Newspaper Club

Who's programming the TiVo?

Jimmy Wales

Last Wednesday, it was my great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Wales to talk at school: ‘Wikipedia and Wikia : Free Culture for a Free World’. About 300 students and staff came to hear him, filling our main hall. Feedback has been very warm and appreciative (‘the best talk I’ve been to in my five years here’, ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’, ‘the ethos of Wikipedia/Wikia is so inspiring’). We filmed the talk and Jimmy’s given us his slides and we’ll be posting these. I’m very grateful to him for coming, fitting us in during a short visit to London.

Early on in his hour with us, Jimmy asked how many of those there had ever edited Wikipedia. He reckoned about 80% of the students had. I wasn’t expecting that high a figure. As Chris said to me the next day, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, the fact that that is going on, with no-one knowing the extent of it until the question is asked, is really appropriate to the nature of the project and the software.

There was a moment at the Guardian event that I hadn’t been expecting, either: Jimmy asked the media crowd how many of them had edited Wikipedia — about 30%. He then told them about the previous day: ‘yesterday I spoke at St Paul’s and the percentage was about 80% — so you’re behind. But don’t feel too bad about it: my daughter programs our TiVo.’ :) I heard some gasps from his audience.

The best unexpected moment on Friday of last week came when I was teaching ICT to a class of 13 year-olds: I must have said in passing how some folks at the Guardian event had tweeted about what Jimmy had said and, without my prompting, two of the class immediately searched Twitter (on “st pauls school”; “#cms2010 pauls” is, unsurprisingly, my search — same results):

2010-03-18_22.48.39 Wikipedia.jpeg

Two savvy, fast 13 year-olds, an impressed teacher and an excited class.

Just before Jimmy Wales came to school, I found out that we have a young student likely to become a Wikipedia admin. If this happens, he’ll be the second student (to the best of my knowledge) to become an admin whilst still at school here. (Alex became one in his final year with us — 2007/8.)

A parent wrote to me last week about his son editing Wikipedia: ‘in today’s interconnected way, this is the way to go and who knows what will happen then — expert status will allow him to develop other skills and is an asset in and of itself. It has also provided amazing learning for him.’

I find all this quite remarkable. We can grow so used to discussing change and the way young people now engage with the world, and we need experiences like those of last week to get us to look up and take stock again.

Wikipedia has played such a part in bringing about these new kinds of engagement.

Jimmy Wales