User:Ragesoss/HIST 236

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For the Yale University course "History of Modern Science in Society" (HIST 236), taught by Ole Molvig, the students were assigned to research and write encyclopedia articles on history of science topics poorly covered in Wikipedia. I (Sage Ross, User:Ragesoss) was the teaching assistant; I designed and supervised the assignment and coordinated the the integration of the resulting material into Wikipedia. While students were not required to put their finished work into Wikipedia, 13 of 14 chose to do so, resulting in the creation or significant improvement of as many articles.

See also my general recommendations for Wikipedia assignments.


Students were allowed to choose topics related to the history of science in the 19th and 20th centuries (the focus of the latter half of the course), but asked to find topics with inadequate or non-existent Wikipedia articles. A list of possible topics was also provided, and I gave additional suggestions based on students' areas of interest; all students chose either a topic from the list provided or one of the topics I suggested.[1]

After students chose their topics (one student per topic), they were required to do some basic research and create a preliminary bibliography of the sources they planned to use. I gave them limited suggestions about better sources, and encouraged them to send me early drafts (which a few students did). The stated length specification was 1500-2000 words, though most students found their topics too large to fit within that limit.[2] Because the articles were to adhere to the Wikipedia policy of no original research, students were also asked to turn in a ~400 word "topic proposal", in which students could develop their own thoughts on the topic and discuss the topic in terms of the course themes.[3]

Students submitted their papers to me (via email), and I uploaded each to a subpage in my userspace, with example formatting for references and wikilinks in the beginning of each. Over the next week, each students was assigned to read and provide feedback on 4 classmates' articles, and to improve their own based on feedback (and in some cases, further research). At the end of the assignment, I moved or merged articles into Wikipedia mainspace as appropriate.[4]

Students were encouraged to add images and proper formatting to their work, although those that attempted to add images (especially ones from off-site) found the image policies, procedures, and markup too difficult and confusing.[5]

The results:[edit]

Small collaborative assignment[edit]

Earlier in the course the students collaboratively created the article Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, after reading and discussing it in class. While the students were reluctant to edit each other's work (instead simply adding more and more prose to the article), they found the exercise useful for coming to grips with a text they had trouble making sense of. It also helped instill some skepticism about Wikipedia as they realized that other articles were written by authorities as dubious as themselves.


  1. ^ For future assignments, I would not provide a list. Instead, I would require some preliminary exploration of interests on Wikipedia; essentially, I would instruct students to explore Wikipedia until they find a topic they want to know more about than Wikipedia tells them.
  2. ^ This project is more appropriate for a slightly longer assignment, especially undergraduate research/historiography papers. It could also be easily modified for book report-type assignments, particularly biographies.
  3. ^ In future versions, I would expand this portion of the assignment, either framing it as a review or as a separate essay that analyzes the subject in course-specific ways.
  4. ^ In future versions, I would require students to upload their own papers and to use appropriate reference markup from the beginning.
  5. ^ In future versions, I would either allow only images already present Wikipedia or Commons, or require students to send me links to all internet images they want to use and allow me to upload them (and screen them for licensing and copyright issues).