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.

As it turned out, however, I probably could have stayed on the old server.  Ultimately, we never had 50,000 people rush the server at one time.  Instead, the global audience for the MOOC came and went throughout the month of March, resulting in our highest visitor rate yet: 99,371 total visitors in March!  On 3/18/13, we hosted 7,031 users, which is an exciting new benchmark for us.  We remain committed to playing the believing game.

WC April_Numbers

So, where are we?  Well, while publication costs are no longer coffee money (it’s about $700 a year),  the Writing Commons story still does affirm our open-education approach: faculty are empowered with amazing new tools that help facilitate a global, social pedagogy. As an academic, you can freely share your pedagogical materials and help not only your students but students in other courses around the world.

While it’s certainly rewarding to see visitors consulting our site at any given moment, another measure of success is the time our readers spend on each page.  By that measure, we could do better, given most visitors stayed on each page less than several minutes.  Then again, maybe that’s how people read these days—skim a page, move on, and come back (perhaps).  Everybody is multitasking!  That said, when a visitor bounces (that is, when a user consults a single page at Writing Commons rather than multiple pages) our analytics program counts that visitor’s time as zero seconds, so using time on a page as a measure of engagement is somewhat problematic. Plus, we have no way of measuring how long a visitor remains on the last page s/he consults. As an alternative measure of engagement, we could consider the total number of pages consulted.  By that lens, we had a terrific month with 236,112 pages consulted.

Lastly, I’d like to mention that in March we published two new webtexts:

By the way, we are currently working on preparing for the next group of MOOC students who will be using Writing Commons: The Ohio State University.  More on that shortly . . .

7 thoughts on “Writing Commons, Composition MOOCs, & the Traffic Report

  1. Without the number of students registered in the courses, it is hard to interpret these numbers, but it sounds like you’re saying that so few students do the assigned reading that hardly any resources are needed to provide them with the material electronically. There are several interpretations of this:
    MOOC students aren’t taking the class seriously
    The readings are irrelevant to the class
    Students in general don’t do the readings

    Incidentally, you should read Tufte or Doumont’s books on how to display information in graphs—your graph violates almost all the principles of proper information display and looks like a 6th-grade science fair project. (A proper college writing course would, of course, include information about how to display numeric information properly—though almost none of them do, thanks to outsourcing writing instruction to mostly innumerate literature PhDs.)

    • gasstationwithoutpumps… I’m not sure why you are scolding Moxley. His graph works fine to convey the information he intends to convey. All of us can be nit-picked to death… even you (on your own blog, for example, you seem to think “none” is a plural… and you write redundantly of “ludicrous nonsense”).

      I often appreciate what you write on your blog and in the comments here. And I try to stick with that even when I disagree. If you are willing to do that, too–at least in the comments here–I promise not to look for any more of your own little “mistakes” (after all, we all make them).

      • I’d be glad to have you point out writing problems in the comments on my blog. Whether “none” is singular or plural is a grammatical point that I think is open to debate (see, for example, Geoffrey Pullum’s commentary in http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497 ). I also see a difference between simple “nonsense” and “ludicrous nonsense”, though I may overuse the more extreme phrase. (A better criticism of my writing is that I overuse parentheses.)

        The graph here has several beginner mistakes including color coding that carries no meaning and fake 3d (beveled edges on a bar graph). A more advanced critique would suggest a log scale for the number of visitors, so that growth rates can be observed more directly as the slope of the curve, and that time series are more properly done as line graphs than as bar charts. These ideas are as fundamental to drawing graphs as topic sentences are to paragraph construction.

        “Working to convey information” is the lowest bar that a communication has to pass. I expect more of my students than that, both in writing and in graphics.

        My other complaint was that the number of visitors to the site was not as informative as it could have been. Providing us with the number of students in the MOOCs that were contributing to the visits would have helped others figure out how many visits to on-line texts to expect from other courses that were different sizes. This is not information that was needed to make Moxley’s point, but it would have added value.

    • Hi! Thanks for your comments!
      Writing Commons is a supplemental text for the Duke MOOC so it’s not a true measure of student engagement in that MOOC. That said, we’ve been happy to see our traffic increase about 1,000 students a day–which, as Macklemore would say is “Not bad!” My guess is there are some folks learning quite a bit from the MOOC and it’s certainly a wonderful celebration of literacy.

      FYI, we do have some webtexts on table design and visual rhetoric at Writing Commons. See, e.g.,

      Please feel free to add your expertise in this area by submitting a webtext.

  2. It is truly a shame that some people seek only the negatives in the works of others. Joe Moxley’s chart highlights that his website has grown exponentially over the past year. This is a major accomplishment that should be lauded. Regardless of whether or not students stay on his website for extended periods of time, at least they are aware that a website exists to supplement their composition courses.

    Keep up the great work in the name of open education!

  3. I admit that I don’t remember much about 6th grade Science, but I do remember something I learned in 8th grade English when we had to participate in a debate: it’s far easier to deconstruct the argument of another than to contribute your own. I still catch myself fighting that default when I notice that I want to participate but fear I have nothing to valuable to say.

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