Wiki Education Foundation/Quarterly reviews/2015-Q3 Communications
These are the remarks taken from Communication Associate Eryk Salvaggio's Quarterly Review for Communication, which took place at the Wiki Education Office on Monday, March 16 2015.
Slide 1: Introduction
- 1st quarterly review since joining Wiki Ed (just past 4 months now)
- This covers the last three months more or less
- My goal here is
- Look at the way we talk about what we do.
- Think about what we do in ways that aren’t filtered through our daily work
- Too often, work becomes narrowly focused and we can loose sight of a bigger picture.
- This can seep into the way we work and the way we communicate what we do – create an atmosphere of “inside baseball”
- Let’s think about what we do as it fits into a bigger picture.
- First, I’ll review some of what we’ve done so far, but I’m going to reframe each achievement into a broader framework that shows us how we can make our communication, and our own work, more meaningful.
Slide 3: Gender Gap
- Let’s start with the gender gap. This has been a huge push in our communications work. I want to talk a bit about why.
- This is the message we’re trying to convey. That our work impacts Wikipedia content related to women.
- We’re doing this because, on a very basic, apolitical level, what we do is target content gaps. If women’s topics aren’t represented on Wikipedia, it’s a natural place for us to aim the “diamond sword” of Wikipedia assignments, to borrow from Frank.
- So, there are very practical reasons to keep this gender gap in mind. But, it’s not very inspiring to tell people – particularly people who aren’t Wikipedians -- that we’re targeting gender gaps simply because we are seeking to expand Wikipedia content. This is a matter of knowing our audience, and pitching what we say to appeal to the person listening. This isn’t a manipulative tactic, it’s just common sense and, to an extent, courtesy: You want to talk about the facets of our work that people are most interested. You don’t want to bore them. So, what might interest a Wikipedian – “expanding content on Wikipedia,” for example, might not be of interest to an instructor.
- So here we have another facet of our gender gap work, which pulls out and looks at what happens beyond Wikipedia. We go global.
- More information on Wikipedia about women, makes Wikipedia a better resource for women. It brings information about women’s health, rights, and history to Wikipedia. When we talk about this, we start talking about a circuit.
Slide 6: Complete the circuit
Basically, we want to communicate the impact that our work has in terms of getting to Wikipedia. We also want to communicate the value of Wikipedia in the world. If we communicate only one side of the story, the story of how our students affect Wikipedia, that’s only half of the story. We need to complete the circuit of how those students impact Wikipedia, and how Wikipedia impacts the world. So. That’s a tangent. Let’s look back at the gender gap.
Slide 7: Communicating Gender Gap
Here’s a statistic that we’re all proud of, and has been featured in our outreach and in plenty of blog posts. Last term 68% of student editors were women, and 175+ articles filled the gender gap. How do we make this into a circuit?
Here’s a great example of taking the gender gap beyond Wikipedia articles. This is from some of our outreach material, discussing a student at Rice University that took a Wikipedia assignment about HIV/AIDS in South Africa ahead of an internship there. Later, she ended up going to Malawi after writing a second assignment for a second class.
We can also talk about individual successes. Alicia Pileggi wrote the article on Digital feminist humanities. It’s more powerful for her to tell her story than for us to give a number. The same goes for Marie Pellissier, who simply felt like it would be interesting to research a woman in the American West, and created a great article about the first native American woman doctor. So here’s something I’ve been learning: We should always try to complete the circuit, from Wikipedia assignments, to Wikipedia articles, to someone on the other side of that article, even if it’s in a vague sense, or even if it’s the students themselves and the impact Wikipedia had on them.
Slide 11-12: The Roundup
Now I’m going to talk about The Roundup. We post the Roundup every Monday morning. The goal is, we highlight one or two classes, look at the work the students are contributing to Wikipedia from those classes, and present them as a kind of overview of the course. This is a shift from just finding one article and highlighting it, and I think it works to spark some curiosity. But it’s also highlighting the fact that students are contributing a lot of great content to Wikipedia. By presenting a lot of examples every week, we have something to turn to every week and say “Student editors are good for Wikipedia. Here’s the evidence.”
The Roundup is written in a 2-3 day burst at the end of the term and then staggered out across the duration of the next term. So, the courses we see now are from the Fall. That’s kind of inevitable given that the timeline all our courses work with are nearly identical. The Roundup depends on good work being flagged by Adam, Ian, Helaine and Ryan (or anyone else). The last batch was basically me digging through course pages; the new course page system will make it easier. We share the result on social media, which quite often gets reposted by instructors or universities. This is a big way for us to give some recognition to the instructors who work with us, and the students who really are doing great work. So, as a way of recognizing those contributions, they’re also a great way of keeping in touch with instructors and letting them know we’re there for them.
The Roundup tends to be better when it is accessible, meaning humanities and general knowledge courses tend to get selected more often. Science courses shouldn’t be neglected, but they’re often specialized and the content they create is harder to connect with. So, my strategy has been to highlight good student work in sciences through profiles.
Discussion: Are there ways we can increase visibility of the blog?
Eryk: Often, if an instructor is not on social media, the post dies.
Jami: Do we want to use hashtags to reach broader audience?
Eryk: Yes! It does take more time to target field-related hashtags.
Jami: Is that part of the goal? Maybe not. Also, maybe we should be posting educational snippets vs posting kudos every time
Eryk: They are different, but that could also work and have a broader reach. Organizing by course does keep it thematically linked, so it’s better to say “here’s great work from a class” for content themes, and to give kudos at the same time.
Slide 15: Training
So, we’ve seen the various stages of the Wikipedia assignment process and how we communicate them. This is what you might call the complete Wikipedia story. I’ve shown you how we’re trying to connect various parts of the circuit, so that we can see the impact student editors have on the world, and the impact students are having on Wikipedia. The training stands outside of that story. It’s communications work for a completely different audience, which are students (and instructors) with no past experience with Wikipedia.
The training includes our subject specific brochures, which should try to connect with students to tackle the work they’ll be doing in their individual disciplines. So far we have Sociology, Psychology, Medicine. Two more, Women’s Studies and Ecology, are finished.
Frank: Where can we find them?
Eryk: The office wiki, and on my Wikipedia user page
LiAnna: links are also on the Education notice board.
I’ve also been working on the online student training. I think this training is in pretty good shape, and one of the challenges I’ve had with it is integrating more and more about community interaction, etiquette, and communication on Wikipedia. We also created a specific training for translation courses.
Of course, we think the training is important because we want students to make great contributions. But, looking forward, I’d love to use the training as a way to complete our circuit for students, by showing them not only the impact they can have on Wikipedia, but how Wikipedia has an impact on the world. We want to spark an intrinsic motivation for doing good work on Wikipedia, and the training is a great chance to do that.
Jami: I remember talking about a certificate for students completing the assignments. Do we still plan to do this? Do we want to?
Frank: It would need to be electronic and show on their page
Sage: That would be possible and not TOO hard. On their talk page.
Eryk: A barnstar.
LiAnna: When are we redoing the training?
Sage: After the fall term trainings are complete.
LiAnna: So this would be worth building soon.
Jami: Right now dashboard notifies the instructor so they know a student has not completed the training, should we reward students who complete rather than call out those who haven’t?
LiAnna: Ideally students don’t see those dashboards, only instructors.
Sage: Though they are accessible, just like everything.
Slide 19: Community engagement
We need to be very careful, when talking about our own work, that we don’t slip into sounding like we forget that Wikipedia is built by many core volunteers. We work to minimize harm, but we also do a lot to improve Wikipedia. We just have to remember we are a complement to a huge side of Wikipedia that isn’t in our sphere of focus. That’s why things like WikiCon USA are good for us: It’s an opportunity to connect with the community, return some of the goodwill we’ve received, and expand our ideas of what Wikipedia is beyond the scope of our own work.
Slide 20: Communications challenges
Looking forward! Some communications challenges.
So a while back, I sat in with a communications strategy meeting with Frank, LiAnna, and David Peters. And there was something I noticed about how we talk about Wiki Ed. We usually talk in very practical terms: We help students improve Wikipedia. But… why?
This is why completing the circuit is so important. Because we don’t just change Wikipedia, we help change lives. And that sounds like overblown rhetoric from the communications guy, but it’s true. And here’s how.
Slide 23: Core principles
Frank came up with four core principles here, which we were intending to use for fundraising purposes. We both figured they were strong enough to bring out for everyone. So here they are. You may have seen these on the website, where they’re now featured prominently on our home page.
Slide 24: Solving Real World Problems
So, let’s take the first one: How do students solve real world problems? Basically, I think about Wikipedia as a playground version of academia. Undergrads usually don’t get to publish papers in scholarly journals. They don’t get access to the knowledge factory, so they have no idea how that sausage is made. When students get to work on Wikipedia, they can test what they’re learning. It’s NOT called play because they are “playing” at the broader academic discourse. In fact, what they’re doing has a real impact. And, dare I say, some articles may have a bigger impact on Wikipedia than any research paper written by an academic and locked up behind a paywall. The reason this is play is because it’s a testing ground full of challenges and responsibility that follow certain rules, but students don’t risk ending their academic careers by getting it wrong. The collaborative nature of Wikipedia and the potential for being read will of course encourage them to get it right, but it also helps them get it right.
We can also think of it as flexing a muscle. The more students get to flex their knowledge muscle by “being bold,” the more they gain confidence in their own understanding of the material.
Slide 25: Access to knowledge
Let’s look at point 2: Access to knowledge. I told you this wasn’t just the communications guy talking, so let’s look at a few examples that help complete the circuit by showing the difference Wikipedia makes. This is an example: A school near Cape Town, South Africa, doesn’t have a library, but it does have Wikipedia. They asked for, and received, internet access to get there. And what they see, when they go there, can certainly include information from student editors. It’s an example of the potential reach of student work, and I think it’s inspiring.
Places that do not have libraries are getting info from Wikipedia. So when you contribute to Wikipedia… you are literally donating to a library.
Here’s another. This is just taken from this year’s WMF report, by the way. This kid, Jack, at 16, had a relative die from a type of pancreatic cancer. So, he turned to Wikipedia and started reading. The end result of having access to this knowledge is that he created a test that could detect cancer sooner, in time for treatment to be effective. He’s 16, which is insane. Without Wikipedia, it’s possible he’d never have had access to this information. Student editors do a real public service when they bring their information to Wikipedia.
Slide 27: Digital Literacy
So let’s look at digital literacy. Here’s one of our student editors, talking about how writing Wikipedia made a “significant perceptual change of what it meant to present information.” So, through this assignment, she reads Wikipedia, and in theory all online information, differently.
When you contribute to Wikipedia you get to see how the knowledge sausage gets made. If undergrads don’t contribute to academic discourse through academic journals and publication, Wikipedia is a way for them to get a tour of the sausage factory.
This is Char Booth, who I interviewed for our blog. I loved this interview because it connected so many dots. This quote is a summary of all of our points, so I wanted to include it here:
- We can engage learners to leverage paywalled library resources, empower participation in public discourse, and improve their powers of inquiry, evaluation, and attribution, all while creating a better Wikipedia.
Slide 29: Diversify Wikipedia's Content
We talked a lot about the gender gap, but our final point circles back: We diversify Wikipedia’s content. We’ve already used this as our initial case study so I don’t want to get too far into it again.
Slide 30: Telling our story
So, the idea I’ve been getting at is, how do we tell our story?
The first is, our impact on Wikipedia is a positive one. But our story doesn’t end there. Many of you are experienced Wikipedians, and so you may know the story of Wikipedia. When we talk to people, that’s a gap in knowledge that we’re leaving to the WMF to fill. Which is fine – in fact, we may need to rely on them to find these stories on the other side of the screen. But Wikipedia is shorthand for our broader mission, which is open knowledge access.
If we stick too much to “Wikipedia” as our end point, we’re going to have a hard turn ahead of us if we begin expanding our work to other open access platforms, from libraries, archives, commons, and so on. If our message is about expanding access to knowledge through student work, we can focus on a strong, but more flexible message.
Ian: I’ve always seen Wikipedia as an exercise in creating a resource, but it’s not about the finished product.
Eryk: Yes. I think it’s twofold, creation of content, and seeing the content shared. So we have a circuit that’s constantly being improved.
Ian: Student editors are good at supplying raw material for these articles. Some day we may be able to pair them with editors who work well with that raw materials to create great content. I’m working on the core contest, for example, which is all about polishing the articles from the raw materials we’ve been given. Student work is a great way of getting raw materials into Wikipedia, but we could do more to see if students can weld it into quality writing, too.
Jami: We talk about Wiki as a tool or a circuit, whereas some think of wiki as the light bulb. More creators will make the light brighter.
Content and Editors
Eryk: I also want to say that understanding the way our work is being perceived by the editing community, as someone who was not initially a deep part of that community, has been challenging. That investigation is helping me to see why some editors like us and a few don’t. What are we communicating, intentionally or not, that puts us in a potentially bad light?
Frank: I don’t think that our way of looking at content and editor retention is not natural for Wikipedia. We look at content. But there’s nothing about our model that isn’t a native part of Wikipedia, which is to look at content creation and quality and not necessarily editor retention. That is a cultural shift, but it isn’t intrinsic to how Wikipedia works.
Jami: It wasn’t there because there wasn’t a decline.
Frank: I don’t think so. WMF should not look at it always from the editor standpoint. It feels like a club.
Adam: How does the community react to shocks? Some see student editing as an attack rather than a contribution. We need to disarm some of their instincts to defend against the shock.
Jami: We can go in and fill the roles that editors don’t want to, like digging for research.
LiAnna: In regards to resistance: everything shows a dramatic shift toward quality rather than quantity. So there was a cultural shift as well. Wiki was being taken seriously and so content is better absent/missing, than being presented as needing polishing. The ideals of early wiki was more about the quantity, and that’s becoming less and less ok over time due to this cultural shift. So new editors are being resisted, and the flow of new editors is slowing.
Jami: Its interesting b/c all first articles are not near the quality that they are after editing. Is there a way we can show that or talk about it?
Frank: That is something WMF should do. But it impacts us more.
LiAnna: It’s a problem on the big language wikis, not the smaller ones. Once the community expects the content to be there and be good, there are tensions.
Frank: You reach that point in the wiki lifecycle, inevitable. You’ll see it stronger on the German wiki especially, they delete entire articles. We cannot solve this by ourselves. Maybe we should work with WMF to show good faith. Asking for retweets and engagement to create awareness. And we should bring it up a Wikimania and Wikicon.
Frank: Eryk you said we need to show how we make a difference in the broader world, and you relied on WMF examples. I’m questioning that WMF is the only group that can do this research and know these impacts. Is there anything we can do?
LiAnna: Let’s look at the cancer story. He was found by a member of the community and invited to speak, so not approached by WMF. They do get the grant info and inquiries, which helps them harvest that info. The best stories come from people who don’t know WMF even exists. The stories come to WMF, rather than coming to us
Frank: let’s change it!
Jami: they’ve told us about that info
Frank: have they? Have we asked them? Do they know how badly we want this info?
Authenticity and Trust
Jami: At Davis we were asked about Wiki Ed being a paid service, and questions about cash. “Where does the money come from? Is there a conflict of interest?” How do we talk about that, and is there a way to put it on the website?
Eryk: Our cold emails look like a sale, and saying it is “free” in an email usually makes me think “oh so it’s not free.” It implies a fee later, or something, and saying we’re a non-profit makes them think we want a donation.
Jami: It is salesmanship to a point, but if they go to the web they still may not get what we do or why.
Frank: I don’t want to dumb it down, but how do we bring in authenticity? We often hear that our presentation is too slick.
Jami: Maybe we can table this for now, but discuss a disclosure on the website. Also, the in-person stuff explains itself well. It’s just the online aspect that can be harder.
Frank: We had that question at wikicon, too. It may be that we’re too young and need to gain that trust?
Bill: are we too fast and too slick with our materials?
LiAnna: With WMF they know that the money comes from fundraising, but with us no one knows where our funding comes from.
Jami: We had a lot of requirements and we say that we aren’t looking for anything -- but we are. We need course data to continue funding.
Eryk: I don’t think this is a difficult problem at all. We have literally never factored trust into the equation because it hadn’t been a question up to now. We just need to better communicate the answers to these concerns, and that’s a very easy thing for us to do because we’re doing things transparently and openly already. We just have to get it out there.