Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/To learn. From other's (in this case mine and our) mistakes.

This was a draft for a blog post that has since been posted at

To learn. From other's (in this case mine and our) mistakes. edit

Hm, interesting. I had just finished the first section in writing this blogpost when I thought I cut the text to paste it somewhere else. Apparently my cutting skills need to be worked on. So, let me start this over. And this is rather interesting as I did just initiate this blogpost by saying that it will not be a success story. (Which has just become even more apparent with my lack of cutting skills) Perhaps a happy ending, but more likely an open ending. Simply because we do not know. I thought about writing this piece about how great the current education program is here in Sweden. How our path so far has been sprinkled by happy faces, enthusiastic teachers, students and pupils, and most importantly perhaps, how this work so amazingly wonderful has contributed to the Wikimedia projects in such a superqualitative manner. But then I realised two things.

Firstly, that it would be a lie. And secondly, had I written such a blogpost, what would it have given you, the reader? Sure, I do enjoy reading stories about prosperity and progress which may be rather inspirational, and perhaps so do you. But do we learn from them? Perhaps if they are tangible enough to be understood in terms of what worked and how it may be utilised in another context. But sometimes they’re just shared as success stories. No harm in that I presume, but I do somehow carry a hope of our organisation as a whole, all chapters, all people engaged and supporting the idea of free knowledge, also being, in itself, a learning organisation. This is the reason to why I will dedicate this blogpost not to success, but to failure, or mistakes, call it what you will. But this is what has not really worked and what mistakes we have done here in Sweden.

1. To overdo it. edit

We held a workshop with quite interested teachers about Wikipedia. Wikipedia which we do, quite a bit too much perhaps, hold dearly. The teachers were all new to it being a talkpage or a view history tab on Wikipedia, and so far so good as we told them about it and showed them where to find it and what to look for. Then we begun. To talk about the joy and extraordinary adventures of using, and contributing to Wikipedia. What one of the users had recently written on someone else's talkpage. And how that user has come to be a bit more pleasant than earlier. I think we lost them somewhere in a discussion about the structure of a biographical article; Should the date of the person’s birth be told beforehand his or her reason for being in an encyklopedia? They could, most probably not have cared less. We were so excited though, that we, for quite a long time, missed that these teachers did not know the usernames of the people we spoke about, nor if they had been more or less pleasant to work with. We simply thought that they were so much in love with this huge group work that they wanted to know it all. Every little tiny detail of it. How wrong we were. If nothing else, I think they were somewhat smittened by our enthusiasm, rather than the quality of content of the workshop. But this is, and may perhaps be a mistake that only we do, and then I rather embarrassingly admit. We have done it. Lost ourselves in the excitement of Wikipedia and in our joy to share to the world the greatness of the phenomenon. When the teachers were at a conference and needed and longed for tangible, easily understood, tools to use with their pupils. So, next time, I will not cut down on the enthusiasms per se, but find ways to channel this energy into something useful and more easily understandable for a group of people who have previously done nothing apart from reading articles redirected from google.

2. From abstract to tangible. edit

In the past four months since I have had the honour to be employed as an education manager at Wikimedia Sverige, I have held quite a lot of lectures and talks. About Wikipedia, and more specifically, Wikipedia in education. And I have spoken myself warm of the greatness of the world’s largest groupwork, the philosophy that underpin Wikipedia, the beauty in assuming good faith and how great that is for our synapses movement in finding these patterns so that we may view people we meet, generally, with this assumption of good faith. I hardly get people who disagree when I tell them of this. The greatness of the contributors who write, categorise, care for, clean and structure Wikipedia, all voluntarily. People, just like myself, seem to be warmed with hope for humanity and hope for a bright future full of free knowledge, accessible to all. So all good? No. Definitely not. They walk away with this joy, and perhaps a bit of a fulfillment by the sheer knowledge of people contributing their knowledge, jointly, without a, as many see it, direct tangible reward. So they’re happy. But then they seem to think. Hm. Wikipedia is great. Ok that is great. I like Wikipedia. Ok even better. I would like to contribute to Wikipedia. Ah, lovely! I would like to do it with my pupils or students. Supergreat! But then, have I given them any tools to do so? No. They’re happy, but without tools to use in how to contribute themselves. I realised that I had an idea about people simply having to be eager, passionate and excited enough, to find their own way into actually taking part in this spectacular thing. Let me tell you, if this is not already clear to all of you but me, it is not. They still have no idea what to do or how to do it. So less talking about it’s abstract greatness and underlying philosophy, and more about the examples, the hands-on ways of using Wikipedia in education. And perhaps even this in bullet points, or better, steps! I guess I was quite wrong in believing that curiosity and eagerness would drive people to get to know Wikipedia themselves as long as I came along and sparked their curiosity a bit more. And well, yes, they asked and do ask plenty of questions, and love to hear stories about controversial subjects, famous people who have written about themselves, what has gone wrong and who actually does rule Wikipedia. But perhaps solely as passive listeners, who enjoy the entertainment of listening to a talk about a phenomenon they know. Not as active and eager to start to use contributors. Perhaps for that, hands-on examples are simply needed. As with creativity, it is born and fostered not in a vacuum, but within a set of frames. If the examples of education and Wikipedia are the frames, they may wonder their own paths in their brain, connecting these examples to their current situation. Writing this out on a sheet of paper makes me think that this should have been so super obvious to me. So, if this is, and was, only me. Do feel free to think that this was a rather stupid non-working way of getting people interested in actually contributing.

3. To find a balance. edit

Sometimes in workshops, students, pupils and teachers complain about the syntax. Oh it is simply so difficult and almost impossible to learn. Others find it quite easy and intriguing. Sooner or later they seem to either get to enjoy it, or at least learn to use it. Another aspect seems to be a bit more difficult. The one about what to choose to write about or contribute to. May I here dare say that people are, in various ways, quite beloved with their own ideas, hobbies, and lives in general? This have a great effect on what people tend to want to write about. Nothing weird in that, it is rather possibly what sparked and still has Wikipedia grow as people do have interest and hobbies. But. I do find it is quite a balance to have teachers who just want to start to contribute and are oh so eager to have their students or pupils write and then ask if they could start by writing about the horse stable which they like that is placed around the corner from their school. Or if they could possibly add the picture of them standing in front of the museum in the article about the museum. Well. Probably not a great idea. But I said it was easy. And now, all of a sudden it’s not. I’ve given them a tool that I am now trying to wretch from them. They were eager and keen to initiate their enthusiastic first contributions to Wikipedia, which I had energetically supported them in, whilst contrary to that, telling them that most of their ideas from articles and contributions would fall outside the frames of relevance. So. Lesson learned. Do not be too enthusiastic Sophie (memo to self), remember not to ‘sell’ Wikipedia as an easy to use tool for everybody. Perhaps it is not. Maybe it is not even for everybody to contribute to? I am not sure. This lesson, which I am not so sure about, is about balance. I know that. What I am not sure about though, is what this balance looks like. The cultural bar to start to contribute should not be too high, but still not low enough to not experience until it’s a huge disappointment when one’s contribution is taken away.

Hopefully this may, if these mistakes are not to you all too obvious already, help you make fewer mistakes. Or well, at least different mistakes than these mentioned above. When you do, please share them.