Wikipedia assignments are perfect for my Freshman Composition students

By on August 19, 2019

Wikipedia assignments are perfect for my Freshman Composition students

By on August 19, 2019

Wikipedia assignments are perfect for my Freshman Composition students

Instead of turning her students away from Wikipedia, Janice Airhart decided to have her students at Tulsa Community College write articles related to their course. Here’s what she and her students thought of the assignment.

Janice Airhart
Image by Janice.airhart, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In some ways, a Wikipedia assignment is the perfect method for instructing Freshman Composition students. It’s a class that essentially all students take, but many dread. One of the primary objectives of the class is to teach research and writing skills. What better way to teach it, then, than by using a platform that virtually ALL students already use, and one that has been universally forbidden to them as a research source throughout high school?

I’ve successfully used a Wikipedia project each of the past two spring semesters with classes of Freshman Composition II students who are also concurrently enrolled high school students. I have found it more engaging for students to focus reading and writing assignments on a course theme, and the assignment also fits well with the theme I’ve used the past two years, which is Social Media: Living Online in the Twenty-first Century. Students come away from the class having become not only social media users, but social media creators. Each one contributed to a Wikipedia page relating to social media.

Designing a Wikipedia course is easy, using all the tools provided in the Wiki Education Dashboard, and students are guided through several useful tutorials so that they understand the architecture of Wikipedia pages and guidelines for contributing. According to one student, Alyssa, (Looking-glass self) in her closing reflection essay, “This project allowed me to figure out how much work goes into these articles and how to distinguish between trustworthy or false information that I find on Wikipedia. In this project we had to critique articles, add our own contributions, give and receive peer reviews, and respond to any feedback we were given. We had to accomplish this all while following the guidelines and rules of Wikipedia.” Alyssa’s topic was relatively obscure but has emerging importance in an era of social media prominence. The Wikipedia editing community had identified it as needing improvement, and Alyssa took steps to make positive changes.

Students also learn to think like social media consumers. In Zak’s words,  “I approached my article (Propaganda through media) by looking at what others thought might be wrong with it [on the article’s Talk page]; then read it to see what I thought for myself. I changed the introductory paragraphs, so they were no longer plagiarized and added an example to the origins/history section.” Because students have been warned against using Wikipedia for research previously, I think it’s important to engage them in the information curation process so they become better consumers of information in the future. With the Wikipedia project, my students accomplished that. 

Perhaps Hannah, who contributed to the “Terrorism and social media” page summed up the value of the assignment best: “There are four main points that I have taken away from this assignment. First of all, I learned how to effectively read and evaluate an article. I also learned a great amount from the content that I researched. Next, I discovered how to interact with peers and editors while making edits to the article. Lastly, I found that this Wikipedia assignment differs from all other assignments in that it can affect people around the world. In short, I found that the content that I added and the experience of editing on Wikipedia have taught me valuable life skills.”

I love it when students themselves believe they’ve benefitted from an activity. Using Wikipedia tools, my students were engaged and proud of their contributions to such a public forum; they learned a great deal about research and writing as a result. As an instructor, when my students are engaged and when I learn from the research they do, I reap greater rewards as well. It’s a win-win for all of us.


Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia writing assignment into an upcoming course? Visit teach.wikiedu.org for all you need to get started. You can read more testimonials from instructors who’ve used our tools here, and reflections by students here.


Header image by Jordan Michael Winn, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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