At the just held online EDUCAUSE Online Spring focus conference, Andreas Brockhaus and Martha Groom, both at UW-Bothell, just around the corner so to speak, discussed unusual aspects to classes taught by Groom. She required the students to either create a new page on Wikipedia or to substantially add to a previous page. No term paper. It was going up on Wikipedia.
Befitting a discussion about using new technologies in the classroom, you can see the Powerpoint presentation and hear the talk online. Almost like being there.
While there were some barriers to break through, the effect on the students and their writing was almost electric. Normally, only the teacher and a few other students might see what was written.
In this example, the entire Web could see what they wrote. To ameliorate this somewhat, she had the students work in groups.
Martha Groom has been using this approach for the last few years. There are still a few things to work on. Writing for an encyclopedia is different than working on an essay.
She has added a recursive approach to the project, with proposals and peer review before it hits the Web. The community nature of Wikipedia required the students to really give up proprietary feelings about the essays. Sometimes the give and take of online discussions could be a little harsh.
But Martha has continued to tweak the approach. Generally, the students were very happy with the results. The quality of writing was very high also. With such transparency, the possibility of plagiarism is infinitesimal. It really highlights the need for proper sourcing of the work. All very good things.
And, if a really good job is done, the student can point out the page to others as evidence of their scholarship. All in all, much better than a one-off term paper.