Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Good End-of-the-Semester Assignment

We're closing in on the end of the semester, and the stress levels are up for everyone (faculty, students, staff, our respective family members who have to live with us at this time...).

As we're all facing the year-end blitz, I wanted to share an assignment that my fellow professors are welcome to use.

Recently, I took my own advice and assigned a "Class Editing Project" to my students. We tackled Wikipedia.

We started off the class by making a list of all the subjects/niches/etc. in which we felt we were "experts." I allowed 10 minutes to write down everything--and I made it clear that anything counted ("Are you one of those people who can list off baseball stats from thirty years ago? Do you know every detail of your favorite author's life and work? Are you a pro at Photoshop? Are you godly at Warcraft?").

At first, they looked frightened, or embarrassed. However, once they started listing their talents, they warmed up to it. (I think some of them didn't realize how much they actually knew, until they started listing the subjects/topics.)

Then we hit the computers. We went to Wikipedia, and I showed them the basics via the SmartBoard (walked them through things, while I contributed to an article). Once they saw how easy it was for "anyone" to edit Wikipedia...well...those who didn't understand why I wouldn't allow it as a scholarly source for a recent paper assignment had that "Oh! Now I get it!" look. I think Wikipedia is a great resource (obviously), but it's just not 100% accurate, 100% of the time--though it's certainly not the virtual train wreck some claim.

Next, those who didn't already have Wiki accounts signed up--and everyone sent me their usernames (which allowed me to track/grade their contributions).

I gave them the next 20 minutes or so to just read articles in their areas of expertise. When they saw an article that was lacking something--whether it was an issue with the article's content, an external link that would be a good addition, or a reference that ought to be included--they were to add it to their watchlist.

Once they had at least 3 articles in need of revision (the minimum number of contributions for the assignment), they were welcome to get to it.

It turned out wonderfully. They had a blast. And I learned a thing or two as I read their articles/contributions. :-)

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