unCommon News February 2014

unCommon News

A crowd-powered newsletter for a writing-centered community

February, 2014

Dear Friends,

We hope all’s well with you and your classes.

This month we are delighted to announce the winner of the Aaron Swartz Award for 2013: Congratulations, Andrea Scott, Assistant Professor at Pitzer College, whose article “Formulating a Thesis” was published in April 2013.

We are honored to carry on the tradition of publishing innovative creative writing webtexts with the publication of  “Dances with Dialogue: The Difficulty of Speaking” by the world-acclaimed playwright David Kranes.

For those of you who are considering writing for us, check out Jenna Pack’s reflections on her experience publishing at Writing Commons. Since “Breaking Down an Image” was published  in April 2012, it’s been viewed 11,396 times; her second webtext, “Using First Person in an Academic Essay: When is it Okay?” has been viewed 42,184  times!

Published Webtexts Continue reading

Impact, Open Education and the Aaron Swartz Award for Best Webtext

For those of interested in open education and alternative publishing methods for faculty, please see the January newsletter for Writing Commons (below).  Extending the argument I made in Open Textbook Publishing, this note reports our total count for online readers: 1,277,591 users! users for 2013.

Also, please vote for the Aaron Swartz Award for Best Webtext for 2013 published by Writing Commons.

Continue reading

Well played, McGraw Hill

In recent blogs and a brief article in Academe, Open Textbook Publishing, I argued that faculty are wise to embrace their power as authors in the digital age, that they no longer need to rely on publishers:

Thanks to inexpensive or free publishing tools and the ubiquitous nature of the web, the faculty can assume the traditional responsibilities of publishers. Faculty members can build massive, global communities around their pedagogical works by licensing them under an open-culture copyright license and by employing peer-review processes to vet publications.

Well, this week I must acknowledge a corollary to this observation: publishers no longer need academic institutions!

McGraw Hill has partnered with Straighterline.Com to offer Composition 1, Composition 2, and other general education courses that appear to be accredited and accepted by some colleges and universities.  Students can take composition for $69 without office hours and discussion forum.  If you want those frills the course is $119.  The catch is that you also need to pay $100/month to Straighterline.Com while taking courses and purchasing a McGraw Hill textbook.

I suppose I’m revealing my naiveté here.   I mean, I knew Pearson Education and the other publishers are funding the development of common core curriculum development, textbooks, assessment, and teacher training.  But it never occurred to me that the publishers could just form their own high schools, and colleges, and universities.

Big Data and Writing Studies

As writing in the twenty-first century increasingly takes place in digital spaces, where keystrokes are seamlessly translated into oceans of bytes, Writing Studies finds itself with a vast resource of data not previously imagined, explored, or applied: Big Data.

As an open and informal round-table style event founded in curiosity, we would like to invite you to come share, discuss, and ponder the promises, dangers, methods, and methodologies that Big Data and Learning Analytics hold for Writing Studies.

thumbnail[1]We welcome scholars from all corners of Writing Studies who are interested in the research or pedagogical possibilities and applications represented by Big Data and Learning Analytics.  Based on online reservations for this event (see Evenbrite), we’re looking forward to meeting colleagues who share our curiosity about the importance of big data to the development of reasoning, writing, and information literacy skills.  So far we have faculty visiting from throughout the United States as well as Kebbi State, Nigeria; Malmö University, Sweden; Cape Town, South Africa; and Tartu, Estonia.

For more information, visit http://toolsforwriters.com/.


Big Data from the University of South Florida

with Zachary Dixon

Recently, through the Brookings Institute, Darrell West and Joshua Blieberg wrote about the promise that “big data” holds to improve the feedback loop and the quality of student writing assessment. Equally important was West and Bleiberg’s recognition that “[r]eal world demonstrations of how big data would fit into the classroom environment have been far between,” and how the dearth of practical applications has ultimately limited the application of big data lessons to writing studies.

Acknowledging the same importance, and the same necessity for pragmatic investigation and application, faculty and graduate students at the University of South Florida have been active in researching the applications of our own big data set, which was generated from the use of My Reviewers, our web-based suite of tools designed for the collection and evaluation of student writing. Because our big data set is generated in real-time via My Reviewers, within the real-world context of student writing done in and for our FYC program, we believe that the hypotheses and conclusions drawn from that data set provide us with meaningful and actionable proof-points that help make our writing program more agentic and objective.

Below, we would like to share some of the recent research that has been generated out of and through our big data: Continue reading

Writing Commons October Update

Thanks to Aaron Barlow, Faculty Editor, and Academe  for publishing this account of the early history of Writing Commons:

Since this essay was printed, Writing Commons has continued to evolve. During September, traffic at Writing Commons hit new highs: over 194,870 users—i.e., 6495 visitors/day—visited 577,902 pages.  Overall, the server logged 5,553,512 hits. It’s amazing to us that in the last two months we had about 360,000 visitors.  We feel fortunate to be providing a free yet valued service to the open-education community.

Writing Commons_Sept_2013

In response to the September newsletter, I received a note from a reader who questioned whether our goal of being a global resource for writers suggests we seek to colonize Writing Studies, to presume that the U.S. model is the ideal model:

It is rather astonishing that even educators in the more dominant social and educational cultures don’t realize that even economically weak and sociopolitically less advanced communities around the world also have their own languages and communicative practices, their own unique conventions and needs for writing, their own local educational cultures, distinctive norms and values about what counts as knowledge, and unique standards and local expectations about how to write “well” (as they also have their own spiritual traditions in place). Continue reading

Writing Commons, Composition MOOCs, & the Traffic Report

As I mentioned in my last Academe blog post, we weren’t quite sure what to expect after Duke University adopted Writing Commons as its textbook for its MOOC, English Composition 1, Achieving Expertise. Always the optimist, I imagined 50,000 to 70,000 students all banging on the server door at the same time.  Plus, I anticipated additional traffic in April when the Ohio State University would begin its MOOC, Rhetorical Composing, and in May when the Georgia Institute of Technology would begin its MOOC, First-Year Composition 2.0.  Worried traffic would crash the server,  I wondered if I should upgrade the server package for Writing Commons.

At the same time, I worried that moving to a more expensive, commercial server package would undermine one of the arguments I’ve been making in this Academe blog: that university faculty no longer need publishers because they can reach massive audiences very inexpensively.  Over the past five or so years, I’ve been proud of the way Writing Commons reached thousands of users every day on a very inexpensive Go Daddy account–around $100/year.  Ultimately, my worry that too many users would bring the server down and embarrass the project motivated me to upgrade the server at Go Daddy.

Continue reading

Duke’s Composition MOOC & Writing Commons, First-Day Musings

Yesterday (3/18/13) at Writing Commons, the open-education home for writers, we had unprecedented interest in our project: 7,071 unique visitors came to our site!

What caused our readership to more than double in a day?

Professor Denise Comer’s team from Duke University launched its ground-breaking Composition MOOC, English Composition I: Achieving Expertise.  In case you missed the announcement, Duke’s MOOC is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by Coursera.  If you’re curious about MOOCs and composition, you can still enroll: https://www.coursera.org/course/composition.

Welcome Duke MOOC