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.

unCommon News

A crowd-powered newsletter for a writing-centered community

January, 2014

Dear Friends,

It’s 2014! Writing Commons is ringing in the year with a fresh start and redesigned website.

Thanks to Alston Chapman, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), we are now sporting the latest version of Joomla, which helps protect us from spammers.  Working out of L.A., California, Alston runs a graphic design company specializing in web and print design. In addition to improving navigation so that it is more intuitive and easier to use, we focused on redesigning for the cell-phone as the end-user platform. We thought this made sense in light of a recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found that “63% of adult cell owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since we first started tracking internet usage on cell phones in 2009” (Dugan 2013). Plus, for some of our readers the cell phone is their only way to access the internet.  For 2014, we hope our website redesign, new content, and improved navigational features will enable students and teachers to better locate the content they need to realize their goals as writers, researchers, and citizens.

A peer-produced, gift project, Writing Commons seeks to celebrate the works of its authors, editors, and staff.  To realize our mission—to be a free resource that is comprehensive enough to serve as the required textbook for any college-level writing course—we invite each and every one of you to contribute to our effort. If you have an idea about improving our commons, we hope  you will share it with us.
Aaron Swartz, internet activistDuring January we invite you to vote on the Aaron Swartz Award for the Best Writing Commons Webtext in 2013.  During December, 2013, the Writing Commons staff independently voted on the top 10 webtexts published last year.  Subsequently, the Editorial Board and Review Board voted on these 10 finalists, whittling down the top 10 nominations to a list of 5 finalists for 2013.  Now, we invite you to vote on this award before 1/31/14. To learn more about Aaron Swartz’s legacy, check out this article published on Academe written by Rebecca Gould:

We decided to call this annual award the Aaron Swartz Award in recognition of Aaron’s dedication to open education.  As you may recall, Aaron tragically lost his life last January.  He played a role in developing RSS, Creative Commons, and Reddit, and he passionately believed that academic research should be shared freely as opposed to locked behind paywalls. As the free, open-education home for writers, we are inspired by the idea of the commons, the notion that crowds of people can share their creative talents without even knowing one another. While we are slightly more centralized than a true commons-based project, as Yochai Benkler envisaged the concept back in 2002, we are nonetheless a globally distributed and diverse group of faculty teaching a vast array of courses.

Finally, I’m sad and yet happy to announce that after working with us for 5.5 years, Katelin Kaiser has completed her M.A. in medical ethics and is now moving on to dreamland (i.e., North Carolina).  Without Katelin’s considerable work on our commons, we’d still be a wild, cluttered wilderness.  Thank you, Katelin!  You will be greatly missed!

Best wishes to you all for a healthy and happy new year.

Joe Moxley,
Executive Editor and Publisher
Professor of English, University of South Florida

Overview of Peer Review Process

Recently, the reliability of open-education resources has been called into question. John Bohannon of Science magazine conducted an experiment where he sent out weak scientific studies to several open-education journals. While many of these OER scientific journals rejected this piece, “more than half of the journals accepted the paper,” according to Bohannon. Obviously, this information does not speak well for the reliability of open-education resources. But just as Bohannon revealed that many journals were all too accepting, he indirectly revealed the rigor of a minority of open journals.

At Writing Commons, we have a careful process for reviewing pieces. Webtexts are reviewed by multiple review editors and go through three stages of review. First, our internal reviewers look at the piece to see if it might be appropriate. Second, our webtexts are sent to external review editors through a blind-review process. Review editors have the opportunity to accept, reject, or call for more revisions to a piece. Finally, if a piece is accepted, we have our staff edit for style and clarity. In terms of format and design, we work with authors to create the best format possible.  If you prefer, HTML coding can be handled by our staff.

You can find the most up-to-date submission information and Calls for Papers (CFPs) at our Contribute page. We seek new and interesting webtexts to expand the breadth and depth of what we can offer our global community of writers. Our past CFPs have focused on information literacyprofessional and technical writing, and creative writing.  If you have an idea for a webtext submission, please contact me:

Quentin Vieregge, Managing Editor
Assistant Professor, UW-Barron County

In the News: Big Data and Writing Studies Colloquium, Tampa 2014

Big Data and Writing Programs thumbnail

Location: University of South Florida (Tampa)

Date: January 24, 2014

Price: free

We are looking forward to our first (free) colloquium: Big Data and Writing Studies, on 1/24/14, which we’re co-sponsoring with the USF’s English Graduate Student Association.  

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

End-of-the-Year Wrap-Up: Traffic Report

During December, 2013, we had 82,141 total visitors, accessing 131,504 pages. For the year, we had a whopping 1,277,591 users!  While we hope to double our readership next year, we also seek to motivate our readers to stay around longer once they land on our pages.  After all, many of our readers zip in and then zip out.  While we realize multitasking is the sine qua non of internet reading, we hope our redesigned site and improved navigation will entice our readers to hang around longer!


Invitation to Participate: Use My Reviewers for free during the Spring 2014 Semester

At the University of South Florida we have been working on developing new social tools to improve the process of giving feedback on student papers, conducting peer reviews, and assessing writing programs.  Since 2009, myreviewerslogoapproximately 300 teachers and 20,000 students have assessed approximately 140,000 essays.  Last semester, Malmö University (Sweden) was the first university beyond USF to pilot the software.  This spring, a dozen colleges and universities are using the software for free.

To join the free, spring pilot register here:

Social Media

Visit us at our Facebook page. View newsfeeds regarding Writing Commons and updates about open education.

Don’t forget to connect with Writing Commons on Twitter using @writingcommons and #writingcommons. Writing Commons’ tweets consist of answers to students’ most common writing questions, such as “What’s a paragraph supposed to have?” and “What’s Rogerian argument?” Each tweet is hyperlinked to our Writing Commons blog where Writing Commons staff members provide succinct, accessible answers and helpful examples.


Benkler, Y. (2002). Coase’s penguin, or Linux and the nature of the firm. Yale Law Journal 112(3), 369-446. In-text citation: (Benkler, 2002)

Bohannon, J. (2013). Who’s afraid of peer review? Science 342, 60-65. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.60 In-text citation: (Bohannon, 2013)

Duggan, M., & Smith. A. (2013). Cell internet use 2013. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project:

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