Fall semester wrap-up I

This has been an unusually busy Fall semester, which is why I haven’t posted anything here in several months. With classes over and all of the outstanding grading almost finished, I thought I’d take advantage of the temporary lull to post a few thoughts on some of the courses I taught this term. In this post, I’ll be talking about a third-year undergraduate course called Theory of Translation.

Last year, I’d experimented with having students prepare Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework, and since the results were largely successful, I made the project mandatory this year. This time, though, students submitted their projects in three stages: 1) a 100-word proposal, in which students had to describe the topic they wanted to cover, justify why it needed a new or expanded Wikipedia article, and demonstrate that they would be able to find relevant secondary sources to draw on, 2) a draft version of their article posted to their Wikipedia user page sandbox, and 3) a final version published in Wikipedia that incorporated the feedback I’d given them on their drafts. In total, the Wikipedia project was worth 45% of the final grade (10% for the proposal, 15% for the draft, and 20% for the final version). About 20 students were enrolled in Theory of Translation this semester, which means that together, these students added about 10,000 words to Wikipedia.

For the most part, the articles turned out very well. I tried to prepare students for the research and drafting process by spending time as a class thinking how to write a good Wikipedia article. Early on, we reviewed resources like WikiProject Translation Studies so we could think about what topics needed new or expanded articles. Three weeks into the course, we walked over to the university library to explore possible resources, and a week later, we took at a look at the Wikipedia article on Computer-assisted translation, which has a number of quality issues. We then spent about fifteen minutes in class trying to improve its references, structure and content: this activity doubled as a way to apply some of the readings from our unit on translation technology. These preparation sessions seem to have been worthwhile: most of the draft versions my students submitted a few weeks ago needed only fairly minor revisions to be added to Wikipedia. With only a few exceptions, all of the final articles made it into to Wikipedia.

In future years, though, I will ask students to write a longer proposal so they can better assess the potential need for an article and the resources they have access to. A few students did not fully explore the feasibility of their topic during the proposal stage and then had trouble drafting an article that relied on at least three secondary sources that met Wikipedia’s verifiability and reliability criteria. This happened most frequently when students wanted to write a biographical article on a translator or Translation Studies researcher. If the person was not very well known to the general public, students could usually rely on only primary sources such as a CV or personal website for the biographical details, and these are not considered reliable by Wikipedia standards. (Incidentally, this was the most common reason that articles my students had prepared were rejected by Wikipedia editors, although in one case my student had prepared an excellent biography relying only on secondary sources, but the translator was still deemed “not notable enough” to merit a Wikipedia page). I’d like to help students avoid these problems in the future.

Here’s a sample of the Wikipedia articles students added or expanded this term:

Biographies:

Translation institutions:

Other translation-related topics:

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