Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

How I’m Feeling about #FedWikiHappening

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This is one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had, and yet it has elements similar to lots of other experiences I have had over the past year or so.

And I am feeling a mixture of elation, frustration, excitement, trepidation, cautious enthusiasm, disappointment… All in one.

But here is the thing. I am totally getting two things that Mike did when starting this thing:
1. He chose a small number of people. ESSENTIAL. Because the tech support would have been horrendous, and fedwiki is not just about the tech, but also the philosophy. Both together need scaffolding as well as community harmony at first….
2. Who he chose is also telling. I know and have worked with most of these people. They’re people who are digitally literate (so tech savvy and also critical and thoughtful in their use of tech) and also mostly know each other. All that helps in collaboration in general and also in having people push each other forward, support each other with issues, etc.

But mostly, it’s good to be in the company of these people as the year winds down. Not all of them are as active, but enough are to create a buzz.

Now i am also feeling a bit frustrated (inspired by Alex North’s fedwiki post on Opinionated wiki) by some aspects, so I’ll rehash here one of the things i wrote there (semi-anonymously coz unsigned, but not so anonymous now, i guess):

Whose Wiki Is it Anyway

If we take the fedwiki culture to its extreme, i.e. The notion of no one author owning content, but each having their space to accept/reject changes, and take it to the entire fedwikihappening, this to my mind means: not privileging programmer voice over user choice. This means that while I respect that people who developed fedwiki and have been using it for some time know much more about its capabilities, functionality, philosophy, it should be acceptable for users to think differently and imagine diff uses according to their own contexts. This means developers have these broad choices:
1. Explain to users why they’re asking the wrong question (and many of us have kept saying “or is that the wrong question?” Or “is that old-web thinking?”

2. Consider whether making changes (e.g. Notifications, clearer tracking) would give fedwiki a boost, or it would confuse its purpose.

3. Let users figure it out on their own.

4. Recognize that to empower users you need to create space for them to resist the structure the tech imposes on them, and listen to their frustrations and needs and question yourself and your product – can you make it more inclusive to women’s preferred ways of working, for example? It’s no coincidence that Frances and I are working on this (encouraged by Mike) or that Kate started a post on We Make the Road by Walking. And I took that as a sign… If you’re going to ask me to walk here, give me a say in making the road what it is… Don’t tell me how to walk it…(love Alan levine’s contribution to that one, esp. the photo)

There might be a bit of all three happening at the moment.

I am also frustrated by my compulsion to troubleshoot for others (can’t help it; but also coz i started earlier and am a bit more comfy with it – altho i feel everyone’s caught up by now hehe) but given my very basic knowledge, I am not always sure where problems lie. E.g. Today Frances and I seemed not to be seeing each other’s edits. Not sure which of us was doing sthg wrong, coz i know both of us have seen each other’s edits before. So what’s new? But the timezone thing is another reason i am compelled to troubleshoot. Because otherwise we (Frances, Catherine, Kate and I) would have to wait for Mike to wake up. Not fair to Mike. Maybe fedwiki needs developers and advocates across more timezones. Oh, hang on, that’s what this happening is! Because we’re a mix of techies and eddies 🙂

I was going to write a post about what I thought Fedwiki’s strong points are, but Jenny Mackness wrote a great one today, so I’ll just link back to it here so others can read. And it amazes me she managed all that while having lots of huge tech problems (i told her i think she forked someone else”s welcome page). Because i was following fedwiki on Mike’s blog for ages and not “getting it” till i played, and also not until i played collaboratively with others.

I love keith’s comment on Jenny’s blog about empathizing with how students feel with new tech. This bears a new blogpost all its own. Coming soon.

7 Comments

  1. You might be expecting more direct collaboration than Fedwiki seems to be designed for. Forums are better for discussion. Blogs are better for sharing an essay and getting feedback. Google docs are better for small-group projects. Traditional wiki is better for public collaboration aiming for consensus.

    Fedwiki seems best for individuals to share ideas divided into short pieces. I’d like to see it used, for example, by various individuals sharing their personal notes, with their best efforts to arrange and explain math, programming, and science concepts. Forking isn’t even necessary, since you can simply copy, imitate, or adapt the efforts that appeal to you. I’d prefer to see pages remain more or less individual. I don’t care what changes someone makes to my pages, or whether they use changes I’ve made to their pages.

    If I understand (and that’s a big “if” at this point), finding someone else’s edits to a page should just require making sure they are in your neighborhood, then visiting the page. Newer (or older) versions by anyone in your neighborhood should be available via the little squares at the top of the page. (At least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work. I haven’t tried it much yet.)

    • First of all, I have to say, Maha, if we could harness your energy for writing and learning and turn it into electricity, you’d solve our global energy crisis! Your thoughts are like tiny coals that blow into a fire in my mind. I just said “This is one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had, and yet it has elements similar to lots of other experiences I have had over the past year or so.”–almost verbatim today to a friend. Almost verbatim. (He looked at me like I was crazy, btw).

      If I could just add more to what daveh70 has said, then I’ll feel better. I struggle with forums, blogs, and G. Docs, and wikis in my work. I feel like when I do all of the above, I think to myself “huh, well, that’s cool/true/untrue/weird/lame/like/unlike, etc”–choose the word. And then I move on to the next thing. I rarely return to any of those collaborations, but the Fed Wiki and its Recent Changes puts it all right in my face–even if I don’t understand it. I’ve used the word “recursivity” as a writer many many times, but this is the first time it *feels* authentic.

      The fedwiki has me pausing in a way that I haven’t done in years. Here’s how I’m trying think about it. Say you climb to a snowy field as a hiker on a clear sunny day, the sun is brutal to your eyes. You immediately look for sunglasses or a hat. You shield your eyes. The movement from the dirt to the snow is almost painful. But really, if you just sit still and pause, your eyes will acclimate. Like when you flick on a light switch in a dark room.

      It’s the pause that’s working me. And by the way, I have no idea what I’m doing when I’m in there, but it feels like something.

    • Hey Dave, your technical understanding is correct. Philosophically, though, when you’re in it, it’s actually really beneficial to keep coming back (as Alyson describes) to see how working together has articles evolving. We’re discussing all this all over the place in the fedwikihappening. Hopefully soon you’ll get a chance to do that, too. How are you working on your self-hosted version.

      • Maha,
        After hearing your voice for just a few moments, I decided to play with your writing about Freire. I plan to blog about it later. What I did felt odd because I struggled with feeling like I was erasing your words, and I can’t begin to know what your plans are/were for that post. I just know I wanted more. I’m pretty new to your scholarship, so I’m unsure if you have already addressed those ideas elsewhere. So I hope you see what I did as encouragement–“a tell me more”–that was playful and not silencing your original attempt. I’m just so curious about where you live and work. Clicking delete and rearranging your words felt both powerful and uncomfortable. Honestly, I’m kind of a navel-gazing American compared to you and anything I’m doing is so small compared to you. That being said, I just want to say give me more teacher-friend-writer. Give me more.

        • Oh Alyson, what you did to my article is beautiful. Thank you. It will take me some time to answer your questions because even though the critical citizenship article is actually based on my PhD, I just realized i never got around to defining the terms you highlight!!

  2. @Bali_Maha My comment may have posted twice. If so, they’re identical.

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