What if instead of telling students not to cite Wikipedia, you had them write it? Kaylea Champion has experienced the “Wikipedia assignment” as both student and teacher, and to rousing success. Her PhD coursework has included Wikipedia editing and her students nominated her for a graduate teaching award for her work supporting them in completing the Wikipedia assignment!
“Writing for Wikipedia as part of a class challenged me to write for a general audience about the sometimes abstract and complex topics we were discussing so intensely in seminar,” said Kaylea, who was first exposed to the assignment in Benjamin Mako Hill and Ralina Joseph’s Communication Theory course at the University of Washington a few years back. Now, as a graduate teaching assistant for one of Professor Hill’s undergraduate courses, she’s bringing her own passion to it.
“I never thought about the pedagogical potential of the platform until I started my PhD. Instead of locking away my synthesis efforts in a paper no one but my instructors would read, the Wikipedia assignment pushed me to address the public.”
Although Kaylea had made a few modest edits to Wikipedia before, the assignment lit a fire for her. She even passed the part of her PhD qualifying exams on Communication Theory by rewriting the Wikipedia article on Communication Theory! (Additional students—supported by Wiki Education’s Wikipedia Student Program but from different universities—have followed in Kaylea’s footsteps and made edits to the article since).
“Knowing the audience I would reach, I worked much harder on every sentence than I would on an ordinary class essay. That experience catalyzed my thinking as a scholar about the importance—and challenge—of engaging with the general public about our work. When my article draft went live and other contributors pitched in and made it better, I was thrilled—and it turned me from a casual contributor into a committed Wikipedian.”
As a teaching assistant, Kaylea had the chance to pass along some of these lessons. In doing so, she utilized Wiki Education’s free teaching tools and platform to facilitate the assignment.
“Accomplishing my teaching goals through Wiki Education let me put into practice the kind of teaching that research has told us is most effective: challenging, meaningful, personal, project-based assignments, with both high standards and high levels of support.”
Students worked on a wide range of topics, including the USDA’s current nutrition guide and the potential harmful effects of quinine in tonic water.
Together, those two pages have received 84,520 pageviews on Wikipedia since the class in the first quarter of 2022. The results of the course were not only great for Wikipedia’s readership, but students loved Kaylea’s approach.
A communications major in the course liked that he could customize the assignment to fit his interests. He worked on Wikipedia’s article about Manchester, Washington, adding historical context, recent census data, and education information.
“Kaylea helped me work out how to approach the project in order to satisfy both the actual assignment and the research question I was interested in,” the student shared. “Her contribution to the course was invaluable—she helped me not only learn the course matter but also apply it in practical work.”
Students admired Kaylea for her compassion and focused support. “Kaylea was the best TA I have ever had during my education time at UW,” said a fourth-year communication major also in the course. The students even nominated Kaylea for the Department of Communication’s Graduate Teaching Award, which she received in June 2022! This kind of support from students is particularly meaningful because recent years have been an extremely difficult time for teaching. Kaylea acknowledged the term wasn’t easy.
“We tackled a wide range of theories and case studies over the course of 10 weeks, and the ongoing pandemic forced us to interact primarily online. At the same time, many students were facing exceptional personal challenges: illness, the deaths of family members due to Covid-19, and the isolation of lockdown. They persevered through the quarter, writing and expanding articles on topics they cared about, sharpening their critical thinking skills, and grappling with questions of epistemology, censorship, and bias—all while making real contributions to public knowledge.”
“Teaching with Wiki Education’s tools helped me to activate my own potential as a teacher. I am so proud of what my students accomplished, and I was honored to receive our department’s award for outstanding teaching this year.”
The Wikipedia assignment works for courses across all disciplines. Sign up for Wiki Education’s free tools and assignment templates at teach.wikiedu.org