(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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


#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.


#rhizo14 Sustenance for a Compulsive Writer with Impostor Syndrome

I’ve been wanting to write about my compulsive writing (I know, compulsive, right?) and impostor syndrome (the latter mentioned on facebook recently) and then Sandra commented on Sarah’s MOOCaholic blog post saying she was “sustained by the people” she met here… and I was just… oh my God. That is such a good word to describe how I feel… how I’ve been feeling…

(Funny enough, I just gave a workshop today on authentic and sustainable assessment, but that’s a different issue)


But back to the original blogpost that was going to be written before I read Sandra’s comment (her comment inspired it to GET written; beforehand it was written in my head, as David Wheeler has said)

Let me start by being totally honest. I don’t have “impostor syndrome” in the sense explained here

The author and impostor-syndrome expert Valerie Young says the condition “refers to people who have a persistent belief in their lack of intelligence, skills, or competence.” She continues: “They are convinced that other people’s praise and recognition of their accomplishments is undeserved, chalking up their achievements to chance, charm, connections, and other external factors.”

I mean, I am a pretty confident person. It’s not an act, or anything. But I think there are some factors that make me feel like… I appear to be more than I really am, or something? For example, doing a PhD remotely meant I did not “get” all the experience as other people did (though I tried to approximate it). I did not get the experience of interacting with other students, more academics beyond my supervisor. I was lucky to be working at a university but there was no school of Education for most of the time I was working on my thesis. Of course, doing a PhD just helps you realize how little you know – it is a case of the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know and I had complete writer’s block until I finally wrote my conclusion chapter where I critique everything in my thesis and say how I would have done it differently, what I would do in future, etc. THEN I could go back and edit my thesis. Whew.

And since I finished my thesis, I’ve lost my writer’s block. I just re-blogged a piece on writer’s block but really I have had writer’s diarrhea or whatever since I submitted my thesis. It started out innocently enough as I was trying to write some peer-reviewed pieces to keep my mind and writing muscle alive, waiting for my supervisor to give me feedback on my almost-final-dissertation… and while doing them I read a lot of blogs and chronicle articles (because one of the articles was about MOOCs and there was not much peer-reviewed stuff on that) – and I felt like I had opinions and things to say that were not scholarly but worth being said… first piece sent to the Chronicle got rejected… but after that, my writing got accepted in other places (the chronicle continue to reject my stuff for some reason, but it does well elsewhere). Anyway… at some point I felt that I’ve got sooooo much writing inside me that I don’t think any online magazine or journal have the time for (no matter how much they like me or how kind they are – it’s not a newspaper column). So I started the blog, and I did so for myself. It was OK if no one ever read it, but that’s not been the case. It’s not entirely coincidental that I started my blog in December and joined rhizo14 in January. I met Dave through my blog, actually! I was writing a post about rhizomatic learning after having just heard of the term, and I tweeted to tell him something, and then (because he’s such a nice guy) we had an extended twitter exchange where I asked if he’s teaching any MOOCs anytime soon and he said “well, since you ask…” and that’s how I joined rhizo14! And my blogging has helped me a lot in terms of learning and interacting in rhizo14 (I was not blogging while in edcmooc and I now regret that).

But anyway… I still feel like I write too much. I don’t always post my new blogs on rhizo14 facebook (not immediately anyway), and it’s amazing because there was one post I did not put on facebook that Clarissa did on my behalf and it got SO popular. I write some things and think they might not interest people so I don’t overly publicize them (as opposed to the latest Hybrid Pedagogy piece which I’ve been spamming ppl with hehe). I do still feel like I’m imposing, even though people could always ignore me and not read stuff, right?

For example, the recent article Shyam and I published on Hybrid Pedagogy. I think it’s a great article with great ideas, I think we’re onto something big here. I think it was written in the most collaborative way and worked out so beautifully… and then when it came out and the Hybird Pedagogy people used quotes from it as they promoted it on social media, I told Sean Michael Morris how great they were at finding good quotes and he replied:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-partner=”tweetdeck”><p>Bonds of Difference: Illusions of Inclusion <a href=”https://twitter.com/Bali_Maha”>@bali_maha</a&gt; <a href=”https://twitter.com/sharmashyam”>@sharmashyam</a&gt; <a href=”http://t.co/ACcXZjiOby”>http://t.co/ACcXZjiOby</a&gt; <a href=”https://twitter.com/HybridPed”>@hybridped</a></p>&mdash; Sean Michael Morris (@slamteacher) <a href=”https://twitter.com/slamteacher/statuses/452093600508039169″>April 4, 2014</a></blockquote>

See, I read that, and I think, how can one of my favorite writers ever (Sean) who is a writing teacher say that about my writing? My next thought was, well, I’ll write all my new articles co-authored with Shyam since he’s a great writer so it must be helping raise my level 🙂

Uhhh, yeah. Me, who blogs like almost every day, and gets something published on Al-Fanar around every month, and somehow sees almost every interesting idea we discuss on #rhizo14 facebook as an opportunity to publish 😉

So I’m not really sure how to reconcile my “impostor syndrome” thing with my “compulsive writer” thing – and for some reason, I’m always now compelled to write for a public audience. Email? Why confine ideas to a few people I know? Why not open it up for the world, including people I do not know, and meet new people (love it when someone I don’t know tweets, comments, reads, likes my stuff) – but also love it when someone I do know (like Clarissa, Simon and Scott just did) comment on my peer-reviewed work or whatever is published outside my blog.

I’m always feeling like maybe I shouldn’t be sending so many articles to Al-Fanar or Hybrid Pedagogy or all those nice people who seem to like my writing. I was just talking to my boss today and she asked when I was going to get around to writing an article for our department’s newsletter and I laughed. I was like “you can use any of them” – because actually, sometimes I want to write something and it is not yet “time” for our bi-weekly newsletter, or someone else is writing it that week, so I can’t wait. I just blog it. One such post eventually caught the attention of Al-Fanar so has already been re-posted and I don’t think it can tolerate a third re-post… or can it? 🙂

Well, I’m a writeaholic and so I could just write a new one, can’t I?

P.S. while writing this blogpost I was chatting with Clarissa and I told her something I wanted to share with rhizo14: I love how we bring our parenting into the course. I hate how academics or professionals in general can be discouraged from doing that (though I have to say it is not the case in my workplace). But it’s such an important part of my identity and I am glad we all “bring it” with us openly.

[apologies for abrupt ending to post, but Clarissa has told me about interesting thread on fb that I must read before I sleep and it’s midnight already! Why publish it incoherent? Because I’m sure I’ll have a totally new thing to say tomorrow anyway… inshallah]


UPDATE: I read through the facebook thread and one of the articles posted by Ronald on that thread  brought on an interesting idea relevant to this post!!! That in Brookfield’s research, he found that people starting to become liberated and empowered through critical pedagogy (not the parts in bold I emphasized):

in the course of his phenomenographic study, it emerged that they also experienced powerful feelings of alienation both within their learning community and outside it. Brookfield identified five themes that exemplify what he terms the ‘dark side’ of critical reflection: impostorship (feeling unworthy to participate in critical
thinking), roadrunning (incremental struggles with new modes of thought), community (support for those
engaged in the critical process); and also ‘cultural suicide’ and a sense of ‘lost innocence’ resulting from
the multiplicity of new ideas that replaces old certainties, and the resulting sense of isolation and
exclusion within existing communities whose value systems remain untroubled by critical thought.

More on all that later, then!


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 🙂


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