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Teaching the Assignment

Teaching the Wikipedia Assignment sequence, as with most experimental pedagogy, was very much a learning process. Consequently, I gained a familiarity with a number of resources to enrich the assignment and to guide students through the composition process.  Two particularly helpful finds were the "Most Wanted" and "Requested Articles" pages which showcase lists of possible topic ideas and aided students in topic selection. Even with these resources, unfortunately, topic selection was problematic for a number of students. However, invention is difficult for students without the constrains of Wikipedia and students did eventually find something suitable. Furthermore, out of 18 students, only 2 articles were deleted by Wikipedia editors as of Oct. 5, 2011.

  • A page on citation templates details citation standards followed by Wikipedia as well as providing models for various types of sources.
  • The WikipediaCheatsheet” provides a list of commonly used wiki syntax commands, such as the command for bold text, or for creating a section heading.
  • When creating a new article, students may also find it helpful to participate in a live chat with more experienced users, available at the Wikipedia IRC Help Channel.


Perhaps the most exciting discovery was the “Drawing Board,” a forum in which users can propose article topics and have these proposals reviewed by a Wikipedia administrator. This would have been helpful early in the topic selection process, but as I wasn’t aware of it until later, I incorporated it into the peer review. The administrator who responded to the students was prompt and helpful, noting when topics might need additional sources to pass Wikipedia notability standards.  Together with other possibilities of collaboration—additional and preexisting edits on student articles, feedback when students “submit for review”— the drawing board represents the encylopedia's potential for engaging outside collaborators in the student’s writing process. For me, such engagement is thrilling. Students were excited to be doing “real” writing in a specific discourse community with invested writing agents, and I was lucky enough to witness this excitement as a teacher. These resources can help the student overcome what seems to be a daunting challenge. At first, Wikipedia can be very intimidating. It is a massive system of documents, standards, and policies all linked together that is, at times, overwhelming. The students brought curiosity and initiative to the project and, overall, my experience teaching the assignment was positive. The challenges of working in an extra-academic discourse community are many; however, confronting those challenges as a group can often build community in the classroom.



The rubric used for assessment in this project, available in the appendix, focused on a variety of factors: use and integration of source material, their emulation of encyclopedic style, the usefulness and appropriateness of content, organization, etc. These criteria provided a valuable means for assessing the articles produced by students. Unfortunately, they neglect much of the activity happening in other spaces on the encyclopedia, especially in discussion forums and history pages for each article. As Matthew D. Barton and James R. Heiman (2012) assert in a recent article appearing in Technical Communication, "evaluating the finished product" in a wiki-based writing assignment is not sufficient and is "comparable to an archaeologist drawing conclusions about a site without bothering to excavate" (p. 51). The archaeological metaphor is especially apt here and can certainly be applied to an assignment that engages students in Wikipedia. Assessments that focus solely on the front-page article neglect certain significant elements of the writing and thinking that goes into contributing to the encyclopedia: specifically, how well students engage with other editors in the discussion pages and revision histories "beneath" the articles they edit or create. The assessment rubric offered by Barton and Heiman in this work, precisely because it offers an approach which values product as well as the engagement and collaboration in secondary spaces such as discussion and history pages, provides an effective model for assessment strategies in Wikipedia or other wiki writing projects.




Student-Composed Wikipedia Articles