A significant body of research shows that students are more motivated, and do a better job researching and writing, if they do it for an “authentic audience.” As Derek Bruff, the Director of Vanderbilt Center for Teaching explains:
Sharing student work on a course blog is an example of what Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University, call “social pedagogies.” They define these as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.”
Blogs are not the only medium through which students can produce meaningful work for a public audience — think of the possibilities created by Wikipedia or other online resources. This spring, a number of groups organized “Wikipedia edit-a-thon” events, designed to increase participation in Wikipedia editing by diverse communities. (The average Wikipedia editor is a college-educated, 30-year-old male resident of the US or Western Europe).
Could an edit-a-thon work as a class project? To add meaningful content to an entry (and provide suitable documentation), students would have to use their research, information literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills. Whether the goal of the edit-a-thon is to make corrections across Wikipedia entries (as when feminist groups reacted to the revelation that American women novelists were being moved from the category “American Novelists” to the sub-category “American Women Novelists“) or the goal is to create or enhance a single entry related to the course being taught, students would also have to practice valuable communication and teamwork skills.
Interested? This Prof Hacker blog from the Chronicle has a host of sensible suggestions about how to make an edit-a-thon work.