Here’s a visual representation of some of our work related to big data and writing studies, which is based on our observations of teachers’ comments on approximately 120,000 student essays over the past three years:
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
Thanks to Aaron Barlow, Faculty Editor, and Academe for publishing this account of the early history of Writing Commons:
- “Open Textbook Publishing.” Academe. (Sept/Oct 2013): 40-43 < http://www.aaup.org/article/open-textbook-publishing#.UkXER1Oi9GY>
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.
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
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.
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.
In past blogs, I’ve chronicled the development of Writing Commons, the Open Education Home for Writers, with hopes that my experiences developing an Open Education Resource (OER) might be of interest to faculty across the disciplines. I’ve argued that faculty might want to consider contributing to Writing Commons or other OERs that are peer-reviewed, that faculty might want to develop their own OERs and try to grow communities around their projects. And I’ve argued that CC 3.0 NC ND is a viable copyright license for faculty who are re-purposing a textbook.
Although I’ve been working on Writing Commons for over a decade, I assumed I’d need another ten or twenty years before the project became widely used. Instead, I feel like a NASA engineer whose rocket is going to blast off from Cape Canaveral. Why? This past week I learned that Duke University has adopted Writing Commons for its upcoming MOOC, which is funded by the Gates Foundation. By 3/18, we can expect an additional 50,000 to 75,000 students to come banging on our door. Now it may be true some of these students may not stick around for the full MOOC but we certainly want to make them feel as welcome as possible.
with Katelin Kaiser
In past blogs, I’ve argued academics, particularly tenured faculty, should consider self-publishing their pedagogical materials. Today I wish to further explore the benefits of open textbook publishing. For this blog I’m joined by Katelin Kaiser, a graduate student in Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of South Florida College of Medicine as well as one of the editors at Writing Commons.
Clearly, for academics there are meaningful obstacles to self-publishing OERs (Open Education Resources), including open textbooks or open courseware. First despite counter arguments such as Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered, Salary, Tenure, and Promotion Committees still prize the scholarship of discovery over the scholarship of application or teaching. Traditionally, hiring, tenure, and promotion are driven by obsolete notions of scarcity: academics relinquish copyright to distinguished university presses or journals in exchange for academic rewards, not worrying that forevermore their work will be locked behind passwords, controlled by powerful knowledge management companies such as Elsevier.
Thus far, 2013 has been a tough year for open-education advocates.
As Flat World Knowledge promised at the tail-end of 2012, the publisher no longer provides a CC 3.0 NC SA version of its textbooks for students. In response, Leslie Scott endeavored to defend the commons by crowd-sourcing an effort to harvest Flat World Knowledge’s catalog (see “All I want for Christmas”). Working independently, the Saylor Foundation harvested all of the FWK texts. Over at Writing Commons, we also published a few of these works, particularly the business writing and public speaking materials. Open-education enthuasists may take some solace in the pre-2013 harvesting of Flat World’s catalog, yet the days ahead are sobering for students and faculty who seek free textbooks.
While Flat World’s embrace of traditional publishers’ commercial practices may be somewhat dispiriting, if understandable (there are, after all, meaningful questions about the role of self-interest in open education), the suicide of Aaron Swartz is devastating. As Lawrence Lessig writes in his blog, “the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way.” Given JSTOR didn’t seek criminal prosecution after Aaron returned his illegal download of JSTOR’S catalog of academic articles, you’ve got to wonder what motivated the U.S. Attorney’s office to prosecute him. After all, Aaron Swartz’ contributions to digital culture are remarkable: he was one of the co-architects of .rss and co-founder of Reddit.
Back in the days when it was expensive to publish and disseminate scholarly works, the work of publishers and abstracting services was bounded by significant costs. But now, nonrival goods like academic articles should be open and free. As academics, we really need to focus on open-access publishing alternatives. Meanwhile, Aaron’s friends and family are working with Representative Zoe Lofgren to introduce “Aaron’s Law,” which would at the very least result in a review of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
You can visit Demand Progress’ website to click on a form that will send a letter in support of Aaron’s Law:
Various talented folks and communities (e.g., the Open Knowledge Foundation and QuestionCopyright.org) believe Creative Commons should retire its NC ND clauses. Students for Free Culture argue the NC clause is “completely antithetical to free culture (it retains a commercial monopoly on the work).” Timothy Vollmer asserts the NC ND clauses should be renamed ““Commercial Rights Reserved” because this license fails to “provide for all of [these] freedoms:
- “the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
- the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
- the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works”
Clearly, adopting an NC or ND clause is less free than adopting a CC 3.0 SA license, which permits, for example, users to benefit commercially or produce derivative works. However, this doesn’t mean a CC 3.0 NC ND is not a free license. In fact, rather than retiring the CC 3.0 NC ND, I think Creative Commons should affirm these clauses for academics. There are a good many situations where CC 3.0 NC ND is an ideal license.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been getting a lot of attention lately. The idea of free access to higher education via online classes challenges our traditional assumptions about good undergraduate pedagogy–that small class sizes and significant face-to-face time with professors are crucial to learning. As a parent with two kids at private universities, I find the idea of a quality, free education particularly appealing.
In its November 13th press release, Gates announced awards of 12 grants for a total of 3 million dollars to develop MOOCs for a variety of courses–from developmental math to English Composition. Given my commitment to developing Writing Commons, http://writingcommons.org, so that it’s the go-to site for any college student with a writing question, you can imagine how keen I am on the idea of using Writing Commons for MOOC-orientated writing courses. That said, to be qualified for Gates’ funding for MOOCs, applicants had to convince a university to write a letter of support for the project. In my case, for good reasons, this proved impossible. After all, the worry goes, if you argue that composition can truly be taught to several hundred thousand students at a time, well, then, how do you defend the idea of small class sizes for writing courses? Wouldn’t successful MOOCs undermine undergraduate education–especially in states with governors who are antagonistic toward education, in states where the bottom line provides the lens for judging success in higher education–the cheaper the degree (say a $10,000 community college degree) the better?