AndFarAway

A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Questler: Aiding Your Quest for Knowledge



I failed a subject when I was in the fourth grade because I was not a good listener, I could never get myself to concentrate on what the teachers said. It was gibberish that would fly right over my head. It didn’t help that in the Arab world, teachers think that learning is only done by listening. How often was I forced to put my pen and paper away by the teacher so that I wouldn’t doodle, but instead stare blankly at the chalkboard while my mind did somersaults? For the longest time, I hated school, I hated learning, and I believed I was stupid.

(Have you heard of Questler?)

Then in the sixth grade, while studying biology from my textbook, I came upon a publication that used to belong to my grandfather called “The New Medicine Show”. I paged through it and found that one of the subjects in my school textbook was covered in detail, and I started reading, amused at how the human body worked. That night, I learned more about the topic than I would have for years if I were to rely on school. The next day, and for the first time in my life, I got an A in biology. More recently I decided to learn what you can do with a biology degree here .

(Today, with the internet at such advanced stages, people passionate about knowledge and advancement are finding it easier to make and use tools that aid the process of acquiring knowledge in untraditional and more productive ways.)

My discovery of informal learning changed my life. I realized that I cannot work with my attention span when it comes to listening, but that I can always make up for it with books and the internet, reading about a topic beyond what is required in the syllabii and without the mindframes set by the educators. I realized that it wasn’t my problem that I was a bad student as a child, it was the problem of the Arab mentality that puts too much stress on the importance of “listening” and formal knowledge. With better grades and the knowledge that sitting quietly at school is absolutely futile, I became louder, more outgoing, and more confident. I finished middle school and highschool with straight A’s, and university with a GPA of 3.7, while never listening to anything anyone ever said at school. I was always doodling, taking pictures, reading a book tucked inside my textbook.

(I heart learning. I heart knowledge. I heart open source.)

The memory of how horrible it felt to go through summer school while I was barely 9 years old and my breakthrough informal knowledge discovery was triggered by a conversation I had with Razan AlKhatib about her website, Questler, which is a learning network that connects people with others who share their interests to learn, collaborate and share ideas.

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Roba: Ok, so what exactly was the idea behind Questler and when did it all start?

Razan: A lot of the things I learned in my life, such as my English, were not learned through courses or in any formal organization, but rather, through informal circles, and a long with a few friends, we decide to start our journey in our humble try to make the world an active learning space. In November, 2007, Questler (Quest and Learn) saw the public light.
We’re really passionate about informal learning as most of what we learn after school is informal, whether through work, experience or conversations. It helps us do our jobs better. That is the whole point of Questler, providing tools to capture informal learning as it is very important to cultivate knowledge. It is a community with conversations, and we try to help people to find it easier to communicate, and to help organizations of all sort to cultivate informal learning and capture the informal learning that goes already.

Roba:  Does anyone ever stir up trouble on the site?

Razan: Inti! Your religious string is gonna stir up some trouble I guess.

Roba:  I know Questler is international, bas an Arab, do you think the Arab world in its current backwards mentality is ready for such an initiative?

Razan: Perhaps the Arab world in its majority isn’t yet, but most our current users are Arab, and they’re all self aware of their learning needs and need for social learning, which I guess says a lot.

Roba:  Cool. So when the average acquaintance of yours about Questler, what are the reactions?

Razan: People who are internet-savvy get a bit contemplative then they go to check it out. Most reflect on their daily lives, their trials and challenges, trying to understand their life better, which is basically what we had in mind. Those who are not as online though usually want to keep there private lives away from the internet, even if it was learning about new things. The average person also associates learning with formal learning, so we need to make it more fun and interesting. We discovered that not everyone is a Questler as not everyone is conscious is about their daily learning. More importantly, internet penetration is not that big in the Arab world and the average Arab is more interested in using the internet to share music, videos, etc.

Throughout the conversation, I was thinking wow, that sounds so altruistic, in a grand “let’s make the world a better place” sort of way. It’s great that people are trying to cultivate this knowledge, and I’m so happy to see this initiative from young, passionate Arab people, as corny as that sounds.

You can take the tour of Questler here, or just go straight ahead and sign up for Questler. Then you can add me to your Questler network, or add Razan.

Good luck Questler!

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22 Comments

  1. I love Questler, me thinks it’s gonna become my new addiction. If that happens, someone’s gonna have to pay the therapy bills.

    [Anti-Spam word: Joy]

  2. Roba,

    Elegantly put is all i can say :) and it was nice running into Razan in your blog!

  3. khalid jarrar

    Dear Roba,

    I have a thought.

    I am all for self-critisism, thats a healthy thing for sure, no question about it.

    But here is whats troubling me about some of your writings, there is this feeling i often get from little hints in posts like this, that go into a category of …well not self critisism… i havent decided what to call it yet, but bare with me:

    y3ni, you do realize that people have edifferent brains and that some people learn easily through visual charts, some learn easily by listening, some in other ways etc right? (ok if you dont run some online search its a very interesting topic) and you obviosuly have a brain that functions best when learning through reading, and shows less ability to learn throguh listening, and thats totally normal, nothing wrong with that, but then the funny thing, that i am talking about, is how you have to add “it was the problem of the Arab mentality that puts too much stress on the importance of “listening” and formal knowledge” somewhere in the middle of that.y3ni suddenly its an issue of the stupid arab mentality rather than your own learning capabilities, you do realize that this system of teaching produces thousands of doctors and engineers and scientists in work fields every year dont you? so it sounds that it works fine for most of people no? and even if not, lets assume it doesnt, then it would be a problem in the education system, not the “arab mentality” no?

    It just seems that in every point where you can stick a line like the backward arab mentality wether its relivent or not, you just have to stick it there.

    You write in english rather than in arabic, (which it toally wierd, knowing that you are an arab, living in an arab country, talking to an arab audience) your arabic even sucks, few posts ago you called 7arf il thal tha2 or something, couple of posts ago talking about Foad Farhan you had to of course also stick in some line about the lack of freedom of expression among Arabs, its obvious that you either have not looked recently into Europe and US where people can be jailed for denying the holocost happened, and where people can go to jail for ..well..you just go and read the patriot act law in US. recently some kiwi friend in NZ have been jailed and labeled and called terrorists just because they are anti-war activists. A blogger recently in the US went to jail because people wrote in his comments section anti-american commments, it wsnt even him that wrote it, and that case lead my brother Raed (www.raedinthemiddle.blogspot.com) to close his comments section. you either havent looked into the western world and noticed these things, or you just simply choose to ignore them. the world is suffering from unproceeded levels of both governmental and poppular lack of freedom of expression, freedom of expression is being banned with laws under various names of anti-terrorism and whatnot. we have an international problem with that, and you just seem to notice, always and everytime and remark that its an Arab problem, an Arab mentality problem, in yoru covnersation with Razan you said “do you think the Arab world in its current backwards mentality is ready for such an initiative” even, and i find that very offensive, who gives you the right to label the arab mentality as backward? which arabs exactly? the ones that YOU dont like or dont agree with? how open minded is that? and what are their percentage? and how do you recogznie them? and dont you think that i would define them differently, so would every person reading these lines too? so besides being inaccurate and very generalized its also insensitive offensive, and if anything i will have to say i am proud to be Arab, and i dont think of myself as having a “backward mentality” and if you think you do have one, or anyone else you know, change it to a good Arab mentality then, but dont go making statements implementing that Arab mentality is a backward one, because me, you, your mom and dad, my best and your best frineds are arabs, no? and that is just a harsh general generalization to make!

    See what ia m saying here? there is a pattern of not self-critisim, you have a pattern of…self-hating !! you dont belong to the “arab backward mentality” you dont speak Arabic, you dont belong to religion, the very majority of books, music, songs, movies you ever talk about is western, it seems to me that you are not satisfied with anything here, because it seems to me that you dont seem to belong here….dont seem to be able to fit? dont seem to want to belong?

    And thats upsetting, all your critisim, writen in english, said like a westerner, in totally western views and logics, all that critism even unrightfuly directed towards everything Arab and Muslim, seems like its coming from an “outsider”, doesnt smell like sincere critism from someone calling for positive changes from the inside, and to add to it, just happens to come in a time of foriegn invasions to our region, not only Palestine, but also Iraq, and possibly others to follow, military intervention accompanied by a cultural attack aiming to wipe the Arab ID, and evry other source of pride that would prevent a person living in this region from rejecting an occupation, implementing this sence of resentment towards everything Arab and Muslim, to have even further control over people in this region and defeat their resistence.

    I think we, as bloggers, must be among the first people to be aware of this and work to encounter it rather than promote it, we are in times where we need to get back to our identity as a way of self-preservation and resisting occupations, Islam, regardless of the fact that you like it or not, since the very majority of people in the region are muslims, is a base of unity too, that can be used to strengthen the relations among people and better prepare them to fight this multi-dimentional occupation to our region. the Arab heritage, has billions of bright sides and bright values, that we can invest to strengthen the sence of commitment towards these values and towards each other, you can always call for the good values of the Arab cultures, and you would be doing a good thing, rather than what looks like ili96iyad bilma2 il 3akir and looking for sides you see dark to critisize it for the mean fun of it and to look all ( i am so cool and western and 3arab are so ye3 and sovage), which seems like all what you ever do, ever, ever, not once you say anything good about anything Arab or Muslims, what good does that bring? look for the good sides that you know, practice them and promote them, and we would be going somewhere! you know what i mean?

    Thats why i want to ask you, to please be more…thoughtful! lets say, as a way of carrying that responsibility of writing honestly, and helping, even in the smallest steps, in preserving our region and culture. if you consider yourself a part of it, that is.

  4. “Roba: I know Questler is international, bas an Arab, do you think the Arab world in its current backwards mentality is ready for such an initiative?”
    I just can’t believe what you and many of the shallow Jordanian bloggers try to pontificate about an idea that has been taken from a western orientalists who they always put forward and “explain the Arab mind as a separate and an alien mind as if the “Arab minds” are different from any human minds….
    Roba,,allow me to say you need lots of deprogramming to start to think freely without the so called western and orientalist cliches about the “Arab mind”.
    I advise you, as you mentioned in your Post, you learn through reading and the best book on this subject is orientalism by the legend Edward Said,truly an Arab intellectual who examined the relationship between the Arab world and western world with prices empirical method and logic ,It is must read for people like you who has missed a lot ,,, sincerely alurdunialhurr

  5. I’m there… and I love it… go Questler…

  6. [Spam word = boo, which ironically what I’m gonna do]

    I don’t often get into such an argument, however; this is outrageous…
    To the posters above

    First of all, I don’t think Roba was criticizing “listening” and “formal teaching” per say, but rather the lack of options. Shouldn’t the school have options? Schools should give diverse options to students rather than one method implemented currently: memorization and formal teaching. Does she realize this is a system that produces thousands of doctors, engineers, and scientists? I’ll leave it up to her, however; the fact that we have such a system providing such a “precious human crop” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a diverse system. Most of the art-oriented I knew were utterly insulted and harmed by such a system, since they’d get low grades although they have the potential to do better. In my High School (which is originally British), my Economics teacher would let me go to the library and read because she knew I wouldn’t understand through the method of “slide shows”.

    Although language is part of your identity, being an Arab does mean you are fluent in Arabic. You cannot strip a person’s heritage from him, for the sheer fact that in his High School Arabic was not the first language. You write for writing, and if every writer was to suit the needs of his audience, then you wouldn’t have novels on the shelves. Arab people are obsessed with Agatha Christie, however; I don’t see her learning Arabic and switching the language she feels comfortable writing in.

    Is the US the herald of freedom of speech? No, and yes things happen in the States, but again what does that have to do with the topic? Why do we always have to compare between two places in order to see the damage done. Yes, the Arab mentality is backwards, whether you like it or not. Does going to “our heritage” mean letting fathers keep their daughters at home, brothers controlling their sisters, and marginalizing women in every way possible. Don’t think of Western Amman, what is the percentage of the “intelluctuals” in Jordan, go to Mafraq, go to Dleeil, see the “true” mentality keeps the sons and daughters from being productive and creative. See men that know from birth that “they can’t go to the university” because they are born to be recruited to the army. Again, if you believe the Arab mentality is not backward, write about it in your own blog, promote it with legitimate proof.

    Writing is part of changing. Pointing out the negative aspects in your culture is the first step in changing them. While sitting and pretending everything is nice and dandy, would not change a thing.

    “because it seems to me that you dont seem to belong here….dont seem to be able to fit? dont seem to want to belong?”

    Who are you to judge if she belongs or not? Who are to judge by her language, opinions and posts if she fits or not. Is that even up to you? Do you even read this blog, because I always say that my blog is anti-Jordan, while Andfaraway seems to highlight the good and bad.

    “I think we, as bloggers, must be among the first people to be aware of this and work to encounter it rather than promote it, we are in times where we need to get back to our identity as a way of self-preservation and resisting occupations, Islam, regardless of the fact that you like it or not,”

    Let me say this in Arabic for you, cause no word in English could match to its sense. Ya Salam.

    It’s a good thing you wrote “I think” and what you think is what you implement. You can’t ask people to do things whether they like it or not. This is such a collectivist statement that marginalizes every aspect of freedom. You say, let’s go back to Islamic unity, go and read about Islam and Islamic times. In fact, email me if you need some resources, and then you’d know that it wasn’t the way you think it was. The prophet did not do anything without consulting with the people around him, Islam told you not to impose anything on anyone until he is convinced. There are many social aspects of Islamic times that Arabs definitely lack now to go back to such times.

    In fact, it’s a shame that the “backward” mentality we talk about relies on a phenomenon I call “Culture Islam”. Yet, you ask people to reverse to state that relied on a totally different Islam. I suggest you read about your heritage and history, before trying to implement something without prior planning or research.
    About Edward Said, I did read Orientalism and other books.

    However; we are not concerned with the Orientalist views, rather with the employee in the governmental office that calls a young lady “Ya Marah”, professors that tell an A* student that “Your fate is to wipe and clean”, and fathers that force their sons to study Medicine although they want to study Economics. We’re talking about a nation that throws garbage on the ground when the bin is only a meter away, people who smoke in buildings with a huge “No Smoking Sign”, people who can’t seem to stand in line. Yes, this is the mentality we’re talking about. Are we “othered” by the West. But put the West aside, and let’s focus on ourselves, we seem to get lost in the “conspiracy theories” and forget how most nations build themselves: through criticism and improvement of conditions.

  7. unokhan

    it is true that anti-provincialism doesn’t necessarily gain for a writer –in any country or era– a cosmopolitan outlook. but it is also true that national or religious chauvinism won’t get you there either.

    in america i never heard the phrase “arab world” until the last several years; it seems to have become a cultural substitute for “communist bloc” –a phrase that was drilled into our young heads by the arms makers and their spokespersons in the popular media/propaganda machine.

    interesting discussion…

  8. alurdunialhurr

    “Yes, the Arab mentality is backwards, whether you like it or not. ”
    Amino,,,How nice and fluffy of you ,where and when did you get so wise and trained scholar about the “Arab mind”?,it is mind boggling to hear or read people like you who are always busy mocking the “Arab mind”.
    Amino,,, cultural practice ,habit or misuse of power and “MINDS” are two different things,you seem very confused and not paying attention.
    and one more thing ,I don’t think you read Edward Said, because if you did you would not utter such meaningless words out of your mouth.

  9. I really hope you guys aren’t arguing about the fact that Arabs are stupid.

    I mean lets face it, we’re almost the most failure civilization on earth right now, of course there’s smart Arabs but the general population isn’t.

  10. Alurdenialhurr, My A-level thesis was about Edward Said and Orientalism. What amuses me is how you are marginalized me as a response to my opinion, instead of giving a counter argument. “Yes, I don’t think you read Edward Said, yes you are uttering meaningless words out of your mouth. Yes, I will attack you personally rather than counter your opinion.”

    Am I busy “mocking the Arab mind”? You passed a judgment without even knowing me.

    Since you are in the business of picking on words, your mentality is different from your “Mind”. Your mentality is by definition [a a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations]

    So technically, habit, misuse of power, and every action you do in life is part of your mentality.

    In normal cases, I’d say let’s agree to disagree. But since you have not presented argument, rather a random attack, I guess I’ll have to say: present me with an argument and maybe I’ll convince you or you’ll convince me. Debating isn’t about attacking and marginalizing.

  11. sami

    You have hard times understanding what a teacher says: You have a thick mind.
    You got 3.7: That’s because your major is so easy. I wonder how much will you get if you studied engineering or Neuroscience.

    The very technology that you are using to post your this very post is the harvest of extensive well structured academic efforts.

    So get a live and stop this hypocrisy.

  12. alurdunialhurr

    “Yes, the Arab mentality is backwards, whether you like it or not. ”
    Amino,,,this what you wrote and unfortunately for you, you can’t deny it,you only insulted me personally ,but you insulted 3 hundred million Arabs,this the most racist comment eastern orientalist would utter ,and yes Amino ,we have eastern orientalist just like you who believe what the white man say about us,if your comments about the “Arab mind “is not an insult then ,I don’t know what is an insults, it is you and other Jordanian bloggers such as Roba started this mocking of “our Arab mind ,so you must bear the consequences.

  13. Yes, I insulted you, and for that I apologize. My intention was not to add the “Whether you like it or not”. I can’t force you to accept this. But again, I see no coherent argument. Outline for me with facts, and examples… the way I did, why you think our mentality is not backwards. Stop spewing accusations and judgments.

  14. We’re really passionate about informal learning as most of what we learn after school is informal, whether through work, experience or conversations. It helps us do our jobs better. That is the whole point of Questler, providing tools to capture informal learning as it is very important to cultivate knowledge.
    Nice conversations! Thanks for your participations.

  15. It’s funny to see the Arab nationalists having such a hard time with Roba’s post, which is only about her own experience growing up and “learning” from Arab teachers. The fact is that the Arab mentality IS BACKWARD! It is Arabs like Roba who will change the Arab world for the better by criticizing the bad things about it, while Arab nationalists like Khalid keep the Arabs stuck in the past with their attacks on anybody who speaks the truth.

  16. Strange that my comment was deleted – I don’t think I insulted anybody, but whatever. Roba, Jeffrey at Iraqi Bloggers Central wrote about this post: http://jarrarsupariver.blogspot.com/2008/01/self-criticism-or-self-hatred.html

  17. I see now that my first comment was not deleted after all. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. And Roba, nice blog:)

  18. Sara

    Iraq is the best i am iraqi and i love iraq
    but i dont live in iraq

  19. Sara

    how could i be part of this blog

  20. Sara

    Why does arabs are jealous of iraqi
    some saudi lebanese syrian students in my class had said that iraqis are fake muslims and a lot of arabs where saying that but there is some really kind arabs (like me i am an iraqi arabic)

  21. Sara

    why does my message didnt appear

  22. Rashid Mostafa

    Teaching is a difficult skill. How many people have empathy, knowledge, interest in learning theory and the social skills to cope with children in the context of mass produced schooling? I had one good teacher in all my school years and that for six months.

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