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Assignment Sequence

The assignment sequence is centered around multiple goals:

  • to give students the opportunity to write publicly;
  • to use Wikipedia as a tool to teach about social and process theories of writing;
  • to reinforce the importance/need of traditional writing skills: tone awareness, source retrieval and evaluation, documentation, etc.;
  • to encourage students to think about the way computer networks are changing how information is being produced and distributed.

To accomplish these goals, the assignment asks students to compose a Wikipedia article entry on a topic not yet written about by following a number of recursive, detailed steps that involve outside writing agents (Wikipedia administrators and editors). Students are also given the option to revise an existing article. Additionally, the project includes a multimodal element in which students add an image to increase their article's notabilty, a concept used to determine whether or not a topic deserves an entry on the encyclopedia. In a follow-up assignment, students are asked to write a reflective piece about the process in which they narrate and reflect on their experiences with Wikipedia and what they learned about writing in terms of traditional skills, as well as the act of writing as a socially-influenced, multilayered process. Both assignments, along with peer review sheets and rubrics, are available in the Appendix.


Participants in the study were students in a course I taught at Ohio University in the fall of 2011. Writing & Rhetoric II is a 300-level course usually taken by juniors and seniors. Of the eighteen students enrolled in the course, seventeen participated in the study. All students were between the ages 18-24.


Data gathered in this study emerged from two sources. First, students completed an online questionnaire consisting of both multiple-choice and short-essay prompts about their experiences with the assignment sequence. Multiple-choice prompts were more pointed, directed questions meant to gather information regarding the assignment sequence’s capacity to

  1. fulfill course competencies;
  2. engage students in collaboration with outside writing agents and each other;
  3. enrich student’s understanding of concepts of writing as recursive, multilayered process;
  4. provide opportunities for audience negotiation.

Furthermore, these questions also attempt to determine students’ overall level of satisfaction and their level of comfort with the assignment’s use of technology.  The need to approach these questions directly and to accumulate straight-forward, quantifiable data influenced the multiple-choice format of these questions. The more open, short-essay prompts, in contrast, were designed to give students more freedom to express individual opinions on the assignment sequence. These questions were meant to gather 1) information on students' perceptions of the assignment sequence's educational benefits and, 2) suggestions on what revisions might be made to make the assignment more effective.

The second source of data is drawn from samples of the students' reflective essays. Student reflections were written in response to an assignment that followed their Wikipedia articles. This assignment asked students to narrate their experiences composing the article and comment on what they gained from the experience in three areas: “traditional” writing skills like source retrieval, evaluation and incorporation, summary, quoting, writing styles / tones; writing as a social act: intertextuality and collaboration; and writing as a recursive, multifaceted process.


The questionnaire was administered in Week 5 of an 11 week term, after students had completed the article and reflection projects. At this point, students had received grades for the article, but not for the reflection essay. Students were given 40 minutes to complete the questionnaire, and were also provided the opportunity to refuse to participate in the study. Furthermore, students were informed that the study would not affect their grade or status in the course.


Analysis of the data gathered from multiple-choice questions tallies the most prevalent responses and reports their percentage in the results section. Multiple-choice questions were designed to include a gradation of responses about a specific skill or exercise provided by the assignment. For example, students could select that they “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree” with a specific statement. For the sake of brevity and clarity, results presented are categorized in broader terms: e.g. “agree” consists of both “strongly agree” and “agree” choices. Treatment of the second type of questions is based on a form of thematic analysis drawn from Richard Boyatzis' Transforming Qualitative Information (1998). Boyatzis recognizes the usefullness of encoding information with themes: "pattern[s] found in the information...that describe and organize possible observations [and/or] interpret aspects of the phenomenon" (p. vii).  Such a model has allowed me to create four specific themes or categories by counting words and phrases and to organize, interpret and present data using those themes. While I was unable to include all positive responses, negative feedback about the assignment sequence is represented fully. Data collection and analysis of reflective essays followed a similar method of thematic analysis. Information gathered through this process went through a coding process in which I identified common themes and organized results around those themes. Because this set of data was so much larger, however, a limited number of samples from the essays were selected to represent those themes. Negative feedback, as in the survey analysis, is fully represented.