Don’t we all like the word free? It’s one of my favorite four letter F words (along with food!). I heard about Writing Spaces from a professor years ago who was working on the first one. That was my first initiation into OER – open educational resources. She told me that Writing Spaces was an “open textbook”. Now, maybe not so admittedly, I am a computer nerd. So I was familiar with the term “open source” which is essentially the same thing as OER we’ve learned about but on a digital scale. Open source programs like Mozilla Firefox and the Linux operating system were known to me. However, an “open textbook” was a foreign concept. Well, come to find out, an open textbook is pretty much the same thing as an open source program. Volunteers worked to edit the book and “publish” it online. They even got a deal with a publishing house that will print individual copies of the book for people that want one. I had never thought that textbooks can be “open” (free). It goes against everything my campus bookstore had been cramming down my throat for years. Well, as most of us know by now, Writing Spaces isn’t the only open education resource; there are countless OER webpages and publications out in the interweb! However, I want to stick with Writing Spaces. I love this book. I used articles from both volumes in my WAC course plan. I also feel close to it because it was the first OER I ever knew about. So here we go.
Writing Spaces is a collection of textbooks (currently two) comprised of peer-reviewed articles that are composed by teachers for students. That means the essays aren’t dull. They’re lively and engaging. Most of the essays are on different topics. The teachers are writers and their prose invites students to become a writer as well. The tone of the articles is not that of usual textbooks which talk down to students. Writing Spaces essays are inviting and casual (one of the selling points of this book for me [no pun intended on “selling point”]). Writing Spaces is also published under a Creative Commons which means that anyone may download a copy of the entire book or an individual chapter for free. These copies can be used to offest other course readings or be the entire course reading. The Creative Commons license allows teachers to pass these resources along or use them without having to get copyright clearance. That idea is at the heart of OER: “take from the commons, give to the commons”. Information should be freely available which Writing Spaces is.
So just how much stuff is free? Well, Writing Spaces volumes one and two total 38 chapters and just over 650 pages (288 pages for Vol. 1 and 366 pages for Vol. 2). Those chapters range from topics on Wikipedia research (it isn’t as bad as your high school teacher made it out to be, I promis!), using sources, ethnography in writing, and writing technologies What that means is if you’re looking for a specific topic to discuss in class, Writing Spaces probably has something for you. I know there are a few professors on our campus that currently use essays from Writing Spaces in their classrooms. For my own class plan I made I used four essays from Writing Spaces. The course is based in internet usage, rhetorical velocity, writing, etc. One essay discusses collaborative writing technologies which students would be using in the class. I used another chapter to discuss the essentials of rhetorical argument (for an essay the class would do). I even used the Web Writing Style Guide in my “class”. The students would have a blog through the course and I was using the Web Writing Style Guide to teach them essential tools for blogging. That brings me to the next part of my writeup.
The Web Writing Style Guide is also a part of Writing Spaces. It’s an online page that takes you through various brief writeups on writing online. It covers visual design, typeface choice, internet manners, and using various, mysterious internet things (blogs, hyperlinks, hover-text, etc). This guide is also available in PDF and EPUB ereader formats. How cool is that? As stated, this resource is a crash course in internet rhetoric and writing styles. We used it in my current class when we started blogs. The guide is fantastic! In following with the rest of Writing Spaces documents, its writing style is very casual (you’ll even see the occasional “lol” in it) and easily approachable. Again, it isn’t boring and dry. The guide is witty; I’d venture to even say funny at times. Students won’t have any issue reading this; I know we didn’t.
Writing Spaces’ style is so awesome. I love how the articles are all accessible. I’ve yet to read any essay from the volumes that went over my head. You can pick up any essay (well, click PDF any of the essays I guess), read it, and have learned something new for the day. Writing Spaces is a fantastic example of what OER is and should be. A fantastic OER should be reliable, easy to access, and well maintained. Writing Spaces peer-reviews its essays and is constantly looking for new things it can put on the webpage. The OER movement was something I was unaware of until this class. Yes, I had heard about Writing Spaces, but how many people would want to give out free stuff? More than I thought apparently! My fellow classmates have covered other OER books, websites, and even an OER university! I’m happy to see so much progress being made on the front of free education and educational resources. Maybe the world isn’t so bad afterall. There are some charitable people still alive as is evidenced by OERs like Writing Spaces. I know I am going to use as many OERs as I can when I begin teaching. Paying tuition is hard enough without the added cost of textbooks (that you only get a fraction of the cost selling it back on). So, thank you OER, thank you Writing Spaces, thank you internet! Write on!