With open systems, comes — “gasp” — process

The Small Pieces free-for-all is slowly taking shape. So far, much of the discussion has been framed around process issues (as noted by Alan and D’Arcy, among others), but that’s cool — participants are feeling their way in an open structure, one that we intentionally left ill-defined. I’ve gotten emails from a couple of very sophisticated web-types requesting clarification, so clearly there is room for more specification, and for adaptation.

My reaction to another “process discussion” was less sanguine, however, when I took a break from a weekend spent unpacking and painting to check the recent changes to the UBC wiki (it’s a tough habit to break). I noticed that an anonymous contributor had started a page prominently linked off the homepage entitled “WhyThisWikiIsn’tWorking” — with no content. So I didn’t even know what “wasn’t working”, just that some sort of attack was likely on its way.

Checking later, I learned that this same unnamed contributor had changed the welcome page on the wiki, which invited participation from “anyone in the learning community”, and restricted it to “UBC Faculty and Students.”

It was accompanied by the WhatsWrongWithThisWiki manifesto — now sporting the slightly more neutral moniker SitePurposeDiscussion, though the thesis had not changed:

The old description on the FrontPage said that this was intended for anyone in the learning community.

I feel like part of the global learning community, but I feel that this space is not intended for me and my ilk.

This seems much more like a space for UBC staff and students to coordinate over.

This is an important distinction.

… I’m making this page because there is presently a tension between public and private. Many people on the private side seem to believe that they are working with public process, and want to work with public process, but don’t seem to understand how it works.

It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have time to respond right then, as my initial reaction was to mutter a stream of obscenities.

This attack strikes something of a personal sore point, as I have struggled to balance the reasonable expectations of my home institution (which funds the server, and pays the salaries of myself and others who work on the system), and the desire to keep the system as open and inviting to broader participation as possible. I have heard some muted criticisms from others here at UBC (mostly second-hand) questioning the purpose of the wiki, and expressing concerns about the openness of the system. So to be condemned as exclusionary and selfish at the same time — by someone sufficiently empowered to change the welcome message, however briefly — got my dander up.

You can see how I eventually responded in the SitePurposeDiscussion itself. Who knows, the conversation may continue — though I would much rather dedicate this time and energy to Small Pieces. It’s been a good test of my commitment to open systems — how do I respond when things take a turn I really don’t like? (With a mixture of accomodation and annoyance, apparently.) I hope this isn’t a harbinger of battles to come, I haven’t the desire nor the time to engage in meaningless wrangling over the ‘true’ nature of wikiness.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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