The head of the first-year writing program at Northwestern State University has designed a writing curriculum around Wikipedia. The site relies on volunteer contributors to write and edit articles. Some academics downplay its relevance as a research tool.
Assistant professor of English Thomas Reynolds is writing a book on how professors should use Wikipedia in academic research and writing classrooms. Reynolds says the ultimate goal is for his students to write an article that passes muster and gets published.
“Being able to write in a real public space with a real audience allows students to grow both as writers and researchers – but also in their confidence to be able to do that," Reynolds said. "So much of the time their writing is isolated and separate from any kind of real work.”
Reynolds is well aware that not all professors approve of Wikipedia. But he said it can serve as a useful starting point for research. And it's not going away. He wants students to help make it better and be a part of its evolution.
“Teachers are concerned with the idea of expertise and Wikipedia is written by non-experts. So, when I encourage students to participate in that they are clearly as students, non-experts," Reynolds said. "But, because I allow them to choose their own articles, they can find articles in which they are experts.”
Reynolds piloted his Wikipedia lessons last semester and has two more classes learning to edit and write articles this semester. So far, four of his students have successfully created articles that made it onto Wikipedia.