I have been teaching the course Topics on the border of CS and economics with Michal Feldman in the fall semester. One of the course assignments was to write a Wikipedia entry on a topic of the students’ choice that is related to the course. This was the first time that any of us tried this, so we left this assignment pretty open and only made sure that the class’s choice was injective and more or less in range. We were not aware at the time that there are suggested ways on how to organize such a thing, e.g. this entry in English or this one in Hebrew (we allowed both English and Hebrew entries, and most students chose the latter.)
We saw various reasons why this assignment is a good idea: First, we figured that having the “world” reading your work is an added incentive to write well. (This is especially so given the fact that, due to the terrible budget cuts in Israeli universities in the last few years, we had no TA.) Second, we wanted to ensure that the effort that students put into their assignment is not wasted but rather put to a good use. Third, there was the idea of doing a public service. Fourth, there was a somewhat vague notion of immersion in the main motivator of the course: what goes on the Internet.
As the course has ended, we compiled a list of the entries written for the course. I would say that the experiment has ended with mixed results: the quality of entries varies. Some of them are really good, others are OK — a reasonable start and hopefully will be improved, but some are quite badly written (in various senses: format, writing style, and even technical content.) It seems that adding incentives for what is usually done by volunteering (i.e. giving course credit for writing an entry that is usually done voluntarily) introduces problems. While normally Wikipedia writers only do so when they want to and are able to do a god job, here we incentivized people to do so even if they could not do a good job or did not want to put enough effort into doing so. (This is somewhat similar to the observation that paying for blood donation reduces the willingness to do so.) I can’t really tell if the students that did a really bad job are incapable of doing significantly better or just didn’t put enough effort into it.
Michal and me now feel somewhat responsible for doing some harm to the (mostly Hebrew language) Wikipedia. We are not really able to go over all the entries ourselves and “fix” them (again, no TA, and many dozens of entries.) We are making small changes here and there as well as adding a few comments in discussion pages, but this is small in magnitude, and doesn’t help much for the worst entries, so we have decided to hire a TA/RA for a while to “clean after this course”.
One of the interesting new entries was the Algorithmic Game Theory entry in the English Wikipedia. It turns out that there was no such entry previously, despite a call to write one by the “committee to improve Wikipedia’s arguably-somewhat-sketchy coverage of theoretical computer science” over a year ago, which mentioned AGT together with a list of other desired entries, many of which still remain unwritten. (Looking at the history page of AGT, it seems that an entry for AGT was previously written, but the entry was not appropriate and focused on Algorithmic Mechanism Design and so was “moved” there about two years ago.)
My (preliminary) conclusion: I would do it again, but next time, only with a smaller class size and with a devoted TA.