(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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


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!



Independence as Essential for Lifelong Learning

So this is my first go at the #rhizo14 Week 2 Challenge, but it also has elements of sustainable learning (useful for #flsustain as well, i hope)

The challenge from #rhuzo14 is:
Explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?

And i think a key thing here is for learners to recognize the need, or at least the preference, for independence. It is not enough that the teacher recognizes if. This might be the “role” of the teacher here – to make learners realize they are better off becoming more independent.

But the notion of community is also very important here, as it helps learners feel supported in this process of becoming self-sufficient (another term for independent? A different one?). After that, you would hope learners would become self-motivated as well, and that is the biggest key. I think once someone is self-motivated, anything is possible because it is difficult to hold them down. I don’t know how to foster this, or if it is possible.

But back to the challenge.

I teach edu tech to school teachers. Lifelong learning is an essential goal, hopefully for them as well, though sometimes I assume it for them… Sometimes my attempts to let them be independent are resisted and i tell them “there will always be new technologies and new classroom pedagogies, but there won’t always be Maha” and the key is for them to build a pool of resources and processes (with my help at first, using other colleagues later) to help them stay abreast of new things and to keep learning about them. I want their learning to be sustainable and the products of their learning to be useful to their daily context and synergistic for them, so that what they learn, they use in their work. Whatever projects we do, they use at school.

Now this is a pretty simple situation. They are already adults, teachers, and taking a postcompulsory education course. This is v different from school, or college students.

But the last part of Dave’s question: how do we ensure students self-assess, etc. it is not a big deal with adult education because nothing essentially assessable or measurable needs to result from their learning (important that they learn, but no external body will do much about it)

But with school and college, your course may be a pre-requisite to another that builds upon yours and it is not enough to let each learner set their own goals and meet them at their own pace. You could argue he system is flawed, its structures non-conducive to learning, that it needs more openness and flexibility, etc. But you usually can only control or influence your own classroom, department, or institution (if you are lucky). And also, you maybe want to promote independence in students that they can benefit from even when they are in a more traditional learning situation. (You might argue that independence breeds rebellion against tradition and that may be true, too, but sometimes wisdom can help tamper these tendencies and allow ppl to pick their battles)

Back again to issues of self-assessment. A Foucauldian view of this (if i may roughly interpret it) would be to suggest that this is a new way of exerting power, instead of letting the state or authority assess, but building self-monitoring mechanisms in the individual… Even worse control because it becomes internalized,

But i keep jumping from the concrete to the abstract and back again. If this were a graded post, i would give myself an “F” for “focus” (or lack thereof) but as it stands, i will give myself a”B”for brainstorming, and give anyone who responds to these questions an “A” for “answering” 🙂

Looking fwd to hearing/reading your thoughts!