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Making Beginnings Out of Endings – @DigPedLab Cairo #DigPed

selfie taken by pro photographer

I write this the day immediately after the end of the Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo: an AMICAL institute. We had three intense days, followed by a full day unconference. We had a lot of virtual options (livestreams of keynotes and recordings of Virtually Connecting sessions here). We had fun!

I organized this event at the American University in Cairo (AUC), as part of my role at the Center for Learning and Teaching. Most of the event was for fully-registered participants taking part in one of two tracks: Praxis (facilitated by Sean Michael Morris and Amy Collier) and Networks (facilitated by Jesse Stommel and Bonnie Stewart). The Unconference was co-facilitated by David J. Wrisley of American University of Beirut and myself. Virtually Connecting sessions were led onsite by Nadine Aboulmagd and virtually by Autumm Caines and a team of other virtual buddies.

Rather than give a re-cap of the entire event (actually as the event organizer, that’s really hard because I was all over the place with so many things that I had a completely different experience than anyone else), I’d like to highlight how the ending of this event became more about beginnings than endings… and I think there is something to learn for others in this.

The onsite community is just ending… the networked online community is just beginning

Most of the onsite participants were not active on Twitter before this event, if at all. By livestreaming the keynotes and having several Virtually Connecting sessions, several participants experienced the event feeling part of the already existing #DigPed community. Kudos to Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris for keeping the generic community hashtag for this event – it definitely brought so many online participants into keynotes and even daily conversations. I also set up a Slack team for use throughout the event, which helped people get on board (especially those not comfortable with Twitter) and several of them asked for us to keep this open beyond the event (of course we will). And so no one truly said a “goodbye” today, it was more of a “looking forward to seeing you on Twitter”. And I think there were some virtual hugs going around for some of the really active virtual participants, especially ones on Virtually Connecting sessions.

Sean with participants

Sean Michael Morris with participants in the Praxis track

On campus: the event is ending… the learning is just beginning

One of the things that motivated me to bring Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo to campus was that on my own, I was unable to bring people together to discuss digital pedagogy in the critical ways I write about it and think about it with my #DigPed community. This event helped spark the interest of many on campus. They may not all be convinced or fully on board, but many have had mindshifts and have asked to continue the conversation beyond, and to try new things in the coming few months. Some of this focused on learning new tools (many are now big on Twitter; today I am teaching some students about Hypothes.is for example)

Strengthening Consortial Ties

The event was sponsored by AMICAL, a consortium of American/Liberal Arts universities outside the US. As such, a good number of participants were from a variety of countries, including Lebanon, Kosovo, France and Greece. Even though AMICAL has been around for nearly 7 or 8 years, many participants had never collaborated or met each other before. One of the unconference sessions we held was a meeting, with some virtual participants who could not make it onsite, to discuss possible future Digital Pedagogy collaborations amongst AMICAL members. We came up with ideas for both funding and communication, and ways to leverage the similarities in our context and challenges to support one another. Ideas for co-teaching and resource-sharing came up. I think even specific collaborations were tentatively agreed upon.

Maha with participants

Maha Bali with participants in the Praxis track

Continuous Online Learning Opportunities

It helps a lot that there are three kinds of online learning opportunities participants can look forward to:

  1. Digital Pedagogy Lab’s online courses (details here)
  2. Digital Pedagogy Lab’s free online learning opportunities like Twitter chats each month and 1-2 MOOCs or MOOC-like events a year
  3. Virtually Connecting at conferences which is always free to join

Why-Notness

OK, I just made up this term,  but I’m referring to the impact of doing the second ever Digital Pedagogy Lab institute all the way in Cairo. We were asked by people from California to England to Hong Kong this question: “can you come and do an Institute here?”. Upcoming events take place in July in UPEI, Canada and in August in UMW, Virginia.

Bonnie keynote

Bonnie Stewart during her keynote

Back to Class

One participant, AUC’s Jasmine Maklad, reminded me of the most important thing – that we take back what we have been learning to our classes and our students:

There was a level of sincerity, humanity and spirituality in the way they [the keynotes] were conducted which I have not experienced before at an academic event and which really resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoyed them and am sure they will influence the way I work with my students.

Expanded Everyone’s Thinking

For participants, much of what occurred expanded their thinking. But also, for facilitators, much of what transpired inspired their own thinking. Sean Michael Morris writes:

Over the course of these very few days, deeply embedded in an international culture that is new for me and vital, I have come to love the faces that have surrounded me, that have smiled and frowned and squinted in confusion and gaped in sudden comprehension. My fifteen years of experience in digital learning are less than a drop next to the sea of collective wisdom in the rooms I’ve occupied at American University in Cairo. I’ve shown tools, discussed pedagogy, consulted on practical application, led conversations, and given a shared keynote. From an outside perspective, all of this would look like teaching. But I have not taught here, I’ve accompanied.

And that’s not an ending. It’s a beginning to so much more learning for all of us, approaching it from a different lens, now that we have had opportunities to share this experience.

I am grateful to the facilitators who left their families during Spring break to share this event with me, who somehow managed to be inspiring and energetic and loving, even while jetlagged. I am grateful to the sponsor AMICAL, whose director trusted me with this large event (by my standards), even though he didn’t know me well when we started. I am grateful to my colleagues and the director of our Center for trusting me with this, and for supporting me, each in their own way, with so much heart. And I am extremely grateful for all the participants who came into this with their eyes wide open and willing to be challenged and inspired. May our learning never end.

How do you make beginnings out of your endings? Tell us in the comments.

All Photo credits: Takima Studios taken during Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo: an AMICAL Institute (Copyright Center for Learning and Teaching, AUC. Used with Permission)

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