commontext: freely shared classroom texts

Noting similarities to the project I proposed, Dennis G. Jerz draws our attention to the Commontext Library:

Commontext is a completely new concept: a publisher of freely shared classroom texts. Its goal is to allow unrestricted, free access to a vast collection of learning materials produced at the highest level of excellence, including academic peer review and fact checking, and professional editing and proofreading.

Read the FAQ, which states that “‘beta’ phase” materials were to be available in Fall 2003, with “[f]inal, professional-quality course materials” available in Fall 2004. On first blush, however, there doesn’t seem to be much content available. I also don’t find the site very intuitive to navigate. Put yourself in the shoes of a non-expert web user: how easy would it be to find the information you’re looking for?

It appears that the site runs on Drupal, “an open-source platform and content management system for building dynamic web sites.”

How is Commontext different from what I’m proposing? Well, I don’t really know, but I would return to these questions:

  • What have you created that you’d like to share with others?
  • What have you found on the web that has been most useful in your teaching?
  • What have you not found that you wish were out there? What’s on your wish list?

The answers to these questions would be a good starting point for this project. A user-friendly website that would allow users to act in response to these questions easily is what I’m imagining.

A couple of distinctions might be helpful here. On the one hand, I’m imagining contributors might share things like handouts, assignments, exercises, and syllabi. Feedback and refinement would ideally make these materials better. But on the other hand, contributors could also collaborate on building web-based resources like the ones that were mentioned before (e.g. Guide to Grammar and Style, Glossary of Literary and Rhetorical Terms, Guide to Literary and Critical Theory). In addition, discussions of how to use these materials would be useful. A site that facilitates all of these things is what I’m thinking of.

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6 thoughts on “commontext: freely shared classroom texts

  1. Blogging and Peer Review

    Brian Weatherson comments on Brian Leiter’s recent posts on whether or not academics should receive scholarly credit for writing in their blogs. Both Weatherson and Leiter agree that blogs can count as service, an opinion I certainly share. In fact,…

  2. I thought it went very smoothly. It was the perfect project to work on in snatches — fifteen minutes when a student doesn’t show up for an appointment, 20 minutes when I wake up before the alarm clock goes off, etc. And the content supplied by other contributors was extremely good — far better than I could have come up with myself, even if I’d had the time to resarch. The text still needs a full-out line edit for continuity, of course.
    Given the subject matter, many of the people who contirubted are themselves interactive fiction programmers, or at least geeky enough to want to muck around with a command-line interface. So perhaps the type of person who wanted to contribute to a glossary of interactive fiction might tolerate more computer geekiness than the type of person who might want grammar/rhetoric/lit crit issues.
    By the way, back in 1996/7, I and a fellow grad student worked on webbifying a glossary of critical theory. This one, too, hasn’t been updated in a long time, but the authors already agreed to let it go online once, they might be willing to do so again.
    I wasn’t responsible for any of the content; I just wrote a program to automate the idexing and such. If there is sufficient interest, I could approach the site director (Ian Lancashire).

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