Identity and Self-Expression: Finding our Way at DPL 2021

The following is a short interview with Maida Ali, a new teacher at Digital Pedagogy Lab 2021. She is offering a unique track that explores our concept of place and identity in both academic surrounds and the world at large.


Why have you titled your course the way you have? What does it say about your hopes for the week at DPL?

This course is titled “Identity and Self-Expression” because during this time of uncertainty it’s more important than ever when our students need to use their active voice so we can facilitate them in a better way. During a time where everything seems to slip through our fingers, their agency can provide them a platform where they can hold, take a deep breath and say this to themselves, “I got this” and then work towards their goals. My hope for this particular week at DPL is to have a discourse around the issues related to identity and self-expression among our students and how we as educators with diverse experiences can assist our students during their journey. We will also discuss how different cultures affect self-expression and how it is evident in our daily choices. With this, we can foster and empower our students inside and/or outside the classroom and provide a space which is reflective in nature, leads them to collaborate and teaches them that even if they haven’t lived through anything momentous, their stories are worthy.

If you were going to describe your course as a narrative—with a beginning, middle, and end—how would the story go?

Fasten your seatbelts and let me take you through the immersive journey of “Identity and Self-Expression”. We are going to start with introductions and community building with in this track. Once we are all set, our course will go full steam ahead with guided discussions, with stop-overs at multiple cultural platforms (depends on the participants’ backgrounds). We will have a discourse around the meaning of self and discovery of self-expression for different cultures and how it affects daily choices of educators and students inside and outside the classroom.

After these platforms, we will arrive at an “Individual Tier Junction”. Here participants will disembark and present individual reflections and share them with the group with the help of a Liberating Structure: Heard, Seen and Respected. We will continue our journey with guided discussions with stop-overs at multiple resources and strategies on how educators and learners can use their active voice via different mediums. After these platforms, we will arrive at a “Classroom Tier Junction”. Here participants will disembark and present classroom reflections and share them with the group.

At this stage, we will move towards our final destination “DPL Gallery”. In order to reach this destination participants will work on an individual project (a little takeaway) related to promoting self-expression inside their classroom. They will be provided with tools, assistance and feedback. They will curate their projects at “DPL Gallery” for the world to learn from.

To your mind, what is the most important thing participants in your course will walk away with? Do you have learning objectives or outcomes? Do you have a fond wish for them?

Have you ever felt like you were out of place at any point in your life professionally and/or personally? When I first moved to an urban city to pursue my bachelor’s degree, I felt it. When I moved to Finland to pursue my master’s degree, I felt it. I even felt it when I attended DPL 2019 in the USA. Pakistan, Finland, and the USA are seven seas apart but what I felt didn’t change when my location changed. I felt that my stories weren’t worth sharing. Somewhere along the way, I was taught that I need to detach from who I am, my beliefs, and my core to survive in the world where I had to use my public passive voice. I have come a long way to unlearn and learn to express myself and place value in my ideas and thoughts especially my stories. I am at a stage where I can help my students to read the world for what it is and present their full selves without judgement instead of the shells they have created around them. Imagine how many of our students feel the same or even worse. They are waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel but the light keeps on moving further away from them. We will start the journey together by exploring self which leads to self-expression via different mediums. We will also discuss how different cultures affect self-expression and how it is evident in our daily choices. With this, we can foster and empower our students inside and/or outside the classroom and provide a space which is reflective in nature, leads them to collaborate and teaches them that even if they haven’t lived through anything momentous, their stories are worthy.

Describe your style of teaching. What is your pedagogical approach when teaching online? Why?

I started teaching when I was 24 and at that time my idea of choosing this path for myself was to ‘give back’. My teaching philosophy rests on kindness, inclusivity and respect. My pedagogical approach when teaching online is a blend of constructivist and humanistic approach. I am a true believer of ‘giving the power back’ to the learners i-e. agency during the process of learning. If learners can create, evaluate and analyze their own digital learning paths and succeed then that’s a win for all of us.

Ever since the pandemic hit, I have seen almost all of my students struggling to cope up with the ramifications. If I am not kind to them during this extraordinary time in their lives then I believe I don’t deserve to be an educator. Recently, one of my students’ father passed away due to COVID-19. He called me sobbing and said, “Ma’am please don’t let me fail this semester. My father dreamt for me to graduate on time and further study abroad.” At that moment, I realized how important my role was in that student’s life and how important it was to not penalize him for all the missed classes and work. Instances like these grounds me and my pedagogical approach where first my students are humans and then learners.

Why have you chosen to teach at DPL? If this is not your first time, why do you choose to come back?

I chose to teach at DPL because of three reasons;

  1. I was a participant at DPL 2019 and I had never been a part of something so innovative and detailed. I explored different ideas and got to know what educators who were living 7 seas apart from me thought, what their issues were and how they solve problems since everything is contextually different. It was an eye opener.
  2. The group who got together was so kind and warm. I specifically remember Kate Molloy from Ireland who gifted her materials to me because she knew I travelled all the way from Pakistan and she wanted to leave a piece of her work with me.
  3. I felt that I could be a representative of where I come from where we have a different culture, thoughts and ideas. Even though we deal with similar issues but their intensity and cultural connections completely change once we travel from the east to the west.  

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your Digital Pedagogy Lab track?

I would just like everyone to know;

If the self is alive, the endless ocean is fordable;
If the self is alive the stones of the mountain are soft like silken cloth.

Poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)

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