College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

THE DM: Writing With Wikipedia Class

Professor Bob Cummings

Professor Robert Cummings

November 10, 2016 | By Hannah Simmons for The Daily Mississippian

Wikipedia tends to get a bad rap, but Professor Robert Cummings’ course “Writing with Wikipedia” is trying to change that. The course focuses on learning the ins and outs of how the site works. It also uses individual and team assignments, where students create or help improve a Wikipedia page.

Cummings, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and associate professor of English, said he thinks it is important for students to learn more about Wikipedia because he believes it provides an opportunity to collaborate over a network and to work on knowledge building projects with people who have different perspectives.

The projects students work on help their knowledge of Wikipedia and help them learn how to work with others in the classroom and within the Wikipedia community, where they receive feedback from people who regularly work on the articles. The Wiki community makes sure information on each page is accurate and meets standards in order to remain on the site.

“One way I think that students benefit is that they get a sense of how a massively complex networked project can collaborate and work toward a goal,” Cummings said. “Wikipedia is one of the best ways to learn how to work with other people, and having this class for students is a great preparation for them when they join the workforce after graduation.”

Cummings said the process of uploading articles onto Wikipedia may be messy, but it might be the way to solve bigger problems in the future.

“If your generation is ever going to solve the really tough problems my generation is leaving you, such as climate change, it will be through massive collaboration,” he said. “I think Wikipedia provides a vision for those kinds of collaborations.”

Writing and rhetoric professor Andrew Davis said he believes Wikipedia embodies the original spirit of the web.

“The web was envisioned as a space for the free and open exchange and generation of knowledge,” he said.

Davis said he sees Wikipedia as a place for people to collaborate with one another and be able to share knowledge with peers, something the web was designed to do from its inception.

Writing Center Director Brad Campbell said some instructors might not have the desire to teach about Wikipedia since it is such a complex system, but it is important for students to learn about these different types of digital resources.

“[It’s] a much more challenging pedagogical intervention, for sure,” he said. “But certainly a worthwhile attempt to engage students and enhance their understanding of the research and writing practices that inform knowledge production, knowledge availability and knowledge accessibility.”