This Saturday July 19 (starting at 11:00 am Pacific), Pete Forsyth and I will join friends in leading a "Wiki Barn Raising" at the Oakland Impact Hub in California (2323 Broadway) – and online.
"In the wiki world, we often borrow the term 'Barn Raising' to evoke the idea of a community coming together to build something substantial in a short time. It's been described as a way to 'make the impossible possible'," Pete explains. And he would know – my longtime friend and colleague, he's been an active Wikipedian since 2006.
This event is the project's last hurrah, but it marks the beginning of something truly exciting. I've had the privilege of working with Pete on the Communicate OER project (funded by the Hewlett Foundation), a collaborative effort to improve Wikipedia articles about Open Education, since mid-2012. We've helped newcomers to Wikipedia create, review and improve hundreds of articles, largely through our "Writing Wikipedia Articles" (WIKISOO) class with the School of Open, and with extensive collaboration with members of the Open Educational Resources community. Our work has contributed to formation of "WikiProject Open," an online community which will carry our work forward after this project's funded period ends.
This Saturday we'll be looking at articles that still need improvement, and identifying tasks for the future, to help present the world with an accurate picture of open education principles and projects. We welcome online participants from around the globe (time zone permitting - check event in local time here) – and we have a few tricks up our sleeves to get everyone working together, collocated or not.
Register here if you can join us. We'll get you the links you need to tune in, some background on editing Wikipedia, and info on how to stay in the loop as the day progresses. And for those who can join us in Oakland, CA, a bonus: free lunch!
Hope to see you there.
The Communicate OER project is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Most people know that Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit - or that's what we're told, anyway. I happen to know that it's true, because one day in 2007 I started doing it myself.
I edited grammar and punctuation to start, because that's the kind of thing I do: I see a mistake and just have to fix it. A lot of my edits are still like those early ones, in places where the language is messy or misleading, or someone forgot to put a space after a comma. Nothing too dramatic or controversial, usually. But how do you edit Wikipedia, people ask me − or more often, how did I know how to edit it? Well, I didn't, not really. One day I was feeling bold and simply clicked the "edit" button at the top of an article and went for it. Yes, I read the Help files before saving my changes, to make sure I didn't break anything − I still check these any time I have a question. Eventually I created my own Wikipedia account, and I'm glad I did; my edit history shows that I've been editing Wikipedia (however sporadically) for seven years, something very few people I know have been doing.
rigorous peer review plus quality control
equals an encyclopedia by the people, for the people
Here's one exception: you may already know my friend and colleague Pete Forsyth, my co-instructor on the Writing Wikipedia Articles (#WIKISOO) class from 2012 through the present. Pete has also been editing Wikipedia since 2007, and (although he's rather modest about it) he's now a Wikipedia administrator − that is, a volunteer who has edited extensively, gone through a community review process, and can now perform basic administrative functions on the (English language) site. There are just over 600 currently active administrators, all volunteers; these are the people who can block offensive users, delete or un-delete articles, and gently keep the rest of us in accordance with site policies and guidelines (rigorous peer review + quality control = an encyclopedia by the people, for the people!). Through his company Wiki Strategies, Pete spends his days teaching others how to edit too: ethically, neutrally, with responsible management of conflict of interest (COI), and in line with Wikipedia policies and guidelines.
This week Pete had an op-ed published in USA Today (with some of the best stuff cut out, natch). The full version is available here. Pete's op-ed is a little like this blog post: its goal is to make you pause and wonder who, exactly, is writing all those articles. The good articles, the bad ones, the mediocre ones, the ones the need just a little more (or less!) help. Pete talks about his friend "Ron" the way I'm talking about him. The title and tag line are: "You Think No One Sees You Tinkering With Your Wikipedia Entry, Mr. Congressman? I’m a Wikipedian. I Monitor, Write, and Edit Those Articles You Rely On. Shouldn’t You Know a Little More About What I Do and How I Do It?" He goes on to urge his readers to:
Set aside an hour or so, and poke around Wikipedia. Not just the articles this time—get a feel for how it works. What’s that “Talk” tab all about, or “View history”? You’ll never know if you don’t look. And you might just find those links tell you more than the article they’re connected to—who created it, what they’ve been arguing about. Maybe you’ll notice some really good work on an article you care about. Maybe you’ll even figure out how to say “thanks.” If you do, you’ll make a Wikipedian’s day.
I suggest you do the same. It's surprisingly easy to peer behind this particular curtain to see who's there and what they look like. Before you know it, you'll be creating your own account, and then writing a blog post like this one. Congratulations! You're a Wikipedian. As Pete writes, "...today, thanks to one and only one top website—Wikipedia—the dream of an Internet that is not entirely dominated by commercial interests is very much alive. And that dream, it’s an important one!"
And now you're a part of it.
Sara Frank Bristow,