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062: Flexible Learning & Teaching with Dr. Maha Bali

Updated: Jul 13


In my continued study of social justice issues specific to the design industry, I found the incredible work of Sasha Costanza-Chock. Their book, Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need, explores “the relationship between design and power” and the ways in which everyone in the design community can “transform design values, practices, narratives, sites, and pedagogies so that they don’t continue to reinforce interlocking systems of structural inequality”. (This is an exciting conversation for another episode.)


As I devoured Design Justice, one question posed in the book in the section about critical pedagogies immediately took me back to the conversation you're about to hear with Dr. Maha Bali. The question posed is this: “Is the aim of computing education to make all people good coders, or to make all coders good people?”


While this question exists in the context of technology design, it can easily be adapted to any other facet of professional design education. Therefore the question might look like this: “Is the aim of design education to make all people good designers, or to make all designers good people?”


Or, more generally: “Is the aim of post-secondary education to make all people good learners, or to make all learners good people?”


While I don’t have close to all the answers (in fact, the more I learn, the more I learn how much there is I still have to learn…), this question intrigues me. It is a profound, fascinating, complex question that speaks to the very foundational underpinnings of post-secondary education.


This takes us to today’s very special guest and conversation.


I first learned of Dr. Bali’s work in reading an article in Times Higher Education called Do unto students as they would have done to them. This piece took a hard look at asking students to keep their cameras on during virtual synchronous classes and it inspired me to learn more about both sides of the issue. I then presented my case for ‘cameras turned off’ classrooms at a learning and teaching conference (which I have since turned into a podcast episode, 061). Coincidentally, Dr. Bali was asked to be the keynote speaker of this same conference in which I was presenting. (This is a fairly remarkable coincidence, as she lives on the other side of the ocean and doesn’t have close ties to the institution where she was asked to present.) Her keynote address was filled with stories of empathy, techniques for building equitable classrooms virtually and lots of space for reflection. It felt like a breath of fresh air in a hurried and sometimes impersonal world of online presentations. Our paths-crossing came full-circle when I reached out and asked her if she would like to have a conversation with me about teaching and learning online for this podcast. I was thrilled when she said yes.


In the following 40 minutes with Dr. Bali, she echoes the fundamental question of post-secondary education I posed earlier, underscoring the need to be equitable, design for flexibility and taking time to step back to determine why and how we’re assessing student learning. She discusses the importance of listening to students, the importance of agency and choice, and the concept of intentionally equitable hospitality; removing barriers and creating a space for those furthest from justice to have a voice in traditionally gated communities of learning (such as at conferences). If you are an educator interested in creating a more equitable, meaningful, just world inside of your classroom so that it can be modelled by students once outside of your classroom, this episode is for you. Let’s listen in...


Helpful Links:

OneHE’s Equity Unbound @unboundeq

Virtually Connecting@vconnecting



About Our Guest:


Maha Bali is an Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She is an editor at Hybrid Pedagogy journal, and editorial board member of Teaching in Higher Education, Online Learning Journal, Learning, Media and Technology, International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education and Journal of Pedagogic Development. She has blogged for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Prof Hacker, DMLCentral blogs and Al-Fanar media. She is a co-founder of virtuallyconnecting.org and co-facilitator of Equity Unbound. She is a former International Director of Digital Pedagogy Lab.

She was the ninth person interviewed on the Leaders and Legends of Online Learning podcast and she was featured alongside 15 amazing women of the open movement in the UnCommon Women 2018 Coloring Book. She is a learnaholic, writeaholic and passionate open and connected educator, who tweets a lot at @bali_maha and blogs a lot at http://blog.mahabali.me. (From her profile for The American University in Cairo)



Music (public domain via freemusicarchive.org): Podington Bear - Curious Jungle

Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

Episode Cover Art: Canva (remixed by Diana Varma)


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