Following on from recent WP editing workshops in Queensland (see* This
Month in GLAM*
I wanted to write about it before I forgot. I am posting here because the
workshop participants were women and leading the sessions brought to mind
my earlier experience gained over many years of teaching and training
So here are some thoughts about training and gender, followed by some
thoughts about training in general. I wrote this in case it helps anyone
involved in training adults, especially women, who are not students in a
formal educational environment. There are two bases for these comments –
the first is that training is different from making a presentation (newbie
trainers often fall into the trap of just talking as if to an audience);
and the second is that women as trainees often have different needs (this
was evident in the recent workshops). You can already see this is a long
post. My apologies. Stop reading here if training is not something you will
ever do. If there is a better place to put this, please let me know. I am
happy to be (politely) advised where to go. :)
The recent training days that Wittylama and I ran for newbies in outback
Queensland consisted entirely of female participants (except for one man
who joined in at the last minute after finding out what was happening).
Ninety per cent of them were mature age and I think none had undertaken
tertiary studies. Therefore, somewhat unexpectedly, these training days
became activities that made their own tiny contribution to reducing the
gender gap. In many ways, they were a case study for adult learning in
general and female learning in particular. The sessions provided an
opportunity to observe the trainees’ attitudes and reactions to editing WP.
Some of those observations are here – in some cases they reinforce what has
been previously noted about women and Wikipedia; in others, they refute it.
Contrary to what you might expect, the participants seemed unworried by the
fact that this was a computer-mediated activity. No one seemed daunted by
“the internet” or the information technology. They recognised and accepted
it; thence it was simply a case of using it to get the intended results.
*Perceptions of participation in WP*
One of the interesting things was the reaction to our question: “what
percentage of Wikipedia editors do you think are female?” The answer was
revealing. They guessed it must be from 60% to 80%. The question was asked
just after WP and its sister projects had been introduced – at a point when
the effort, focus, level of detail and commitment needed to contribute
effectively were becoming evident. My impression was that being a
Wikipedian struck them as a quintessentially female activity: unpaid,
detailed, ongoing, educational, done for the good of others. They seemed to
recognise and identify with this constellation of requirements and were
surprised, even a little sceptical, when we said that boys and men had done
most of it. Personally, I think this insight can be interpreted in two
different ways. On the one hand, these women acknowledged WP as worthwhile
and something that they could do. On the other hand, they could see it as
yet another call on their time, demanding effort that would likely go
The lesson for training is that the motivational factor needs to be
explicit. That is, in the middle of learning something new, it helps to
state some of the benefits that may seem to be invisible to learners at
that moment: for example, that this is a way of sharing knowledge; that it
is useful and many regard it as fun; that there is a community of willing
helpers. Many of the trainees were librarians or local tourism office
workers, so these are motivations to which they could relate. At this
point, of course, we crossed our fingers and hoped that their “first
contact” with the WP community (or even second or third contact) would not
be with its combativeness.
*Tip:* Remind trainees what they can get out of being a WP editor.
*Women opt for training*
It was not a complete surprise to me that the people who came to the
training were women. Women like training, perhaps because they often think
they do not yet know enough and need more skills. The result is that more
women will volunteer for training and more men will contribute without it.
For stereotypical support of this argument, consider the oft-quoted idea
that men will only “read the manual” as a last resort. On this topic, I am
amused to find that this article exists on the English WP:
*Tip*: Trainees seek competency, so training must work to deliver it.
*Reluctance and timidity*
We did notice that many in the group were reluctant to try editing
publicly, that is, in front of the rest of the group. Many of the range of
fears that I have seen often in the classroom situation over my many years
of teaching, particularly among girls and women, were clearly articulated
by those in our groups. Among those were fears of:
- failure (“I would like to get it right before I try”);
- upsetting the social hierarchy, which is important in groups that have to
work together later (“that’s Mary’s role/territory”);
- putting oneself forward or standing out (“I would rather try it out at
*Tip*: Structure privacy into the class activities (balanced with support).
For many adults, the “classroom” may be an environment that triggers
unhappy memories of failure, discomfort and powerlessness. For those who
have not done any formal education since school, it may well be they do not
have fond memories of being a learner in a classroom. Overcoming this sort
of anxiety means paying attention to course content, method and atmosphere
too. That is:
- expectations of what can be learned need to be realistic;
- the emotional atmosphere needs to be supportive and responsive;
- there should be predictable and reliable breaks.
It also means respecting what the knowledge that adults have and using it
in the session.
*Tip*: Respect adult learners’ knowledge, experience and preferences
The following comments relate to any sort of adult training (regardless of
gender and experience) but are here related specifically to WP training and
to the context in which it takes place.
For complete newbies, it is especially tempting to try to teach them
everything and give many warnings. Such an approach is likely to be
overwhelming and counter-productive. The goal is confidence and competence.
*Tip*: Assign tasks that are the most likely to ensure success and remember
that the concentration required of learners is tiring.
*Outcomes and expectations*
Above all, the trainer needs to be very clear what the outcomes are for the
session in relation to what the trainees can be expected to be able to do
by the end. This does not mean trying to “cover” everything (trying to get
through everything is demoralising and ineffective for learners). The
session should not be based on the expectation that trainees will
understand or commit to doing everything that the trainer can do. So the
trainer must work out in advance what trainees can be expected to do and
help them to do that. This means resisting the temptation to tell them
everything or expect them to be anything other than learners. Therefore,
the questions the trainer needs to answer are:
- “What do I want them to be able to DO at the end of the day?” (This is
better expressed as “What do they need to know to get started on WP?”)
- “What do I teach?” (Perhaps even more importantly, this means considering
“What do I leave out?”);
- “How do I teach it?” A helpful sub-question is “What will they be doing
during the training session?” (If the answer to this is “Listening to me”,
the training will not be good);
- What is in it for them? (This means, “What will motivate them to keep
*Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes*
Answers to the questions above fall into the three categories: Knowledge,
Skills and Attitudes (KSA). One of the main ways of controlling the scope
of training and building in some likelihood of success, is to articulate
the KSA that the session aims to inculcate in the learner in the limited
time available (typically, not more than one day). Some answers for WP
training of complete newbies are suggested below.
In Wikipedia terms, the *Knowledge* might be an understanding of the core
policies of Verifiability, Neutrality and No Original Research and a
recognition that there are more policies that apply. Policies, rules and
other “don’ts” should only be taught when they are specifically needed –
not in advance or "just in case".
Basic *Skills* for editing Wikipedia are being able to:
- navigate the interface;
- edit the existing content using the simple parts of the code;
- add a correct but simple reference;
- add an image; and
- find the community.
This list turns itself into sections of a training day.
*Attitudes* are important because without the “right” attitude any learner
in any field will lose interest or be unsuccessful in the environment. In
WP, the learner needs to know there is a supportive community available to
help and also that it forms a social space for undertaking the work. The
other component of attitudes is to communicate that WP addresses various
personal motivations (e.g. contributing and sharing, fun, personal
development, working with interesting people). The training needs to
reinforce these motivators, especially since learning itself can be
frustrating and master of the skills often seems a long way off.
In a class of new editors start by editing existing articles rather than
creating new ones. Not only is it more likely to build success, it is a
better way to develop the attitude that being a Wikipedian is about working
together to build quality articles.
- Leave most policies out (including “Notability” since it is more relevant
to creating new articles than editing existing ones).
- Have a member of the community offsite participate by adding some of the
more difficult things (citation templates, infoboxes, tables, etc) or by
improving some of what had just been added. This helps the trainees see how
the community edits content “like magic”, demonstrates how consensus and
incremental improvements are made, and leaves the trainer with more time to
train rather than fixing code.
*A training model*
Since the idea is to build competency and commitment, a model that works is:
2. Get to Know;
3. Try it Out;
4. Get Feedback;
5. Continue (“Off you go”).
*Tip*: Given them a chance to practise and give them feedback.
If you have read this far, thanks!