Abstract Wikipedia/Updates/2021-12-09

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Diversity and Equity and Wikifunctions

A few weeks ago in this newsletter we discussed inclusion and diversity in coding, and how mathematics, often without bad intentions, functioned as a barrier towards inclusion and diversity in coding. One question we may raise is how come that mathematics itself can become a barrier to diversity? Why would the colour of your skin or your gender make any difference when we are talking about such a pure discipline as mathematics, which seems detached from the arbitrary discriminations we humans far too often employ in our society. Aren’t numbers and angles and derivatives all the same to all humans?

This September saw the publication of Jessica Nordell’s book The End of Bias: A Beginning. One of the stories she tells in the book is about Federico Ardila, professor of mathematics at the San Francisco State University. Mathematics as an academic field struggles with diversity, just as Computer Science does: most are White or Asian, most are men. Among Ardila’s students, though, 60% come from ethnic minority groups. Ardila worked hard to reimagine what teaching mathematics could mean.

He made mathematics personal and relatable. The students were allowed to bring their whole self to the university, and to learn math in ways that matter to them. He made sure to keep the toxicity and brashness which far too often permeates mathematical culture out of his classroom. Avoiding phrases such as “It is obvious” or “It is easy to see” helped to not alienate students who were challenged by an argumentation. He started a joint class with the Universidad de los Andes, and many of his latino students used their mother tongue, Spanish, for the first time to speak and think about higher mathematics.

Research shows that having a sense of belonging, feeling accepted, helps people to persist and stay motivated. And the numbers speak for Ardila’s approach: of the 21 students in the first joint class, 14 are already professors. An astonishing success.

You can read the story about Ardila and his approach to teaching in the Atlantic.

In related news, last week also saw the release of the first draft of the Critically Conscious Computing book by Amy J. Ko, Anne Beitlers, Brett Wortzman, Matt Davidson, Alannah Oleson, Mara Kirdani-Ryan, and Stefania Druga. The book is available for free on the Web. The goal of the book is to teach Computer Science in secondary education while honing the critical abilities of the students, “with the hope of fostering a more equitable, culturally sustaining, and just future of computing.”

Whereas the target population of the book are high school teachers, it provides a unique lens on a wide selection of topics: it covers algorithms, data structures, abstraction, and everything else needed for a full basic course on computer science.

Let us all together be mindful of aiming for equity and inclusion. Let us avoid toxicity and brashness in our language and acknowledge that we all come from different backgrounds and start with different pieces of the puzzle. Many who have been active Wikipedians for a while might have noticed that sometimes the projects allow for exclusionary behaviour particularly from contributors who have been very active on the projects. We tend to overlook the behaviour of some, instead of gently but firmly guiding them to stay as productive members and become friendly ones too. This also means not to expect perfection: we will all make mistakes, will communicate less than perfectly, use the wrong language. Let us all be willing to listen and learn.

With Wikifunctions we have one of the few opportunities to start a new Wikimedia community. And our early interactions will have an outsized effect on the development of the project and its community. Let us aim towards being particularly nice to each other, to be welcoming and tolerant to those that are different from us as we are to our friends, and draw firm lines against patterns of behaviour and against language that turns out to be exclusionary and discouraging. The challenge we are facing is formidable enough as it is.

We know and understand that the community of Wikifunctions, like all Wikimedia communities, is self-governing and autonomous. It is not the development team that will write the rules and processes of the wiki. But we want to accompany you and offer help and resources towards becoming the best community we could be. To make sure that this challenging project builds a community that is up for the task.

We are going to have our next office hour on 20 December, 2021, at 19:00 UTC. Like last time, the office hour will be in IRC and also bridged to Telegram. We will start by summarising our work since the last office hour, and then be open for any questions.

The discussion about licensing the components of Wikifunctions and Abstract Wikipedia is still ongoing. Whereas the wide strokes seem settled, we are still looking particularly for input regarding the license for Implementations of Functions written in code (should that be Apache or GPL?) and regarding Abstract Content for Abstract Wikipedia (should that be CC BY-SA or CC 0?).

Even if you don’t have an opinion about the license, we would like to hear your opinion on wiki, in order to understand what the community thinks. Our plan is to summarise the discussion and opinions towards the end of the next week, that is, probably on December 16, to leave the draft summary and draft decision up until December 20, and finalise the decision just after or during the office hour, assuming the feedback is positive.

Please join the discussion and let us hear your voice.