There are two different kinds of potential drawbacks in assigning Wikipedia articles as coursework to students. The first is common to all projects requiring active student participation. The second is a result of the discourse-centered paradigm of Wikipedia and the overall goal to create an encyclopedia.
Requirement for active student participation
- Copyright violations
- The content of all Wikimedia projects is available under free licenses. That involves a high copyright standard with some specific requirements and the local communities offer tools to check questionable copyright claims. If somebody finds a violation the community will deal with this problem through defined processes. The control is strict, and exceptions for your students are unlikely.
- Encyclopedic writing
- Any article concept of Wikipedia requires some important points of writing like the neutral point of view, a short introduction for every article or reputable evidence for important and controversial facts. Your students may not know enough about the conventions in writing encyclopedic articles.
- Paying constant attention
- Your students may not be active enough, or might ignore important deadlines and benchmarks of your project.
- Assignment complexity
- The selected concepts are too complex for the students to work on it and at the same time create good content. This is, in fact, not a Wikipedia specific drawback. But contributing to a Wiki is a challenging process that involves potentially more demotivating and highly demanding feedback.
- Assignment compatibility with community goals
- The instructor selects articles to work on, which may be incompatible with the community conventions or requirements. Perhaps the theme is not an established concept or object in the literature. The Effects That The Recent Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis has had on the US and Global Economics, for example, is not a well-established term, and has been merged with an established article by the community to integrate the content within the framework of the requirements.
- Community coherence
- When the community has not been integrated and your course works without a transparent structure, you may encounter some negative reaction. For example, if some of your students haven`t, for whatever reason, contributed in accordance with the project guidelines, the measures that the community takes to fix the problems may seem like counterproductive decisions to your students and/or your goals.
Dealing with drawbacks
- Integrate with the community:
- Integrate the facilitator of your project as much as possible. They have the necessary skills to manage process problems inside wiki, or activate the global library-project to organize special literature.
- Integrate established and theme-specific WikiProjects.
- see: Recruit facilitators:
- Organization of copyright control.
- Checking lemmata to prevent collisions of the selected goal-articles and the theme-requirements of Wikipedia articles.
- Training the students in Wikipedia basics to expand there project-specific wiki skills.
- Providing support and feedback.
The Wikimedia Foundation hosts several projects which might be a better fit for your proposed classroom activity:
- Wikibooks is an attempt to create free guides, manuals, and textbooks. The writing tone and the expectation for source citation is different from Wikipedia. The unique format of the wiki has special guidelines for creating textbooks and this can make it slightly more complicated than editing Wikipedia.
- Wikisource is a free library of original documents. Instructors working in diverse fields as history and library science as well as journalism, literature, or throughout social sciences may want to consider making assignments here to highlight important historical works. The interface for Wikisource is also complicated by some special features for proofreading.
- Wikiversity is a site which allows for collaborative learning, including original research that is forbidden in other projects. Content there is very flexible and this lack of structure may also be a hindrance if you think that your students are insufficiently motivated.
- Wikivoyage is a travel guide. Its tone and style are brisk and students can engage with local sources directly to provide update and accurate information to travelers. This option may not be as academic as some of the other projects.
We also have educational projects related to citizen journalism, quotation collections, a dictionary/thesaurus, free media (including audio, photos, and video), structured data, and a taxonomic directory of species. Additionally, anyone can contribute to the software that powers all of these sites and assignments can be made to improve or hack this for computer science courses.