Mice and rats are not much beloved, and are in fact one of the most common phobias! But did you know that mice and rats are important to ecosystems as a source of prey for many animals and that they represent a large swath of mammalian diversity? Students in Dr. John Hanson’s Mammalogy course at Columbus State University used their Wikipedia writing assignment as a chance to update Wikipedia’s coverage on the sigmodontines, which includes rats and mice of North and South America.
Wikipedia pages like the one for the russet rice rat saw huge growth from three sentences and four references in the beginning of October to fourteen paragraphs and thirty-one references at the end of the month. Instead of the bare basics, readers now have a much more complete picture of what this animal’s life is like: scuttling about in the leaf litter in search of seeds, building cup-shaped grasses from bamboo and grass fibers for their babies, and being hunted by animals such as the jaguarundi and ocelot. The page appeared on Wikipedia’s front page as a result of the student’s edits, where it was viewed over 2,500 times in a single day.
Other pages that were expanded include the Lesser Wilfred’s mouse, Brazilian shrew mouse, and Patagonian chinchilla mouse, with eighteen pages edited in total and two created. Improving Wikipedia’s content about species is a great fit for students. While some struggle with applying Wikipedia policies like “notability” when writing about other underrepresented topics, there are rarely any issues with species, as students tend to have access to abundant scientific sources to synthesize. And while Wikipedia benefits from the students’ hard work and access to paywalled resources, students benefit by learning how to write overviews of a topic with credible sourcing, preparing them for a career involving science communication or academia (hello, literature review!).
So what happens when you give a mouse a Wikipedia page? You better the world’s foremost free encyclopedia, enhance student learning outcomes, and reach thousands of readers.
Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia writing assignment into an upcoming course? Our free resources and student trainings help you do it. Read more or get started by visiting teach.wikiedu.org.