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Multimodal Mondays: Working Together to Evaluate a Wikipedia Article

posted: 10.28.13 by Andrea Lunsford

Collaboration is a key part of writing for many people today, and as I’ve noted elsewhere, I’m a big fan of collaborative projects. Here’s an idea for a collaborative project that asks students to evaluate an article from perhaps the most familiar collaborative project of them all, Wikipedia.

Goals and tools

Evaluate a collaborative research project with Wikipedia

Background reading before class

Ask students to prepare for class by reading relevant content about evaluating sources from your handbook or rhetoric:

  • Everything’s an Argument, 6th edition: Chapter 18, “Evaluating Sources”
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, 7th edition: Chapter 12, “Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes”
  • The Everyday Writer, 5th edition: Chapter 17, “Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes”
  • EasyWriter, 4th edition: Chapter 39,“Evaluating Sources and Taking Notes”

In class

Wikipedia has an extensive directory of “featured articles”—those that Wikipedia’s editors consider  “the best articles Wikipedia has to offer.” Choose one that fits with your plan for your course, or start with the extensively researched “Gunpowder Plot” entry, now “semi-protected” from editing.

As a class, identify what it is about the article that suggests why it might be among Wikipedia’s “very best work.” (For comparison, you might point out Wikipedia’s criteria, but you may wish to wait until your students have offered their own criteria.)

Next, point out the “View history” tab for the article you’ve chosen. If students aren’t familiar with this feature of Wikipedia, show them that clicking on the button next to the “cur | prev” item for any revision will reveal the way the content looked before and after the edit. (For “Gunpowder Plot,” revisions go back to 2002.) Each editor’s remarks on why the change was made appear in the revision history as well.

Assignment

Divide up the revision history of a featured Wikipedia article (either the one you have begun discussing in class or one the class chooses as a group) among your students, and ask each student to analyze several consecutive revisions. Have students write or present a brief explanation to the class that answers some or all of the following questions:

  • How did revisions they examined affect the article as a whole?
  • How did the edits strengthen or weaken the focus of the article?
  • What kind of source material was added to back up the edits that were made?
  •  What motivations, agendas, or biases did they observe in the Wikipedia editors?

Reflection on the activity                 

Ask students to reflect on the activity, using questions like these as prompts for discussion or writing.

  1. How would you characterize the way the entire featured article changed over time?
  2. In your view, what kinds of revisions were most helpful? What kinds were least helpful? Why?
  3. How much do you trust the current version of the article? Would you recommend it to readers interested in finding out about this subject? Why or why not?

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to kvarucene@bedfordstmartins.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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One Response to “Multimodal Mondays: Working Together to Evaluate a Wikipedia Article”

  1. Renee @TeachMoore Says:

    Why didn’t I know you had a blog?! Why am I not surprised that it’s great! Thanks so much for this particular piece as I would like to use it not only with my comp students, but also for PD with my colleagues.