... the future of communication and an informed citizenry will depend increasingly on the Internet rather than on television or the print media. That doesn't mean we should stop teaching the traditional essay and research paper, but it does mean we need to teach students to work in other genres, such as writing for blogs and wikis, creating podcasts and PowerPoint presentations, and participating in social-networking sites. They need to be comfortable in a variety of online environments, understand Web etiquette, know how to protect their privacy and respect the privacy of others, and learn how to evaluate various sources of information.
- -- William Pannapacker, associate professor of English at Hope College, "On Stupidity, Part 2: Exactly how should we teach the 'digital natives'?", The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 5, 2008
Personally, I see no reason not to assign Wikipedia articles as assignments, and many reasons to do so. Students improve their digital literacy, learn about the site they use so often (and why indeed it can be sometimes unreliable), have something to show for their hard work (a digital artifact, useful to others, instead of a paper that's going to the next trash bin as soon as the course has ended), Wikipedia gets some nice content and the teachers can get help from Wikipedia volunteers (for example, when I am grading students articles, I am also aided by advice from Wikipedia content reviwers). It's a win-win-win situation for everyone :)
Sometime in the near future I want to write a follow-up to my first academic article, Teaching with wikis and Wikipedia. Three years down the road, I am happy to say that most of what I wrote than is still useful - but some updates are needed.
Crucial things I have learned could be summarized as follow: students are lazy, and need motivating. Carrots will only work for a few - you need sticks as well. Hence in the wiki assignment, which depends on students contributing to it regularly, you need graded deadlines to avoid a relatively common phenomena where most students ignore the assignment till the last few weeks/days.
Overall, teaching with Wikipedia has been an enjoyable experience, not only to me but also to other Wikipedia editors - and to the students themselves (at least those who were sufficiently motivated to try to learn something). My last class, despite having just one month and a half, managed to expand three (out of six assigned) articles into Good Articles - and that did exceed my expectations. Now I wonder if the new class, lasting 4 months, will be able to do this to all assigned articles, and if they succeed, I am thinking about replicating the great achievement of the MMM project, and aiming to have the students write Featured Class articles.
On the subject of initiatives related to teaching with Wikipeida, it is worth to check out:
* the Wikipedia Educator's Guide
* the Best practices in assigning Wikipedia articles as coursework to students
and of course
* the Wikipedia:School and university projects