Working Wikipedia assignments into English classrooms

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with community college instructors in the Puente Program, which provides support for underprivileged students as they transfer from community colleges to complete 4-year degrees. Students enrolled in the program have access to academic support, college counselors, and specialized writing programs to prepare them for college.

Puente Program courses aim to increase students’ writing and research skills. A Wikipedia project is a great fit because it requires students to read academic scholarship, understand it well enough to summarize in their own words, and communicate their findings to a general audience. Students revise, peer review, and iterate. In other words, they develop their writing and research skills.

One instructor wanted to know more about instituting assignments like this in English classes, where course texts often recur term after term. Is it possible to run out of topics for students to improve on Wikipedia?

While students typically update articles about authors whose texts they’ve read in class or the works themselves, great student contributions come from allowing students to explore their own interests. Do your students have an interest in anime, science fiction, nonfiction, or poetry? Consider an assignment where they are allowed to select articles related to these topics, particularly if the course focuses on composition rather than the primary literature.

For example, in a spring 2016 course on Creative Nonfiction, students updated articles across a range of topics. One student expanded the article about young-adult fiction author Marie Lu. One started a new article about Maria Venegas. Another student improved the article about poet and writer Aida Cartagena Portalatin by adding an image and expanding on her involvement in the “poesía sorprendida” movement.

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If you’re an English instructor and want to know how best to incorporate a Wikipedia project into your next course, email to brainstorm pedagogically sound assignments and practices for your students.


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