Law Students and Wikipedia

by Roger Alford

This semester I took Peter Spiro’s suggestion to heart and assigned my international law students to write a Wikipedia entry as a small part of their class requirements. The only limits I put on the students was to pick a topic that was relevant to international law and that was not currently included in Wikipedia (or at most was a stub). The results were quite impressive.

I will not give you the details of each entry to avoid compromising the next phase of the experiment. But essentially they wrote on topics ranging from prominent international law professors and judges, several major decisions of international courts, two Supreme Court decisions, a key aspect of a major environmental law treaty, principles of international law jurisdiction, an undeveloped topic relating to the use of force, a major international investment arbitration issue, and an issue relating to corporate conduct and core labor standards. They wrote the entries in Wikipedia format to maximize the chances that the entries will be accepted by the Wikipedia editors.

Although this project obviously did not result in perfect student results, my sense is that open sourcing on Wikipedia will correct relevant errors or omissions. I will be curious to see whether the next phase of posting and subsequent open source editing of the entries will be as successful.

I would be curious if others think this is a worthwhile collaborative project between professors and law students.

http://opiniojuris.org/2006/11/28/law-students-and-wikipedia/

6 Responses

  1. From a (recently graduated) student’s perspective, I would have enjoyed assignments such as these in law school, but unfortunately had none. Many law professors under-utilize the internet as a method of legal research and cooperation. In law school, I relied at least as heavily on Google as I did Lexis or WL, despite some profs’ per se dismissal of the internet as unreliable. I think I learned nearly as much about international law on this blog than I did in some casebooks!! I think I have an advantage over my colleagues who ignore the massive amounts of primary source, reference and analysis materials on the internet. For what it’s worth, I think your project is very worthwhile.

  2. As a onetime university student myself (though I studied English and journalism rather than law) I wish there had been a Wikipedia when I was in school.

    It’s good for students, but likewise good for Wikipedia. Serious students are probably the best kind of editors the website could have, and if the student doesn’t follow through, any “damage” may well have already been undone by Wikipedians.

  3. Roger, This is great, hope the students enjoyed doing it. Just one follow up on my initial posts: the Wikipedia entries for the two that we managed to get done at the time (on Louis Sohn and Abram Chayes) now pop up first and second in respective Google searches. So it’s a kind of publication that may actually count for something.

  4. Those entries will probably get read more than most of the journal work law students do! I think it sounds like a great project and I hope you continue it.

  5. THANK YOU! If only more professors had such a progressive understanding of how information “works” in the twenty-first century.

    I’m an undergraduate who, despite an abiding interest in international law, often finds himself stumped by offhanded references to landmark decisions or Latin terminology. Though I’d never rely on it, Wikipedia is extremely valuable in these situations.

  6. Roger,

    I think this is a terrific idea. I am curious about the “collaborative” aspects of the project, i.e. the extent to which you reviewed the students’ drafts prior to postings or revised the entries after they were published. But I’ll contact you for details off-blog.

    Kudos to you and Peter for thinking of such a creative teaching technique. Larry

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