Because Great Ideas in Personality became one of the most frequently visited personality resources on the web, it afforded an opportunity for students to work toward an intrinsically meaningful goal. I reasoned that students would make extra efforts if they knew that their work would be visible to a large number of people who found their topic interesting, and my expectations were fulfilled. My students produced excellent work in the form of personality papers with peer commentaries and author responses, which are publicly viewable and have even been used as resources by instructors in other personality courses.
I believe the process that went into refining the papers could be replicated successfully almost anywhere in the curriculum, from the undergraduate Scientific Writing seminar to the graduate Writers' Task Force (both of which I have taught). The papers underwent a process of peer review in which students suggested improvements on multiple drafts of their peers' papers. Papers that a student's peers deemed exceptionally good were revised for publication on the web. Other students then wrote peer commentaries that were published along with the target papers. Finally, the author responded to the peer commentaries. My role was that of editor of all of these materials. This method was recognized as so innovative by my department that a new course was created, Scientific Writing, for me to use this method.
For my students, thinking of something new to say created a necessity for independent critical thinking, whereas reading and evaluating another student's paper meant absorbing what that student knew of the field. This is an example of what one cognitive scientist called case-based learning, a kind of natural learning that facilitates long-term memory and application. For my students, the result was unambiguously demonstrated mastery of the content area. The key to achieving this result, I believe, was providing a goal that was intrinsically meaningful and a process that helped students reach that goal.