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Authentic Knowledge: Students Bring 19th Century Russian Literature to Wikipedia

Last Fall, we were happy to introduce some of the work that Professor Katherine Mirica (Chemistry) has done with her students in Wikipedia in the post, Authentic Knowledge: Students in Wikipedia.This is the second part in a series about using Wikipedia for student assignments. 

Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, photograph, 1901
Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, photograph, 1901

Wikipedia Meets Russian Literature

Last term, Professor Victoria Somoff (Russian) created a Wikipedia assignment for her students in Russian 31,  "Masterpieces of Russian Fiction."  Victoria’s objectives for this assignment included:

  • Engage in the existing English language global knowledge base. Students would consider such questions as "What is already written about Russian literature?" "Where are there opportunities to improve or write new articles about particular works of Russian literature?"  
  • Research, critically examine, and synthesize ideas and approaches developed in the field of Slavic studies, contributing to this global knowledge base.
  • Enhance writing skills learning to write for a new audience outside the classroom.
Key Questions for building Wikipedia Assignments

Victoria built on some of the tips from Katherine’s class in implementing her assignment. To design the assignment, Victoria worked with Instructional Designer Mike Goudzwaard to answer these key questions:

  • Do you want your students’ work available to just your class or to the world?
  • How long do you want it to exist in the world?
  • Are you building on previous work (existing articles) or creating new work?
  • Are you going to grade the process or product?
  • Will students work alone or in groups?
  • Would you like to allow students to write/develop in a private space, then post in a public place?

In Russian 31, students worked in groups to revise or author a Wikipedia article on a work from 19th century Russian literature. This range of projects provided slightly different challenges for each team. Some authors had existing Wikipedia pages and others did not, or titles of the literary works could be confused with other common terms (i.e. “The Shot” by Pushkin or “The Nose” by Gogol).

Victoria's students also reflected on this assignment itself, describing how they organized their knowledge, the content that they learned, what was difficult about the project, and how the project contributed to their course experience.

Help from Wiki Edu

Before the class began, Victoria contacted the Wiki Education Foundation (or Wiki Edu), which “serves as the bridge between academia and Wikipedia.” Wiki Edu provided guidance for the initial setup of a course page and has developed training materials for classes writing or revising Wikipedia articles. The customized course training dashboard provides the theoretical background and practice for students to be successful Wikipedia contributors. One challenge to working with Wiki Edu, was that the initial enthusiasm expressed by staff quickly dissipated once the course page was set up.

A New Wikipedia

Victoria shared her experiences at one of this year’s Learning IgnitED! events, describing how her students were challenged to write in Wikipedia’s neutral stance. This was in contrast to term papers that required them to commit to a thesis and defend their own ideas.  Writing or revising Wikipedia articles invites students to think critically about the quality of crowd sourced articles and of information in general. Many students were surprised by the standards of citation required by Wikipedia. Several students reflected that they would use Wikipedia as a reference tool because of their work.

Notes for Next Time

Writing for Wikipedia requires working in a public space. While most Wikipedia community members and editors are respectful and helpful, there are a few trouble makers. Students need to back up their writing and learn how do deal with challenging editors.

When students write individual papers or even group assignments, they own and control all of the edits. In Wikipedia, the community changes the article sometimes within minutes of posting an article. This requires students to think differently about their writing. Reflecting about the writing process, including the events beyond a student's control is an important part of writing for a shared knowledge base. 

Using a course Wikipedia page is a useful portal to assign articles and provide training support for the Wikipedia principles and practices. You can view the Russian 31 course page here.

A Day of Wikipedia

If you are interested in learning more about teaching with Wikipedia, consider attending the one-day workshop,

“Wikipedagogy: Incorporating Wikipedia Editing into Your Teaching”
Amanda Rust, Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group and Digital Humanities Librarian, Northeastern University
Tuesday, June 7, 2016 9am - 4pm (lunch provided)
Register here. 

Sponsored by the Neukom Institute for Computational Science and the Dartmouth College Library

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