User:JWSchmidt/Blog/10 October 2008
Can User:JWSchmidt work and play with others or am I just a disruptive troll who should be asked to leave Wikiversity?
Work and play at Wikiversity
My path to participation at Wikiversity started long ago. One landmark event along that path was back in 1976 when I was mired in the depths of desire for a personal computer. At that time, the only computers I had ever touched were less sophisticated than a typical cell phone that might today be given to a child. In the absence of being able to use actual computers, I fantasized about the computers that would one day exist and that would create a virtual learning environment in cyberspace. I wrote an essay about my fantasy in English class and used that essay to explore the idea that it might be possible to use the power of computers to push education beyond the limits of what was possible with traditional classroom-based education. I've been exploring that idea for the past 32 years and I expect to spend the rest of my life continuing that exploration.
I've spent the past few years trying to establish Wikiversity as a playground where I can explore how to use wiki technology as a tool for online learning. This process has involved more work than play. There is a large amount of dull and boring work involved in setting up a new wiki, but I have felt that it is my duty to help do that work. Build the playground then use the playground. Of course, part of the joy of wiki is that it is often possible to squeeze in some play time even if most of your time is devoted to the boring but necessary work. In general, I have been fairly happy with the balance of work and play that I have been able to create for myself at Wikiversity. I do admit that sometimes the work-to-play ratio for me at Wikiversity drifts too far to the work side and so sometimes I have to go to other wiki websites where there is a higher ratio of play to work.
Work and conflict in wikis
Setting up any new wiki involves a large amount of dull and boring work. I accept that. I know that if I invest my time building a playground then that work will "pay off" and I will later get to enjoy the fruits of my labor by actually using the playground. However, there is another source of "work" at Wikiversity that is no less real but that, for me, has been less expected....and less welcome. I've been doing a significant amount of reflection on why it should be the case that I have tried explicitly to make Wikiversity a place for play, but increasingly I have to go to other wikis in order to play.
In general, wikis each define their scope and mission. Each wiki puts up a page that explains the goals of that local community of editors. People who have an interest in those goals come and edit. People who have different goals go and participate in other online communities that more closely fit with their interests.
In the case of Wikiversity, this community started as a Wikimedia Sister Project (see Wikiversity:History of Wikiversity). We had to explicitly propose a mission for Wikiversity and the Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation had to approve that mission. Personally, I worked hard to make the Wikiversity mission broad and I have worked hard to make Wikiversity a place that is open to a broad range of learners and explorers. The first proposal for Wikiversity was basically the idea that we use wiki technology to make an online university. In my view, that proposal was too restrictive. Nobody knows the full potential for wiki technology as a tool that can be used to support online learning. Yes, we can put conventional educational resources into wiki format, conventional educational institutions can use wiki as a tool to support conventional "bricks-and-mortar" education, but we can also explore new ways to support online learning by making new and innovative use of wiki technology. I think the Wikiversity proposal that was finally approved calls for a Wikiversity that is open to both conventional educational approaches and to experimentation and a search for new ways to use wiki technology to support the learning goals of Wikiversity participants.
Of course, the rosy picture of Wikiversity that I create for myself, a vision of Wikiversity as a big tent that has room for everyone, has never been shared by everyone. Right at the start, it was a struggle for the Wikiversity project proposal to gain support of two thirds of the Wikimedia community. After Wikiversity launched, the project attracted participants who do not agree with the idea that Wikiversity should be a big tent that has room for everyone. So, this conflict over what Wikiversity is, a conflict that I had hoped was settled when the Wikiversity Project Proposal was approved by the Foundation, continues to be an issue that generates work for me. I want to hold the door of Wikiversity open and I find myself in conflict with people who want to re-make Wikiversity as a much more limited and restricted place, a place for just a limited set of learners and learning approaches.
Play and conflict
As a biologist who has spent decades studying human learning, I feel that humans learn by play. I like to play with ideas and tools. I like the idea that Wikiversity is a playground where learners can make use of wiki technology and collaborative "learn by doing" editing projects to explore their learning goals. I realize that many Wikiversity participants view learning as what happens in a classroom and they are mainly interested in using Wikiversity as a way to support conventional classroom-based education. I have no problem with using Wikiversity to support conventional education....I myself make many rather conventional educational resources at Wikiversity. However, I do think that Wikiversity can "do it all". It really bothers me when people try to restrict Wikiversity to a narrow range of approaches to education and try to shut the door to experimentation and play with wiki technology.
It has been an interesting learning experience for me to have some other Wikiversity participants complain about some of the learning resources I have made and to see some Wikiversity participants interpret some of my play as being malicious, disruptive and intentionally hurtful. I have lived for several decades in a culture where the discussions are open, direct and designed to cut to the truth as quickly as possible. I suppose there are some people who might honestly take offense when I create open and direct learning resources at Wikiversity or when I participate in open and direct discussions in #wikiversity-en. I also suppose there are people who know that their ideas cannot stand up to open and direct analysis, so they will do anything they can do to put limits on open and direct discussions at Wikiversity.
Play and work and conflict
Of course, I'm not the kind of person to try to segregate my wiki work and play. We can try to talk about work and learning and play as distinct things, but my life has been one big jumble of these three activities. As it says on my talk page, I often like to explore the boundary between what is socially acceptable and what is outrageous. I am sometimes blunt and and terse and my actions might seem needlessly confrontational. I need other editors to let me know when I "cross the line" and start to disrupt the atmosphere of collaboration rather than support it. Rather than come and talk to me, a bunch of false and distorted charges were made against me. When I tried to respond to those charges, I was prevented from editing the page where the charges were made. Before I could respond to all the false and distorted charges, I was blocked from editing Wikiversity, with no valid reason given for the block. The false and distorted charges were used to try to "justify" blocking me from editing, removing my custodianship, and banning me from #wikiversity-en. The question becomes, can such blatant abuses of power stand at Wikiversity? So far, thanks to some brave people who stood up to the abusers, I have been unblocked. I remain banned from #wikiversity-en, and no warning, reason or discussion was given when I banned. I remain stripped of my custodianship while the people who have abused their custodial and bureaucratic powers remain free to continue their misguided practices at Wikiversity.
How can we explain this state of affairs? I think I have involved myself in a clash of cultures. My use of methods that are open, direct and designed to cut to the truth as quickly as possible is not always appreciated by some Wikiversity participants. I originally thought it would be possible for Wikiversity to use free and open discussion to solve conflicts....I thought we would not need to use contrived devices such as Wikipedia's "requests for comments". Those kinds of devices for conflict resolution are frequently abused at Wikipedia by experienced editors who know how to game the system. Now it looks like Wikiversity is being pushed in that direction...a direction that I think of as being in the direction of "Wikipedia Disease". Not every practice that has been developed at Wikipedia is well-suited for Wikiversity. I hope Wikiversity can find its own methods for conflict resolution that are true to our education-oriented mission. Since I first wrote this we have seen a replication of how "Wikipedia Disease" is taking over Wikiversity. In the first instance, User:McCormack compiled a bunch of false and distorted charges against me which were then used to "justify" the removal of my custodianship, an indefinite duration block of my editing at Wikiversity and banning me from participating in #wikiversity-en. In the recent repeat of this method, User:Jade Knight insisted on the need to call a page "Topic:European History" rather than "Topic:European history". The Wikimedia community long ago decided that for page names "lowercase letters are used at the start of second words and subsequent words except when they are proper nouns". Rather than settle this "important" conflict by discussion, the "new Wikiversity conflict resolution system" was again called into play. Jade Knight launched the "conflict resolution system" into action by making a false claim against User:Emesee, specifically, accusing Emesee of exercising a "need to constantly move pages", when in fact, it was Jade Knight who "had the need" to repeatedly try to change "Topic:European history" to "Topic:European History". And what was the outcome of this great debate over "Topic:European history" to "Topic:European History"? Surely the Wikiversity devotion to settling conflict by discussion and consensus could deal with such a trivial conflict, right? No. Not under the "new Wikiversity conflict resolution system". At Wikiversity someone goes off and gets a steward to perform an emergency de-sysop. Yes, that is the way we do things here at Wikiversity. Anytime you find a policy that you do not want to follow, make some false claims against your opponent and then block, ban or de-sysop your opponent....or do all three. Wikipedia Disease Triumphant!
How has it come to this? We have a gang of bureaucrats who have turned Wikiversity over to bullies who have been given the green light to call other Wikiversity participants names like "troll" and "whiner". This same gang of bureaucrats lectures the rest of us to keep in our places and "be civil". The hypocrisy and double standards are sickening. It is clear: join the side of the gang or be prepared to be blocked, banned, de-sysoped. Rather than give in to this absurd abuse of power, some of the best Wikiversity participants have left the project. Others are afraid to edit. Others only aspire to some day be able to raise their own mighty ban-hammer and strut around Wikiversity like a hero. How has a once noble experiment in online learning sunk so low?
Conflicts that are content disputes
Before 6 September 2008 the Wikiversity:Request custodian action page was used to call the attention of custodians to things like requests for username changes, potential copyright problems and vandalism. At that point SB Johnny used the page to request that custodians review my behavior. In particular, SB Johnny pointed to several learning resources I had made at User:Trout of Doubt, Wikimedia Ethics/Moulton, JWSchmidt's investigation and Wikiversity:Student union. SB Johnny called these learning resources "and the related issues" very negative distortions of the shape of Wikiversity, "beyond inappropriate" and "absolutely atrocious behavior". SB Johnny also accused me of creating a sockpuppet and stated that "it should be no surprise" that Salmon of Doubt took offense. I responded by pointing out the fact that I had not created a sockpuppet and addressed the other complaints as best I could. Since SB Johnny accused me of using "forced drama" and it was clear that he wanted to remove my custodianship, I requested that he fully describe what he meant by "forced drama" and why I should have my custodianship terminated. I created some learning resources that SB Johnny did not like but that I defended as valid learning resources, and rather than discuss this content dispute in a normal way, SB Johnny decided that I should have my custodianship terminated.
I think that SB Johnny's characterization of my learning resources as "forced drama" is fundamentally flawed. This is the kind of approach that is taken at other wikis where the concept of a learning resource is unknown and treated as unwelcome. The "forced drama" at Wikiversity started with the infamous "rounded corners" argument during which a Wikipedian objected to the Wikiversity practice of using rounded corners. What was the solution to this first case of "Wikipedia Disease" infecting Wikiversity? Unilateral bureaucratic action to force the Wikiversity community to adopt the Wikipedian approach.
The second round of "forced drama" was started by User:Centaur of attention. I've previously commented on the history of Wikipedia Studies at Wikiversity. Topic:Wikipedia studies really started to bloom in the summer of 2008 when the Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia research project was initiated and began to attract participants. Of course, User:Centaur of attention could not tolerate the idea of Wikiversity participants engaging in such a research topic. Why not? We may never know for sure because "Centaur of attention" kept his identity secret. Why? There is a constant stream of abusive administrators at Wikipedia who have to be rooted out and removed from their positions of trust. These abusive admins are experts at gaming the system and banning other Wikipedians who point out their abuses. It simply cannot be tolerated that banned Wikipedians are free to come to Wikiversity and study the actions of those abusive Wikipedia administrators. Eventually "Centaur of attention" wore out his welcome and was blocked from editing at Wikiversity. I still do not know the Wikipedia identity of "Centaur of attention" but I believe it might be an abusive admin who was finally, after years of struggle, de-sysoped for repeated abuses of administrative power. However, the second round of "forced drama" included the editing of User:Salmon of Doubt, another Wikipedian who came to Wikiversity in order to disrupt the "Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia" project and to get User:Moulton banned from Wikiversity. What is the reward for coming to Wikiversity to carry such a program of "forced drama"? Remember, I got charged with creating "forced drama" and I was blocked, banned and de-sysoped. In contrast, "Salmon of Doubt" was made a custodian....another remarkable example of Wikiversity double standards.
The second round of "forced drama" cannot be understood without understanding the role of Moulton. Moulton was here participating in Wikiversity learning and research projects when he was attacked by the gang of Wikipedians who banned him from Wikipedia. We live in the time of the Great Wikimedia Red Scare. Anyone who shows an interest in the real world identities of wiki editors is in danger of being banned. Of course, if you are with the Party in Power, then you are free to reveal the identities of editors and ban them. If you are not a member of the Party in Power, then all it takes is the suggestion that you have "outed" a Wikipedian and you are banned. If you are targeted by the "Red Scare" it does not matter if actually outed someone, you just have to be accused of outing someone. This is the current #1 way of gaming the Wikimedia system. Members of the Party in Power can game the system and ban other editors just by accusing them of having outed someone....no evidence is required.
What I did on my summer vacation
I had an interesting mix of work and play. On the positive side, I had fun working with other editors on some interesting Wikiversity learning projects and research projects. On the work side of the equation, I confronted a few Wikiversity editors who had tried to delete the work of myself and other Wikiversity participants and expand "Wikipedia Disease" at Wikiversity so as to shift the deletion standards of Wikiversity towards those of Wikipedia. As reward for my work and play I was showered with false and distorted charges, blocked, banned, de-sysoped and told to leave Wikiversity. Unfortunately for those who are trying to mount a hostile take-over of Wikiversity, I am not going to leave the project. My vacation was too short. I am now mostly back in the real world and my precious wiki time is limited. I must now continue the sickening process of reading and responding to the false and distorted charges that have been, and continue to be, made against me and other Wikiversity participants. This is not what Wikiversity should be, but it is an amazing learning project. I had previously imagined that Red Scares and Witch Hunts were things we read about in high school and all vow never to repeat in our own lives....I never imagined that Wikiversity "learn by doing" would mean subjecting Wikiversity participants to show trials and witch hunts.