Last week, I talked a little bit about Open Educational Resources (OERs) and some great websites that help provide these materials. Hopefully, you found some time over your holiday weekend to look through those sites and identify some sources that would be perfect for your classroom. I performed a similar search when I first heard about OERs. I looked through as many resources as I could for a College English or Introductory Composition course. To my pleasant surprise, there were tons of OER resources available to me. These OERs provided modern, peer-reviewed readings and lessons that you would normally find in a $75.00 textbook.
My favorite of all of these Composition sources is Writing Commons. Writing Commons is a “free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.” The Writing Commons website functions as a sort of comprehensive Composition textbook, including large sections on Information Literacy, Research Methods & Methodologies, Writing Processes, Collaboration, Genres, New Media, and Style (You can find a summary of all of these sections here). In theory, the same OER could be used by students from their first day in a college Composition classroom to their very last Composition elective. Most importantly, this OER would be free to students, and could help them avoid soaring textbook prices. Because most—if not all—Universities require students to complete at least one Composition course for their general education requirements, English departments could help students avoid pricey textbooks.
Because I’m so entrenched in Business Writing at the moment, I thought it was especially intriguing that this source included an entire area dedicated to Business Writing. This area contains important subsections or “chapters” that include learning outcomes, readings, and examples. It also includes important and relevant readings for Millennial students, like “Practicing Intercultural Communication” and “Diplomacy, Tone, and Emphasis in Business Writing.” After scrolling through the site’s content, it was easy to imagine assigning these readings to my own students.
So can a source like this be trusted? The short answer is yes. Every section and article found in Writing Commons is written by doctoral candidates or PhDs who have a passion for Composition and web-based publishing. The Executive Editor and Publisher of Writing Commons, Joseph M. Moxley, is a professor of English and director of composition at the University of South Florida. Every piece of content that is published on the site is peer-reviewed. The project was “awarded the Distinguished Book Awarded from Computers and Composition, an International Journal.” Additionally, readership for Writing Commons continues to steadily grow. At the end of 2013, the website had more than a million users visit the site and averaged about 5,000 users a day.
Writing Commons is a modern, user-friendly service that could help ease the rising cost of textbooks, but the absent price tag isn’t the only appealing part of the OER. Like I mentioned last week, this project is collaborative and reflects the modern academic themes of peer production, social media, and intellectual freedom. Let me leave you with one last thought from Writing Commons:
“Now, rather than viewing the textbook as my sole contribution, I view the work as a collaborative, global effort to develop the best possible resource to address students’ needs as researchers, citizens, and writers. As a university professor, I’m aware of the traditional publishing practices and some of the benefits they offer. Even so, it’s time for faculty to ask, ‘Why not? Why not plant a flag?’ You can start out small. In the beginning, you don’t need to commit to writing a massive text. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Try loading a small lesson at a public blog or wiki site, or better yet, begin by joining our community at Writing Commons! Together, by embracing peer production, social media, and intellectual freedom, we can extend our teaching, our professional lives, and our academic disciplines.”