“Taking Action” in composition and communication courses

Educational Partnerships Manager, Jami Mathewson
Educational Partnerships Manager, Jami Mathewson

I recently attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Houston for a workshop about “Taking Action.”

I joined a panel of instructors with experience integrating Wikipedia into their classrooms: Dr. Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze, Dr. Amy Carleton, and Greta Kuriger Suiter, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Dr. Cecelia Musselman and Amanda Rust from Northeastern University.

These experts agreed that CCCC was a great environment for new instructors to learn about Wiki Ed’s programs. The organization’s Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments has identified several overlaps with a Wikipedia assignment:

Courses that engage students in writing digitally may have many features, but all of them should:

  1. introduce students to the epistemic (knowledge-constructing) characteristics of information technology, some of which are generic to information technology and some of which are specific to the fields in which the information technology is used;
  2. provide students with opportunities to apply digital technologies to solve substantial problems common to the academic, professional, civic, and/or personal realm of their lives;
  3. include much hands-on use of technologies;
  4. engage students in the critical evaluation of information, and …
  5. prepare students to be reflective practitioners.
Wikipedia facilitators at CCCC

Wikipedia assignments bake knowledge construction in, raising questions about who speaks for whom. It raises questions about the online environment specifically, but opens the door to broader questions about knowledge.

Wikipedia assignments are a direct application of digital technology to address problems in academic and civic spheres. By contributing to information from their field that would otherwise be absent, students make an immediate, real impact on public knowledge.

As Dr. Musselman and other instructors have said before, Wikipedia assignments are a hands-on way for students to think about writing in the world rather than the classroom. In a Wikipedia assignment, we ask students to respond to the needs of a real-world community, document their research with citations, and become digital citizens.

The assignment also encourages the evaluation of the knowledge available not only on Wikipedia, but in the sources they draw from to build their own articles. Dr. Carleton found the Wikipedia assignment taught students to cite sources not just to avoid plagiarism, but to become fluent in the literature of their field. By developing a literature review and then expanding their Wikipedia article, students fill in missing pieces of the story and history for the greater community, transforming them into knowledge producers.

That final step connects students to reflect on their own practices when it comes to producing and consuming knowledge.

Thank you to this insightful panel and our workshop attendees for making this year’s CCCC conference a great place to discuss Wikipedia’s value in communication assignments!

Photo: Houston TX by Katie HauglandFlickr, CC BY 2.0


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