Giving project feedback in open communities

I have wandered around the internet looking for resources that speak to effective ways to give feedback. I have, in my journeys, once again realized what people mean by the word ‘abundance’ as well as what they mean by the difference between ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’. I don’t think that there is ‘one way’ to give good feedback. I think we are all different people, with different skills as communicators, and different ways of relating to each other. That’s cool. That’s life. But I try to leave alot of feedback. I’m going to detail some of the things that I try to do when I give feedback and hope that you will share some of yours.

Golden Rule – Everyone is working hard. Respect people’s work. Approach them from this position.

Obvious feedback
I’ll start with the easy one. Anything that has to do with spelling, obvious grammar (and no, i’m not talking about oxford commas) and clear errors – I commented on. Always. I try to backchannel if i can (send an email etc) or i’ll comment on the work in public with a ‘feel free to delete this comment’ message on my comment. I would far rather know that i had inadvertently added an ‘h’ to the word sit than have people read it over and over again. I’m always nice about it. Some of us have a harder time seeing these mistakes than others. 🙂

Help out with the obvious stuff… just be nice about it 🙂

General feedback
I think of general feedback as being the sense that someone gets from an idea. I like general feedback to be specific. I try to never say “i didn’t really understand your blog post” when that blog post is 1000 words long. I try to stick to things like “the second paragraph of your blog post was where i started to get confused about who the audience was.” Sometimes when I’m in a rush or really excited about an idea, i don’t necessarily say things as clearly as i might. That’s true for others as well.

Give general feedback, yes, but be as specific as you can be. Take the time to describe your reaction

Technical feedback
This is where debates can often begin and also where more starts to be required of the person providing the feedback. If I’m going to disagree with how a given concept is explained, how a word is used or how an algebraic problem is… uh… problematized, I try to explain myself as best i can. I explain what part of the field I come from, explain why my point is important to me. If i manage to handle this properly, it’s not usually an issue. Where I get into trouble, as always, is if i make the issue bigger than it is. If i feel like saying something like “this is a common mistake” or other silly things, I put my computer away and comment later.

If you are disagreeing on technical grounds, explain yourself. Offer a new solution.

Conceptual feedback
This is the most difficult kind of feedback and often the most important. We, many of us, come from very different schools of thought. The death of many projects, particularly interdisciplinary ones, in a lack of a common language. This can make it difficult to disagree on conceptual grounds in an efficient manner. While I can leave a comment on someone’s work attempting to explain a conceptual clash, it will involve a significant amount of work if I want that person to be able to hear me.

That’s not to say that I don’t do it, just that you are taking on a significant responsibility if your goal is to actually represent your opinion in a way that will help. Often what I prefer to do in these situations is write something about the issue, in a more generalized way, on my own blog. This will allow a new conceptual conversation to happen on my own turf and allow the old conversation to continue. Both conversations are valuable… i don’t like to get them confused.

Conceptual disagreement require serious thinking. Do it, if you have the time to commit. These are important conversations.

Anyone else?

Open project practices – participating in makerphysics

For those of you not aware, I’ve been working with Piotr Mitros on this idea of encouraging a community of physics educators (and other educators) to co-create a MOOC that can help people prepare for university level physics. We are one week in at this point, and as this is a pilot, it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the practices that might encourage people to participate as effectively as they can… both for the health of the project and the value of the participant.

Give yourself permission
I’m increasingly starting to realize that one of the biggest impediment to any project is that people don’t believe they have permission to do things. Questions like ‘what am i allowed to do” and “what does success look like” are good indicators that people are comfortable participating openly. If you are participating in an open project there is a subtle balance between the organizers and the participants in this regard. We need to make an effort to give people the structure and the room to participate, but, in the end, the participants need to take on the authority themselves.

To be successful in an open project you need to give yourself permission to be a contributing member

Blind sharing
In our course, we have hard core physics educator/programmers who’ve made excellent physics thingies in the past. We have other people who are pure educators without a scrap of physics understanding… and lots in between. Everyone has a role that is valuable. Some people can code, and don’t have new ideas to share. Some people have lots of ideas, but too many of the same ones. Some people just like to work with other people. The trick is, we never know what piece is going to be important. So you need share ideas/thoughts/code as you have them. It is next to impossible for you to know before you’ve shared whether it’s going to be useful to someone else.

Ideas are the lifeblood of open projects. Share them as you have them. Even if your idea doesn’t go forward, it often leads others to new ideas


Engage with ideas

There are two sides to this sharing business. If you see a good idea, say so. If you see an idea that you don’t agree with, disagree with it (professionally 🙂 ). It is much more rewarding to share ideas when someone else is commenting on them. The platform we are working in has both comments and ‘+1’ functions available. Use them as you can. The more interaction we have, the better the ideas tend to get.

Engage with other people’s ideas, it makes them better. It also makes things more fun for everyone

Feedback to the organizers
The reason for running an open project is to get to work with lots of people. If something about the course is bothering you, or stopping you from participating… let us know. You are the reason we’re here. We don’t always know when something is broken, and are more than willing to engage with suggestions for improvement

Let the organizers know how you’re doing, both for what’s working and what isn’t working for you