Monday, 11 September 2017

Women in Red

I attended my first Wikipedia 'Editathon' this year.

Newnham College, Cambridge University
Called 'Role Models', it was held at Newnham College, one of only two all-female colleges at the University of Cambridge. It was timed to coincide with activities for International Women's Day on March 8th and Wikipedia's own Women's History Month.

It was a fascinating learning experience, so I thought I'd set down my impressions of the day and make a few suggestions for  improving editathons in the future.

Dame Carol Black with Roger Bamkin
If you exclude the event I helped organise back in 2011 at Derby Museum for GLAM-Wiki, this was my first real editathon.

I'd been asked to help out by event organiser, Roger Bamkin (User: Victuallers), who has tons of experience in organising similar events. But what was initially a general invitation to assist by taking a few official pictures of the event, soon turned into a request for me to produce a video of the day, carry out interviews with a range of attendees. And even that later transmogrified into a request to prepare a video for showing in Montreal at the 2017 Wikimania Conference. No pressure then!  (see video below)

Doug Taylor ran introductory classes,
every hour, on the hour.
With only basic DSLR recording equipment, and no experience of being on the question-asking side of the camera, I felt rather at sea. But, hey, it's great to have a challenge of learning knew skills.

The first thing I did was buy a low-cost lapel microphone. I chose a £15 Boya Lavalier microphone on Amazon, which I thoroughly recommend. Had I not acquired this useful bit of kit, none of the videos would have been of much use, such was the level of enthusiastic background noise on the day. (A shotgun microphone I had borrowed form a work colleague for use on a backup video camera failed to produce anything like the same sound quality, and collected far too much ambient noise)

Format of the day
The event started with a welcome from Dame Carol Black, the Principal of Newnham College, plus a few words by Roger.

In one half of the room we then had Doug Taylor from Wikimedia UK who ran hourly introductory sessions for beginners new to editing on Wikipedia.  His style was both enthusiastic and engaging, and he was assisted by Marianne Bamkin who operated the laptop which was projected for everyone to see)

In the other half of the room we had tables and a number of laptops supplied by Newnham College for people to work on. Luckily many had also brought their own, too.
People could drop in at any time during the day, and these included academic staff, support staff and a number of really interesting Cambridge alumnae who came for the whole day. In addition, there were also a number of established Wikipedians like Clem Rutter, Charles Matthews, RubbishComputer, Deryck C and others.

The majority of people who attended had never edited a Wikipedia article before, but had come armed to make their mark and to help-redress the male-female imbalance in Wikipedia articles. Many focussed on articles about current or ex-Cambridge University women achievers. One alumna who came to learn (but might also merit an article in her own right) was Elizabeth Hodges - who, we understand, was first female surgeon commander in the Navy.

I was able to record interviews with a number of people during the day - some being brand new to editing, others being established Wikipedians. One of them (a retired biology technician with the Human Genome Project) gave a particularly insightful account of how that project shared their data via Wikipedia. Some of her words appear in the video below).
Registering school users on Wikipedia

I would observe the following:
Good Points:
  • The day was enhanced by having an introductory talk on editing Wikipedia every hour for all newcomers to editing.
  •  Most attendees had their own mobile devices and soon got to grips with understanding the basics of making and saving their first edits.
  • A Wikipedia Admin was present to help school groups create new accounts for each student.
  • It was very rewarding to be able to talk with and to assist people completely new to editing Wikipedia
  •  Seeing young schoolchildren attending and getting stuck in to editing alongside somewhat more elderly participants was delightful.
  • A photo of each person we interviewed was taken of them holding an image release form.
  • 70 new editors were trained during the event.
Ideas for the future:
  • Capture and record the Usernames of everyone attending. With either a blackboard or register, this would enable organisers not only to assess achievements made on the day, but also visit new users, check their work, and offer help or encouragement in the weeks that follow).
  • Encourage users not only to sign in, but to write down names of articles they are working on.
  • Avoid having the same room for introductory lectures and personal editing. (especially important if you want to interview and record people!)
  • Clearly display the WiFi name and password
  • Provide every brand new Wikipedia editor with a "What do I do next?" leaflet to take away.

The day ended with an invitation to join Dame Carol Black as her guests of honour at 'high table' in the beautiful surroundings of Newnham College. All in all - a wonderful, but tiring day!
Roger Bamkin chatting with Newnham
College staff at formal dinner. 

And here's the video I eventually produced for showing during a Women in Red presentation at the Wikimania Conference in Montreal:

Yes, it was a great event!

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