(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!




#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!

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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.


Social media friends are my new books: re-flipping the flip

Today, my thoughts have been inspired by a combination of things that happened on social media. This is a terribly non-linear post (interestingly, a discussion on linearity of English-language writing vs others happened today at work; lots of comments will be in italics in this post because they will interrupt the linear flow, but my thinking just ain’t linear right now and am reserving the linearity for my more formal stuff). I find this very interesting because I had a pretty stimulating two days at work, face-to-face, but what I want to blog about, what excites me enough to stimulate the writing of the blog piece, is stuff that happened online. As Lenandlar commented on a previous blog, our new online friends are the new books we now read passionately every day. (I remembered a day early on in rhizo14 when i said i was enjoying the escape to rhizo14 on the weekend (a bad one for Egypt it was) better than reading a novel, and that was saying a lot coz I love reading novels). And I don’t just mean reading their blogs, but even shorter interactions like on twitter and comments on my blog, etc.

So… To keep this post relatively short (or not, I haven’t finished it yet): I was never happy with the whole “flipped classroom” thing because
A. I almost never lecture myself anyway, so flipping that is meaningless


B. i think people who do lecture intensively would not necessarily be creative enough to know what to do when they flip. Am sure some people will have things they want to try out and will find time when flipping happens. It can be liberating, I am sure, but it is not in itself a pedagogically sound idea unless you think about it pedagogically (and that is the topic of this post, which I will get to in a minute)


C. Good lecturing was never one-way. There are great lecturers who insert minimal questions to students in the middle of their lecture, but use those to help them pace themselves, modify their plan. Besides that, even in a lecture without questions, if a class is small enough, involves making eye contact, seeing whether students understand or not. It is interruptible. A video-taped one is not. I have seen some great MOOC videos, however, by experienced teachers, who did a good job of asking themselves questions a student would typically ask, and proceeding to answer them (reminds me of some really good teachers who used to do the Egyptian barameg ta3leemeyya, i.e. educational programming on TV for school kids). It is doable but not everyone can do it.

(Btw, I a, writing this post in such a non-linear manner it is ridiculous, reminding me of my feeling about my PhD – apparently Barry Dyck from rhizo14 also had trouble making his thesis into a linear one; just discovered that in his autoethnography today; commented on the google doc to tell him so, and realized that those comments I am making on the doc are de-linearizing the text, de-autoing the ethnographies and… Messing it all up really nicely, thank you rhizo14)

ANYWAY: the ideas of today were inspired by Kris Shaffer, who posted a Stanford study (which I came across via Sean Michael Morris’ google plus) and when I tweeted it, Kris, who teaches music, pointed me to another post of his on his approach to pedagogical re-flipping in which he cites a guy called Ramzey Musallam who teaches chemistry and writes about the same topic.

In a matter of 5 or so minutes, I had accumulated a wealth of information on

1. A Stanford study that showed that it is better to start with inquiry-based learning, not lecture/video of theory/concepts – this is the chronological opposite of flipping. It is also very Deweyan, isn’t it? Discovery-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and all that; as Musallam states, it is the way of scientific discovery

2. I had learned how a music teacher tries this in his (university level) class

3. I had learned how a chemistry teacher does it in his (high school level) class

(And those three articles can make up a module in a class about re-flipping the flip, or inquiry-based learning, giving the study that supports the theory, and the experience of two teachers from different disciplines and contexts; showing the value of educational case studies told by teachers. I could go on but I think you get the idea).

I skimmed the articles and will come back to them, but also interesting was the discussion I had with Kris about why I never flip coz I never lecture, and he said he often gives his students text not video. Which made me realize how I was already doing that. I was basically pointing my students to blog posts or articles I had written in lieu of a lecture video. It made me realize two things. Well three:
1. Much of my writing is pedagogical, not always consciously in that way, but I guess it is just who I am, somehow?

2. It is more sustainable and useful to the world that I write it publicly, rather than in a closed LMS/VLE or email – it benefits more people for a longer time

3. I only ever recognized the pedagogical value of some of my blog posts because Bonnie Stewart kept tweeting some of it to her students and I thought, hmm, maybe I can tweet those to her students as well..

And another thing I learned from Bonnie, though I “flipped” it, is about connecting our network of online friends to our students – and the beautiful people of rhizo14 have been interacting with my students’ blogs (well one lucky student in particular because she said something relevant to a discussion, but now I will try to find ways to engage all the others as well) – but what a way to show people the power of social media! Full list of my students’ blogs here

(orphan side note: I was telling my student-teacher the other day, who teaches kindergarten that it was ridiculous to even think about it with reference to KG. Who the heck lectures to 4-year-olds anyway? (But apparently there is stuff online about flipping KG classrooms, too!)

I will stop here before I give someone a headache!

Oops, back about an hour later to add this great post critiquing the generic flip much better than I ever could!


Chaos, safety, vulnerability, and community in massive online interaction

I just participated in the first #moocmooc live Twitter chat on #FutureEd. I wasn’t sure what the topic would be, but it strangely intersected with some things we had been discussing in #rhizo14 for various reasons.

I can’t capture it all – i couldn’t follow it all and not all of it stayed with me, but that’s no surprise and i am comfortable with it, i accept it. My fave quote (which i now can’t find though i’d favorited it i think!) was by Sean Michael Morris, something like “agency is like cookies, you can never have too much of it”, or something like that…

Anyway. So I am just sharing here parts that I remembered off the top of my head.

We tackled the issue of chaos (which reminds me how Jenny described last week as “messy”) and some of us thought chaos was a good thing, a “joy” to be embraced.

We discussed issues related to trolling and bullying in social media and discussion forums of MOOCs, and this is something #rhizo14 facebook had been discussing thanks to a story I think
Vanessa shared about this Coursera MOOC on a topic related to Islam where people were apparently really rude. Surprise surprise!

There was discussion as to whether these behaviors should be prevented, who would be responsible for doing so, if natural roles emerging would be problematic… And then my favorite ideas started to emerge

Someone flipped the story completely (or at least, that is how I saw it) and said something about building a supportive community… That the supportive community is what protects the participants, and then I think someone said something about preparing learners to embrace vulnerability.

Right. Because when you think about it, that’s the only sustainable and least controversial solution. Any rule-creation will involve impositions of power by those who set the rules. Any rules would need to be contextual (i am not a fan of universality, and you just need to be a person on the margins of some context or other to understand why).

I am sure it is not simple to create this supportive community, or to help someone embrace vulnerability. I wrote earlier this week about my experience of embracing vulnerability in academic blogging and many others responded by sharing their own stories in the comments. I think someone mentioned on facebook that independence brings with it vulnerability… And so it does.

Opening ourselves to it is one thing. Helping others open themselves to it? To the uncertainty of it? To unlearning the need for structure and an external other to protect them, especially when that external other is supposed to be us? That’s hard man. I don’t know how to do it.

Yet 🙂

P.S. i don’t know how to do a storify inside WordPress but if there is a really simple way to do it, I would love to know so I can quote tweets as images directly

P.P.S. thanks to ppl who suggested tools for following Twitter chats, i used both tweetdeck and twubs this time. Twubs was good for pausing and coz it automatically put in the hashtag (i always forget), but tweetdeck was better for replying properly to people. Neither was prefect.

P. P. S. the word “troll” is interesing. I understand the connotation in this context, but i remember also a time when there were these cute little playthings called trolls, plastic dolls for kids. Big fad at some point …(to avoid copyright infringement, see this link for image)


The Vulnerability of Social Media Participation

This is just a quick weekend post to reflect on the vulnerability we open ourselves to when we blog or tweet or participate in any online community.

I only started blogging over a month ago – Dec 18, 2013! 30 posts already, so almost daily (sometimes twice a day… I know, it is too much)

Someone (apologies if misrepresent those thoughts) was commenting on facebook that not everyone has the same confidence about writing, doubting the value of what they have to say, or whether others will find it useful. For me, personally, i think we make ourselves vulnerable to participate in social media, whether by blogging, tweeting, or participating in any discussion. Unlike Jenny who talks about deliberating before writing, i am happy to share my half-formed thoughts… On the condition that they are accepted as such, not treated as complete. (I compare those with peer-reviewed work and articles that get published after editing in magazines – that work gets raised to a higher quality by peers and editors BUT social media writing can potentially get so much more feedback that benefits everyone’s learning in the process).

Having said that, it means that sometimes what I blog about is not necessarily up to some people’s standards. Maybe i will write something with good intentions that would offend someone or have unintended consequences. Before the internet, this happened a lot behind the author’s back, right? It still can, of course, but now there are opportunities for engagement..

Which adds another element to the mix: will they like me? My colleagues at work got overwhelmed with my reflective/provocative emails, so i started blogging. But my colleagues at work still talk to me and show their respect for my ideas in person. Online, it is a big risk: will anyone really benefit from this? Will theylike me? Do we want to see how often our blog has been viewed, tweeted, discussed? Do we want to read about it in someone else’s work?

Why do we write? Sometimes, like Frances commented, i write for myself, because it helps me organize my thoughts. I share it to get feedback from others and interact and further develop my ideas. Yesterday,i wrote to express thoughts and feelings i felt others must be having as well, and in a way that blog post made me realize i was not alone and i am glad i put myself out there. On the other hand, i worried that by arguing for inclusion, i might have alienated someone else on the other side of the spectrum. I hope i have not. I was just arguing that we are each free to pursue this course however we like for whatever goals we have.

Now if only I could take that sentiment and use it in all facets of my professional and personal life…


Academic blogging revisited: Thinking, writing, action

This post is a confluence of several “coincidences” related to the value of thinking and writing and the value of taking action in the world – all at a time when I started my own blog as a form of contributing to public discourse with the aim of making that writing useful to the world.

The coincidences (all within a 24 hour period), include:

1. Reading about Hannah Arendt in the book Interpretive Pedagogies where she insists that ideas/thinking are not equivalent to action
2. A tweet by @jessifer that I retweeted quoting Martin Bickman: “the problem is writing articles instead of making sure the articles actually change the world.” (Emphasis mine; I have no idea who Martin Bickman is but I intend to find out soon)

These first two ideas come together in my mind to make me realize that the value in what we think and write does not make it action in the world until we find ways to make that writing make a difference in the world. Paulo Freire believed strongly in the interaction between the word and the world, and in linking reflection/knowledge to action. He suggested that action without reflection/knowledge is mere activism, and that to focus on speech/writing without action is mere “verbalism”. And so, I am beginning to think, that “thinking” is a pre-requisite to writing, and writing (and teaching) is a form of action/activism in that it can share knowledge, build on others’ knowledge, but also be a form of advocacy. But even though sometimes I write for myself, the true value of my non-creative writing lies in its capacity to reach others and make a difference, create change in some way. This also means that sometimes a blog post will be more valuable than a book, because a. It is open access so more people can reach it; b. it is shorter, so busier people can read it; c. It is simpler language than more scholarly work, so more practitioners can understand it, and d. It is more immediate, so there is less “time” lost between my thinking the thought, and it reaching someone to benefit him/her.

Now another thing also struck me within those same 24 hours:

3. I read the table of contents of the book The Future of Thinking and loved the way they titled the last chapter starting with: ”(in)conclusive”

What I really like about the “(in)conclusive” part is that it made me realize that it might really be OK to publish something when you have not necessarily reached your conclusion. Some things are changing so fast that it might not even make sense to try to conclude. I was also more recently inspired by Dave Cormier publishing his work-in-progress book on community as curriculum. It made me realize that we do not have to necessarily reach the final polished stage of our work before sharing it. I am sure Dave has been sharing these ideas in his blog over the years, and pulling it together as a book and sharing the book while it is in progress was very inspiring to me.

So I have only been blogging for about two weeks (but been writing online for six months now) but all of the above has reinforced my decision to blog. I am at a stage in my life where I cannot do as much physical activism as I would like, or as I could before, but my mind is full of thoughts and ideas that I can share and hopefully make a difference in some small way, and I hope I can share the inspiration I am getting from other “open educators” such as those who inspired this post!