(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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

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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?


Deep and Surface Approaches to Twitter

I got a tweet today from David Mathew who is new to Twitter:

I actually only had 496 followers at the time, but maybe he was reading the 518 I am following?

I could have pointed him to loads of links online about how to increase your twitter following, but many of them take “surface” approaches, and I think I’ve learned somewhere along the way to take a “deep” approach. I’ll explain as I go along.

But here is how it happened to me. Much of this was not intentional, mind you (except the surface approaches part)

Be “human”
Surface approach: make sure you have a human picture there, don’t follow a million people or you will look like a spammer, and try to follow back relevant people when it makes sense so you don’t look like a snob (this is common twitter strategy)

Deep approach: make sure you don’t always have automated things tweeting for you (like iftt or your automatic wordpress plugin or whatever; use those sometimes, too, but not exclusively). Interact with people as a person. It sounds obvious, of course, but this means making social gestures like saying hi, etc. it also means using things like sending things to particular people using’@’ when you think they’ll find them useful, it means when you forward someone else’s article or blog post that you try to say “via @theperson” to acknowledge them. I have an earlier blog post about social media etiquette that might help.

Be useful Be interactive, be generous
Surface approach: (can’t think of one hehe)
Deep approach: retweet useful things to useful people using the right hashtag (retweeting achieves two purposes: lets someone know u appreciate what they tweeted, and also lets your followers benefit from what you found useful). Answer questions that people pose. I got a large boost to my twitter following when I started interacting with other PhD students on twitter and asking and answering questions, i cannot remember HOW This all started (probably through a Guardian Higher Ed or Times Higher Ed article or event. The “be generous” part I learned from a Hybrid Pedagogy article. I had never thought of it before. People who use twitter to just self-promote will have others bored pretty fast. People who use Twitter to give and take with others create community, by giving credit to others and helping promote them (and people often reciprocate).

Join communities (MOOCs, hashtags, twitter chats)
Surface approach: tweet everything to a popular hashtag (looks like spamming?)
Deep approach: tweet relevant things to the relevant hashtag. Follow that hashtag yourself (e.g. Using tweetdeck or hootsuite) to see what people do there. Retweet stuff from there, reply to people who tweet there. Same for a MOOC that has a hashtag. Using it well gets followers. Same for twitter chat events.

Basically, a deep approach is to think of your followers as people and twitter as a place to build community (not numbers of followers) – you want to follow and be followed by people with similar interests

Will add more if I remember them!

I invite others to add in the comments


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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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?


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 πŸ™‚ 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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What my students taught me about plagiarism

I am someone who has been administering Turnitin.com at my institution since 2003. I no longer administer it, but am still involved in occasionally helping people use it, interpret reports, etc.

I have also been teaching a teacher-education course about ethical, legal, social and human issues in educational technology.

This semester, I asked my students to blog a possible “plan” for introducing the ideas of copyright and/or plagiarism to either their students or colleagues at work. All of their responses were inspiring in different ways.

First, Rania’s post about the importance of introducing plagiarism not as something to be punished, but rather as a kind of “character building”, a way to encourage students to be proud of their work. Her last learning outcome for introducing plagiarism to students (which she does by example, by the way) is:

Students realize that academic honesty is not about spending nights rephrasing words or inserting quotation marks, but about bring a bit of oneself to his/her own work, about the uniqueness of one’s character and the distinctiveness of one’s own experience and culture.

This was a bit of an epiphany for me. It should be obvious, but I now realize the reason that some AUC students continue to plagiarize despite training in technical methods of citation. It is because they are probably taught it as a mechanical skill, rather than a value to embrace deep down.

Mohamed’s approach starts from the same standpoint: he suggests we start by discussing morality and how we judge something to be right or wrong… And he starts from the stance that everyone is good by nature and does not intend to do harm. And then discuss issues of plagiarism and copyright from that standpoint. He also thought of doing a kind of public wall in school to share what people learn (I’m not sure what would be on the wall, but it sounds like a good idea!).

Another great approach to introducing plagiarism (this one to adult teachers who are already aware of it) is Ahmed’s approach: he actually did a sort of role play (but without letting all people know about it) and had someone in a meeting plagiarize another person’s ideas, and then praised the plagiarizer. This is an idea I have had in mind but never tried. Ahmed came up with the idea on his own, tried it, and reported to us that it was very effective. The person who felt he was plagiarized was hurt and angry. Of course, they later explained to him that it was only “acting”.. But the message got through much more strongly than if it was done in a didactic way. Again, to quote Rania who was citing Sir Ken Robinson, just because you teach something does not mean it is learnt… And Ahmed did a good job of making sure it got learnt.

Mahmoud approached his teacher colleagues in a different but also very smart way: he invited them to participate in creating lesson plans for introducing plagiarism to students at various stages in school. This is a great way to get people interested and involved, and he is taking action right away (teachers should be involved in helping students learn about plagiarism/citation early on). He showed sensitivity to students’ different ages, e.g. By suggesting early stages learn about plagiarism via stories.

All of these ideas kept in mind the motivations and background of the learner, which are essential to teaching something new that is a value more than a mechanical skill.

I just thought these all had such good ideas in them, so I wanted to post the ideas on my blog to put them all in one place, to remember them and reflect on them further.

Although there are ethical ways of doing things that can be consider cheating by some (rhizo14 course participants came up with many examples) – the general idea of attribution remains dear to my heart.

I was just posting to one of my students’ blogs that even with creative commons, even when all copyright rights are given up, attribution remains the minimum ethical obligation we have.
Even in rhizo14 when people “stole” the poem, they kept saying whom they stole it from!!!

Having said that, in the #readmake book project, not every part is clearly attributed to a particular person (and not everyone even posted their names at the end to be attributed for contributing to the book overall). And that was fine, for that experiment. But in most real-life situations, attribution seems the moral minimum that we all need to maintain as far as possible. Doesn’t it?

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Never stop thinking. Never stop writing

Just a short blog post reflecting on something: people keep referring to me as a prolific blogger. I take it they’re impressed, but they shouldn’t be, really. I think all of us academics think a lot, possibly all day long, every day, while we are doing all sorts of other things.

All I do, really, is organize my thoughts into a blogpost so I do not lose them (the thoughts), and instead of keeping them in a random place on paper, PC, or mobile device, instead of emailing the, to a few select people in my f2f life, I post them (incomplete thoughts as they are) online so I can share them and get feedback, and my social networks help me think again, which creates new blog posts. Voila. Writing really is a muscle that you exercise (i.e. the more you write,the easier it is to write, for me at least). Maybe I am a little rash in posting things publicly that are incomplete. I don’t care (yet).

One of the funniest things when writing a peer-reviewed article is that by the time I get feedback from the reviewers, I have had further thoughts and read more articles, etc., and so I want to change so many things about the article! At least on my blog I can get immediate feedback. At least the feedback does not stop after publication.

In my own PhD thesis defense (my topic was critical thinking) I was asked to describe my understanding of critical thinking. I hate being asked that question, but I answered it anyway. The examiners looked at me quizzically and said, “that is all really interesting, but it’s not very clear in your thesis!”, to which I responded, “yes, it’s something I thought about while my supervisor was reviewing the final draft of my thesis and I published it online in a magazine about Arab higher ed”. So them I was asked to add those thoughts back into my thesis for the final final draft.

I wrote an article about MOOCs for JOLT last summer. I have since experienced several completely different MOOCs and have so much more to say now, but the article itself has not yet been published!!! So that is quite annoying.

So blogging gives me this space to write my thoughts, and update them in another post as they evolve. It is a reflective and social practice, both.

Just today, I heard students learning to reflect for the first time say they saw the value in reflection as a way to give feedback to instructors, but not as something that directly benefited them personally. I think reflecting publicly has a lot of benefits that personal reflection misses, of course, but the first benefit of reflection is (quite obvious to most of us educators, but clearly not to students doing it for the first time) personal growth.

So …thanks to all my social network friends for helping me through all my personal reflections by inspiring the thoughts that go into them, and responding to them.