A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

unCommon News

A crowd-powered newsletter for a writing-centered community.

Issue 9, February, 2013

Hello Friends,

We hope 2013 is getting off to a terrific start for you—that your classes are going well (and that you're finding time to make some fun summer plans).

In the February 1, 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education, Alisha Azevedo's article, "Pay Nothing? Easier Said Than Done," describes some of the obstacles to publishing free textbooks.  Azevedo's report is chockful of reasons why open textbooks are likely to fail.  For example, she cites John Yoder, a professor at UC Davis: "I just don't know what the incentive will be for open-source books" (A 19).  And she quotes Mr. Baraniuk, from OpenStax College: "For the movement to hit mainstream, you have to look at open-access resources and say, 'This is just as good as expensive content offered by publishers.... We're not there yet'" (A 19).

In response, we respectfully suggest that Writing Commons provides a viable publication model for the open-text community.  After all, Writing Commons provides comparable content to competitors' expensive textbooks, including those published by Pearson, Macmillan/Bedford, and Cengage. 
Website traffic at Writing Commons continues to rise exponentially: for January we had 57,177 total users, 48,583 unique users, who viewed 101,039 pages. Remarkably, we have cracked the 3,000 user-a-day mark with 3,157 unique users! For writers seeking readers or teachers wanting to expand access to their pedagogical content, Writing Commons provides a viable model for publishing. We believe our publication model provides a way forward for academics who originally published traditional print books that have languished in the back pages of publishers' catalogs; clearly, Writing Commons exemplifies the power of gift culture, of open education.
In this month's newsletter we explore:
  • Recent Publications
  • Writing Program Profile: Winona State University's Literature/Language and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages MA program

  • The Traffic Report
  • Calls for Papers
  • Social Media


Recent Publications

We are pleased to announce the publication of three new Writing Commons webtexts:

If you know a writer and would like to interview him or her for Writing Commons, please query Jennifer Yirinec at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 


Writing Program Profile: Winona State University's Master of Arts in Literature/Language and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

At Writing Commons we celebrate the diversity of writing pedagogies and styles that allow our discipline to carry out the challenging task of improving student writing, reasoning, and information literacy. As part of our celebration, "unCommon News" profiles writing programs from around the United States, and hopefully soon the world, so that we can share the ideas, practices, and strengths from members of our community of writers. This month we are excited to profile theWinona State University's Master of Arts in Literature/Language and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Thank you very much to our supporter and friend, Liberty Kohn, for his willingness to share.
Located in Southeastern Minnesota's beautiful Mississippi Valley, Winona State University's English Department offers Masters of Arts degrees in Literature and Language and TESOL. The university has received U.S. News and World Reports's "Best in the Midwest" ranking for the last eight years. Our graduate TESOL program recruits internationally and has recently graduated students from China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Turkey, Germany and Tunisia, making graduate studies at Winona State an intimate, diversity-filled experience. Graduates of our programs are currently teaching in post-secondary institutions in the US, Taiwan, Korea, Turkey, and China. 

Winona State's programs are small enough to offer graduate students individual attention and guidance, yet large enough to provide graduate students with community during their graduate studies. Winona State graduate students also have professional opportunities, which include assisting faculty in undergraduate assessment and student life activities. Graduate students also organize our annual Life and Work of the Scholar Symposium. The symposium is an opportunity for graduate student to present their research, share their work with a community of scholars, and spend a day with an established keynote writer or scholar of the graduate student's own choosing. 

If you would like Writing Commons to profile your writing program, please send a description of it to Zack Dixon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We're particularly eager to hear how your program uses Writing Commons.

The Traffic Report



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In February, we were happy to see the continued steady progression in terms of the numbers of readers accessing Writing Commons.Reaching additional students each month is inspiring and fulfilling.  But the more remarkable part of our story is our emerging, global reach.

Open educational resources (OERs) such as Writing Commons provide all people—not just college students—with the opportunity and tools to self-learn and enhance their writing and communication skills. Writing Commons has a global reach to countries with different standards in their educational systems. Users of Writing Commons have come from Philippines, Nigeria, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Indonesia, where structural violence inhibits education and contributes to poverty and inequality. In our opinion, Writing Commons and other OERs have a social responsibility to create and disseminate knowledge for all. Knowledge is power, and we believe that this power should not be exclusive to the privileged—those who won the lottery at birth.

Empowerment through knowledge cultivated via OERs is transforming access to education.  Prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT have joined together to create edX, which provides free access to online courses anywhere in the world. Following the same platform, Stanford has launched Class2Go, online courses with global-wide access. The power behind OERs stems from higher education settings--university leaders who embrace service as more than a platitude--and foundations like the Hewlett Foundation or The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here at Writing Commons we are receiving global users on a daily basis. Using Google Analytics, we can track which countries users are from, what pages they are using, and how long they are staying on the site/page. Given that almost half of our users are globally located (Figure 1), this knowledge allows us to tailor and better suit our users’ needs. This is the beauty of OERs: they are not static resources. We can start to ask, what pages do users in Maharashtra, India, or users in Manila, Philippines, frequently view? For example, our data has shown that since January 8, 2012, users in Manila have visited “Literary Criticism” 812 times, “Autobiography” 1,043 times, and “Causes and Effects” 491 times. While our 3,000% increase in readers over a year may seem unusually fortuitous, we suspect our good success isn’t unusual: open education materials are highly sought after by a global audience of DIY (Do It Yourself) students who often lack access to formal education. As Yochai Benkler and others have argued, open education resources are nonrival goods. When we share our pedagogical materials, we don’t lose them!  In brief, we have everything to gain by sharing our expertise.

 Calls for Papers

Writing Commons, a refereed, OER, provides you the opportunity to publish your work in a manner that potentially reaches millions of users. 

You can find the most up-to-date submission information and Requests For Papers (RFPs) at our Contribute page. Our past RFPs have focused on academic arguments, information literacy, creative writing, and professional and technical writing. Ultimately, we challenge you to work with us to reimagine the genre of the textbook.  We seek new and interesting articles and chapters to expand the breadth and depth of what we can offer our global community of writers.

Social Media

Keep up with Writing Commons using your favorite social networking sites.

Writing Commons has its own Facebook page, where we keep our status and postings relevant to the latest site information as well as news about the greater Open Education Resource community.

And 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 an argument, again?" Each tweet is hyperlinked to our Writing Commons blog, where Writing Commons staff members provide succinct, accessible answers and helpful examples.

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