Last week we received a Labour Party flyer in which Jim Murphy pledges to ban exploitative zero hour contracts. That was somewhat surprising because my partner had previously worked on a zero hour contract for East Renfrewshire Council (a Council led by a Labour-SNP coalition). What puzzled me was why, if zero hour contracts are exploitative, are they used by the local authority in Jim Murphy’s parliamentary constituency and put into practice by councillors of whom Jim Murphy is nominally the leader. I couldn’t get my head round it.
But rather than immediately bothering Jim, who seems to have enough troubles of his own making, I thought I’d check this out with a local East Ren councillor. Before telling you what he said let me give you a brief idea of what working on the contract was like for my partner
She didn’t know from week to week if she was working and so she didn’t know if she was going to be earning any money. She didn’t know from week to week how many hours she’d be working although she knew she couldn’t exceed 35 hours because that was the contract’s ceiling. She didn’t know from week to week where she’d be working or which hours she’d be working. It was impossible to plan around because when you get that phone call you drop everything and take the shift otherwise they might not call again.
Now if you’re wondering why she signed up to this contract it’s because zero is better than nothing. There’s always the hope that you’ll get some hours and in truth for most weeks she did. One curious feature which we didn’t understand at the time was the way that even if she were covering a vacancy in a specific place she would share this with a number of other ‘casuals’. For some unknown reason she was never in a fixed place covering a vacancy.
Imagine then my discombobulation when the councillor told me that the Council have never used a zero hour contract!!! Instead, I was informed, the Council had a number of ‘bank’ staff that could be called upon when needed. These bank staff weren’t on zero hour contracts, it was explained, because ‘bank’ contracts don’t promise any hours. Whereas a zero hour contract offers a number of hours but which can be reduced to zero, a bank contract, according to the councillor, isn’t a zero hour contract because it offers zero hours in the first place.
I left the hub with an expression on my face which might well have come straight out a Greg Moodie cartoon. This definition of a bank contract sounded an awfy lot to me like a zero hour contract and I suspected a lot of people would be surprised to learn that a contract that offers zero hours isn’t a zero hour contract. My understanding of what that term means also seems to accord with what the BBC Business unit think it means
Q: What are zero-hours contracts?
A: Zero-hours contracts, or casual contracts, allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work
Over the weekend I put together an email and sent it off to Jim Murphy. I’m awaiting his reply.
As I put the email together I had one of those eureka moments when I realised that the meaning of the pledge wasn’t in its content but in its grammar. All those long Open University nights reading Halliday were finally going to pay off. What I realised was that ‘exploitative’ wasn’t being used simply as a pejorative to describe all zero hour contracts, but was instead being used as a qualifying adjective to describe some zero hour contracts. Rather than categorise or classify all zero hour contracts as exploitative the grammar was being used to say that some zero hour contracts are more exploitative than others.
I’m not saying Jim Murphy’s lying in his pledge. Given the opportunity he may well be in a position to ban exploitative zero hour contracts. He just won’t be banning zero hour contracts.
And of course, once ‘exploitative ‘ zero hour contracts are banned all that will happen is that employees will be transferred over to ‘bank’ contracts with the guaranteed promise of … yeah you’ve guessed it … zero hours.
BBC News, Business, ‘What are zero-hours contracts?’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23573442, accessed 13th April 2015
On Wednesday evening, along with some of the workers from Bonnyton House, I took part in a protest outside East Renfrewshire Council’s headquarters. Bonnyton House is a council owned care home which is at risk of privatisation from the Labour-SNP coalition that runs the Council.
Later that night I wrote a letter to The National newspaper. The first and foremost of the letter intentions was to publicise the Save Bonnyton campaign. It was good that the letter was published and that that was achieved.
What I hadn’t noticed until late Friday night was that the letter had been edited to remove the fact that the protest was supported by local members of Common Weal, Women for Independence and the Radical Independence Campaign. In the letter, I had wanted to draw attention to the irony between the current rhetoric of a Westminster ‘progressive alliance’ and the actions of East Renfrewshire Council’s Labour and SNP coalition. There’s no point of locking the Tories out of power if they are simply replaced by different shades of neoliberalist, Thatcherite policy makers. A progressive alliance shouldn’t be about locking the Tories out of power but of locking neoliberalist ideology out of power: blue Tory, red Tory or tartan Tory they’re still fuckin’ Tories. We oppose all of them all.
The letter’s irony, that we are the progressive alliance, was lost in that edit unfortunately.
So what did I learn this week from the protestors, and from then reading Shafi and Ali?
It’s long been evident that Labour can’t be trusted to oppose neoliberalism (you don’t need to have read Ali’s book to know that) but if anyone was in any doubt about the SNP, the evidence from the Bonnyton House campaign is that neither can they. A coalition that proposes to privatise a publicly-owned care home cannot be called progressive. An opposition that does not oppose the neoliberalist, Thatcherite ideology of the establishment is not an opposition. It’s nothing more than a variation.
We already are the progressive alliance: we can be that opposition.
Ali, T. (2015) The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Verso, London
The independence referendum result was hardly in, and David Cameron’s first reaction was to link greater powers for the Scottish Parliament to a solution to the West Lothian question or English votes for English laws (EVEL) as it seems to be now phrased as. He did it again last week following the launch of the Smith Commission.
But what exactly are these English laws that Scottish MPs shouldn’t be allowed to vote on?
It was a good question, and one that I put to my local MSP. It was passed onto a researcher in the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) and from there onto a researcher in the House of Commons Library. The House of Commons Library have been asked a lot about this , and fortunately they’ve produced the following paper on the “English Question”:
This paper finds four bills in this UK Parliament (ie since May 2010) that might be seen as “England-only” in terms of their legislative reach. These are:
The Academies Act 2010 whichextends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
The Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012 whichextends only to England and Wales, and creates arrangements only in England;
The Local Government Act 2010 whichextends only to England and Wales. Its effect was in England, and in practice it was restricted to certain areas of England only since it stopped the proposed restructuring of councils in Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk; and
The Mobile Homes Act 2013 whichwas a Private Members’ Bill which became an Act. It extends only to England and Wales, and in Wales it made no changes to the law. Its substantive provisions are all couched in terms of “In England such-and-such shall happen”.
and that’s all folks; four in four years.
However, even these four are not completely clear cut and potentially open to debate. For example, in relation to the Academies Act 2010, an MP in a constituency near the border might argue that their own school leavers are impacted by the academy school leaves who are competing in the same local job market (Carlisle and Dumfries springs to mind)
Also, two of the four Bills listed above create the potential for Government costs, which could impact on the size of the Scottish block grant coming through the Barnett formula.
The Water Act describes financial assistance that the Secretary of State may give to an English water or sewerage company in order to reduce charges to customers. It is an amendment of Part 5 of the Water Industry Act 1991, which envisages financial assistance, so it appears to be a modification of an existing regime. The assistance can be in any form, but in particular can be a grant, a loan or a guarantee.
The Academies Act allows the Secretary of State to enter into academy arrangements with whoever is going to run the school. Under s1(2) – (4) this may be by an agreement or by financial assistance. I think this distinction is technical: they each relate to money being given to a school that complies with the terms set out in the Act. Money under an agreement is per this Act, money as financial assistance is per the Education Act 2002. In respect of capital funding, there can also be provision for the money to be paid back, so it becomes effectively a loan. But either way, it comes from the UK Government spending.
Now given that education and water are both devolved to the Scottish Government, these two Acts at least have the potential to have implications for the size of the Scottish block in the future.
So, see when I said four it wisnae really four; it’s actually only two clear cut English laws in this parliament.
And so there it is. Future devolution to the Scottish Parliament could be placed on hold until Westminster works out a way to stop Scottish MPs voting on restructuring Councils in southern England (don’t remember that cropping up during the indyref but mibby I wasn’t paying enough attention). And of course who will ever forgot that critical speech by Gordon Brown in the final days of the referendum on that issue that lies at the heart of the matter: how often caravan parks in England are inspected.
References & Credits
Thanks to Colin and Ross for providing this information
The opening paragraph is almost poached from ‘Editorial’, The National, Monday December 1, 2014, p.24
This was the first MOOC that I’ve done with Google and my third MOOC in total. The first, Gamification (with Coursera) was a combination of video and activities with the opportunity of interaction for social learning on the fora. Much the same as this Google MOOC really. They share the sort of pedagogy that easily gets disparaged, but it suited me for a number of reasons, not least of all its asynchronicity. I appreciate that synchronous MOOCs have the capacity for a more interesting social pedagogy, but to commit to being in the same place for five Tuesdays in a row? Sorry, but I simply can’t manage that. The Open Badges MOOC that I dropped out of had an important synchronous element, and having missed two live sessions I just gave up.
Why am I doing this MOOC?
Before starting the MOOC I read a new blog post by Anne Dhir about the launch of Open Glasgow’s data literacy project.
Citizens need to be able to articulate their needs and be part of the solution.
which, by coincidence (or not) is a subject that I happened to briefly question Sally Kerr from Edinburgh City Council about when we were at OpenDataEDB #11. If the Wikipedia page is anything to go by ‘Data literacy‘ is a new literacy with not a lot written about it.
It was interesting to also compare the creation date and size of related literacy articles on Wikipedia
and to also see that ‘data literacy’ isn’t featured in the encyclopaedia’s ‘New literacies‘ article. I had a brief look at what Doug Belshaw is doing with Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map and I need to look at that in more detail because there’s definitely a basis there for constructing a unique Data Literacy Map, if one doesn’t already exist somewhere.
One thing that appears missing from the web literacy map (or at least wasn’t staring me in the face) but which needs to be a feature of data literacy is the critical understanding of data. In a personal email Greg Singh from the University of Stirling captures this perfectly,
For me, data literacy would be a very deep-level understanding of data (how it is produced,… read, … understood and interpreted; how it can be transformed and shared). [T]hat would involve a skillset that would take in coding, a good understanding of networks, machine-readable formats etc., but also, crucially, critical understanding of the role of data and its use…In both cases (data literacy and digital literacy) the emphasis I think is on a critical understanding of the WHY as well as the HOW.
Although the Google MOOC addresses some of the hands-on, ‘how’, skills it’s pedagogic goal wasn’t to altruistically raise the standard of data literacy. Wilkowski et al (2014) in their research paper explain that
Google, Inc. has been experimenting with MOOCs to teach members of the public how to use Google tools more efficiently and effectively. (p.1)
and thus the MOOC’s aim was to develop the skill-set to manage a particular Google product which in this instance was Fusion Tables. This is MOOC as marketing device.
Is that unfair? Does it matter if Google provide some free training that lasts only a couple of weeks, and and that my overall data literacy has improved? Well, yes, I can imagine that it probably does. However, it’s not possible to do this type of work without also learning how to use somebody’s product. At any rate, for the present I’m happy with the trade-off. A basic guide to Google FTs is here. The product is in beta at present, and word is that it’ll remain an ‘experimental product’.
Why Google and not School of Data?
It would be an incredible project legacy if Open Glasgow could develop and improve data literacy across the city. It’s certainly featured in their Principles of Open Data. But with these thoughts about other people’s level of data literacy I thought I’d better get mine off home base first.
Why though has it taken this Google MOOC to get me started?
The School of Data introductory course is always open, always accessible, always available, there’s no start date – it’s just there. And that, for some reason, is difficult for me to handle. When should I start? Now? Well, perhaps tomorrow. Maybe at the weekend.It’s almost too easy to put off. It’s a bit like the gym membership that I bought in a moment of fitful, well-intentioned energy and which has fallen outside of the tunnel. So, oddly it seems that it’s not that the start date of the Google MOOC particularly suits me but that because there is an end date, and that if I really want to do this course I need to put the effort in, now.
My intention was to take the opportunity of the scarcity in order to focus on completing before the deadline of the course end date. Making Sense of Data was a short course that was scheduled to last a little under three weeks and was estimated to take somewhere between 10-15 hours of study to complete. In my, admittedly limited, experience of what MOOC providers estimate in terms of time I reckoned that this would probably be an underestimation. Graham Atwell’s blog post ‘Some thoughts about MOOCs‘ suggests that my experience of time under-estimation is not uncommon, and that it may be a contributory factor in the format’s high drop-out rate. We’ll wait and see.
In the end, things didn’t go quite to plan. I was unwell for the period of the MOOC, and the scarcity that I thought would help me concentrate began to work against me. In the words of Mullainathan and Shafir the scarcity magnified itself and having fallen into a scarcity trap I had to really tunnel my way out. Anyway, in the end I managed to successfully complete the thing.
And I enjoyed it too, even though the illness meant that I didn’t really engage with it or the subject in quite the way I’d planned or wanted to. Nice to have passed though. And having thought about time and scarcity and literacy levels I’ve finally managed to get started in School of Data.
1. I get ‘open’, I really do…but why should I share anything when the enemy down the road gives fuck all?
2. I would, but that would mean asking other members of staff for their packs,… and they wouldn’t like that
At the end of November 2013 I unfortunately missed the rearranged JISC RSC Scotland Open Education event held at Edinburgh University. Although it’s taken a bit of time to get this post online I was thankfully able to keep up with the discussion using the RSC’s YouTube Channel.
Open Scotland got the proceedings underway with a presentation that was shared between Lorna Campbell and Joe Wilson. Lorna began by providing some background to the work of Open Scotland and it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of encouraging activity in Scotland with the Open Knowledge Foundation, OBSEG and Scotland’s first Wikimedian-in-Residence. However, it was also made clear that open educational practices continue to be less embedded in Scotland than they are in other places, including England.
The second part of the presentation was given by Joe Wilson from SQA. Now, just in case you’re beginning to wonder, neither of the two statements at the top of this post came from Lorna or Joe, and they didn’t come from hecklers in the room either. They are instead out of the mouths of two lecturers working in different campuses of the same Scottish FE college and were made in conversation with me during 2013.
Joe’s session was, in a way, a call to move away from politely nodding about the virtues of open practices to actually starting to do it. You don’t need to be a psychological genius to detect the frustration in Joe’s part of the presentation; and that frustration can be understood in the context of a recent JIME paper and blog post both written by Martin Weller. In these pieces Weller doesn’t argue that the battle for open is being lost, and that it desperately needs the Scottish educational establishment to provide a late cavalry charge to save the day: quite the contrary. Weller instead argues that the battle for open has already been victorious, and that the real battle is the one that will now determine the future narrative of open.
Now “if” the two quotations at the top of this post are in any way representative of what FE lecturers in Scotland actually think and feel about adopting open working practices then Joe’s frustration can hardly come as a surprise. But why should Joe be frustrated if the battle has already been won? Well the answer is that it’s been won elsewhere, and the battle to define open is being fought elsewhere. In other words, the opinion of the Scottish educational sector won’t be heard because we aren’t present on the battlefield. You simply can’t be in the vanguard if you’re not on the battlefield: you can’t even be in the fucking rearguard.
And yet, as depressing as the two quotations from the lecturers are, I don’t think they are cause for despair. Both lecturers appear to want to share but are somehow restricted by ‘the other’. This reminded me of Lenin’s analysis that whilst capitalism predisposes the workers to the acceptance of socialism it does not make them conscious Socialists. I’ve re-worked this such that whilst there may be a general acceptance of open in the Scottish FE community it doesn’t automatically lead to open practices.
So, what is to be done?
Well, it’s definitely about empowering individuals at the grassroots with the pedagogic and technical literacies. But it’s also about the conditions that makes the use of the literacies possible. There needs to be a policy context.
What I think is significant about the lecturers’ statements is the way that they both, independently, frame the resistance to sharing such that in both cases, it’s ‘the other’ that prevents them. Whilst for the first speaker ‘the other’ is the college down the road, the competitor, the ones on the outside of the institution, for the second speaker the ‘other’ isn’t even on the outside of the same office, let alone outside the institution. ‘The other’ is powerful and pervasive.
Although not disagreeing with Joe that there remains in the dark Calvinistical soul of the Scottish character a lingering fear of change, but I would argue that instead of thinking of the lecturers’ words as reflections of an inner state I think we need to see their language as something as much more discursive. Mills describes Foucauldian discourse as ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak’, and so it isn’t about convincing these guys not to be scared or not be fearful but rather to put in place the practices that makes sharing, to borrow Lenin’s terminology, spontaneous.
Audrey Watters’ post Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Battle for “Open” is hugely significant because it reminds, or should remind, those involved on the side of open that the battle is not simply theoretical or moral, but political. In a 1982 University of Vermont lecture Political Technology and the Individual Michel Foucault identifies two not unproblematic forces at play in the modern state. The first is technological, in the sense of the practices through which the individual “man” either strengthens or weakens the state’s survival, and the second is the political, in the sense of the relationship between the state and it’s external ‘enemies’.
In his lecture, Foucault argues that
the practices of the state are embodied within its institutions
and the use of “the enemy” in the first lecturer’s quotation shows, not just how deeply the institutions had embodied that ideology of Thatcherite competition, but also how effectively that rivalrous structure has, in turn, been internalised by their staff members. The dismantling of the Thatcherite/Conservative structure of FE college management was always explicitly one of Michael Russell’s political drivers for college regionalisation in Scotland. However as much as regionalisation and reclassification are to be welcomed they won’t, by themselves, bring about the institutionalisation of open practices.
In a way, this is why the Future Cities: Open Glasgow project is so important. Although the project isn’t educationally driven or minded, it does seem to indicate that certain open practices are starting to slowly filter down from central to local government. And yet, even if every local authority in Scotland (and there are enough of them) were to follow Glasgow’s lead (which they eventually will) it will still be necessary for the technological interests of the individual to align with the political interests of the institution, and the state. In the words of the recent Norwegian Government’s report ‘these must be connected together and clearly have the same effect’, (in Campbell, 2013).
This could be done by effectively re-licencing the educational resources produced by publicly-funded educational institutions. Copyright would no longer reside with the institution but would lie within the public domain. However, “if” the quotations at the top of this post are in any way representative of what FE lecturers in Scotland actually think then I’m not entirely sure that a change in licensing would quickly undo years of state-sponsored rivalry.
Maybe it could be more effectively driven in the way that Cable Green advocated in Washington State, such that public money would only be forthcoming if publicly-funded educational institutions adopted open practices that were genuinely beneficial to the public. So with the smallest rewordings of the Nordic OER Alliance’s ideas, Scottish FE institutions could continue to receive
funding, if they invest in improving the level of digital literacies of their staff which makes openness possible;
funding, if their staff make available top quality open educational resources;
funding, if they develop the infrastructure and pedagogy of online learning
funding, if the public derives benefit from their MOOCs
Only if an institution can demonstrate their openness should the institution be granted 100 pc of their funding allocation. By changing the funding nature of the political relationship between educational institutions and the state, this would, in turn, change the technological relationship of the individual to their institution. Whatever way it’s done, it needs done.
opensourceway, ‘Gary Hamel: Open source is one of the greatest management innovations of the 21st century’, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4371000486/, accessed 14 December 2013, (CC-BY-SA 2.0)
(2013b) ‘The Battle for Open – a perspective’, in Journal of Interactive Media in Education, Selected papers from OER13 Conference (March 2013) hosted at University of Nottingham. OER13: Evidence, Experiences and Expectation, JIME Nottingham OER 2013 special issue, http://jime.open.ac.uk/article/2013-15/html, accessed 19 December 2013
I started by playing around with the iPad App version of Badge Designer on openbadges.me. It was a bit footery at first but once I’d gotten the hang of it I realised that playing with what was possible wasn’t simply a process of skills development but was also a process of working out what I wanted to be possible. So whilst it was easy enough to design individual badges I needed to think about the place of each individual badge within the proposed badge eco-system.
Before getting to the point of deciding what each badge looked like however, it was necessary to consider a number of questions,
who should get a badge?
for what should they get that badge?
what behaviours did we want to encourage?
what were the unintended consequences of encouraging certain behaviours?
The answer that I came up with to the first question was that everybody involved should get a badge. This meant that there would be a badge for the speakers who did the lightning talks, the people who turned up, and the people who organised the group.
I can appreciate that someone might make the argument that says the organisers and the speakers do more ‘work’ than an attendee but that’s to see the audience as simply passive recipients of the speaker’s knowledge. It’s an outdated idea of audience, and the amount of tweets both during and after the first meeting testify not solely to the audience’s enthusiasm but to the construction of the community that will (hopefully) want to reconvene at the next meeting. It’s also the case that within hours of the first meeting Lorna Campbell had storifyed it whilst Martin Hawksey had collated tweets featuring our #OpenDataGLA. This active participation on the part of the “audience” begged the question as to whether someone who simply turned up out of curiosity should also get a badge. It was thinking about that question, and the word ‘get’, that I started to think about using the phrases of “earning a badge”, or “claiming a badge”. However, I think it needs to be acknowledged that someone who comes to every OpenDataGla meeting but doesn’t present a lightning talk or tweet is nevertheless actively contributing to the group. So the view that I’ve now comfortably settled into is that everyone involved in OKF Scotland has a role to play in making it work, and that each role, consequently, deserves acknowledgement.
To achieve this horizontal arrangement my first idea was that the design of each badge would have to be such that one wasn’t any “better” than any other. This doesn’t accord with the badge design rubric by Peter Rawsthorne where there is a clear hierarchy from ‘Introductory’ through to ‘Exemplary’. As far as I understand this though, the rubric is more specifically applicable to tasks or achievements which are increasingly more difficult, complex or demanding. Asking myself whether Rawsthorne’s hierarchy applied to OKF Scotland question helped me realise that the answer isn’t straightforwardly interrogative. During my preparations for my lightning talk at OpenDataGla/2 I asked a couple of the participants who took part in the Glasgow Women’s Library/WMUK editathon, Scottish Women on Wikipedia, if they’d come along and say a few words. I hadn’t intended to put the person under any pressure or obligation but for one person, who hates public speaking, this was a terrifying suggestion.
This situation helped me realise that whilst speaking to a room full of people is something of an everyday occurrence for me for this other person it was an absolute nightmare. What I think this means, in terms of badge design for a community, is that if that person had come along and managed to speak they would have experienced the badge as something that they had really gained rather than something they had simply been given, and that therefore the meaning of the badge will be regarded in their relative terms, regardless of the conceptual design. For me this means that there is no particular need in this case to embed a hierarchy of achievement because the actual badge earners will have their own personal take on each badge’s value.
Between starting this post, which is a number of months ago, and now, December 2013, it seems that the OKFN have started the process of refreshing their brand design. In a sense it doesn’t really matter because my general idea was that the design of the openbadges would closely follow the OKFN logo design.
The ones I’ve done so far all have the same basic design shape with a different icon and different text on the banner. I wanted to use the Open Knowledge Foundation’s colour scheme and I tried to get the hexadecimal codes from the OKFN website but in the end it didn’t matter because the openbadges.me palette is limited to the colour options that it provides. We just ended up picking what we thought was the closest.
I haven’t answered all the questions that I set out in this post, and there a number of other areas that need to be covered like issuing, and the content of the metadata but for the moment I just want to use this post to get the conversation going and see if it’s worthwhile pursuing.
So three of us were sitting in Teviot Row House, Edinburgh University Students Association having some drinks after the Wikimedia UK board meeting. Outside the door of the room was one of those pull up stands with an old Wikipedia globe image, and in walks this young student chap and asks what the Wikipedia sign is all about. We explain the situation.
“So you guys are Wikipedia?” he asks on the point of incredulity. Well, no and we have another go at explaining what Wikimedia UK does. He’s having none of that. “I can’t tell you how much you guys have saved me on textbooks…you guys are awesome”. He smiles, we thank him: and it’s beautiful.
File:Wikipedia-logo.png, By version 1 by Nohat (concept by Paullusmagnus), Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWikipedia-logo.png, accessed 8th December 2013
Just over a month ago I took part in the first librarycamp to be held in The Mitchell Library in Glasgow. For those who’ve never heard of a librarycamp, let alone been to one, a librarycamp is a type of unconference where attendees pitch ideas in advance, and then develop these ideas at sessions on the day. Unlike a conference though the attendees on the day can also pitch a session and because there’s no definite list of speakers the participants can sit in on a full session or wander in and out of different sessions as the mood takes them. In the end I didn’t see anyone switch sessions once they’d got under way but the whole atmosphere is friendly and informal. The event had been organised, primarily, by the indefatigable Anabel Marsh along with Lynn Corrigan, Myra Paterson and Lesley Thomson, and they did a great job with numerous tweets that testify to the event’s success.
The pitch I’d put forward was
How can any of the Wikimedia projects help groups working in and using libraries? How can Wikimedia help libraries better engage with their communities?
Wikimedia in Scotland are particularly keen to work with groups (research, local history, and/or reading groups) that are currently under-represented, and where the projects can be used as a means to help overcome the digital divide. Wikimedians can provide free training and support to library staff and to user-group members in order to help people make their contribution to some of the world’s most popular websites.
I think that a ‘librarycamp’ was a completely new experience to most, if not all of the people who were there on the day, and I certainly had no clear idea what to expect, or what was expected of me. In preparation I’d looked at a variety of unconference websites the most useful being
Hacktivities for Webmaking where I had the idea of adapting the ‘Icebreaker’ and ‘A Strong Wind Blows’ activities. I’d enjoyed the latter at a JISC RSC Scotland Open Badges Design Day workshop and I thought it’d worked really well for generating ideas in a fun way
The camp organisers had also put in place a number of icebreakers and unconference activities: two of which really stood out. When we arrived we were given, along with our goody bag, a library camp bingo card. Using the bingo card we had to circulate and introduce ourselves to each other and hopefully meet people who could sign the bingo card in one of its squares. It was a good activity that worked well with prizes at the end for those who completely filled their card.
The second unconference activity that I thought would work well, particularly with experienced Wikimedians, was the one-minute rant. This was again something that could have been pitched in advance but was also open to the floor on the day. Sheila Williams gave a cracking rant about e-books but the winning rant came from Andrew from the National Library of Scotland on the topic of the dead hand of institutional management. Having heard them all we voted on what we thought was the best. Hmm, maybe it wouldn’t be all that wise to allow Wikipedians an open mic to rant. I fear that the ice breaker might turn into a whole day’s activities ;-)
The general theme of unconference activities revolves around getting the participants involved in doing things. I knew that on the day I wouldn’t have access to a presentation or to any online resources, and so I selected the activities and games that I thought would be best suited. Armed with these ideas, and an armful of coloured post-it notes, Wikipedia pens and much sought after Wp lapel badges I considered myself well prepared.
Before the sessions got under way the first thing I had to do was introduce my pitch to the whole ‘camp’. Days before, I wasn’t having much success coming up with something that I thought would be both interesting and engaging and I’d given up trying to think what to say and decided to instead listen to Stephen Fry’s reading of Douglas Adams’, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This was one of those odd, maybe serendipitous, decisions when as soon as you stop thinking about something the answer seems to suddenly, and somewhat improbably, appear.
You’ll no doubt remember that Ford Prefect, a previous resident of ‘a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse’, had been living on Earth for fifteen years with the noble aim of updating our planet’s article on The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, after all this time Ford Prefect had managed to update the article with only a single word. “Why was this?” I rhetorically asked the librarycampers in the hope that no-one actually gave a different answer to the one that I planned to provide. “Ford Prefect’s failure”, I hurriedly continued, “was the result of not engaging with his local community. If Ford Prefect had adopted a user-centred approach to his research he could have generated a considerably longer, and more detailed article”. It got the laugh, and I was mostly happy.
Our Wikipedia talk was in the in the last batch of the day’s sessions. The three other talks that I’d attended, two in the morning, one after lunch, had been pretty conversational and not a single game had been played and not a single coloured post-it had been seen (at least, not by me ), and I’m afraid that I didn’t have the nerve at the end of the day to start to introduce my activities. None of the people who attended our session had edited the encyclopaedia before, and so I tried my best to accommodate the session to what had gone before. On reflection I should have adjusted what I thought the activities were going to be and been bolder (to coin a phrase). I can see now how this could have been done; maybe next time.
Although I’d known from the beginning that I wouldn’t have recourse to the encyclopaedia, for someone who has only recently started talking publicly about Wikipedia I found that talking to a group of people about a website, without having access to that website, is an incredibly difficult task. It got even more difficult when we started to talk about what makes an article good or bad, good and bad Wiki-practices, wiki-markup and conflict of interest. If I do this sort of thing again I would really have to think about how I navigate around this particular obstacle. I didn’t know about Kiwix at the time so that might be an option. Although I had personally initiated our participation in the event, I am immensely grateful to Ally Crockford, the Wikimedian-in-Residence at the National Library of Scotland, for coming through from Edinburgh and who not only provided moral support but actively led the conversation and managed to keep it going when I flagged. At the end I think people genuinely enjoyed the session, and we got some positive outcomes from it.
It’s all about the data: it’s all about the people
On one level this type of activity is really useful for explaining the philosophy of Wikipedia to people who are interested in that sort of high-end conversation but it’s more importantly an opportunity to make connections and encourage people who hadn’t considered themselves as potential editors. From previous discussions with library peeps about Wikipedia I’d expected some hostility to Wikipedia, or the idea of Wikipedia but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The general attitude was,
we get it – you don’t have to convince us
we know the students are using it, so we want to help them use it better by helping them become contributers
we want to get more involved
just tell us how to
Based on my experience here I think there is a lot of potential amongst the librarian community in Glasgow, and the West of Scotland for Wiki-training for the practitioners that will, in turn, lead onto activities for their respective library users. It was a bit nerve racking, but it was a really worthwhile experience and I would definitely recommend it to other Wikipedia users/volunteers who want to engage with their local communities.
There are a couple of material outcomes that we are still following up on.
The first of these is a possible editathon at The Glasgow School of Art. I met with some of their librarians a week or so after the librarycamp, and we have a training session planned for early December.
Ally and myself have agreed to do a webinar for CILIPS MmITS in February 2014 or thereabouts. Details haven’t been finalised so keep an eye on the WMUK events page, or sign up for the Wikimedia in Scotland mailing list
We also made connections with staff from The Mitchell Library who were interested in staff training; and
We discussed with Gordon Hunt from The University of the West of Scotland about the possibility of a Wikinews project with their media studies students.
Some other links
The Wikimedia UK event page has now been archived but can be found here