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Recent scholarship on the use of wikis in the writing classroom has uncovered mixed opinions concerning the platform’s efficacy. While some scholars tout the technology’s democratic and collaborative potentials (Barton, 2005; Garza & Hern, 2006), others doubt such technotopic rhetoric (Fernheimer et al., 2009; Lundin-Wilson, 2008). Such discussion is intrinsically linked to dialogues on “new media” and “technology-rich” instruction. A more specialized, and perhaps less discussed, subject emerging from this conversation is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which has been recognized by a handful of scholars as providing multiple opportunities for composition pedagogy (Alberti, 2010; Cummings, 2009; Hood, 2007; Moxley & Meehan, 2007; Purdy, 2009; Purdy, 2010; Sweeney, 2012). These scholars recognize that the encyclopedia has dramatically changed the way information is produced and disseminated in the twenty-first century and that engaging students in this type of online knowledge production is not only valuable from a pedagogical standpoint, but is also vital to their understanding of the digital environments in which they live, think, and write. Among other opportunities, the encyclopedia's public revision history offers composition students a chance to challenge the notion of the finished product (Hood, 2007; Purdy, 2009; Purdy, 2010). Such history allows students to deconstruct authority in public and "published" texts (Purdy, 2010). Finally, because the encyclopedia is built on the wiki platform, it can provide opportunities for collaboration and interaction with outside audiences (Moxley & Meehan, 2007). Despite this rich conversation, however, the discussion of actual pedagogical models in which to fully utilize these opportunities remains limited. In this webtext, I seek to address that need by offering data and analysis gathered from a pilot study that attempts to answer the following questions:


  • Can engaging students in online discourse—such as that made available by Wikipedia—fulfill traditional course competencies?
  • Does the encyclopedia actually provide opportunities, as suggested by Hood and Purdy, for students to learn about writing processes and to study and engage in writing as a social-collaborative act?
  • How do the presence of online audiences influence student writing?
  • Do students respond positively or negatively to this type of pedagogy?

In the following sections, I present the methodology and results of a study designed to answer these questions, as well as the assignment sequence model (assignment sheets, peer reviews, rubrics) which prompted them. I also share additional resources gained from my experience teaching the assignment. Student-composed Wikipedia articles, produced in the course of the study, can be accessed throughout these sections on the right-hand side. Ultimately, my findings suggest that writing in online venues such as Wikipedia allows students new opportunities to gain knowledge about writing processes and theories, new ways to engage with real, motivational audiences, and some limited experience collaborating with outside writing agents, all while fulfilling traditional course competencies.1

1. The author wishes to thank the following individuals for inspiration, guidance, and critical review of this piece in process: Albert Rouzie, Mara Holt, Jennie Nelson, Rachael Ryerson, Matthew Nunes, and Bryan Lutz.