I feel like I am spending a lot of time on the road this summer. Most of it will be spent traveling to conferences for work. The first of these trips was to the ICQI (International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry) conference in Urbana-Champaign in IL. This was the first Wikipedia conference I have attended this year. What I mean by Wikipedia Conference is that *I* am speaking about Wikipedia to diverse audiences.
Evolution of an idea
One of the professors I work with, Judy, has gotten very engaged in Wikipedia. I love when this happens I am allowed to be part of it. She started editing and recognized gaps in the entries related to qualitative research. Just incase you don’t know what this means, think of it this way: quantitative research refers to data collected via statistics or experiments; they are numbers. Qualitative research is data collected via focus groups or interviews; they are stories. When I am a researcher, I do qualitative research. Judy does as well and is a leader in an organization that brings together qualitative researchers from various disciplines.
The more Judy and I talked and explored Wikipedia together, the idea of a conference session with Wikipedia edit-a-thon/ack-a-thon was developed. The germ idea was to get these people thinking about Wikipedia and maybe shake things up. We proposed the sessions and started planning what we would say in 10 minutes.
Wikipedias value for researchers
I have talked about some of these issues here, especially the idea of Wikipedia becoming a textbook. We wanted to include this idea. This was big, but we also knew that a busy researcher and professor needs an incentive to edit or even take time to pay attention to Wikipedia. For example, to get tenure you must be able to show your value to your field and university. Is your research important or engaging the public? Do you bring positive press or money to the university?
Wikipedia is a square peg that can’t seem to fit into the round hole of traditional academic values. It doesn’t mean we can’t sand down the edges of the peg or enlarge the hole. It just needs to be discussed and experimented with. We need to challenge assumptions, push buttons, and see if the two shapes can be changed to suit each other better. That was the way we wanted to spend our 10 minutes: talking about the ill fitting intersection.
The Edit-a-thon as follow up
So, we had 10 minutes to speak and knew it wouldn’t be enough. We decided we would use the edit-a-thon time to do a shallow dive into Wikipedia editing. We had no idea what level of experience people would have with Wikipedia. We had no idea if anyone would even want to spend an hour of their time learning to edit. I hoped Judy’s connections to this group would bring people to the event. My imagined worse case: I would get some editing done!
A side note about edit-a-thons, an hour isn’t enough time to accomplish anything with Wikipedia, but you make the most of it. In a future entry, I will discuss my ideas on other event models that might serve shorter timeframes better. For this conference, I was happy to have anytime and to meet a new librarian involved in Wikipedia.
A week before the conference found me in a frenzy. Between preparing for the conference and Modern Persuasion… well, I had my hands full! Judy came to me with a crisis: she couldn’t attend. I was going to be in charge of everything. It’s a good thing I enjoy talking and I have presented at enough conferences, and all those years in Toastmasters…. The speaking alone wasn’t a source of anxiety. I tweaked the slides and script to account for just one of us. I practiced to make sure I wasn’t over 10 minutes. I worried that, without Judy, nobody would care. My anxiety was about attendance. That seems to be my chief programming anxiety these days: what if nobody comes? Why: because I have carefully planned events and had nobody come.
I got on the plane to IL feeling pretty confident about the conference.
You may have already heard some of the story about the conference, primarily about the weather and travel delays to get home. Don’t get confused by those posts, the conference was great! The weather was just crummy and I officially don’t like airports in IL. The session went very well in spite of the early time and the crummy weather. I got some great questions and some good ideas for my self. I walked through the rain to see the campus between sessions and enjoyed being on a large university campus. When I first went to college, I loved the idea of a college town, but didn’t care to be there permanently. Even now, I work at a university that increasingly dominates the geography of the city, but in cells of activity.
The edit-a-thon was much better attended than I imagined it would be: six people came! Let me put it in context. It was raining in waves of heaviness. Nobody seemed to be leaving the buildings the sessions were in, let alone the core of the main quad. The edit-a-thon was a 10 minute walk away from these main buildings and ALL of that walk was outside… in the rain. Plus, there were tons of other interesting sessions happening. AND Judy was not there to pull her friends to the event. As wonderful as everyone had been, I didn’t know any of them.
The people who came were engaged and talkative. They had great stories to tell about edit wars (more about those another day), conflict of interest issues, missing content, and questions about editing. The UIUC librarian who helped us was amazing and prepared. We recognized this was a group ready for coordinated editing and discussion about goals.
What Comes Next?
There are so many ideas that came out of this conference and so many things I want to do as a result. I got some ideas on how to coordinate local Wikipedia efforts better. I would like to learn more about starting a Wikipedia project (more on that in a future entry). I would like to work with these researchers to identify and develop the entries they are interested in and are related to their work. Judy and I are talking about what we could consider publishing (academic publishing, not popular publishing). There is so much to do and it is all very exciting.
Tell me in the comments- what do you think about O’Hare airport? Am I right to dislike it with the power of 1,000 suns? If not, what am I missing?