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Before you delve into the specifics of syllabus construction, you may want to consult the “Instructor Basics” and “Case Studies” brochures to get a better idea of best practices, what learning objectives the assignments can achieve, and how you might want to grade a Wikipedia assignment. You are also highly encouraged to go through the online orientation for educators.
This page provides a full-term sample syllabus for a major Wikipedia writing assignment, incorporating many of the best practices for such projects. You can use it as a starting point for your own Wikipedia assignments, or take bits and pieces to adapt to your course.
This sample syllabus is for a 12-week assignment to write Wikipedia articles. For syllabi using other Wikipedia assignments, see the Case Studies brochure.
The Syllabus (12-week timeline)
Wikipedia assignments work best when you introduce them early in the term, since the students need to acquaint themselves with the technology. Knowing what they are preparing themselves for makes learning the ins and outs of Wikipedia relevant.
Try to integrate your Wikipedia assignment with the course themes. Engage your students with questions of media fluency and knowledge construction throughout your course.
Before your class begins, you'll need to create a course page on Wikipedia. Course pages are typically used to explain—to both students and the Wikipedia community—the details of your Wikipedia assignments, to keep track of which students are in the class and which articles they are working on, and to ask questions and discuss problems. For details on how to set up a course page, see the “Welcome to the Wikipedia Education Program” brochure or go to the page Wikipedia Course pages on the English Wikipedia.
Week 1: Wikipedia essentials
When you’re introducing your class and going over the syllabus, be sure to let students know they’ll be working on Wikipedia this term. This can be a good time to talk about their preconceived notions of Wikipedia and see if any students have edited in the past.
Week 2: Editing basics
It is important to get students editing Wikipedia right away so that they become familiar with the MediaWiki markup ("wikisyntax", "wikimarkup", or "wikicode"). As the instructor, you have several options to teach them this technical material. You can teach it yourself, invite Wikipedia's Campus Ambassadors and/or local Wikipedians to do so, or contact a teaching and technology center on your campus and ask for their assistance. You can also assign students to complete a standard online training. We suggest that, however you choose to do this, you have the students learn the basics of editing, the anatomy of an article, and ways to select articles suitable for the assignment.
Week 3: Exploring the topic area
It is critical for students to begin researching their Wikipedia topics early in the term. Finding topics with the right balance between lack of prior good Wikipedia coverage and available literature from which to build new Wikipedia coverage can be tricky. As an alternative to assigning students to propose Wikipedia topics to write about, you may wish to prepare a list of appropriate non-existent or underdeveloped articles ahead of time. This requires more preparation but gets students to the point of researching and writing their articles sooner.
When things go wrong—students’ articles are challenged, students get into arguments with other editors, or you or the students are simply unsure about how to solve a problem—you should seek out help immediately. If there are experienced Wikipedians working with your class (such as Online Ambassadors), try asking them first. You can post problems and questions to the “Education noticeboard”. For guidance getting started for either you or your students, try the Teahouse, a friendly space for new editors. The online orientation highlights other places you can go for help.
Week 4: Using sources
As they start using sources to improve Wikipedia articles, it is especially important for students to understand Wikipedia’s policies on plagiarism and copyright violation. Student generally know that copying whole paragraphs or sentences from sources constitutes plagiarism. But many don't know about—or think they can get away with—subtler forms of plagiarism, such as using shorter phrases without attribution or beginning from a copied text and simply rewording it while leaving the structure and meaning intact (i.e., close paraphrasing). Any form of plagiarism or copyright violation is likely to result in students' work being removed from Wikipedia.
Applying your own expertise to Wikipedia’s coverage of your field will be key to a successful assignment. You understand the broader intellectual context where individual topics fit in, you can recognize where Wikipedia falls short, you know—or know how to find—the relevant literature, and you know what topics your students should be able to handle. So your guidance on article choice and sourcing is critical for both your students’ success and the improvement of Wikipedia.
Week 5: Choosing articles
By this week, ideally, you have evaluated the students' article choices and given them feedback, helping them to choose articles that are appropriate for the assignment. Because students often wait until the last minute to do their research or choose sources unsuited for Wikipedia, we strongly suggest that the students put together a bibliography of materials they want to use in editing the article which can then be assessed by you and other Wikipedians.
Week 6: Drafting starter articles
Once students have gotten somewhat of a grip on their topics and the sources they will use to write about them, it’s time to start writing on Wikipedia. You can assign them to jump right in and edit live or start in their own sandboxes. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Pros and cons to sandboxes: Sandboxes make students feel safe because they can edit without the pressure of the whole world reading their drafts or other Wikipedians altering their writing. However, sandbox editing limits many of the unique aspects of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool, such as collaborative writing and incremental drafting. Spending more than a week or two in sandboxes is strongly discouraged.
Pros and cons to editing live: Editing live is exciting for the students because they can see their changes to the articles immediately and experience the collaborative editing process throughout the assignment. However, because new editors often unintentionally break Wikipedia rules, sometimes students’ additions are questioned or removed.
interacting on Wikipedia and getting started with writing.
Week 7: Moving articles to the main space
Whether students are starting new articles or expanding existing articles, it’s critical to get them working live on Wikipedia as soon as possible. Short summary versions for new articles (and short existing articles that have been expanded five-fold) are great starting points for working live in main space.
Advanced students’ articles may qualify for submission to Did You Know, a section on Wikipedia’s main page featuring new content. Submitting articles to DYK will probably be your class’s first major contact with Wikipedia’s behind-the-scenes article processes. We strongly recommend either trying this yourself beforehand, or working closely with one or more experienced Wikipedians to help your students navigate the process smoothly. If your students are working on a related set of articles, it may be good to combine multiple article nominations into a single hook; this helps keep your students’ work from swamping the process or antagonizing the editors who maintain it.
Week 8: Building articles
At this point, many students will have ‘gotten it’, and have a clear understanding of how to move forward. From there, the most important thing is giving feedback, both on the work they’re doing—what is missing, what sources could be used to improve it, whether the balance is appropriate—and on how to keep within Wikipedia’s guidelines, particularly Neutral Point of View and No Original Research.
Other students may have stumbled with some element of getting their initial work live on Wikipedia. This is the key point to identify where students are having trouble—whether from negative reactions from other editors, technical hang-ups, problems finding good sources and using them appropriately, plagiarism, or something else. This is a good time to do a quick scan (at least) of what each student has contributed so far.
Week 9: Getting and giving feedback
Collaboration is a critical element of contributing to Wikipedia. For some students, this will happen spontaneously; their choice of topics will attract interested Wikipedians who will pitch in with ideas, copy-edits, or even substantial contributions to the students’ articles. Online Ambassadors who take a strong interest in the topics students are working on can make great collaborators. In many cases, however, there will be little spontaneous editing of students’ articles before the end of the term. Fortunately, a class full of fellow learners is a great pool of peer reviewers. You can make the most of this by assigning students to review each others’ articles soon after full-length drafts are posted, to give students plenty of time to act on the advice of their peers.
Week 10: Responding to feedback
At this point, students should have produced nearly complete articles. Now is the chance to encourage them to wade a little deeper into Wikipedia and its norms and criteria for great content. You’ll probably have discussed many of the core principles of Wikipedia—and related issues you want to focus on—but now that they’ve experienced first-hand how Wikipedia works, this is a good time to return to topics like neutrality, media fluency, and the impact and limits of Wikipedia. Consider bringing in a guest speaker, having a panel discussion, or simply having an open discussion amongst the class about what the students have done so far and why (or whether) it matters.
and the impact and limits of Wikipedia.
Week 11: Class presentations
Having students explicitly reflect on their experiences with Wikipedia, through presentations and/or reflective essays, can help draw out and solidify what they’ve learned about Wikipedia in particular and media literacy and research more generally. Such assignments, when they include explicit summaries or documentation of what students did or tried to do on Wikipedia, can also serve as the lens for evaluating and grading students’ Wikipedia work.
Week 12: Due date
You made it!
This is a basic grading scheme appropriate for a syllabus similar to this one. For more ideas on how to grade Wikipedia assignments, see the grading rubrics section of the Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool brochure.
Syllabus collection from past terms