(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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


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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Moving on :) Reclaiming my own domain

Dear all,

This is just a quick post to say – I have moved! I will no longer be posting to https://balimaha.wordpress.com (unless I do so by mistake!) – I will now be posting to my new self-hosted website, on which I have moved this blog: http://www.blog.mahabali.me – using the easy import/export function of wordpress and the really cool tool “jetpack” which hopefully has also moved my followers over… Still not sure of I managed to get that to work properly…

I registered as http://www.mahabali.me which I thought was a nice play on “me” as in “myself” and “me” as in Middle East (ignoring the various connotations of that for a second, because whoever decided to call “us” Middle or East?)

When I first created my blog late December 2013, I could not imagine how frequently I would be blogging, or how important the blog would become as part of my life. Thanks to #et4online and Jim Groom, I realized that reclaiming my own domain may be the solution to some issues I had been trying to work with for a while … More on that on my new blog soon inshallah

Looking forward to seeing you there soon!



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?


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.

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…

Image source: CC-NC-SA License by Theophilos


#et4online: Reflections on Day One

It’s quite difficult to blog my reflections on the first day of #et4online in a way that’s useful for other people.

I am inspired by Len in two major ways:

1. Len asked on fb how we all know whether we’re learning and I said that I know I’ve learned when I feel compelled to blog it to capture it or test it out

2. Len suggested on Twitter that those of us attending conferences are sort of involving the others indirectly via twitter and facebook, and I’d like to do that in a more direct way for the benefit of others e.g. even at work (though they may never read this blog post).

So the last couple of blog posts were really egocentric in that I blogged about what I personally found most valuable – which has very little to do with the actual content. That’s not strange for me. It’s also how I teach: focus on process, not content. The content varies. Process is what stays with you and transfers more readily, I think. This sort of reminds me of a blog post I read reflecting on a recent Sugata Mitra talk – I need to get around to watching that talk… but the general thing I want to comment on is that even though we all know information is out there, accessible, kids can find it, teach themselves to find and use it, etc., this, in no way, negates the role of “teachers” or at least, more experience human beings, in learning. Digital literacy is something that, I think, requires reflection and questioning. It could probably be learnt over time and with experience, but can probably be learnt more deeply and more quickly while learning with others.

I was reminded, for example, that my recent post on deep/surface approaches to twitter was inspired by other people’s writing and tips on that – I was reminded by it when I noticed on twitter that Jesse Stommel was giving an unstreamed workshop on Twitter at the conference – and during Jim Groom’s workshop, one (virtually attending) person said she didn’t use twitter and I sent her the handouts to that other session that was happening at the same time in another room. The affordances of virtual attendance were such that I was fully present in Jim’s session but with an eye over on Twitter at the same time, and was able to get her Jesse’s handouts right then and there (it’s funny it never occurred to me to share my own blog post on the matter!! Then again, a lot of what I learned about Twitter I learn from watching people like Jesse interact there, as well as his writing about his approach).

OK… back to my original intention. What kind of ideas have I learned y/day that I might like to share with others? (I won’t talk about Jim Groom’s workshop again – I’ve been talking about it too much already like here and here and here)

The first session I attended was the one on the reuse of MOOCs by Amy Collier & MJ Bishop (shame Mike Caufield couldn’t make it – I love his blog and missed it). I tweeted what I thought was the most important point of it (which created a valuable spinoff conversation which I now realize had little to do with the context of what Amy was saying at the time). The important point was the value of OER (though they insisted on talking about MOOCs, I think what they said applies better to OERs) is for people who do not have the resources to create their own multimedia, videos, etc, can manage to “innovate” by integrating already-existing resources into their courses (kind of like an assignment I gave my student-teachers earlier). I agree about OERs, not as much about MOOCs, but if the MOOC remains open, and the material is reusable and remixable, it has that potential with the added advantage that it’s an entire course, not one module of OER here and there. I got interrupted and could not finish the session, but the results they got from some people who tried to reuse MOOCs was that most people used parts of a MOOC and not the entire MOOC. Which makes absolute sense, as I would guess a teacher would need to integrate their own local context into their teaching.

Another session I attended was one on the gamification of faculty development. I had internet issues at the time so could not focus completely on the session, and I’m not the biggest fan of gamification, but three things struck me:

1. The presenters cared that only a small percentage of their faculty were attending their workshops (even though the numbers didn’t look that bad to me – which indicates something about our attitude here, I think!)

2. All the different ways one could use “badges” – not just for attending workshops, but making e.g. individual consultations count towards several badges. e.g. they mentioned if during a consultation that was initially about Blackboard, the conversation turned to talking about assessment, they’d include both badges.

3. That the faculty development unit giving out these badges kept a google drive worksheet to keep track of which faculty member got which badge for what – so simple, so useful. Why not?

So lots from that session to take back to my f2f context.

A criticism so far, that I have of the first day of Sloan-C is that I felt the talks might have been a little too technical and a little too surface? I’m still trying to figure out if this is definitely how I feel. I really enjoyed working with Jim on Reclaiming Domains and stuff and the interaction with him in itself was invaluable. I am glad we discussed reasons why one would want to do this, and his keynote talk later in the day discussed this more. Some of the best things that came out of the keynote y/day (pasting below some of the tweets I wrote or retweeted – twitter has become my short term memory):


More later – about to join an online session now…


#et4online: the great, the unexpected, and the weird

This is a quick post to capture some interesting dynamics going on at #et4online. This is possibly my favorite conference experience ever. Have never been so engaged, and I even lost about 1.5 hours while putting my daughter to sleep!


So … the great, of course, was Jim Groom’s workshop. The content, we’ve already been through – I was lucky enough that he asked me to help him test it out and I was doing that yesterday. But what was interesting were the dynamics of the session. I went a bit early and the moderator (Jean, she was incredible) asked right off “where are you joining us from?” and I decided to play a little and told her “ask Jim and he’ll tell you” – and that sort of started us off on a good tone as she learned I was from Egypt and he said hi, etc. (at this point we discovered there was a video delay of about 3-4 minutes for me because Jean was telling me things before I heard them). Anyway, what was cool about this session was that Jim and Jean made a LOT of effort to include the virtual attendees. It kind of helped that we were a vocal bunch, and that Jim started the presentation by showing up my “new” blog on his reclaimdemo that I created y/day and answering some of the questions I posed on it.

So the great: the way Jean and Jim made us virtual attendees feel like we were fully there. Really well done. Worthy of an unconference session JUST to talk about that and I’ll recommend one.



I did not expect how important other social media outside the conference would be for my engagement. One small tweet I made quoting Amy Collier (but not saying I was quoting her, just putting the hashtag for her session) resulted in a really interesting discussion about the place of  “failure” in educational discourse, with people like Apostolos and Sean Morris and a few ppl I don’t know. Near the end, Apostolos suggested we wouldn’t be able to agree with 140 characters, someone said they need long-form, I suggested we write something for Instructure, Sean (I think) brought them in BAM. We have a storify and Instructure interested in publishing something out of this – no idea if it’ll be a crowdsourced article with diff viewpoints, or a series of articles, or whatever. But what a productive backchannel conversation!! Storify here (this was done amazingly fast by Rolin)

(btw – take my poll… first time I try this on wordpress)



The first session I attended today was the one where Mike Caufield couldn’t go because of a back problem, and so Amy Collier and MJ Bishop ran it. During the first half of it, I did not feel like as a virtual attendee I was really in the session (the Jim/Jean session above provided a contrast, but the circumstances were completely different). I wrote quite a few things in the chat session but found myself talking to myself, so listened in while typing on twitter (hence “the unexpected” above) and at some point had a few things I wanted to ask more privately than Twitter so asked them on facebook to rhizo14… got a few responses there, then someone said something to make me feel guilty for not saying the stuff publicly on twitter … so re-thinking that and will probably write something separately once I get a chance to re-watch that session (got interrupted half-way through because my daughter was calling me and I don’t want to presume certain things were not covered or discussed when they may have been).

I’ll stop here for now and be back again soon…inshallah


Sloan-C here I Come…No, wait, I already came! #et4online

So… I signed up to attend the Sloan-C #et4online conference – virtually. That’s because I can’t travel too often with a young child in tow, and I really didn’t want to miss out on this amazing lineup! As I said before – first time I attend an international conference where I really know a few of the people. And at least know of quite a few of the others.

So there I was tweeting occasionally using the hashtag to see who else I know who is going – and lo and behold, two #rhizo14ers will be there (well Rebecca is presenting; Ashley attending virtually like me).

So I was signing up for events and I found the keynote and a workshop by the Jim Groom , so I thought I’d follow him on twitter… he followed me back (nice guy) and so I tweeted to him and got this reply:

The resulting activity yesterday was so much fun. Late night his time and early morning my time he sent me a link to reclaimdemo – a place where I could experiment as if I had my own domain… and I did! I blogged about it right there on my “new” wordpress blog on the reclaim demo thing itself (yes, that’s meta-cognition or meta-something for you) – and then based on responses to some of the questions I blogged about, I managed today to install the plugins for sharing onto my new blog. Cool 🙂

Jim seems to have gotten pretty excited because he wrote this:

And earlier, he had written this (which got me in touch with a couple of other really interesting folks on twitter  who were “listening in” – I love it when that happens on twitter):

So… long story short: I started the conference before it started. And that is what is soooo cool about online. Social media empowering the semi-privileged indeed 🙂

What may not be as cool, though, is what will happen given I’m more of an asynchronous person:

1. Time zone difference: 8:30 am Dallas = 3:30 pm Cairo = toddler back from daycare = noise, distraction, etc.

2. Cairo these days gets a lot of electrical cuts, especially later on in the day. I’ve got 3G on m iPad but that’s not too reliable, or fast, and did not work too well y/day while trying to do the reclaim demo thing…

So… fingers crossed I can participate anyway 🙂 otherwise, recordings will have to do. Will wait and see.