The differences between “free” and “open” are nuanced, but can be vast. So how can a free schooling system make the most out of open knowledge and education? That’s where Sara Mörtsell comes in.
As the Education Manager for Wikimedia Sverige (WMSE), the Swedish Wikimedia chapter, Sara is responsible for training and encouraging educators and students on how best to incorporate Wikipedia into the learning process. Her first interactions with editing actually came at a WMSE workshop.
“I sort of got behind the scene for the first time and did a few edits, and thinking, ‘How can I use this with my students?’,” she says. “At the time I was teaching students who had just come into Sweden, and I couldn’t really find a way to make it work with my curriculum.”
Despite this, she was still keen to work out a method for tapping into Wikipedia in the classroom. At the time, she was a teacher of children aged 16 to 18, and was applying her interest in open education and information literacy that drew her to Wikipedia in the first place. She’s interested in helping younger people get to grips with this kind of collaborative knowledge production and dissemination, through tools like Wikimini.
“We like to talk about Wikipedia as a collaborative project, and how what looks as one text can actually be the result of many different editors collaborating,” Sara explains. “This is also what we can show with Wikimini. What you are used to is one text, one author, but in this technical environment we can actually show how this is the result of a collaboration of different editors.”
This concept she says might help youngsters understand the concept of mass-collaboration in an online context—an increasingly vital concept in the digital age. “One student said something in translation like, ‘I never realized how ordinary people were allowed to create an encyclopedia’,” she adds. “Barriers are easily taken down once you realize it’s possible.”
As well as working with students directly, Sara attends outreach events in her role with WMSE to educate teachers about open education in the classroom. “Talking about education in this context, I think it’s just really, really rewarding,” she says. “I really would like to sort of be able to package the amazing thing that we’re doing and really show how it’s different, and why it’s so important.”
Sara says a major misunderstanding is the confusion over “open” knowledge. “The challenge I find is how I want to talk about free knowledge and free resources,” she explains, “and how someone would say to me, ‘But Sara, everything I use is free. I don’t pay for anything.’ …If you look at licensing … a free license could become the norm.”
These misunderstandings are something Sara wants to address as a priority. Part of the reasoning for this, she says, is that Wikipedia comes off as something of an impersonal place for a lot of people.
“We have to realize, Wikipedia is really faceless,” she explains. “And it’s, perhaps, intimidating for some. We can’t just take for granted that that’s nice, because it can also be a mystery, and unknown, and a not familiar place.
“So when we can put faces on who’s contributing, or this is how it actually, what it looks like in the physical room, then we’re demystifying what editing Wikipedia is.”
By doing this, Sara believes the true potential of Wikipedia could be opened up to the world.
“Wikipedia is one of the best things the internet has really given us. I truly believe it. It’s a testament to what we can create together as a community, a global community, which has never been possible before.”