Can Wikipedia Teach Students How To Write?

Image via Wikipedia

Not content to be the favored reference source for students just learning how to research, Robert E. Cummings at Inside Higher Education has suggested that Wikipedia might just be the proper training ground for students as writers. In his article Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?, Professor Cummings explains his process for assigning the preparation of a Wikipedia entry for his composition students, including education regarding the “discourse community” and the “five pillars of Wikipedia.” The students then write contributions to existing pages and review the response from the Wikipedia community. Students then consider their own responses and then draft an essay on the experience of writing for this larger audience.

Professor Cummings explains that this type of assignment offers a crash course in understanding one’s audience, the experience of critique, the exercise of choosing a topic that might be of value and interest to the larger community and a better sense of modern “real world” writing.

Hmmm. Perhaps some of the learnings described by Professor Cummings might have some value for law students as well. Understanding the broader audience, dealing with critique and topic (or argument) choice and a sense of “real world” writing. Granted, legal writing is its own animal, to a large degree. But such an assignment – the opportunity to write for a widely recognized resource with a vast audience – has to afford some tangible measure of what it will be like to write for bosses, clients, peers and courts further on down the line.

Of course, students writing for students’ number one research source does seem to present a circular argument for Wikipedia use, now, doesn’t it?

Hat tip to the Legal Writing Prof Blog.

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