(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!




Making Virtual Attendance Count – at #unet4online

I promise I will soon blog something about the content of the conference (though I’ve tweeted a LOT from what speakers were saying – hopefully I’ll aggregate that for folks who are not on twitter) and I’ll be watching some recorded sessions later and I can blog about those as well…

But for now…. I’ve been trying to join the online unconference – the #unet4online – I got onto the video but can’t seem to connect besides viewing the video. People are rather quiet on twitter and facebook… so I thought I’d just blog about the topic I wanted to write about!! People on twitter trying to help out… but some participants have decided to call it a day, so…

The key to enjoying virtual participation, imho, is not to think of it as something LESS than being there f2f but rather to think of it as something qualitatively different than being there f2f – and enjoy those differences!!! They bring opportunities!

So… how I made the virtual unconference experience count. Some quick tips:

  1. It helps if you’re on twitter. That way you can connect to all sorts of people from the conference in all sorts of ways (see almost all the points below).
  2. Use the chat box (seems obvious, but many ppl don’t – so they lose out on the networking potential of having side discussions  that would be rude to have in f2f but are really cool to have online). If I decide there’s someone I have “seen” often enough in sessions, and have enjoyed talking to, I’ll talk about a virtual coffee and exchange twitter handles and start interacting in that backchannel
  3. Tweet out useful tidbits from the conference – you might benefit folks from all over the place who could not pay to be there (and I’ve read somewhere that it’s questionable whether conference organizers will accept this, but it seems like the new culture is that people do that and it’s good PR for the conference, I think).
  4. Connect with speakers before the conference starts. I hit the jackpot when I got in touch with Jim Groom beforehand and look what happened! I was “there” before the conference started, and we engaged really well during the session as well
  5. Connect with the speakers during the conference – you can have side discussions with them on twitter after their session, just as other people who are present would talk to them
  6. Have side discussions without being rude. This happened quite a few times on twitter particularly but also in the chats during live video. Really valuable stuff.
  7. Make it last: make a lasting connection with people. I’ve followed so many new ppl on twitter and my own followers have increased 10% in 3 days! wow.
  8. Make it last #2: in a twitter exchange the idea came up to have a “book-club-like” weekly discussion of the recorded sessions – this could be on twitter or facebook… I’d like the chance to discuss recorded sessions with other participants or even with the speakers themselves.
  9. It helps if some of your PLN (Personal Learning Network) or friends are already at the conference virtually or physically – it helps you have someone to talk to about it at odd times or to ask questions, etc. I was lucky to have both people I know who were presenting, attending physically, and attending virtually (OK, I sort of encouraged some ppl to join hehe)
  10. It helps if you’ve got colleagues at work joining. I had one person joining but we were in different countries so did not have a chance to swap notes and discuss.
  11. IMPORTANT: it helps if you’re at the right conference for you at that stage of your career. For me this conference was great in the sense that I almost knew all about what everyone was talking about – e.g. today’s starting session mentioned #edcmooc and #rhizo14 – two free MOOCs/open courses that I’d participated in. They mentioned the collaborative autoethnography we’re doing in rhizo14 and quoted my friends in that talk. Sometimes, you want to be at a conference where everything is new and you’re learning something new every minute. But for this stage, I needed the networking aspect of this conference and the incremental learning from the sessions, helping me make connections with what I already know and do.

I’ve been to many physical conferences before and lost touch with almost every single person I met there. This time, with Twitter, I don’t think I will lose touch completely. Of course, you could exchange twitter handles at a f2f meeting as well :))

Now… what are some of the things Sloan-C (the organizers) did to help make the virtual conference a good experience?

  1. Really powerful streaming tool. Very few glitches, and I’m here in Egypt on not-so-strong infrastructure. I had about a 3-5 minute lag with the video, but otherwise it was really robust
  2. They were active on twitter and retweeted e.g. some of my blogposts about the conference
  3. Some but not all of the session moderators were really good at engaging participants and passing their questions on  (e.g. Jean, Ben, Lynne) – others did not even tell us their names, or ignored us completely. Some did a good job of having side discussions (e.g. Sandra) besides the main presentation
  4. Some but not all presenters did a good job of engaging the virtual participants – particularly Jim Groom and to a slightly lesser extent Jesse Stommel/Sean Michael Morris (e.g. Sean once read a tweet off his phone). That made a big difference, that some presenters cared. Also Mathew from Kent U had his poll online, for example, so participants from home could participate.

Not so good… not being able to join the unconference in any way… but as I tweeted to Sean today “life is an unconference”

Many things made my day today that are not directly (or at all) related to the conference, and I just wanted to post three tweets about them right here:

First one relates to this post:

Second one, the announcement of my third co-authored article posted on Hybrid Pedagogy today:

Third one (which actually came sometime before the 1st one above and after the 2nd one below) had me speechless and in tears, I was so touched:

OK…I’m off


ADDED April 17:

I won “the top virtual participant” award 🙂 Yay!


#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.


This Is How We Do It: coloring our vision?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


The Power of Social Media for the Semi-privileged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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