Blog Post

01. Reading and Writing Wikipedia: a prospective syllabus

Last spring, three things happened, all at around the same time:

  • I participated in the Global Women Wikipedia Write-In
  • I had several conversations about Wikipedia with students in my current composition course
  • I dealt with a plagiarism case involving Wikipedia

As a result, I started thinking about what an entire course focusing on Wikipedia itself might look like; and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I would like to teach just such a class. I imagined it as spending time looking at the history of Wikipedia's development and its evolving standards. I would want the course to involve consideration of the open-access movement, the topic of information literacy, and the nature of digital resources. I think that Wikipedia and its strengths and weaknesses make it an incredibly complex topic -- more complex than many people give it credit for. I also think that it could be an incredibly useful topic for studying writing -- but only if students have a steady, long-term encounter with it that allows them to develop the familiarity that they would need to critically engage with it as a subject.

I also wanted it to be a writing course -- where the students would write one major essay analyzing the coverage (or lack thereof) of a particular topic; and where they would write another essay that presented a possible Wikipedia entry -- or a substantial revision to an existing essay. Examining the genre and style of Wikipedia articles presents a good opportunity for reflecting on the impulses behind academic writing. Though Wikipedia-style writing and academic argument are substantially different styles, I think that studying both is useful. It would allow us as a class to explore some of the impulses behind academic scholarship that are often left tacit, and thus become stumbling blocks for undergraduate learners.

All this is to say that I've written up the syllabus for this prospective class, and am posting here because I think it might be of interest to some of you; and because I'd welcome your comments and feedback on it. It's over at GoogleDocs, set to public view. While I'm not scheduled to teach this course yet, my hope is that I'll get the chance to at some point in the not too distant future.

ETA: Hilary very kindly encouraged me to post this to the All Things Wikipedia group, so, I'm doing just that!

 
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9 comments

Hi Paige,

Your class looks great! Given your interest in Wikipedia, I'd like to invite/encourage you to join the HASTAC group All Things Wikipedia, and to post this blog and any further updates to the group. We definitely have a great interest in Wikipedia and #tooFEW in the HASTAC community!
 

Hilary

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Paige and Fiona,

You must absolutely check out Adeline Koh's new online course GAH 2180: Introduction to Digital Writing. As usual, she is at the forefront of creative pedagogy. Her course description "This fully online course will introduce you to some of the key elements for writing for the web. We will consider how the Internet functions as a meeting space for different kinds of communities, and the role that digital writing plays in constructing this space. There are two major assignments for this class: 1) an original contribution to Wikipedia on a neglected subject, and 2) creating a niche blog and developing an accompanying audience on Twitter." See her syllabus and more details about these fantastically innovative assignments here: https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/836528/

Amanda Starling Gould

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Adeline and I are friends on Facebook, so I'd seen her course; and I agree -- it's a fabulous course plan. I really like the way that it allows students to really focus on their own individual interests via the niche blogging assignment. 

For a while, I've wanted to teach a course where the focus would be on how we learn things -- where the class as a whole would read articles together about learning, including different sorts of learning strategies, and communities, and contexts (formal ed vs. autodidacticism). Individually, though, each student would choose a topic or skill that they wanted to learn/acquire -- and would spend the quarter *doing* that learning, and writing and reflecting about their experiences. I hadn't originally thought of this course as necessarily involving social media -- but Adeline's course plan makes me realize how well niche blogging would fit.

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Paige - I love this course and hope you get to teach it one day! I like how you've 'tiered' the assignments, starting with the journal idea. I'm copying it here below for ease of reference:

Journal: Throughout the course, you’ll monitor two Wikipedia pages on a weekly basis, tracking the edits that are made. One of these pages should be for a stable subject, i.e., something that’s not expected to change significantly and the other should be for a more dynamic subject, such as a current public figure, object, or event which you expect to be edited more regularly. Keeping this journal will provide you with insight into the work involved in maintaining Wikipedia, and provide you with material for class discussion.

This is a great way to get folks accustomed to how the articles change over time, and I like how you've structured it with one active/dynamic page and one that is more hidden/static. 

Did you collect syllabi focusing on Wikipedia? I'd love to see other reference points if you collected them.

Thanks for sharing!

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Hi, Fiona!

First, thanks for all the publicity you've given this post!  

I looked around for syllabi focusing on Wikipedia, and talked with friends on FB this spring when I came up with the idea; but oddly enough, I had a hard time finding anything more than mentions of units focusing on Wikipedia. While the units sounded interesting (from what I could glean about them -- most weren't fully available online), they struck me as removed -- they were more about responding to the critiques of Wikipedia in journalism (and using Wikipedia for evidence) than they were about observing Wikipedia itself. The journal assignment came directly out of my wanting students to have a more immediate experience of the site as a resource.

When I posted about the idea on Facebook, I got a number of interesting suggestions from friends, some academic, and some not, which were really useful and influential -- but I'm not sure there's really a good way of sharing all those insights, sadly. 

 

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Honestly, I'd probably post a note on that thread and ask if anyone minds if you share their thoughts. You can strip out names and just post a bullet list of their ideas and responses. I'd love to see what they say, hope they will let you share!

 

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Hi Paige and others,

Looks like a fantastic class. I may have to poach some of your ideas in the future. :)

I taught a class on Wikipedia a last spring over at NCSU. If you're interested, the whole course (sans grades and real names) is up on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:RM395/Course

Don't know if you've come across it yet but Wikimedia actually has an Education Program with resources like sample syllabi, templates for creating a course page, and a Mediawiki extension that's implemented on Wikipedia to allow people with Instructor rights to manage students and student articles. Welcome page for that program is here: https://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Education/For_educators

If there's any way I can help, I'd be happy to.

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Oh, wow, Ryan-- that course looks fabulous! And I hadn't seen the Wikimedia Education outreach page at all. Thank you for referring me to both. 

I hadn't fully considered how to use the existing Wikipedia standards in my own syllabus, but you've made really good use of them, so I may well borrow that for my own plans, as I keep developing this idea.

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This is great! If you're interested, I know Andrew Lih is teaching a Wikipedia course this spring as well (he wrote The Wikipedia Revolution). The biggest omission I see in your syllabus is that it ignores the role of the community. The students would get very little sense of how Wikipedia actually works because it focuses almost entirely on the content. Wikipedians are fond of saying that Wikipedia is a "wiki" and a "pedia" and that if the "pedia" disappeared, it could always be recreated by the community but if the wiki-community disappeared, the entire project would collapse. The community is the heart of Wikipedia. Why not have your students explore Articles for Deletion (and the policies that go into determining whether an article is deleted or not)? Or perhaps Featured Article and Good Article Review? Or perhaps one of the many Mediation or Arbitratration Committees? These groups work with recalcitrant editors or problematic topics and try to broker agreements. There are many community elements that help the encyclopedia run every day. Understanding these is the key to understanding Wikipedia. 

Also, if you want any advice about the Wikipedia Education Program, PM me. I'm on its Board of Directors and have helped run it since its inception. They have lots of good resources for teaching with Wikipedia.

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