College and university teachers are increasingly learning to use Wikipedia as a target for class projects. Consider, instead of a paper assignment, asking your students to contribute a high quality article to one of the following component areas of the STS Wiki Content Initiative:
- STS concepts - what are the fundamental concepts of STS, such as constructivism?
- STS horizons - where is STS headed?
- STS issues - what are the issues that STS scholars, past and present, have debated, such as reflexivity?
- STS methods - are the methods used by STS researchers, such as ethnomethodology?
- STS people - who are the most prominent STS scholars, and how did their background shape their views?
- STS theories - what are the most commonly used theories in STS?
Note: This is NOT an appropriate assignment for a lower-division class. Advanced undergraduates will need to work in teams. Graduate students can and should be challenged to compose original articles.
What are the benefits?
- In my experience, students LOVE this assignment, and they are much more strongly motivated to succeed than they would be if they were merely writing a paper. As they explained to me, "This isn't just going to go in the trash can after you grade it. It's a worthwhile contribution - something we can be proud of."
- I see this exercise as an opportunity to teach my students something about the virtues of open, free, disinterested discourse in science and scholarship. At many universities, particularly in science and engineering, it's increasingly common to hold back on publishing important new findings -- an act that could, after all, compromise one's ability to obtain a patent. At the same time, the Bush administration is pushing to impose limits on foreigners' access to scientific and engineering information. In this setting, asking students to do some work with STS Wiki might expose them the good old Mertonian scientific value system: (1) Scientists and scholars should not try to profit personally from their work, but on the contrary they should make their research data, findings, and writings freely, openly, and globally available in the conviction that this will lead to the advancement of humanity; and (2) Knowledge advances, not merely because of the achievements of individuals, but because their achievements are collaboratively amended, critiqued, annotated, sliced, diced, chopped, and reformulated by their colleagues and peers.
Be sure to do the following:
- Students should register at STS Wiki with an identifiable name so you can distinguish their contributions from those of others who may subsquently edit their work.
- Make sure your students understand the intellectual property implications of their contributions. STS Wiki contributions, unless otherwise indicated, are licensed using a Creative Commons license that allows non-commercial copying and derivative works. If they import and modify Wikipedia text, then the entire article has to be licensed under the GFDL.
- Make sure your students understand that subsequent contributors may modify their work.
- Give each student a copy of the Editing FAQ.
- Make sure your students understand the concept of the Neutral Point of View (NPOV).
- Contributors should follow the Wikipedia Style Guide.
- More suggested readings on Wikipedia: Guide to layout, Citing Sources.
Provide good models for students to emulate: If there isn't a good model to emulate, write the first one yourself! On the directory pages (such as STS concepts or STS theories), make a heading near the top of the page called "Featured article," and link to it.