Wednesday, 24 October 2018
As scholars and academics we are knowledge creators often working at the edge of understanding. We have a mission to share and report back on what we find, especially when it can help others but even when we don't really know or understand the significance of what we report. That becomes a shared task, we work together as a community to extend understanding. In my personal case, as a teacher I have spent over 30 years looking for the best ways to engage my learners in intercultural and linguistic understanding, looking to build their curiosity and supporting their lifelong interest in language learning. As a researcher and open educational practitioner I report back to share what I find and others chime in.
It is therefore natural to me that I would turn my hand to editing Wikipedia as a way of sharing knowledge. I am a newbie but a long time supporter of the project. I have been researching in an area variously described as "telecollaboration" or "Online Intercultural Exchange" or "virtual exchange" as a teaching practice. It offers much to support my aims as a practitioner. I have published in this area and when I used Wikipedia to search for a reference to it, lo there was nothing. There is a page on telecollaboration which was dominated until 2013 by references to the tools and technical functionality:
(on left wikipedia entry from 2009, cf current page)
now much improved with good references to the academic work in this area, a page on web conferencing which again focuses on the tools and their history. I could find nothing on the educational practice of virtually connecting people from other cultures to facilitate discussion and build those all important soft skills and/or language skills.
However, my editing knowledge at the time was very limited. Inspired however by an Open Education SIG webinar by Martin Poulter I decided that the best way to learn was through experience (a maxim I hold dear in my teaching). I started an account, drafted in a sandbox and then took myself off to a wikipedia meet up in Oxford where I met some really helpful folk who told me where I was going wrong. I learned much in the few hours I spent in an Oxford pub that day thanks to these guys:
In summer 2018 the page on Virtual Exchange was approved and since then others have continued to edit and add to it. I felt proud to be able to contribute to this project. I went on to set up a Wikipedia editing workshop at the EuroCALL conference in Finland with help from a Finnish editor and amongst our participants was the fabulous Parisa Mehran an Iranian language educator living and working in Japan. She shared my enthusiasm but unfortunately her first post was blocked as it didn't comply with the editor guidelines. This was a newbie error and I was quick to try to get help to get her back on the right track. Help did indeed come from colleagues in Wikimedia UK and I believe she now has a better understanding of a process which quite rightly observes quality controls.
However, it seems my objection to Parisa's blocking has made me a target of some unwarranted attention on my talk page accusing me of promotional editing. I have read the Conflict of Interest guidelines again and again and I cannot see any reason why I could be accused of flaunting them. I guess you could say that as a teacher I promote language learning (so sue me) but as I have a son with a language disorder I am pretty realistic about the benefits of languages to those who have more basic communication needs. In reading this page I would say that the editor who accuses me is engaging in harassment. I find the tone of his comments offensive and patronising. I have left them on my page "for the record" but this post is also recording my side of his story.
The strength of the Wikimedia project lies in the community sharing of information. That community must be tolerant, diverse and supportive. I am privileged to know many in the community who advocate for Wikipedia, I will always remain one of them despite such experiences because I recognise that it takes time to build an inclusive, supportive community. I will not be silenced or marginalised due to my gender and neither should others.
After all, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!