Category Archives: MOOCs

International Something: Why You Should Care #DigPed

flickr photo shared by andreas.klodt under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

This article was co-authored over THREE timezones, by Maha Bali (in Cairo, Egypt), Kate Bowles (in Wollongong, Australia) and Paul Prinsloo (South African currently in Virginia, USA) and refers to a workshop we are co-facilitating at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in UMW. You can watch live (or recorded) at this YouTube link (we hope YouTube works or at least streams well enough in your country). The workshop takes place Thursday August 11 at 4pm EDT (Virtually connecting website converts to your timezone – because we know we all live in different timezones – it will already by Friday for Kate!)

Yesterday, in a Virtually Connecting conversation, Ken Bauer commented on having virtual participants located in Mexico, Austria, South Africa and Egypt, compared to a regular VC hangout where most people were usually from the US. He asked how we could create more such conversations. Audrey Watters commented on the importance of this given the limited US-centric views of ed tech. Jesse Stommel and Maha Bali talked about intentionality: recognizing the importance of internationalism and acting upon it are very different things.

A while ago, Digital Pedagogy Lab co-directors Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris asked Maha to create a hybrid workshop for DPLI UMW on “something international”, to invite other facilitators and organize it however she saw fit. This invitation is encouraging: it recognizes the value of having international voices be part of such an intensively local event, with the freedom to speak for themselves, including in quite critical ways.

Maha invited Paul Prinsloo from South Africa (who will be onsite) and Kate Bowles from Australia (who like Maha will be a virtual participant). Working in various-sized education systems outside the US we’re all familiar with complications of wrangling international digital pedagogy out of faulty internet connections, language confusion, and above all timezone mismatches. This is also the infrastructure of our research and professional networking; for us, working as academics means international-first, not as an afterthought. So we responded enthusiastically.

Our collaboration in developing this workshop has itself been about the practicalities of working internationally. Sometimes we’ve all been online at the same time; just as often we’ve left messages for each other to find on waking up or getting to work. And while doing this, we’ve learned about each other’s work schedules, life histories and work spaces, as we’ve become sensitised to the work-life rhythms of our three lives. We use some but not all of the same channels, so even our three-way conversation isn’t completely contained anywhere. We don’t use the same digital devices and this has had a surprising impact on how we each work when we’re away from our desks. We can work together in English, but we’ve had to look things up to fully understand their meaning. And even though we’re familiar with each other’s work, it turns out we’re still unfamiliar with important elements in each other’s political, cultural and national context.

Since 2012 critical educators have been hearing regularly about how open digital pedagogy or social networking expands access to learning to everyone in the world. This is now such a familiar claim that we don’t need to name the edtech visionaries and entrepreneurial capitalists who’ve been relentlessly promoting it—it has become a defining truism in digital pedagogy. However, for most of us not in the US (or the UK), this vision has often signalled top-down, US-to-world, Anglo-oriented, decontextualized, culturally irrelevant, infrastructure-insensitive, and timezone-ignorant aspirations, even when the invitation for us to join in may be well-intentioned.

We want to rethink this one-way flow of benefits, and argue instead that all learning is enriched when we have the opportunity to hear from voices markedly different from our own. We want to suggest that when US culture and educational systems are the default for MOOCs and similar platforms, international voices are exoticized, marginalized and silenced at once. We also want to challenge the tendency to call something “global” when only two or three countries are involved, often including only participants from powerful institutions, and everything is in English.

But even for those learners/educators outside the US who do have both the internet and the English to participate, there are power dynamics that need to be made explicit. Whenever you connect online, you connect on someone’s terms, and in digital pedagogy these are often the terms designed by educators who enjoy the network infrastructure and cultural capital associated with US institutions. And while overcoming technical access barriers to the internet is critical for learners around the world, access on US terms or to spaces and platforms controlled by US assumptions can often introduce new cultural barriers for learners outside the US. Being more sensitive about these issues also allows us to recognize the fact that we often disregard issues of access and the different cultural and class barriers and the (in)visible fault-lines of race, gender and class in the US.

Our workshop is therefore an attempt to talk openly about how things look like from our respective non-US perspectives. We’ll be sharing case studies of our own experiences that will demonstrate different angles on the complexity of transnational education. And we will invite participants (onsite and virtually) to consider ways to build more inclusive networked learning experiences. While we are talking particularly about networked learning, much of what we discuss will apply to both onsite and online international learners and teachers.

We also recognize that inclusivity and cultural relevance are not unique to international learners, but connect to issues of identity and difference that are pressing within the US. There are learners inside the US for whom language or technology access are immediate practical barriers; and learners whose experience is continually affected by educators with a poor understanding of their cultural context or their personal priorities.

And this is why after one hour of discussing internationalness, we will have a hallway conversation with Annemarie Perez, Chris Gilliard (both onsite) and Sherri Spelic (virtually) on how identity and difference shape their practice in digital pedagogy.

If you can’t come to our workshop, we encourage you to read this article by Maha which is detailed but not very long case study on the shortcomings of an attempt at global learning). But we hope you can join us, as we explore what can be achieved in a three-timezone workshop relying on a network of regional and domestic internet technologies.

You can watch the workshop live here:

And the hallway conversation following it here:

And we will be working on a Google doc if you can’t be part of the live session but would like to contribute:

Call for Ideas: Envisioning Postcolonial MOOCs #pocomooc

By Maha Bali and Shyam Sharma, edcontexts co-founders and facilitators

Can we safely say that xMOOCs, for the most part, reproduce privilege? The privileged elite universities that can afford to create them, the privileged star professors who have the resources to build them, the privileged mostly Western point of view they perpetuate, and the privileged learners who can access them?

But can we also say we see a glimmer of hope in initiatives such as connectivist MOOCs that decenter authority (e.g. #rhihzo14, #rhizo15), MOOCs from non-Western origins (e.g. the Arab Edraak) and people who are able to challenge the xMOOC paradigm even while offering their MOOCs on places like Coursera (the Universiry of Edinburgh people who do #edcmooc and Jesse Stommel et al who did #moocspeare and Cathy Davidson who did #FutureEd)?

We (Maha and Shyam) are writing a book chapter with the title “Envisioning the Postcolonial MOOC” and we would like to solicit ideas from people everywhere on what that might entail. We do so because while we have our own ideas, part of our vision involves diversity and inclusivity. We also didn’t do a formal research study because we hope you are willing to make your responses open and attributable to you.

How do YOU envision a postcolonial* MOOC?
[* we understand postcolonial here broadly to mean anything that challenges the legacy of colonialism/imperialism, or even neocolonialism)

Let us know in the comments here, or tweet to #pocoMOOC or write a brief blogpost and link it in the comments here or on Twitter using #PocoMOOC. We will curate on and hopefully find a way to use these ideas in our book chapter, attributing you appropriately.

Unfortunately we are only giving you one week (because we don’t have much more time) – even a one-line contribution can be valuable. So what do you think? You have until August 18. Go 🙂

Thanks for taking the time!

Image “Magical Town of Tepotzlan Mexico-16″
by Christopher William Atach, retrieved from Flickr under CC-BY-SA license

How We Built an Online Community in Just Five Days

By Gregory (“gz”) Zobel (USA), Elizabeth Lenaghan (USA), Sarah Honeychurch (Scotland), Robin DeRosa (USA), Christina V. Cedillo (USA), Maha Bali (Egypt)

Although some might argue community does not equate to learning, we claim just the opposite: community functions not as a methodological approach toward a set of outcomes but as the outcome in and of itself.

Morris and Stommel (2013)

The Context & The Players

Recently, fifty-one people—including us—found themselves competing against each other for a job. In and of itself, this may not sound overly unusual, but there were a couple of unusual things about this particular competition. First, it was for a job that doesn’t pay a dime: an editorship at Hybrid Pedagogy, an online journal dedicated to exploring the intersections between critical and digital pedagogy. Second, the job interview was an online course with open elements. In this course (#hpj101), all potential editors shared  communication, editing, and writing skills as they were evaluated by the journal’s directors and managing editor. Job offers would come at the end. Yet this is not actually a story about who received the final rose. This story is about how aspects of the course (alongside our participation in it) cultivated a sense of community (rather than competition) amongst us, so much so that we began collaborating on this piece mere hours after the course ended. So, in sharing the reasons we have collectively and individually identified as to why and how this sense of community was created here, we hope to provide educators and learners—particularly in online courses—with ideas for how to foster similarly enriching experiences.

What is Community?

What do we mean when we talk about community? Perhaps something like this from Wendell Berry:

“A community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness. If it hopes to continue long as a community, it will wish to—and will have to—encourage respect for all its members, human and natural” (Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, Berry, 2000, p. 120).

The key themes that Berry identifies here are themes that have arisen regularly for us both during and after the course. Trust, goodwill, self-restraint, and compassion were all present; however, we believe that trust is the key factor that permitted the other dispositions to adhere.

Trust is especially important because community cannot rely solely on similarity or uniformity. Communities encapsulate diversity, too, and variation provides valuable learning opportunities for intellectual and emotional growth as we seek to bridge the gaps between one another. Even in the small group writing this piece now, we reflect a diverse cross-section of both the world and the academy, in terms of nationality, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, discipline, and academic rank, among other things. Trust allows us to make strategic use of our differences in perspective, experience, and standpoints as points of connection. As bell hooks explains, “Creating trust usually means finding out what it is we have in common as well as what separates us and makes us different” (hooks, p. 109).

Acknowledging the centrality of trust, as well as how it was cultivated throughout #hpj101, has been key to our emergence as a community of learners who feel enriched by the wealth of knowledge and ideas we can now access through this community.

Creating Trust Via Diverse Media

As hooks indicates, it was important for us to find out what we did and did not have in common in order to create trust. The conditions for such discovery were built into the prompts for our initial introductory posts within the course interface. Some of the prompts were:

  • Don’t list your publications, your accomplishments as an editor, your credentials, or your pedigree, unless you can do so in a limerick.
  • Don’t tell us where you live, unless you’re going to include images that will hold our fascination.
  • Do tell us what moves you, why you care about students, what you love.
  • Do give us random facts we can come to know you by.
  • Do submit a video introduction using the nifty Record/Upload Media tool in the toolbar (looks like a bit of film).

Such guidelines facilitated our initial encounters in several ways. First, they required us to think outside the “standard biographical narrative” box and trust that communicating something of our emotional and ideological selves would provide more insight into us than any earned credentials. Second, they provided an impetus for play. Limericks and random facts helped us see new angles and points of connection. Finally, prompting us to create videos and employ images, they facilitated expression and interaction beyond alphabetic text. The guidelines’ spirit created plentiful opportunities for cultivating trust through identifying both common interests and uncommon beliefs and practices. Strangely for a job interview, we did not feel compelled to follow guidelines to the letter.  Few of us actually did limericks; in fact, Maha didn’t know what a limerick was and didn’t try. She  also didn’t create a video intro simply because she didn’t have the infrastructure to do so at home in Egypt, and used images and sound instead.

The multimodal nature of these introductions also set the stage for the variety of media and platforms in which discussion would take place both inside and outside the course interface over the course of the week. The course required us to connect in order to conduct mock collaborative reviews, but collaboration spilled out beyond that instrumental purpose. These collaborations took place on multiple channels and at multiple times since participants were literally spread around the globe (we here live in Cairo, Glasgow, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, and New Hampshire). Instead of only working in the Canvas platform, participants used Twitter (beyond the official course Twitter chats), Facebook, and email for many of their conversations, thereby cultivating community by inviting each other into pre-existing social media circles.

These conversations also helped uncover points of similarity/difference that bolstered our sense of community beyond the course. For example, several of us discovered that we shared a love of punk music, and we are now working on a collaborative project about how punk music has informed our respective critical pedagogies. Others of us, feeling at ease, acknowledged that we wished we knew more about particular theoretical topics and have established an informal Twitter discussion group.

Trust was also built within the course requirements by having smaller groups of participants (3-5 people) set out to work together to practice collaboratively editing a set of documents. This activity not only helped us to get to know a sub-set of people differently, but it also helped us to better understand the type of work that we would be engaged in as members of the Hybrid Pedagogy editorial community.

Once You Have Trust Flowing in Multiple Media Channels, Community is Easier

This collaborative atmosphere was further enhanced by the community building efforts of the extant Hybrid Pedagogy staff. Periodically, the #hpj101 facilitators were available on Twitter and Canvas, answering questions, offering direction, or clarifying any confusion, as well as engaging in discussion. Often present, too, were others from the larger Hybrid Pedagogy community such as authors or reviewers, who understood part of the processes; they were able to help explain some materials or answer some questions. Apart from offering clarification, Hybrid Pedagogy staff and writers appeared to work intentionally to ask questions for development of statements on Twitter and in Canvas, “What do you mean?” or “Could you say more on this?” kinds of prompts. In other cases, they worked to include or connect people making similar questions or comments either in the Canvas Forums or on Twitter. Such modeling helped to set the tone, a tone familiar to those interested in progressive education: making others feel welcome and connecting with each other. Thus, rapidly, a number of participants worked on sharing common threads that they saw in the comments and connecting people through their work and non-work related interests. These mixed interactions: synchronous/asynchronous, quiet/chaotic, personal/dispersed, clarifying/confusing, reassuring/risky: all served to build a coherent and strong community that was also creative and dynamic at the same time.

Closing the Door on Alphabetical Modality’s Domination

Community is a term that is bandied about quite regularly. We can’t afford to allow the term to go stale. Instead, we need to–no, we WANT to (and we hope you do too since you’re reading this article!) proactively create, nurture, support, and participate in multiple diverse communities (online and in person) because, as Berry, among many others, indicates, community has a vital role.

“The indispensable form that can intervene between public and private interests is that of community. The concerns of public and private, republic and citizen, necessary as they are, are not adequate for the shaping of human life.” (Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community, Berry, 2000, p. 119).

In other words, community is another way of thinking, being, seeing, and organizing together. It’s not fully public and it’s not private, either. Instead, it’s a bridge between the two. For a journal that works towards social justice and is based on critical theories and critical pedagogies, this is an important positioning. It’s important because aside from the direct work that the journal undertakes–publishing–around that work, social networks and communities (two different things) form. This means that the critical, social justice work is not going to be limited just to the journal topics or the content; instead, those involved with the journal are working to bridge and connect with the public and make those changes.

A Critical Note

We are aware of factors outside the official course design that contributed to community building: we all already had shared interest in critical digital pedagogy, and the journal Hybrid Pedagogy itself, and were likely to be open pedagogy advocates. Some of us already knew the journal closely (as writers, MOOC participants/facilitators) and some of us knew each other (from close friendships to merely following on Twitter). This meant there were power differences amongst us in the community, but because the nature of the course was collaborative, we were encouraged to support each other in areas in which some of us were more comfortable/familiar. For example, several participants  mentioned to one of us that during #hpj101 they had thought she was already HP staff, rather than one participating to apply to be editor.

Several of us, being open educators, naturally took on facilitator roles, helping answer questions, welcoming others in, suggesting solutions to problems–all to build relationships and community. We recognized, for instance, that not all people were equally competent/comfortable with Twitter, Canvas, Google docs, etc. Not all people were equally comfortable using video and text. But this is also where the multimodality helped different people to shine in different spaces. For a journal that uses these tools in its activities, it was important for facilitators to see how potential editors would fare in various spaces.

Finally, we recognize that for some people, life got in the way of fully participating in the  course’s community building. If someone was traveling or had a sick child during the particular five days when the course took place, they likely missed out on much of the activity. Those are the restrictions of any semi-synchronous online event. The facilitators expanded the course from its original length of two days to five, and intentionally scheduled Twitter chats at times workable for various timezones. This was accommodating on their part, but there is probably no solution that would work for every single person.

Having said all this: think about what a regular job interview is like. An hour, two? Three interviews over several days? Few job interviews will both build community and coach participants in the process of selection. We were able to relax, be ourselves, and show who we were and what we could do–all while enjoying each other’s company.

Not all of us became editors of Hybrid Pedagogy. But we are still in touch, right here writing this article, and planning on more. Those of us who did become editors feel like we hit the ground running. We already felt we were amongst “our people”.


By using multiple modalities and vehicles to build relationships among participants, by expanding upon and beyond alphabetic textual relations, we found that trust can be developed more quickly in some situations because multimodal communications let us see multiple facets of one another quickly and readily. And when we converse and share in semi-protected spaces, like moderated Twitter chats or forums, we get to see how others interact and thus help define what it means to be community members there and then.

One thing we did realize is that community is not one thing–it’s not a thing at all. It’s an ever-evolving process that shifts its shape as its members travel through and converse across its networks. In this sense, even this article is an extension and a new offshoot of our community. We welcome you to join us. Catch us on Twitter, or comment below, and be a part of where we go next!

About the Authors:
GZ profile picture
Gregory ("gz") Zobel (@drgbz) is a budgie-loving bibliophile who teaches EdTech at Western Oregon University. He lives in a library in Oregon's Willamette Valley surrounded by iris and orchids. He is inspired by ravens, Gysin, Fanon, Lao Tzu, and Nutella. He blogs at He is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy

Elizabeth Lenaghan profile pic
Elizabeth Lenaghan (@Lenaberts) is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in Northwestern University’s Writing Program, and she also serves as Assistant Director of Northwestern’s Writing Place. Her teaching and research combine her backgrounds in Communications and English Literature to explore the ways that new media impact literacy as well as our reception and production of “old media” such as printed books. She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy

Sarah Honeychurch profile pic
Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) is a Learning Technology Specialist and Philosophy TA at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She’s interested in how peer interactions stimulate learning and how educators can help facilitate that. Her blog is She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy

Robin DeRosa profile pic 
Robin DeRosa (@actualham) is Professor of English and Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University. An early Americanist by training, she now researches and writes about public university missions, OER, and open pedagogy. Her website can be found at She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy

Christina V. Cedillo profile pix
Christina V. Cedillo (@DrCCedillo) is Assistant Professor of Writing at University of Houston--Clear Lake. Her research interests include embodied rhetorics and critical education, especially how these are influenced by race and gender, and access to technology.

Maha Bali profile pic
Maha Bali (@bali_maha) is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She is co-founder and co-facilitator of, co-founder of and columnist & editor at Hybrid Pedagogy. She’s a MOOCaholic, Writeaholic and passionate open and connected educator. 

Connecting on Whose Terms? Extending @pernilleripp Downsides of Being a Connected Educator

By Maha Bali, Cairo, Egypt

Becoming a connected educator is probably the best thing, career-wise, that has ever happened to me. I now have a support network of other educators, where I can draw inspiration, brainstorm solutions, share problems and victories, conduct research, carry out cross-cultural classroom collaborations, get emotional support and have loads of fun. It’s an incredible approach to professional development that is messy and yet helps me learn something new and important every single day; sometimes even every tweet or blogpost, such that I learn something new every minute I am online! (Maureen Crawford recently shared a great website on the value of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and how to develop them)

It’s Connected Educator Month (we need a month for this daily lifestyle?) and I thought I would write this post as a response to Pernille Ripp’s post The Downsides to Being a Connected Educator. I thought it might be appropriate to write about the perspective of a connected educator from Egypt and how the downsides differ slightly, because when I connect with other educators online, I am mostly connecting with educators from the global North, on their terms. In their language (English), on their timezone (unless they are in Europe, which is my timezone), discussing what is largely their context. The downsides from my perspective look different. Continue reading Connecting on Whose Terms? Extending @pernilleripp Downsides of Being a Connected Educator

Education in Context: A Few More Good Picks

by EdContexts Facilitators

In response to the often grandiose and paradoxical claims made by MOOC providers and professors, educators around the world have brought up critical issues about education across borders. An issue that has become more pronounced in the discourse of cross-border higher education is that MOOCs are making education more “democratic” while in fact they are further re-centralizing it and eschewing collaboration among educators across nations and contexts. Indeed, a lot of the educators who decided to enter cross-border higher education from the fancy door of xMOOCs often show striking lack of knowledge, experience, or even interest about the implications of teaching/learning crossing borders. Many professors, usually in the Western world, show up in the new landscape without having thought about complexities of cross-contextual pedagogy, diversity and cultural difference, and the many vagaries of contexts on a global scale.

However, the discourse about MOOCs and cross-border higher education, including in the mainstream media, we’ve come across a lot of conversations that add nuance to the issue of context in education. Continue reading Education in Context: A Few More Good Picks

Memes, Contexts, Connected Learning

Shyam Sharma and Maha Bali

Shyam and Maha wrote this post as a reflection on MakeCycle#2 where participants made their own memes as an assignment in #CLMOOC. -Ed

Imagine going to a party where you know everyone, but when the conversation begins, you are lost. You dig out your cell phone to look up the definition of what everyone is talking about, going on to skim through a Wikipedia entry. You also ask one of your friends to explain one of the sample images that you found on the web. But the more you learn about the subject, the more you struggle to understand what everyone is saying.

philosoraptorOne of us felt something like the above when first reading about memes as the focus of the second week of clmooc, a connected learning community/course that we participated in. Having lived in the US longer where he also studied popular culture in graduate school, Shyam knew about memes as an internet phenomenon. But for Maha, the subject was new.

Derived from Greek “mimesis” (imitation), the word “meme” refers to “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The Wikipedia entries for “meme” and “internet meme” also highlight that memes act as units “for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices.” Indeed, memes are understood as cultural analogue to “genes” in biology in that they “self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.” Thus, memes can be hard to understand for anyone outside of particular cultures and contexts. Continue reading Memes, Contexts, Connected Learning

Repost: 8 Things about MOOCs—

While we work to share blog posts written by members of the community more regularly, we write or repost our own work as facilitators. Here's a "reprint" of a post just written by Shyam Sharma on his blog, poking fun at mainstream discourse of xMOOCs for continuing to overlook complexities due to variations in MOOC types, learners, contexts, and so on.

= = =  8 Things about MOOCs—= = =
While reading this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I thought about a similar number of things about MOOCs that many people in the media and the mainstream MOOCosphere seem either unable or unwilling to learn:

1. There is no such thing as MOOC, only many types of MOOCs, with many kinds of them making the original acronym sound very funny.

2. If “nearly half of registrants never engage with any of the content,” then it’s time to stop touting the “total number” of people who click on the “sign up” button.

3. If people signing up for multiple courses are most active, but even those lose interest after taking the sixth course, then there is probably something about online and massive courses that has failed to bring about magic solutions to the “crisis” in education. Continue reading Repost: 8 Things about MOOCs—