Now the truth can be told.
The students in this course created a hoax called the Last American Pirate — the story of one student’s (her name is Jane Browning) attempt to find out as much as possible about a man named Edward Owens who was, supposedly, a pirate in Virginia in the late nineteenth century.
The hoax launched during the first week of December and between then and now more than 1,200 unique visitors came to the hoax website. Almost 200 visited Jane Browning’s YouTube channel. A few bloggers — most notably one at USAToday — picked up the story. The Wikipedia entry on our pirate was edited by several people not in the class — mostly to fix issues with the Wikipedia syntax.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on the class in its Friday, December 19, 2008 edition [premium access only, alas].
If you are at all outraged or offended by this hoax, please go to the hoax website where you can read the class mea culpa. You can also download a copy of the syllabus for the course from this website or from the hoax website if you want to know more about the class.