Teaching Wikipedia as a mirrored technology
First Monday

Teaching Wikipedia as a mirrored technology by Colleen A. Reilly

Digital spaces on the World Wide Web can be consumed as windowed technologies, providing apparently transparent access to information, or as mirrors, multi–layered and complex, requiring critical self–reflexivity for productive participation. Approaching Wikipedia as a mirrored technology exploits its potential as a pedagogical tool with which students can improve their research practices and writing proficiency in digital environments. Students can learn to grapple with Wikipedia as a complex, living discourse community, whose rhetorical practices and technical conventions they must learn in order to make contributions to it that are accepted by fellow editors of the site and withstand its unique editorial processes. By writing for Wikipedia, students become critical users of this digital resource, develop rhetorical and technological proficiency, and generate texts that prompt real–world response and provide potentially useful information for fellow users of this massive digital resource.


Technological media as window or mirror
Wikipedia as mirror
Stylistic and technological conventions and terminologies




Some librarians and faculty in a variety of disciplines rehearse to students the dangers of using Wikipedia. While I agree that the exclusive use of Wikipedia or any encyclopedia is unacceptable for academic research, I acknowledge Wikipedia’s utility as a quick reference tool and starting point for research and argue that its ubiquity underscores the need to grapple with it in our classrooms. Rather than abstractly warning students away from Wikipedia or teaching them to critique its deficiencies in comparison to print models, this article advocates instructing students to approach Wikipedia as a mirrored technology, multi–layered and complex, and to make self–reflexive contributions to it with an awareness that they are both participating in a structured and complex discourse community and learning to use an unfamiliar digital technology. Success in participating in this community is largely determined by grasping its mores and acquiring the requisite technological, research, and rhetorical skills to make contributions that are appropriate and lasting. This article explains how Wikipedia can be viewed as a mirrored technology and how approaching it from this perspective harnesses its pedagogical power.



Technological media as window or mirror

As media, computers are presented to general users as windowed technologies. Users look through the screen at the information they collect and the texts they compose largely without understanding how the technologies function. For example, browsers such as Safari and Internet Explorer allow users to search for and access information stored in servers all over the world without comprehending or even considering the process through which that information is delivered. Additionally, social networking sites like Facebook and blogging sites like Blogger allow individuals and organizations to publish consistently designed content on the World Wide Web without being required to understand HTML markup or cascading style sheets (CSS). While the ability to use digital media without grasping how it works contributes to its apparent ease of use, as Dilger (2008) explains, this knowledge deficit deskills users, widening the divide between the experts who have technological know–how and mere users who passively receive media as served, but cannot customize, troubleshoot, or participate in creating it.

Bolter and Gromala (2003) argue that the first step in understanding how digital technologies work and how they shape our experiences involves recognizing the technologies as media, as constructed interfaces: “But if we cannot also step back and see the interface as a technical creation, then we are missing half of the experience that new digital media can offer” [1]. Innovative digital media facilitate the ability of users to treat them as transparent windows through which to access content and as mirrors that allow and encourage users to see, simultaneously, a reflection of their use in context, helping users to be aware of the technologies’ designs, their status as constructed media, and the mechanisms through which they function (Bolter and Gromala, 2003). The self–reflexive nature of the mirrored aspects of technologies help to foster a critical perspective in users, aiding them to understand how such technologies can be altered to better suit their needs (Bolter and Gromala, 2003). Similarly, Dilger (2008) argues that learning to write for/with digital media is best approached through translucence as opposed to transparency — by employing a process in which users incrementally uncover and learn to manipulate digital technologies, including the code or scripts that comprise them, to build competence [2].

Many objections to Wikipedia approach it as a windowed technology, one whose construction and interface are ignored as users seek to consume the content uncritically as fact. Despite a numerous and growing number of analyses of the quality of content in Wikipedia that compare it favorably with similar encyclopedic resources (Giles, 2005; Rosenzweig, 2006; Stvilia, et al., 2005; West and Williamson, 2009; Willinsky, 2007), Wikipedia continues to be labeled as generally unreliable largely because it fails to provide the window to knowledge that it seemingly promises. Wikipedia’s location online and delivery though PCs encourage users to approach it as a window: “… the word window helps us to forget the interface and concentrate on the text or data inside. Just as we gaze through a window in the physical world, the GUI’s window metaphor suggests that the interface can present data, words or images, as they ‘really are’ — without distorting them” [3]. Critics of Wikipedia often fault its deficiencies as a window, claiming that it distorts knowledge by providing content that is not reviewed and may be untrue and by requiring no obvious or verifiable credentials for contributors (Schiff, 2006). The latter attribute proves to be most disturbing to faculty and scholars, for without the approval transmuted to Wikipedia’s content through the prestige and authority of authors’ credentials, academic or otherwise, readers cannot prejudge the proffered content’s veracity (Maddox, 2007; Santana and Wood, 2009). Even Maria Mattus (2009), who encourages readers to accept Wikipedia on its own terms, longs for a designation of quality for articles: “Both passive and active users would be helped by an easily comprehensible symbol that shows the article’s present reliability, readability, and scientific level” [4]. However, as this article demonstrates, student users gain the most from Wikipedia through active participation in its development, not passive consumption of its content.

For some, the desire for digital technologies to function as windows is strong, and, in order to provide an alternative to Wikipedia that can be treated as transparent, providing users with carefully vetted and edited truth produced by identified, reliable authors, at least two organizations have begun new online encyclopedias. One is Citizendium begun by Larry Sanger, an original co–founder of Wikipedia. Citizendium: The Citizens’ Compendium employs wiki technology but unlike Wikipedia, contributors must request accounts under their real names, which are verified; a distinction is made between authors, who contribute content, and editors, who make contributions and also guide and approve the contributions of others; and constables, a discrete group of members, remove disrespectful comments and bar those repeatedly engaging in unprofessional behavior [5]. Google has also developed an alternative to Wikipedia, Knol, that is centered on traditional notions of authorship. Articles in Knol are written by individuals instead of through mass collaboration, are attributed, and are only editable by the original authors (Cornnell, 2008). By clearly noting attribution and reviewing content, both alternative online encyclopedias purport to provide transparent access to knowledge, allowing or even encouraging readers to ignore mediation and treat the encyclopedias like the printed texts they already trust.

To effectively avoid approaching Wikipedia as the transparent window to information that, as a result of its mission and open editorial process, it cannot be, students should be taught to approach this technology as a mirror. The remainder of this article demonstrates how to guide students to revision their approach to Wikipedia, in part by developing targeted assignments (See Appendix A: Example Assignment) that prompt students to learn how to productively contribute to it.



Wikipedia as mirror

The pedagogical utility of approaching Wikipedia as a mirror is located in aiding students to view it as a complex discourse community and multi–layered, knowledge–making experiment. Teaching students to consume its windowed content more critically is insufficient, as this approach does not provide them with tools to resist the seduction of apparent transparency. To uncover the mirrored aspects of Wikipedia, students learn to peel back its layers and look behind the text. Each article in Wikipedia is comprised of four layers or tabs: 1) the article; 2) the Discussion (Talk) tab that provides access to writer–editors’ discussions and debates about the article’s content and their contributions; 3) the Editing tab where text/graphics can be added or removed from the article and the formatting code that controls the display of the information can be viewed and changed; and, 4) the History tab that logs all changes to the article and allows writer–editors and readers to access and compare versions.


A screenshot of the Wikipedia interface focused on tabs
Figure 1: A screenshot of the Wikipedia interface focused on tabs.


By viewing Wikipedia as a mirrored technology, noting the layers of the interface and acquiring the expertise to use them effectively, student–editors can exploit its unique features and comprehend the extraordinary manner in which it is built and developed: “At its heart, wikinomics involves motivated amateurs who voluntarily produce knowledge and information in a new form of social and managerial organization. Socially, a wiki–ized system cannot exist without an agreement among the members of that system to behave in a certain fashion” [6]. Wikipedia is this sort of complex system and the rules governing writer–editors’ actions have grown enormously in recent years (Schiff, 2006; Staley, 2009). As Davidson (2007) notes, “Wikipedia is not just an encyclopedia. It is a knowledge community, uniting anonymous readers all over the world who edit and correct grammar, style, interpretations, and facts. It is a community devoted to a common good — the life of the intellect” [7]. In fact, some scholars deemphasize questions about Wikipedia’s quality or credibility, focusing instead on the process through which knowledge is proposed and refined collaboratively in this unique space. As Campbell (2009) argues, Wikipedia’s contribution lies in its power as a nexus of linked knowledge, a “multidimensional space” [8]: “The content of any particular article is less to the point than how it fits into the network of articles and other information to which it is linked” [9]. Others emphasize the process by which knowledge is created, specifically through debate and negotiation, called consensus in the terminology of Wikipedia (Barton, 2005; Medelyan, et al., 2009).

By participating in this community, students can exchange ideas with other writer–editors and receive feedback about their contributions, providing them with a material response to their writing not often experienced within classroom settings. Students can certainly learn to use wiki technologies and hone their writing skills using wikis exclusively accessible to a specific institution or class, but these controlled spaces do not provide students with the opportunity to participate in a growing, organic, knowledge–making community in which the unexpected, in terms of feedback both positive and negative, will happen. Furthermore, Wikipedia provides an ideal space for student participation, because it is a tool that students are already drawn to for information seeking and research but seldom contribute to voluntarily. As Lim (2009) found in his survey of 134 students in an introductory communications course, 100 percent of participants reported using Wikipedia; however, few respondents reported use that included adding or editing content [10]. In order to fully appreciate and participate in the community of Wikipedia, students need to read behind the articles (Davidson, 2007), learning how to self–consciously work in each layer of the text. The sections below explore Wikipedia’s unique conventions and the four layers/tabs of Wikipedia articles and highlight the manner in which a student–editor’s awareness and understanding of these features and portions of the texts contribute to harnessing the power of Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool.



Stylistic and technological conventions and terminologies

Prior to beginning to write successfully for Wikipedia, students must learn the conventions of the site. While it is true that any user can make edits to existing articles, to add new content or make other substantive contributions, writer–editors are encouraged to register and to read the basic style guides for contributors [11]. Assignments involving student contributions to Wikipedia should be created so as to incorporate an introduction to the guidelines, conventions, terminologies, and technical expertise required for making useful contributions; digesting these guidelines constitutes the first step in helping students to recognize Wikipedia as an interface and understand how it is constructed.

As Jones (2008) explains, Wikipedia has specialized terminology to refer to activities that take place on the site [12]. For example, reversion is the act of erasing recent edits to an article and returning to a previous instantiation. Vandalism, often done by users labeled as trolls, is the term for destructively motivated alterations to articles that deliberately introduce false information or revert large sections of content. Talk pages are the Discussion tabs of each article where writer–editors debate the content and the changes/additions/deletions they make. Consensus refers to the preferred manner of resolving disputes, through dialogue and persuasion, resulting in improvements to entries in the encyclopedia. As Gee (2003) argues, participating in a fully developed discourse community with social practices that must be learned and understood provides students with invaluable experience in developing literacy. With its fully developed language and evolving processes and policies, Wikipedia constitutes a living discourse community, one with ever-changing social practices, in which students can advance their ability to achieve critical literacy in their approaches to research and writing.

Technological literacy also proves to be important in successfully contributing new content to Wikipedia, particularly when proposing a new article or building on a brief, preexisting article, or stub in Wikipedia’s terms. Wikipedia’s “Help: Editing” article [13] explains the most commonly used tags needed to format articles correctly, including how to make section headings, internal and external links, and lists. A separate article entitled “Wikipedia: Citing sources,” [14] outlines when to cite sources and explains how to create footnotes, endnotes, and inline citations. While their instructions are thorough and accessible, formatting articles correctly requires attention to detail and an ability to apply general guidelines to specific situations. Through the process of learning to use the formatting tags and designing articles that conform to Wikipedia’s common layout, students develop a level of technological proficiency that they find empowering. Students can learn to use the formatting tags through tutorials that are completed either during or outside of class. Such exercises can prompt students to first learn to read the tags, match the tagged text to the desired design features, and then progress to playing with the formatting tags to achieve a desired design. Wikipedia provides a sandbox that is open to users to experiment with and learn to write for Wikipedia. In the sandbox, students can practice using the formatting tags that they are learning in a low stakes but real environment; the sandbox is cleaned automatically every 12 hours [15].


Example of wiki markup
Figure 2: Example of wiki markup.


Students may be most daunted by determining what sort of subject matter to contribute to Wikipedia. Rather than having them initiate completely new articles that may or may not be accepted as necessary or desirable by other writer–editors of Wikipedia, students can be instructed to locate and expand on an existing stub, an article placeholder that contains very little content but has been designated as in need of development. The benefits of requiring students to base their contributions on stubs are as follows: 1) stubs exist on subjects generally already determined by the Wikipedia community to be worthy of inclusion; 2) beginning with stubs prevents a focus on idiosyncratic content requiring little research, such as a student’s high school or local club; and, 3) expanding a stub generally requires students to research the topic in order to make useful contributions, as stubs are not generally related to general knowledge. Stubs are easily located through the alphabetized listings in Wikipedia on the page entitled “Category: Stub categories” [16] Students could also be required to focus on stubs related to specific course–relevant subject matter, such as an historical event or issue in science [17]. Most stubs contain only a title and a brief introductory paragraph. As a result, by expanding a stub, students can make the entry their own. Doing so generally requires them to develop a structure for the article, a task which includes using the aforementioned formatting tags to create a table of contents, an information box, headings, paragraphs, and footnotes and references. In essence, stubs provide a community–sanctioned starting point while simultaneously allowing student–editors to assume a role as first–author. Helping students to assume an article–creator role rather than making basic contributions to existing articles prompts them to engage most fully in the complete range of writing and design activities possible on Wikipedia. As Ehmann, et al. (2008) found in their research regarding the levels of participation of various types of editors on the site, article–creators perform the greatest range of edit types per article.

Importantly, Wikipedia reinforces a favorite mantra of faculty, namely the importance of citing secondary sources. Information added to Wikipedia entries is expected to be based on secondary sources; original research or personal reflections are actively discouraged. Articles are regularly identified and tagged as having insufficient or questionable citations [18]. Thus, Wikipedia’s community of editors provides support for faculty attempting to teach students how and why to provide appropriate and thorough citations of secondary sources. As will be discussed below, a lack of appropriate citations often prompts discussion on an article’s Talk tab as well as a designation on the article itself and a request for revisions/additions to the article.


Example note from Wikipedia editors designating an article as having an insufficient number of secondary sources
Figure 3: Example note from Wikipedia editors designating an article as having an insufficient number of secondary sources.


Additionally, integrating the article into Wikipedia by creating links to related articles within the online encyclopedia is an essential part of developing successful content. When intelligently and mindfully placed, such links add depth to articles, enhance the collaborative aspects of the space, and function as an additional form of citation signaling the author–editor’s awareness of how their entry meshes with other relevant content on Wikipedia. As Medelyan, et al. (2009) found, “[most articles] are densely interlinked,” [19] containing “an average of 25 incoming and 25 outgoing links per article” [20]. Student–editors must, therefore, use both sorts of citation in order to create content with the potential for long–term inclusion in Wikipedia.

Discussion or Talk Tab

This second tab is one of the most self–reflexive or mirrored layers of the articles in Wikipedia. In this layer, editors debate the changes made to an article and discuss what further information or other revisions the article needs (Miller, 2005). This layer also provides a place for disputes to be negotiated. In order to succeed in having their edits accepted, student–editors must learn to articulate clearly their rationales for the additions and deletions they make and include those on the Discussion layer of the article to which they make contributions. This layer provides a rare, real–world space in which such reflection is integral to the writing process. Pollard (2008) cites the importance of this layer in providing student–editors with a place to “share their thinking about the construction of the entry and to defend any edits” [21]. As Maehre (2009) argues, in the context of Wikipedia, a writer–editor’s ability to provide persuasive justifications for their changes on the Talk page ranks higher and proves to be a better justification for their credibility than is a claim to particular credentials. Furthermore, according to Ehmann, et al. (2008), raising concerns on an article’s Talk page results in real agency for editors: “Additionally, as the observations between Talk page discussion and editing of a given article reveal, raising one’s concerns about an article is likely to result in change to that article. Therefore, contributions to Talk pages — in addition to article edits themselves — provide Wikipedians with a powerful means of shaping the presentation of knowledge” [22].

The subjects of Talk–page discussions of articles range from rhetorical to stylistic (Ehmann, et al., 2008); and all entries are signed with user names or IP addresses and are dated. For example, the Talk page for the article entitled “History of Biology” [23], which was the featured article on the main page of Wikipedia on 3 June 2009, discusses the appropriate content for inclusion and represents several debates about that content; discusses the relevance of particular sources; includes entries related to American versus British spellings; and, questions and corrects a number of facts.

To participate in the sort of debate that takes place on these Talk pages, student–editors need to be certain of their sources and content and rhetorically savvy enough to argue for their perspectives regarding everything from the data or facts they cite to their sentence structure, which requires a greater level of self–reflexivity than is generally demanded in academic writing. While student–editors certainly expose themselves to indelicately proffered critique through participating in the dialogue taking place on the Talk pages of their articles, research reports that unconstructive and abusive comments are rare in this space (Ehmann, et al., 2008). From an anecdotal perspective, based on my own small classes (20 students in each class), none of my students were presented with rude or improper feedback, although a number were prompted to lively debate and had to argue thoughtfully in support of the content they added. Students discovered that garnering a higher level of expertise is necessary for contributing to Wikipedia and ensuring that their contributions remain intact. By working in this community, students can see the real–world relevance of being able to defend and argue particular perspectives; they are called upon to self–reflexively build this mirrored technology in context.

Edit this page

By clicking on the Edit tab, writer–editors can add content to a section of an article, remove content, add sections, upload graphics, add footnotes, and add citations. Edits are made section by section, but sections can also be moved or deleted. This tab is most important in revealing the constructed nature of Wikipedia as media to students, for, in the process of adding text, editors must also add the formatting tags mentioned above that create visual markers of emphasis in articles, such as bolding; create discursive endnotes or footnotes linked to references at the bottom of the article; and create internal and external links. For example, the formatting tags for creating references are ingenious yet simple (e.g., <ref name=X>{{cite web|url=http://X|title=X|publisher=X|date=X|accessdate=X}}</ref>). When editors enter in this correct string of tags and information for an external reference, a footnote is inserted and a line in the References section of the article appears containing the citation information in a consistent format. Furthermore, writers need only add the <ref name=X/> tag to insert subsequent footnotes referring to the same source. In my course, learning the basic markup to format their Wikipedia articles provided an incremental introduction to the concept of markup, preparing students for the World Wide Web design projects that they would complete later in the semester.


Example of the editing tab
Figure 4: Example of the editing tab.


Writer–editors are also encouraged to summarize and explain the changes they make in the edit summary box that appears after each section on the Edit tab. Students may find that providing thoughtful and well–supported explanations of their changes and formatting their entries correctly are key to their contributions’ longevity on the site.

In working in the Edit tab, students are truly peering behind the surface of Wikipedia’s articles to see how they work, both technically and rhetorically. Their contributions require a mirrored view of the media, literally seeing and participating in its textual development and visual design. They cannot ignore Wikipedia’s interface or status as media for awareness of these elements is a requirement of full participation. Such awareness leads to a greater critical analysis of Wikipedia and its content than is fostered by consumption or even an analysis of content, however critical.


The final tab marked History catalogues each article’s incremental revisions and the times and dates for those revisions and allows readers and editors to compare versions of the article to reveal differences. By recording all changes and identifying who made them, as least by user name or IP address, the History layer highlights responsibility for edits. As Miller (2005) notes, “Just because anyone can make changes doesn’t free a writer from responsibility for what they write” [24]. While IP addresses do not necessary identify individual users, repeated, malicious submissions from a specific IP can result in the blocking of submissions by Wikipedia administrators from that address to the site [25]. Administrators are admonished to use this power judiciously as blocking a shared IP address can affect users not involved in malicious posting to the site. Such blocks are generally temporary. Additionally, innovative malicious users may subvert this safeguard by logging on from an alternate IP. While this system is not foolproof, it does provide some level of accountability for problematic behavior even from anonymous users.

Explorations of the History tab of each article have resulted in interesting analyses of the number, types, effects, and origins of edits to articles on the site. For example, Stvilia, et al. (2005) used the History tab to determine that for the 236 articles that they examined, over two–thirds of the edits made in a 42–day period were made by registered editors. Furthermore, in these articles, Stvilia, et al. (2005) found a very small number of reversions, only 12, indicating that most edits add on to or edit the text contributed by other users; complete erasure of fellow editor’s contributions are relatively uncommon. Likewise, based on an examination of article histories, Wilkinson and Huberman (2007) determined that article quality increases with the number of edits and the number of discrete editors. Pfeil, et al. (2006) even used the History tab of articles on the sample subject of “games” from different language versions of Wikipedia to compare the edits and contributions of writer–editors from different cultural backgrounds. The History tab enables readers and editors of Wikipedia to approach the text analytically, providing them with insights about the development of a given text that are impossible to glean about similar types of resources, print or electronic.

The ability to compare versions of articles at any point in their development using the History tab also provides faculty with a convenient manner by which to track students’ contributions to their articles. Comparing articles in process and examining the revisions of pieces over time facilitates classroom discussions of the nature of substantive revision. Likewise, the History tab allows students to track the development of their articles and visually gauge their own contributions.


Comparison of revisions to an article
Figure 5: Comparison of revisions to an article.


Students in my courses take their contributions quite seriously and are productively engaged in debating their contributions with others on the site long after the portion of the semester overtly dedicated to the assignment. My writing–for–Wikipedia assignment requires students to revisit their articles approximately one month after posting them and write a report detailing what has become of their contributions and positing the reasons for any changes or deletions. Therefore, the History tab is an essential tool for students to employ in order to reflect on the development of their texts over the course of a month. This reflective portion of the assignment is key to harnessing the power of Wikipedia as a mirrored technology. Examining the evolution of their contributions and critically analyzing how these contributions have been received and used by others in the Wikipedia community prompts students to view their writing differently as part of a living text with actual readers. Students are forced to confront their writing and research skills and technological efficacy in light of feedback from other users of Wikipedia. Such feedback often proves to be more powerful and motivational than typical feedback from their instructors.




Viewing Wikipedia as a mirror and learning to work in all levels of its interface transforms the resource for students from a consumptive space into a productive community. Pollard (2008) argues that requiring students to write for Wikipedia in response to a carefully designed assignment teaches them skills important for “twenty–first–century learners” including “digital–age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity” [26]. Making useful and lasting contributions to Wikipedia involves student–editors in an extensive writing and research project that requires them to grapple with all layers of this complex media to develop the requisite understanding and expertise required for success. Students experience immediate benefits from having acquired this expertise in terms of how their writing is received by others. Furthermore, engaging in this self–reflexive process also aids them in developing a critical perspective towards this media both as a resource and as a digital technology with a particular type of interface.

Maehre (2009) argues that we often privilege process in writing instruction but product in teaching research: ‘It seems to me that professors put too much emphasis on the source rather than the information itself. A journal article may be ‘better,’ overall, than a Wikipedia entry on the same subject, but how does that disqualify a particular piece of information that is mined from the latter?” [27]. Interacting with Wikipedia as a complex discourse community emphasizes a focus on the text and the writer–editor’s ability to support their contributions, or, in other words, the process through which knowledge is proposed, negotiated, and revised based on discursive interactions between users. Wikipedia’s most important contributions and innovations to knowledge production are located in the unique communicative practices of writer–editors on the site. As other scholars have noted, Wikipedia stands out not because of the predetermined accuracy of its content, but because of the manner through which any and all content placed on the site is generated and interrogated, largely without a controlling, gate–keeping editorial staff. Wikipedia has been called “a large–scale collaborative ontology development environment” [28] employing wiki technology that facilitates a view of the document “as a process of rational–critical debate towards a specific goal” [29]. Viewing Wikipedia as a mirrored technology, requiring self–reflexive and active participation for effective use, is commiserate with these scholarly perspectives and highlights its unique features, features that can be harnessed to enhance a pedagogy focusing on developing a practice of critical literacy, one particularly necessary for successfully negotiating open access content in growing digital environments. End of article


About the author

Colleen A. Reilly is an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her teaching and research focus on professional and technical writing theory and pedagogy; electronic composition and citation; computer gaming and literacy; and, gender, sexuality, and technology.
E–mail: reillyc [at] uncw [dot] edu



1. Bolter and Gromala, 2003, p. 27.

2. Dilger, 2008, p. 128.

3. Bolter and Gromala, 2003, p. 42.

4. Mattus, 2009, p. 197.

5. Citizendium: The Citizens’ Compendium, at http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/CZ:FAQ, accessed 11 June 2009.

6. Staley, 2009, p. 28.

7. Davidson, 2007, p. B20.

8. Campbell, 2009, p. 186.

9. Ibid.

10. Lim, 2009, p. 2,192.

11. See “Wikipedia: Editing policy,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Editing_policy, accessed 15 June 2009, and “Wikipedia: Manual of style,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style, accessed 15 June 2009.

12. See “Wikipedia: Glossary,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Glossary, accessed 15 June 2009.

13. See “Help: Editing,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Editing, accessed 15 June 2009.

14. See “Wikipedia: Citing Sources,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_sources, accessed 15 June 2009.

15. See “Wikipedia: Sandbox,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sandbox, accessed 7 January 2010.

16. See “Category: Stub categories,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Stub_categories, accessed 15 June 2009.

17. See Pollard (2008) for an assignment related to witchcraft.

18. See also Maehre, 2009, p. 234.

19. Medelyan, et al., 2009, p. 721.

20. Ibid.

21. Pollard, 2008, p. 12.

22. Ehmann, et al., 2008, para. 88.

23. “History of Biology,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_biology, accessed 15 June 2009.

24. Miller, 2005, p. 40.

25. “Wikipedia: Blocking IP Addresses,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Blocking_IP_addresses, accessed 14 January 2010.

26. Pollard, 2008, pp. 20–21.

27. Maehre, 2009, p. 230.

28. Medelyan, et al., 2009, p. 723.

29. Barton, 2005, p. 187.



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Kathy West and Janet Williamson, 2009. “Wikipedia: Friend or foe?” Reference Services Review, volume 37, number 3, pp. 260–271.http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00907320910982758

Dennis M. Wilkinson and Bernardo A. Huberman, 2007. “Assessing the value of cooperation in Wikipedia,” First Monday, volume 12, number 4, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1763/1643, accessed 19 January 2010.

John Willinsky, 2007. “What open access research can do for Wikipedia,” First Monday, volume 12, number 3, at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1624/1539, accessed 21 December 2009.



Example assignment: Wikipedia writing project

Developed for English 314: Writing and Technology

For this project, you will contribute content to Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Your contribution should be about a topic that interests you but is also needed by Wikipedia (see #4 below). The required length is 1,200–1,500 words. Your contribution must also be factual (no invented or fictional content) and well–researched (secondary sources are required by Wikipedia).

Prior to writing for Wikipedia, you should:

  1. Create a Wikipedia account;
  2. Consult the Wikipedia: Help contents page which links to information about how and when to contribute to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Contents;
  3. Consult the publishing and style guidelines outlined by Wikipedia’s editors: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style; and,
  4. The Wikipedia community has identified topics and articles in need of expansion. To select a topic to write about, you should consult these lists and select a topic/article in one of these lists: Wikipedia: Stubs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Stub#Locating_stubs.

Your entry should be encyclopedic in nature and provide a useful addition to the shared knowledge base that is Wikipedia. You must conduct research about your topic; this is a key portion of the assignment. In investigating your topic, you should consult print and online sources and cite all of your sources using Wikipedia’s citation conventions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_sources). You should also link your article to relevant content within Wikipedia.

Student learning outcomes for the course addressed in this assignment:

  • Successfully develop and employ strategies for learning and using a variety of technologies to compose print and online texts;
  • Critically analyze in class discussions and in writing the concepts of technological and information literacy and determine their significance for your educational and professional goals;
  • Learn to analyze writing situations and select the best technologies for each project, audience, and subject; and,
  • Delineate the effects that various technologies have on our definitions and conceptions of writing.

Grading criteria


  • Article provides information needed by Wikipedia users;
  • Article provides specific, concrete, detailed, and factual information;
  • Article content is derived from thorough research;
  • Article cites sources;
  • Article is encyclopedic in nature and is credible;
  • Article is submitted to Wikipedia; and,
  • Submitted article to me lists the Wikipedia URL for the posted location at the top.


  • Article follows Wikipedia’s content, format, and citation conventions;
  • Article is linked to relevant Wikipedia content;
  • Article is clearly written; and,
  • Article is grammatically correct and spell–checked.


  • Article’s content and format reflect author(s)’ understanding of Wikipedia’s guidelines and conventions;
  • Article reflects author(s)’ ability to follow instructions; and,
  • Article reflects an understanding of the unique publication guidelines and conventions of this resource.


Editorial history

Received 21 January 2010; accepted 1 December 2010.

Copyright © 2011, First Monday.
Copyright © 2011, Colleen A. Reilly.

Teaching Wikipedia as a mirrored technology
by Colleen A. Reilly.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 1 - 3 January 2011

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2015.