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Pedagogical models which ask students to write in online venues like Wikipedia provide multiple opportunities for students to gain knowledge about writing processes; to engage with real, motivational audiences; and to experience writing as a social-collaborative act, all while fulfilling traditional course competencies.  Students in this study were encouraged by their discovery of the multiple drafts a single article goes through on the encyclopedia, a discovery which ultimately helped them to deconstruct the concept of product in their own writing experience. Yet students also responded very strongly and positively to the opportunity to perceive a specific audience afforded by Wikipedia composition. Students viewed the venue as extremely public, despite the fact that their individual entries might not receive much web traffic. This perception, however, made a significant difference in the way they approached the assignment emotionally. A majority of the students remarked on the influence of this audience on their writing, and the excitement they felt upon publishing such a broadly accessible text. Students' perceptions of audiences also included the specific Wikipedia community in which they were contributing-- the other editors who made changes to their articles, and the administrators who provided feedback on their topic proposals. Student interaction with members of this audience demonstrates an advantage of utilizing an online writing venue to approach collaborative writing.

While scholars have asserted the enormous potential for collaboration offered by the "pure" wiki (Barton, 2005; Garza & Hern, 2006), studies which included classroom research have uncovered a number of difficulties in regard to its pedagogical implementation, especially in terms of instructor authority, assessment and student participation (Lundin-Wilson, 2008; Fernheimer et al., 2009). These difficulties are deep-seated and have some basis in the "barriers to collaborative writing" first voiced by Lunsford and Ede (1994). And while they are not insurmountable, they do provide motivation for exploring alternate collaborative avenues. Wikipedia is one of those such avenues because, unlike a pure wiki, which involves only members of a composition class, Wikipedia allows students to engage with collaborators who are motivated by ulterior and practical purposes. Other editors and administrators are not participating in discourse with students to merely "make the grade." Rather, they participate to maintain the quality of the encyclopedia. Of couse, while student-created articles were revised by other editors, many of these revisions were surface-level and organizational changes. Most articles did not (or have not as yet) undergone significant deep revision. Despite this shortcoming, this model of pedagogy does offer limited collaboration opportunities, a fact which is reflected in students' appreciation of the assignment sequence's social element.

Furthermore, the capability of the type of pedagogy offered by Wikipedia to fulfill traditional course competencies is especially significant for writing teachers working with new media and multimodal composition in their classes. In many ways, the encyclopedia is a manifestation of epistemology in transition. It suggests a model of knowledge that is at once democratic and heteroglossic (Barton, 2005), but also strongly tethered to western textual traditions. Among other criteria, every article is assessed by administrators for its use of material from independent, reliable sources (Cohen, 2011). The criticism directed at the encyclopedia for privileging western epistemology is indicative of its international spread and scope, but also demonstrates the unique position of Wikipedia as beckoning both to the past and future. Such a position provides dramatic opportunities for compositionists to engage students in a discourse community which can teach both traditional and more current digital writing skills.


This study was limited by its small sample size, which was comprised of only 17 students. Furthermore, my examination of the assignment sequence's capability to "teach" writing theory was undoubtedly influenced by other aspects of the course, most notably our readings in the rhetoric textbook Writing About Writing (2011), edited by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Also, unlike the information collected via survey, the data gathered from reflection samples may have been influenced by the fact that these reflective pieces were being graded. Additionally, the assignment's prompt could be seen as leading students to report certain “gains” from the experience. Finally, the narrow conditions of the study did not allow for a control group, a similar class with comparable course outcomes but more "traditional" assignments, which could have led to more conclusive results. Despite these limitations, the study provides useful, generalizable data about the opportunities provided by online venues to teach composition as well as an adoptable model for other instructors hoping to implement this kind of experimental pedagogy in their own composition classrooms.