National Writing Project

Learning About Collaborative Writing with Wikipedia

Date: January 21, 2010

Summary: Lona Jack-Vilmar, teacher-consultant with the New York City Writing Project, experimented with Wikipedia as part of an inservice workshop, and multiple authors, unknown to her, contributed to her piece almost instantly.


Lona Jack-Vilmar thought up many ideas at a two-day technology retreat with the New York City Writing Project. The focus of the retreat, facilitated by Technology Liaison Paul Allison, was to introduce teacher-consultants to blogging, wikis, and a host of other online technologies.

When it came time to play around with Wikipedia, a free, Web-based, collaborative encyclopedia, Jack-Vilmar's curiosity was especially piqued.

"The idea of writing an article collaboratively with folks you didn't even know was intriguing," said Jack-Vilmar, literacy coach at International High School at Lafayette in New York City.

Jack-Vilmar noticed that there was no entry for the Wodaabe , a nomadic group that resides in Africa and a particular interest of hers, so she decided to start one. That's when the writing experiment really became fascinating.

"I posted something—a few sentences perhaps and then we needed to move on," she said. "Less than five minutes later, I returned to the entry and was actually shocked to see that someone had joined me in writing the article. Paul used the experience to highlight the power of collaborating to write on Wikipedia."

Since that day, Jack-Vilmar's Wodaabe entry (and subsequent revisions) has gained dozens of contributing authors and editors and is the top search result when typing Wodaabe into Google.

She says her fellow teachers appreciate her success with writing on Wikipedia, but tend to see the online encyclopedia as a source of information rather than something to which they can contribute. Jack-Vilmar's experience shows how exploring technology is necessary to spark ideas about its possibilities.

Listen to the Podcast

Hear Lona Jack-Vilmar talk about the process of writing on Wikipedia at November Learning .

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