless it is a special issue?

2. Hybrid Pedagogy are my favorite. The peer-reviewed piece is published within days of acceptance and gets extensive social media marketing immediately by the editorial team and author(s). Personally, as a reader, this means that I know about maybe one article each week that they publish and I read about 80% of them. Why? They are short enough and accessible enough and reading one a week is manageable for pleasure academic reading (by which I mean, not directly related to research I am doing now).

3. Al-Fanar is not peer reviewed but the articles get edited. But the model is still interesting. An article is up and promoted as soon as it is ready. Then a periodical newsletter puts together all the best of the latest pieces. This works great because you can find new articles up there if you visit regularly, and still you can get the newsletter in case you missed it.

I don’t understand publications or journals that choose to hoard articles until they have got a full issue together. Why?

In this world of social media and speed (live with it!) I don’t know who sits and reads an entire issue (ok, maybe on paper, but online?). I never buy newspapers. I would rather read scattered articles from different online papers… Make my own 🙂 often combining things recommended by friends from twitter and facebook

The more dynamic or urgent the topic, the better it is to publish fast, right? It is also easier to then promote each article on its own via social media.

Which brings me back to the point: the desire to stick to waiting til issue is ready sounds like sticking to habit or tradition without considering the consequences of the readership. This is how we do it. This is comfortable and familiar. But is it easier? Is it better for authors or readers or the journal’s visibility? Maybe other authors/readers are different from me, but what would it hurt to accommodate impatients like me?

Back to the student example earlier: do students really need to meet in person for group work? Sometimes, but not always. It takes judgment and creativity to know when. But it is almost always worth considering the alternative. Not everyone will be as comfortable, but it is (at least for ed tech students like mine) an experience worth trying.

What do you think?
;


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The Power of Social Media for the Semi-privileged

In my country, I am one of the privileged: i speak English, been educated in Western institutions, have a PhD from the UK, and am faculty in the most elite institution in my country; I am upper middle class, of the majority religion of my country. I have great relationships with my colleagues. I have traveled for tourism and conferences, I have lived in several different countries.

In the world of academia, I am only semi-privileged. I am from Egypt (global South), I am a woman with a family and the responsibilities that entails – including difficulties to travel for conferences. I got my PhD remotely with few visits to Sheffield, so i did not have the chance to network with other academics easily.

But I am privileged in what i consider to be the most important way for someone like me as an early career academic with geographical restrictions: I am on social media.

For the first time in my life, I am attending a conference where I actually know quite a few of the speakers personally – from MOOCs, from Twitter. Some others at least I have heard of. I am talking about #et4online, by the way, the upcoming Sloan-C/MERLOT conference in Dallas which i am attending virtually in April. I used to live in Houston and attended an Educause regional conference there. Did not know a soul. Did not build any significant relationships. This upcoming one, i would have loved to attend in person.

How else does social media help me? I interact on Twitter with big names in my field I would never have imagined I ever could. I am getting over my celebrity thing with most of them as we’re becoming friends. The one I still don’t get is why Henry Giroux follows me on Twitter and Google circles 🙂 Twitter (ok, and some email) helped me get through the lonely last stages of my PhD thesis writing and even the defense.

More importantly, i have formed important relationships with people online, like many in the #rhizo14 group – important intellectually and emotionally. I also met others through different avenues and have collaborated twice already on academic articles with people I never met in person. That’s powerful, man. I know people, and I did not have to leave my toddler to travel to meet them. I can take em with me everywhere (on my iPad and mobile and work and home PCs) and I don’t have to wait for a prescribed time to reach out to them. That is powerful, man. I have friends on enough time zones now I can have a deep intellectual conversation any time. Ok. To be fair, i had that before, but the network has grown exponentially with MOOCs and Twitter.

I want to keep this post short, but will come back to this later. Just one final point: I believe that sometimes my exoticness helps me get noticed, get befriended. People are curious and i understand. But I believe they keep coming back because of something more substantive than that. Almost everyone talking about rhizo14 will mention ppl from Egypt, Brazil and Guyana. But the three of us from those three regions were not just exotics. We were/are part of the center of that particular group of people. And boy, am I glad I have the opportunity to be there and learn and love in this way. Don’t ever take it away from me. Like Clarissa. These are my friends.


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Meaningful Online Relationships

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. It’s about the possibilities and potential of meaningful online relationships. It’s been sort of building up and is about to explode after two articles (followed by facebook discussions, mostly on rhizo14) I read that irritated the heck out of me:

First, this one by Jason Hogan “The Campus is Dead, Long Live the Campus“. Here is the part of the article that irritated me:

Virtual communities can provide an alternative to the on-campus experience but, as yet, there is little evidence to suggest that virtual engagement with peers and with content matter experts can provide the same benefits as being immersed in the intellectual culture on campus.

After reading it, I tweeted:

To which the author responded:

(Note: in re-reading the article, it is generally quite a balanced one, otherwise, recognizing the benefits of both f2f and online learning)

BUT the author’s response raised by hackles even more, so I responded with a stream of tweets (to which he did not respond). Basically, I was saying that:

  1. Deep relationships can happen online (especially maybe for people who are more verbal/textual and possibly cyborgs – I refer here to this old post of Bonnie Stewart’s which resonated with me very much about how non-hyper-connected people had not idea what kind of lives the hyper-connected of us are living)
  2. You need to have relationships like that to understand them. My mentor is someone I only ever met f2f about 3 times total. We talked on the phone about 6 times total over a 7 year period (same for a very close friend of mine – both of them above 60, btw). I did not go into detail on twitter but will do so now. Saying online relationships can never be as valuable as f2f relationships is like being someone who has had many failed romantic relationships and assuming no one in the world can be happily married. Or it’s like being happily married in a certain way and assuming the only people can be happy is to be married and having the same kind of relationship you are. It is an absolute generalization that makes no sense. It is also understandable that someone who has not experienced a deep online relationship might think it impossible; an illusion. But you need to go through a really rough time in your f2f life with only your online friends as a lifeline to know what deep online relationships can do for you (Danielle Paradis comes to mind – this really touching post). I have several of these relationships with people I have never met f2f, and also with people I’ve only met f2f a handful of times. Don’t ask me how in a 6-week period (or even earlier) many of these happened on rhizo14. The collaborative autoethnography we’re doing might give some ideas. Or not 🙂
  3. People use text-only media to communicate in their most intimate relationships. Love letters, anyone? Text-messaging (or even more intimate uses of text messaging)? And phones, of course. So much important stuff happens with text-only media. And that’s even completely ignoring the possibilities of audiovisual online communication. Yes, you can’t get physical hugs online, but you can get virtual hugs that make you feel so warm inside they are better than physical. I remember many many many  an online communication: email, tweet, facebook message that made me feel great when my f2f day was going down the drain. I’m not talking a bad hair day here. I’m talking disastrous catastrophic days where my only solace was an online friend or two. Sometimes because I could talk it over with them, sometimes just by being themselves and lifting me up unintentionally. Regardless, I have been through hell and back several times in my personal life and my online friends have been my saviors.
  4. On a more logistical note related to learning – no one kind of education can be generalized about as being better or worse than any other kind of education. There are a multitude of ways of teaching/learning online and f2f. The same teacher can do exactly the same thing two semesters in a row (heck, the same semester with two different groups of students) and get completely different results (don’t tell me you’ve never seen that?). There are a zillion factors that can help make any learning experience good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, or anything in between. Sometimes you hit a “sweet spot” with many people and you get something like rhizo14 (Dave Cormier said something about fertile ground, which I took to mean the right conditions for something like that to blossom; I’m still trying to figure it out). But not everyone enjoyed rhizo14 as much or to the same extent; strong as I feel the community is, I know some people were in rhizo14 but are not part of the “core” of it, even though rhizomes have no center, there are still people who are more strongly connected than everyone else (I was recently deeply disappointed that I had missed the tweeting and blogging of someone I had known online in 2003  and with whom I was hoping to re-connect – who was on rhizo14 but not on the facebook group – probably because near the end I stopped following the twitter as closely)

There was a facebook discussion on rhizo14 (based on our collective irritation to a claim that “online edu like love cannot be moved online” – I don’t want to get into specifics so as not to overquote people outside the group). But the gist is that we were trying to figure out what it was that made us feel online relationships can be meaningful and intimate, sometimes even more valuable that f2f ones, or at least valuable in their own right, not as a poor second to f2f. Not all hyper-connected people are like me (I’m hyper in real life, too, talkative and hypersocial) – but there must be a group of factors/characteristics that, when found together in a person, increase the likelihood they will be able to build online relationships.

I think Simon alluded to two things that I misinterpreted but revolve around two ideas: literacy & affinity. The first, literacy, is obvious. If you’re not able to navigate social media, and then not able to do so with sound judgment (that’s the literacy part), you won’t be able to even get any relationships, deep or not. The second is affinity for digital communication. But how does that last one come about? I did my master’s online and enjoyed it tremendously. Obviously, completing it successfully meant I managed to learn online. But many others dropped out. Which means there was probably already something that helped me complete it even before I “learned to learn online”. I had not had any online learning experiences beforehand, though I’d had to work occasionally in multinational teams that met on phone conference occasionally. But that was no comparison.

Well, so I’m still not exactly sure what it is, really, that enables some people to have deep and meaningful and intimate online relationships, more than others. I don’t posit that everyone would be comfortable with this, or would trust a complete online stranger (Ary Aranguiz made up the term “frainger” on her blog earlier).

OK. This is a post of incomplete thoughts. But I wanted to get them onto my blog…

Meanwhile, I leave you with a padlet my students and  I created today in class. I gave them flowers and asked them to reflect on “Education is like flowers”… Enjoy!

Education is like flowers padlet