Wednesday, April 02, 2008


There's post about a very interesting, and very ambitious, student Wikipedia assignment over on Posthegemony. The project involves students writing and editing articles for Wikipedia from their semester's work with the aim of getting their articles to "featured article" status. Posthegemony writes:

I decided to include wikipedia as a central part of a course I was teaching in the belief that it was only by actively contributing to the encyclopedia that students would learn about its weaknesses, as well as its strengths. ...

the assignment was that, in groups, the students should edit (and in a couple of cases create) wikipedia articles on the texts and authors that we were covering, and that over the course of the semester they should bring these articles up to what in wikipedia parlance is called "featured article" status.

When setting that assignment, I had not really comprehended how ambitious it was. Wikipedia defines a "featured article" as an article that "exemplifies [its] very best work and features professional standards of writing and presentation." And its standards are, in fact, impressively high. Indeed, it is a central paradox of wikipedia that its standards are impeccable, even as its actual performance so often lags far behind these standards. To give some indication: fewer than 0.1% of wikipedia's articles are featured articles. ...

I liked the idea that students would be engaging in a real world project, with tangible and public, if not necessarily permanent, effects. In the end, an essay or an exam is an instance of busywork: usually written in haste; for one particular reader, the professor; and thereafter discarded. ...

I declared from the outset that a group that turned its article into a "featured article" would receive an A+, no questions asked; and that groups that achieved "good article" status (a lower hurdle, though good articles still account for only about 0.15% of wikipedia's total) would receive an A. The assignment grade, in other words, would be determined by collective, public, peer review. ...

As of April 1, 2008, with still a couple of weeks of the class to run, they have now brought four articles up to this standard: The President (novel), The General in His Labyrinth, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel García Márquez. ... I can't tell you how proud I am of these students.
I think this is a wonderful, and wonderfully useful, course project. I've been guiding students through the process of writing a large wikipedia article this year. Next year, I may consider having the next class aim at improving the article to "featured status."


  1. Thanks for your interest! Once the semester (and so the project) is over, I hope to write up some more thoughts reflecting on what we've done, and how it could be done better.

  2. Cool - I'm watching this too - it's a
    great idea.