(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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


#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 🙂


OERs, MOOCs, and dieting

This is just a quick post re-capping thoughts from today’s twitter discussions and especially the #nwoerchat

First, I want to point out that I remembered Rebecca Hogue’s great work on a framework for describing MOOCs and was compelled to share it with folks on #nwoer to help tamper the conversation on MOOCs beyond the typical xMOOC with all its flaws (was inspired after reading Peter’s blog post). It seemed to resonate well, and I am glad, because Rebecca did a great job.

One of the questions in today’s #nwoerchat (Storify here, great job Peter on getting it up so fast! And both Sue and Peter for facilitating) was what does the ideal MOOC look like. And well, first, most of us agreed there was no one-size-fits-all learners, contexts, etc. We also had a few rhizo14ers (Sarah, Simon, Carol, Len, who else?) and we of course waxed lyrical about rhizo14 (in this vague way that I am sure annoyed other people and made them feel excluded – I am so sorry, I remember feeling that way about other MOOCs ppl talked about and said it was an amazing experience and difficult to describe).

Speaking of no one-size-fits all, I was reminded again of the analogy of education is like dieting: fads come and go, but the reality is that each individual has different needs and different things work well for different contexts. And speaking of food analogies, Simon took my suggestion and created a padlet where we can all post our food-edu-oer analogies! Here it is if you’d like to add to it

One of the very important other conversations I have had today on fb and twitter relates to the openness/closedness of MOOCs. It is lovely to have MOOCs where you can get in any time (but I said, never leave, as in Hotel California). Several ppl on the twitter chat agreed that the best MOOCs are the ones where they never end, or at least the connections between people continue long after the official MOOC is over. This all reminded me of an earlier post about what makes a good professional development experience and it would be great if people can add to the list I initially wrote (via the comments – and then maybe I’ll do a new post integrating/attributing the comments).

Another really useful thing that came out of the twitter chat (though I did not see responses other than my own actually) was the question of how/whether MOOCs feed into our teaching. For me personally, MOOCs have fed into my teaching in many ways:

1. I can get resources to use (whether articles in xMOOCs, or peers’ blog posts in cMOOCs)

2. My students’ blogs this semester are getting loads of comments from my MOOC friends – and this fits perfectly with the course outcomes that include an element of intercultural interaction

3. Some of my students joined a Twitter chat by a MOOC friend that was done for his students originally

Flower: open and closed. Wikimedia commons

Flower: open and closed. Wikimedia commons

Among many other ways twitter has helped my teaching, e.g. when I posted my “riddle” for teaching this semester, Mark posted a “Goha” story that I used in my very first class to help me explain the dilemma to my students in a humorous way.

I’ll stop here before this all becomes too personal to make sense to anyone but me (and maybe rhizo14 coz they know me too well)

Oh… ok, one LAST personal thing: I received a (physical) gift from Clarissa (from Brazil) today – loved it Clarissa. Cannot believe I now have a rhizo14 magnet on my fridge… evidence (not that I need it) that our online relationships are much more than just that :o) And this reminds me of an annoying article I read today about online relationships not approximating f2f. Guess what? They can be richer and deeper and more engaged. Some people are just not lucky enough to be able to build them.

I’m off! One last last thing – I found a nice image for “open” and “closed” which also reminds me of Peter’s post “MOOCs: a rose by any other name”. I inserted it somewhere in the middle of this blog post. 🙂


Liberating the oppressors and all such difficulties

Freire claims that “the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed [is] to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well.” As with much critical pedagogy scholarship: easier said than done! I love the critical pedagogy literature. I love the way it opens my mind and helps me rethink things and consider action. It has not, however, so far, helped guide me in that action far enough. Liberate one’s oppressors? How the heck does one do that? Mandela style?

Of course, to be fair, the critical pedagogy literature cannot and should not be prescriptive. After all, each oppressive relationship or situation is contextual, local. What works to alleviate or liberate in one instance does not work for the other… Does it?

I am trying here to think of various forms of power that can involve oppression (reminded by an old paper by Burbules: A Theory of Power in Education – which i won’t re-read right now!) – these vary from the political (oppressive state) to the postcolonial (oppressive global forces), to the very personal (patriarchal oppression or abuse). There are many more of course. And then there are those tricky benevolent-looking oppressions: the educational (teacher oppression in the classroom, administrators oppressing teachers), oppressive parenting style (and don’t get me started on this one).

Sometimes I look at this goal of liberating the oppressors and think: but that is the only way! Other times I think about it and it seems like an impossibility. Today, my thoughts are that if one is unwilling to put in the effort to liberate one’s oppressor, the only option is escape: escape as in immigrate and leave your country if the state is oppressive; escape as in divorce from an abusive husband; escape as in drop out of the educational system that is oppressing you, resign from the job where you are oppressed.

But though escape might provide immediate relief, it may not truly solve the problem long-term or even short-term, and it may create new previously unfamiliar problems and oppressions. You leave one oppressive state/country and you end up in another as a refugee or immigrant who is not a first-class citizen; it may not be a generally oppressive state/country but you are oppressed within it anyway. You may leave an abusive marriage, but you are stuck with the possible stigma of being a divorcee or single mom or whatever, and the threats of what an abusive husband might do to you in revenge. Dropping out of education or resigning from an oppressive job have consequences too: you are jeopardizing your future earnings and potential. None of these consequences are small or insignificant. Escape is still a risk to be weighed.

I write this and it feels, it sounds, it seems hopeless, but I know deep down it is not.

I so strongly believe in the power of empathy. I just struggle to implement it in real life. I fear that when the oppressed are empathetic to the oppressor, they may “excuse” the oppressor’s behavior, let it go unchallenged, because they “understand” where the oppressor is “coming from”. Oh, employers can’t raise salaries or give promotions because there is a budget crisis. Oh, a husband is abusing his wife because he has a drinking problem, it is out of his control. Oh, the state is mistreating its people because of poverty and it has many mouths to feed.

Umm, that kind of empathy is not going to help. And I think that maybe the reason it does not help is that it does not get to the roots of the motivations behind the oppressor’s behavior, maybe? So for example, why does the husband have a drinking problem and why does it lead to abuse? Is this cycle breakable, and is it breakable within the oppressed person’s control? Or does it need external intervention?

Also: why does my employer keep having budgetary issues, and what can be done to prevent them or circumvent them in the first place, so that we can work together not to have to freeze salary increases, for example.

Also: what can my role be in building a state/country that manages its resource better?

I say this, and it is hard. It is so hard. I have been saying this in different places the past couple of days: criticism is easy. Risky maybe, but easy. It’s just words. Reconstruction is hard. And it occurs to me now that it is not, cannot be an individual endeavor.

And that is maybe why critical pedagogy emphasizes collective action. It’s not just a gimmick. There is no magical solution to ending oppression, if there is any at all. But the only way to really work on liberating ourselves is to work together. Find others who share our values and beliefs, possibly not all of them, but at least most of the important ones. And do something together to work towards liberating ourselves. And in the process, not even intentionally, we might succeed in liberating our oppressors? How? The two projects I am working on now (one a co-authored article, the other still a bit vaguer in my mind) are meant to give public voice to the ideas, thoughts, experiences of the oppressed. It is a step. Having something out in public might raise awareness of the oppressors in ways that may put them on the path to liberation. I have no illusions that oppressors will read/interpret what is being said empathetically, if they would even begin to understand them. But at least we can try shouting out.

Liberating the oppressors seems necessary, because, supposedly we are actually planning to live with them later on. Prophet Muhammad was persecuted for a long time by the non-believers before he entered Mekkah victorious. The day he entered, he told those who had persecuted him and his followers that they were “free to go“. He forgave them in an instant what harm and injustice he had suffered, not only for himself but all who had followed him. That is exactly the act of liberating the oppressor. He had to get victory first, though 😉

I will stop here while I am on a high note 😉 Before it all goes downhill again

Added an hour or so later: I response to this post, an online friend sent me this Video: Maya Angelou reciting “and still i rise” – sooo inspiring

(Will embed it properly later when i am on a PC)


Reflections on the possibilities and potentials of the Arab MOOC Edraak

We just had a couple of energizing and inspiring days in my university, as the makers of the first non-profit Arab MOOC, Edraak were visiting us.

I had first met the people behind this initiative (online) when they read an article I had written about MOOCs, where I said that while MOOCs were a great development in openness and access, they were not really benefitting the whole world because
a. They privilege English language speakers,
b. They increase the (colonial) Westernization of knowledge, and
c. They privilege people who can get online most easily, if at all (this covers both infrastructure and tech skill).

Well, with the upcoming launch of Edraak at least we are on the way to solving the first two of these issues for the Arab world. First, by offering MOOCs in Arabic, and second, by providing knowledge from the Arab world, to both the Arab world and some MOOCs in English by Arabs about the Arab world, to give more voice to Arab scholarship worldwide. It has been an energizing two days.

I posted about my excitement on the rhizo14 facebook group, and got some really interesting responses (some very nuanced and critical) to which this blog post is my reflective response.

But before I do that, Vanessa Vaile (also in rhizo14 and futureed) pointed me to this interesting and reflective critique of Cathy Davidson’s use of an aboriginal in one of her videos on FutureEd (the author, Kate, is someone in both rhizo14 and futureed but whom I had not read before).

The important thing for me, here, is to point out that including anecdotes about other cultures (or in Cathy Davidson’s case, images) when you know little of these cultures, is not truly including their knowledge within your own, as an equally valid and valuable knowkledge. It is a good effort, and i applaud it, I do, but it is marginal, incidental, and does not truly make your content more culturally relevant. Culturally relevant pedagogy brings in the alternate (i.e. non-dominant) culture (of the learners) using the voices of the people of that culture (whether learners or external others), in ways that would empower learners to both be proud of their own culture and its contribution to knowledge, and critique it, to continue to learn about the dominant culture in order to survive in this world, but also to critique it in order to challenge the status quo (these ideas from Shor and Freire’s Pedagogy for Liberation). While I find much of the content in FutureEd to be US-centric, some of the activities (e.g. An international timeline of higher ed) do practice better inclusion.

If one wants the content of their course or MOOC to be truly representative of a multiplicity of cultures, I believe this would entail either the inclusion of individuals from those cultures in the course design, or at least including individuals very closely familiar with those cultures. An even better way, if you don’t have access to all that diversity, is to draw participants in, ask them to create their own content for your course, using their own context. This sounds easier than it is, if your own content as instructor is more privileged, better seen by students. But that is why a course like rhizo14 does this well: Dave (the course instructor) posts very little, and his posts are sparks to get the rest of us going. Content is not centered around him, but the content is produced by the participants and hence represents their diversity. There are other ways in which Rhizo14 is not as representative or open to all: it would be difficult to participate fully if you did not have the tech skill and comfort to use social media and interact with others online with that intensity. You may get something useful for your learning, but not a full experience of the course. All communication in rhizo14 is also in English (with the occasional French thrown in) – and that of course excludes many potential participants.

Now… Back to the Arab MOOC. There are three different kinds* of courses that will be offered. I start with the one that excites me the most: courses by Arab for Arabs in Arabic. This gives voice and space to the Arab world in the MOOCverse. Yes, Arab higher ed is sometimes supposedly free (but see this article on why it is actually costly). There is something to be said for the potential of Arabs of all kinds (including some women who cannot leave home to further their learning) to have access to free educational opportunities like this one.

Another thing Edraak are planning to do is to offer some already-existing EdX MOOCs in Arabic. This is my least favorite idea, but I can understand how some Arabs may find it beneficial. It sounds impressive to be able to take a Harvard or MIT MOOC. I never thought it was particularly impressive, since the MOOC doesn’t in any way (that I can see) approximate a real Harvard or MIT education, and offering these MOOCs (in whatever language) branded that way sort of deceives people into thinking they might be experiencing something close to the real thing. I am not saying MOOC providers are dishonest. Just that the hype around MOOCs can be deceptive.

The third option Edraak plans to offer is English language MOOCs taught by Arab instructors. This addresses the issue with Western/Anglo MOOCs in that it represents the Arab voice by Arabs.

Now I need to say that my enthusiasm is tempered by several important cautions:
1. I hope the Arab MOOC does not recreate the cycle of privilege of Western top-tier universities, by offering courses only by Arab professors from the top-tier Arab (and often also Westernized) universities. This is likely to be the start, but hopefully not all there is to it. Again, doing a MOOC with a prestigious university of any kind is not akin to studying at that university for credit

2. Arabic as a language is very complex in that the written form (Modern Standard Arabic) is completely different from the spoken (colloquial) form, which in turn is very different for each country and even sometimes different areas within a country. These colloquial dialects are often incomprehensible to Arabs unexposed to them. This means a possible hegemony of the Egyptian and/or Lebanese dialects that are common in popular media and familiar to Arabs worldwide. On the other hand, using Modern Standard Arabic throughout is complicated because first, few people (at least in Egypt) are comfortable speaking it accurately – so this might pose a problem for lecturers. Second, because it feels “distant” to learners and more difficult for the less educated. What about readings? These are all questions on the table and being reflected upon.

3. What about social media and more connectivist approaches to MOOCs? I am hoping some will take this approach, or a mixed approach such as the one used in edcmooc (and one where content is not lecture-based but a combination of relevant readings and videos already online as in edcmooc). Arab youth are already quite engaged with social media, as the Egyptian and Tunisian revolution have shown. The MOOC instructors might not be, though, but I think this should not stop the participants from harnessing social media for learning. I think encouraging their use, even if the teacher doesn’t get too closely involved (but maybe the TAs can be?) can do wonders for creating community.

4. The whole open online education thing is less “open” than we like to believe and an Arab (or any global south) option does not solve these two problems: first, the need for infrastructure, that maybe absent in some areas, but for those who have weak infrastructure, principles of universal design may help ensure alternatives are considered (e.g. Transcripts for videos that may take too long to play/download; synchronous sessions being not required and watchable later). Second, the need for the learner to both have the technical skills to be able to access the learning material, andthe technical ability and disposition to learn online, when online might previously have meant socializing on facebook or browsing without intention or gaming.

5. Back to the issue of women: some women in the region are privileged and can do all manner of things including traveling to learn abroad. Others have some privilege but are restricted by circumstances such as responsibilities caring for their children. This second group can benefit greatly from the flexibility of a free MOOC. However, there remains a portion for whom getting online remains an issue (even if the household continues to have access) for social reasons, and these remain excluded.

I don’t even think I have begun to cover all the issues here. But it is a start to both recognizing the empowerment potential and critiquing the hype and possible pitfalls one can fall into if we are not careful.

Note: some of these ideas came out of conversations with the Edraak providers as well as conversations on fb with rhizo14 participants.

* Note added Feb 22: the way I have categorized the courses here is different from the way Edraak categorize them. Their three categories are as follows
1. Arabic language university MOOCs (either original content from Arab professors, or translated and re-contextualized from existing EdX MOOCs)
2. Arabic language vocational MOOCs taught by Arab role models who are not academics
3. English language MOOCs by Arab presenting the Arab perspective to the world


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)


6 Teaching Ideas Inspired by MOOCs

I have written previously that I believe teachers can use MOOCs for professional development. Here, i share briefly some ideas i plan to try in my own course that inspired me from MOOCs I took or am taking.

1. Syllabus negotiated via Google doc
I have always had a negotiable syllabus, but I never thought to actually put the syllabus online in a space where students could comment on it throughout the semester. This idea is inspired by Cathy Davidson’s #FutureEd (MOOC yet to start). (#rhizo14, below, also gives me ideas for how far to negotiate with learners… But that is another blog post).

2. Sustainable assessment
This I learned from #flsustain, Nottingham’s Sustainability, Society and You. I sometimes try to make my assessments authentic (i.e. something relevant and useful to the learner’s life beyond class). I now think I should not have any assessments that do not directly influence the learner outside class. No assignments handed in to me. Only assessments that make sense to learners outside class. When I teach teachers, this means something they will either use in their class, for their school, or their professional development. Something they might want to do again or use again beyond the class. Hosted on a platform they can continue to use. E.g. Blog or wiki or other social media

3. Allow multiple approaches for connecting
I am learning a lot from #rhizo14 (Rhizomatic learning) beyond this, but I think it has been great to negotiate my way around learning via different social media for one course, and since i teach ed tech, my students could benefit from this on a meta-level (exploring multiple intelligences, learning new technologies,comparing their learning potential) – another sustainable form of learning! So i might have my students blog for one week, use twitter for an assignment the next, have a facebook and/or G+ group (unsure they need both) – and then let them choose freely among those (and the Moodle discussion board) for their preferred platform for later weeks.
(To be fair, this idea started for me with #edcmooc below, including giving students annotated content to choose to read/watch, but I participated in more platforms in #rhizo14, so the idea grew)

4. Digital artefact as project
This I learned from #edcmooc, eLearning and Digital Cultures (Edinburgh) – the final project was a digital artefact of our choice that represented learning in the course. I liked the freedom and simplicity of the prompt, though it was actually an assignment that required reflection. I learned from some of the shortcomings of it, too. It asked a little too much (in the peer assessment criteria – which i think in my case should be negotiated) and i would also add one thing (suggested by Sandra Sinfield after i raised the issue in the discussion forum): allow the learner space to explain why or how they think their artefact met the goals of the project. I also think they can ask for a couple of additional criteria to be assessed on that are valuable to THEM personally. I also learned to give learners space to explore some new technologies before the final project to help them choose among possibilities.

5. Quadblogging
This one I learned from Ary and Maddie, CTAs in #edcmooc – have students blog in groups of 4 such that each blogs for a week while others comment and help support and promote, then they rotate. I might do it slightly differently, but along those lines so students who have different commitments throughout the semester do not feel pressured to blog weekly.

6. Medium-term synchronous collaborative events
This one I learned from the #readmake project, not a MOOC, but a 2-day collaborative writing event on a google doc, with a Twitter hashtag on the side. I am not a big fan of synchronous communication online (love it when it is convenient and it works, like today with #rhizo14 folks, but it is rare for me to be able to participate, and infrastructure in Egypt is choppy). Sooo the idea of all people using twitter and some collaborative platform like a wiki to work on something over a short time period of a few days (but not just within 1-2 hours) sounds more doable. It allows for some immediacy but also some reflection and allows for people’s busy schedules and tech glitches.

Will I be able to do this all next semester? See #1: i will negotiate with my students and see! Every semester is different. Will it all work? See #3: some will work better for certain people than others! So the only certainty is uncertainty… As we have been saying somewhere in #rhizo14… Facebook was it?