Giving students an audience

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Giulia Forsythe

I just read an interesting article on giving students an audience for writing, featuring the idea of having students working on wikis, especially Wikipedia.

It is not a surprise to me that giving students an audience makes them write better. I’ve been reading that for years. Derek Bruff wrote about the value of what he calls authentic audiences in 2011, pulling on a talk by Gardner Campbell.

Quite a few of the online courses here at University of Regina have student wikis. A couple even have blogs. But those are all locked in the Learning Management System, UR Courses (run on Moodle). This makes it easier to save work (our LMS is backed up by the university, in case of a grade appeal), something Greg Bawden brought up in the Google + community for EC&I 831. It also means the software is supported by the university. But what if the audience were wider and not just made up of other students?

I love the idea of working on something like a Wikipedia article. This seems like the kind of thing definitely workable for higher education, but I think even high school students would be able to work together and create articles or edit. The legwork to find the appropriate topics might take some time, but the idea of contributing to knowledge, all the lessons about trusting the internet, understanding crowdsourcing, so many good things! There have been some scheduled days for activism that included working on Wikipedia so it could also be connected to something like that if the timing worked. Or start your own campaign of awareness and knowledge sharing, encourage others to join you in the process of editing.

The idea of assignments being not just to make the teacher happy is one that really resonates with me. I spent a lot of time in my undergraduate degree determining which profs like my writing, figuring out how to adapt so that I was writing for a particular prof, and then sticking with courses where I know that matched well. So I learned a lot about people pleasing, but not as much about developing my own voice. None of my papers really mattered in the grand scheme of things beyond that class. I don’t think I kept any of them and certainly didn’t put any on my resumé.

For anyone working on portfolio building with students, Wikipedia articles could be a great thing to add too.

If you are interested in talking about Wikipedia with students, it is worth reading about “The Decline of Wikipedia, an interesting look at the development of the site and how attempts are being made to keep it true to its original goals. Lots of great material in there to talk about with students, including when it comes to digital citizenship.

So have any of you tried something like this? Do you use Wikipedia with students? Have you talked about issues relating to it?

Or what else are you doing to provide students an audience? I know that some students in EC&I 831 are doing blogging projects with students, some have discussed using Twitter.

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