Homework on Wikipedia

Jon Beasley-Murray is an Assistant Professor of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies in the University of British Columbia (a magnificent campus, by the way).  Each year, he assigns term papers to his students, but this year’s languages and literature learners demonstrated their research and learning in another way — by contributing to Wikipedia.  In an Agence France-Presse (AFP) interview (published May 11), Beasley-Murrary, said that his students were now required to submit their research as Wikipedia articles, saying that the free online encyclopedia “..seems like a much larger stage, more of a challenge.”  ((“Educational Wikipedia.” Islam Online 11 May 2008 12 May 2008 http://www.islamonline.com/news/newsfull.php?newid=117764.))

A picture of the wikipedia article
The Wikipedia Article Contributed by Eva Shiu
I have to confess that as I initially read about this, I was disturbed on several levels.  But the deeper I got and the more I thought about this assignment, the more it made perfect sense. 

I especially like the authenticity of the assignment, because a community of Wikipedians and casual readers alike have an opportunity to comment on the articles, and even make their own edits.  The students’ work must stand on its own two feet.  Beasley-Murray promised a rarely awarded A+ grade to any student whose article was distinguished as a “Wikipedia Featured Article.”

A third-year student, Eva Shiu said, “I was up nights until three or four a.m. in the morning working on it!”  I got addicted to it.”  Shiu and her co-authors contributed an article on Gabriel Garc Marquez’s book, “the General in his Labyrinth.”  It and one other article were published on the Wikipedia homepage on May 5, as Featured Articles.

The second article’s author, Monica Freudenreich, said that she was most excited by the fact that her efforts and contribution would survive online, and not end out in a bin under her bed.

Of course, logistics would prevent all of us from sending our students to write for Wikipedia.  But there are lots of other ways to make learners responsible, not only for learning something, but for doing something useful with it.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.