A Free Composition Textbook

I recently posted a question on TechRhet about free rhetoric and composition textbooks, but much to my dismay, no one responded! Is it because there are no such books, or just (probably more likely) that my message slipped under the radar?

Anyway, here's the deal. I've been researching how to build these books collaboratively now for about three months. I've studied successful projects and think I know where things tend to go wrong and how to keep a project moving forward. I know that Dave Munger had been working on free books before, but I haven't heard any updates on that project yet. I talked to Jimmy Beavis (founder of Wikipedia) and he's keen on the idea, plus I investigated a site called Wiki Books that has some great models (though the books there are mostly scientific or mathematical).

Here's the draft of the email I was getting geared up to send to techrhet, but now will post here instead:

Dear Colleagues:

I am wondering if anyone here would be interested in working to build a free composition textbook for use in first-year writing programs. This book would be collaboratively written in a WIKI environment and released under a CC license. When the book was nearing a 1.0 stage, a core of editors would assemble it into a variety of formats, including .pdf, and set up a print-on-demand service (at cost) for students and teachers who preferred printed and bound versions. I have in mind not a "totally open wiki," but a wiki whose members held MAs or PhDs in rhetoric and composition or a related discipline (potential members could easily be screened). Anyone would be able to submit possible changes, but they must be approved by this core of experts. Anyone who made significant changes that were accepted would be listed as an author. Small changes would win their authors a mention on the acknowledgments page. There would be a "developer's version" and a "stable version," the latter of which would be "locked" and not changed, but updated in subsequent versions.

We could see that the book was properly peer-reviewed and attempt to secure whatever endorsements were necessary to ensure the book could be "legitimately" used by instructors and professors of composition. Furthermore, the users of the book (including the students) would be encouraged to submit changes, additions, alternatives, and examples to the site for consideration. Where possible, terms, links, and figures in the book would be cross-referenced with entries in the Wikipedia, whose founder, Jimmy Wales, has expressed interest in this project. Any readings in the book would either be in the public domain or released under a creative commons license.

In the end, we could offer students a wonderful textbook for little to no money, and set a powerful example for other disciplines. Most every university requires a composition course and requisite textbooks. The costs we could save students and tax-payers is in the millions of dollars.

I am aware that various persons have started projects similar to this one, but it seems to me that these projects have failed to reach critical mass.

Is anyone here remotely interested in joining a project like this? I understand that it would require a huge investment of a very few people at first. People won't tend to jump in and collaborate until the project is obviously nearing completion. However, I think if we could get, say, three people to work on organization and structure, and maybe add two or three to help with material, this thing could be wrapped up in a matter of months. It shouldn't be hard to get reviewers and a publisher lined up to do print-on-demand.

I feel that this would be a very solid contribution to the field and all those poor students who can't afford to pay some commercial publisher's copyrighted work.

Comments

First let me say that I am in favor of open content texts for education and would be interested in participating. However, I have a few reservations:

  • As much as free software people like the term "free," calling the project CC licensed or open content texts is probably better.
  • I think that a textbook is less likely to succeed than creating individual essays for use in composition. A textbook requires some unity in vision and is more of a massive undertaking. Creating individual essays allows contributors to scratch their own itch in creating a text which might not fit with the vision of a coherent textbook. This approach coincides with the principle of modulartiy that is part of the open source development process. It also allows for incremental updating and editing of the collection of texts more easily (one need not have to revise the whole textbook to get a new edition), and the project will likely see some useful releases quicker up front.
  • Next, and while I see wikis as particularly useful for somethings, let me admit that the following has an obvious bias: my familiarity with and use of Drupal and my interest in creating an open source course management platform which includes content integration. With that in mind, I see particular problems with the use of a wiki:
    • Such a text needs to be hierarchical so that it can be printed out easily. Drupal's collab book structure facilitates this more so than building with a wiki.
    • Drupal's collab book structure has a printer-friendly version which has an accompanying style sheet. No need to create print friendly versions as a separate entity.
    • Drupal has a node_import module which would allow teachers to easily pull their choice of texts into a Drupal site.
    • Commenting attached to Drupal book pages, IMHO, could be an easier development method for such a text because one can allow respondents to come in and attach comments while limiting access to editing the actual text (something some authors might favor).

Let me finish by noting that these are issues important to me, and I am not intending to start a mega "Wiki is better than Drupal" debate. Rather, these are concerns that I would want addressed if I was engaged in such a project.

Q: Hey, Cel, I'm in need of a blog for use in my classroom...

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: I'm thinking about starting an online journal--any ideas?

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: What'd be the best way to get a collaborative book going?

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: I've just been put in charge of running a huge writing program and need a tool that pretty much does everything they're doing at TTU..

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: Yesterday I was at McDonalds and ordered a #2 with no pickles, but the damn thing had pickles. Why can't they get an order right??

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: I never really wanted to be a compositionist, grading boring papers, yawning over esoteric gobbledygook...I always wanted to be a lumberjack! How do I get started in timber?

A: Well, Drupal...

Q: I've been thinking. What if there is no God? What if there is? Is there a point to my existence...A purpose for my life?

A: Well, Drupal...

:-P

Q: Hey, Matt, I'm in need of a blog for use in my classroom...

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: I'm thinking about starting an online journal--any ideas?

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: What'd be the best way to get a collaborative book going?

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: I've just been put in charge of running a huge writing program and need a tool that pretty much does everything they're doing at TTU..

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: Yesterday I was at McDonalds and ordered a #2 with no pickles, but the damn thing had pickles. Why can't they get an order right??

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: I never really wanted to be a compositionist, grading boring papers, yawning over esoteric gobbledygook...I always wanted to be a lumberjack! How do I get started in timber?

A: Well, a wiki...

Q: I've been thinking. What if there is no God? What if there is? Is there a point to my existence...A purpose for my life?

A: Well, a wiki...

;)

So, the question is, what is Clancy's schtick?

Weird...I was just listening to the Beatles' Rocky Raccoon.

"So, the question is, what is Clancy's schtick?"

You need me to spell it out for you? B . . L . . O . . G

LOL

Wow...So, basically no one is interested in collaborating on anything in this field. I'm beginning to think this is part of a more general lack of interest in collaboration all across the field. I've been reading a lot of Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede lately, and they make this observation many times. We don't want to collaborate, period.

I'm not surprised, then, that blogs have been widely accepted in composition whereas wikis have not. After all, blogs allow students to continue to claim private ownership of their text and collaborate only superficially. Wikis, which are fundamentally collaborative and de-centralized by design, naturally fall by the wayside. In a field where copyright and "intellectual property" are mostly uncritically accepted and incorporated into "plagiarism policy," it's really not shocking that the idea of a free composition textbook meets with no fanfare. It's the proverbial text falling in the forest with no one around to cite it.

I've witnessed great resistance on the part of the graduate assistants here at USF towards collaboration. Despite every effort to encourage the GTAs to collaborate on assignments and course materials, everyone is still isolated--and communication, where it exists, is mostly negative.

I'm not sure what to do now that I've had a taste of just how anti-collaborative this field really is. Am I in the wrong field? Should I just abandon all this? Or perhaps I might keep evangelicizing about collaboration and why it's so wonderful. There has to be a few people out there that can see the benefit of having a free, peer-reviewed composition textbook in the world, even if they are unwilling to contribute precious time to helping get one started.

Seems a far reach to assume that the field doesn't want to collaborate just because there was no interest posted to this thread. Perhaps part of the problem is that your views on collaboration and how it should be accomplished might be different from others, and even others have no idea how such a project might work. For example, I offered above the opening for a serious discussion about the best method of implementing such a project which--and I didn't take it personally--you took only as an opportunity for jest. I have no doubt that people in composition are interested in having texts made available online. But perhaps they need to know more about how the project would be managed, how exactly it would be published, etc. And maybe even then, perhaps it's not that they are uninterested in such a project. They just may not have the time.

Meanwhile, how does the comment that you have posted contribute to encouraging people to participate in what might be seen as an experimental, cutting edge project? Rather than flaming the entire discipline, an extended proprosal of how such a project might work would, IMHO, be a better approach. Of course that depends upon whether it's the "wiki is the only way" approach, or one that takes into account the best project management process. This is not to say that wikis might not be an effective means for managing such a project, merely that because wikis are "fundamentally collaborative and de-centralized by design" is not justification enough.

I can see your point, Charlie. Actually, my fear was that we'd get bogged down in a discussion of technicalities before anyone had really gotten a chance to say, "Well, regardless of the particulars, it's a great idea." Instead, no one is expressing interest. It's not, "No, that's a sucky idea, forget it," it's just nothing. Silence.

I know that a truism of free software development is that nobody wants to get involved during the start of a project, nor a midpoint. Really, you don't start getting collaborators until the project is well under way and can demonstrate that it has real potential--basically, a few steps beyond an early prototype. I can appreciate this. I'd hate to spend countless hours working on a project of this scale just to see the guys who started it walk off and forget it. Something like this would take time and pretty consistent work over a long period. It's rather like someone dropping by asking you to help build a house for the poor, and someone asking you to help finish the roof. Even people who really want to help the poor might not leap at something that looks so vague and indistinct. They want to make sure their time and energy count.

I bet that if we had a really good book forming here, it wouldn't matter to people if it was a drupal collaborative book or a wiki--as long as the could see quality and see that the project was very likely to actually take off. Maybe the right thing to do would just be to shelve this thing until I actually have time to undertake most of it myself. Maybe it isn't even important that it be collaborative, as long as it's free. I don't know. I just wish that I could feel like I was part of a team and not just a lone dude banging heads when he ought to be shaking hands.

You can still query techrhet, but try a different apporach that solicits:

1) Interest in an online, CC licensed textbook (although I still think a collection of essays is more pragmatic).
2) Asks if anyone is interested in planning out a proposal for how a project might be managed and implemented--wiki, CMS, email, whatever.
3) Look to address concerns about project management first--peer review process, community/project organizational structure, formats of text to be produced, etc.--rather than picking the platform. In other words, what is important here first is not the tool used to collaborate and publish the text, but rather working out the overall goals and *then* figuring out the best project implementation solution.

And yes, one starts an open source project (whether one individual or a group), with the understanding that people don't typically join in until content is being released. And maybe not even then. The advice I have read is you have to be willing to do it yourself.

That definitely sounds more sensible than what I was attempting, Charlie. One of the biggest mistakes I've made with collaborative projects in the past was surging ahead before everyone was clear on goals. One thing I could see happening with a project like this is a violent conflict involving theory at a late stage of the project (i.e., "This is current-traditional, everything must be changed to reflect ____insert hip new comp theory here____." Clearly, we'd need to address these important concerns well before anyone actually started writing.

As I said earlier, I do not have the time to get involved in a project like this now. I'm insanely overloaded as it is. My only interest at this point is whether other people are interested in a project like this. It's been on my mental backburner for months now, but I can't get free enough from other obligations to really start work on it.

Maybe what I can do if I get a job is to set some of the students to work building the kernel. I could definitely see something like this working if I were selected to administer a writing program.

Perhaps there are those who, in theory, value collaboration, but who have in practice had a lot of bad experiences collaborating with others on projects. I'm sure most of us have, at least once, had to scramble and pick up others' slack when they dropped the ball...maybe some have had to do this many times and end up doing most of the work, resentment builds, etc. People might shy away from future collaborative projects based on past experience. Also, you've made an excellent point here, Matt:

One thing I could see happening with a project like this is a violent conflict involving theory at a late stage of the project (i.e., "This is current-traditional, everything must be changed to reflect ____insert hip new comp theory here____." Clearly, we'd need to address these important concerns well before anyone actually started writing.

Yes, yes, yes. There are major theoretical differences to consider, but I think too that there are more fundamental questions. You call this book "a free composition textbook for use in first-year writing programs." Is it a rhetoric? A handbook? A reader? (Actually, it would be cool to take advantage of all the great essays on all those CC-licensed blogs and put together a free online reader!) We don't know. Maybe some of us would be more interested in contributing to a handbook, some more interested in contributing to a rhetoric. Right now we don't know, but in saying that I realize people could have at least asked these questions had they been interested in the general idea. Realistically, I think the best way to make this happen would be to decide on a plan for the book and invite specific people to contribute short chapters or sections, while also putting a general call for contributors out there. This method is more cooperative than collaborative, but I think it's the most practical, expedient way to do it.

CultureCat

I like those comments, Clancy. I know exactly what you mean about being burned on collaborations before. That's one reason I was favoring the de-centralized technology of a wiki. That way, if one guy drops the ball, the project can still roll forward (and hopefully pick up momentum as others join in).

I'm currently reading Creating the Project Office by Englund, Grahman, and Dinsmore, and the main thrust of the text is that change must be managed if change is going to proceed. That means that you've got three steps:

1. Create an environment for change
2. Make the change
3. Stabilize the change

This sounds like a really interesting project on a number of levels, but one of the first things you've got (I think) to do is generate a reason WHY this is crucial and identify the ways in which this type of project fills a pressing need. Also, think about the reasons why there may not be an interest. One that immediately jumps to mind is that those who might be ideal for this project will get much more pull in their field/job/tenure search by publishing a paper textbook...

Just a reaction/response to your dilemma. Good luck with your project.

Good points, Ana. I think that one possible reward for this might be some good publicity for the participants. Perhaps we could even score a spot on a show like 60 Minutes--sort of a "Professors fighting back against publisher corruption" kind of theme. Given the budget crises being faced by so many humanities departments all across the country, being able to point to something that is giving back to the community might help a strained PR...

Hi-

Found your blog while I was searching online to flesh out a business model for an idea I've had for many months.

Seems to me that the whole textbook industry is in need of reform. There are many organizations out there who are moving towards a better system, but no cohesive movement just yet. But CalPirg has issued a report (http://calpirg.org/reports/textbookripoff.pdf) called RipOff 101 that lays out what improvements should be made.

I'm looking for partners to help me start a not-for-profit textbook publishing company. The main market will be introductory-intermediate level college textbooks, followed if successful by high school textbooks. The product will be professional-level print-on-demand textbooks available in the $10-$40 range and free online versions in a variety of formats-pdf, txt, and others. The company will hopefully be supported by sales of the POD books, as well as donations, grants, etc.

Here's what I'm thinking: The company should concentrate on the bigger markets in subjects that don't change frequently, like calculus, introductory science courses, and introductory economics. There is no reason that these books need to be republished more than once every decade or so--incremental changes could easily be added without putting out a whole new edition. Humanities texts like the one you're proposing would also work very nicely, too. After getting started, we could move to more specialized subjects.

There should be two or three basic but graphically pleasing formats to start with, and each book should be designed to fit into one of those formats with a minimum of effort. Books could either be used as a whole, or individual pages and chapters could be collated to create a new book specific to a class.

That last part is where this would work so nicely for an anthology like the one you're proposing. Instead of having to design an entire anthology, individual stories and articles could be uploaded and peer-reviewed, all designed with a similar format, then tagged with different categories. A professor could then browse the available material and choose only those essays which he/she felt was appropriate for the class. This would keep printing costs down. If only a few stories were used, students could simply download them for free and print them out.

This could work just as well for, say, a geology textbook. There could be two or three textbooks to choose from, and a professor could either assign one of them as-is, or mix/match individual chapters or pages to get just the right info, so that one author's description of plate tectonics followed another author's description of the formation of the earth. Professors could even upload their own data to flesh out topics they wanted to cover in more detail. Students could sell textbooks to each other or via the campus bookstore as they do today, provided professors kept the textbooks the same for a few years.

Extra features--the kind now bundled on a rarely-used CD--could be made available for free on the website. Changes to books would be logged and books would be issued with edition numbers to let students interested in used editions keep up to date.

The books would all be published with creative commons licenses. In fact, it would be best if the whole project was done with the guidance of the CC folks right from the start.

Textbook authors would donate their time, but collaborative writing would be encouraged by the publishing company to help ease the burden. Authors would be rewarded with good press. If we start out right away by making it an invitation-only thing, so that it becomes a professional honor to write a book, we have a better chance of getting people to donate their time.

One of the major textbook publishing companies is already moving towards this business model. The problem is that they won't be doing it to make life better for students and teachers--they'll do it to continue squeezing every dime they can out of us. See this article: http://www.printondemand.com/MT/archives/002078.html

Anyone interested in joining me?

By the way, I'm a third-year geology student at Northeastern in Boston, not a professor.

These are definitely some good ideas. However, you may not be aware that there is already a project called wiki books. Some of these books are coming along very well, but I couldn't find one for English Composition. I'm sure you're going to find it EXPONENTIALLY easier to get non-humanities people interested in free textbooks. The sciences all pretty much follow one paradigm or another and can at least agree on basic methods and what constitutes legitimate information that ought to be included in an introductory textbook. The further you get from science, the harder it is to establish that kind of consensus.

The reason that most faculty write textbooks in the first place is to make money. In fact, if you announce that you're writing a textbook, most people assume you're short of cash or wanting to pay for some home improvements or the like. They're not considered true research and won't help you get tenure or promotion.

Getting someone to write a textbook for free will take some doing. Just pointing out that this will save students (and ultimately the state) big dollars won't do it. I assume the only people you'd attract would be diehards like me who embrace free software and creative commons with an almost religious fervor. You might also move people if you could write a book as electrifying as Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (you might want to hunt this one down). You'd probably have most luck making a humanitarian project out of it--getting good textbooks into the hands of poor kids in other countries, etc.

There's also the question of whether you really care if they're collaborative or not. If one professor sits down and writes a comprehensive textbook it may be more unified and coherent than if a hundred people worked on it in chunks. Regardless, you're going to need to edit these books for consistency and try to keep people interested in the book as a whole rather than just whatever little parts they're interested in. My guess is that each humanities professor that comes onboard a collaborative project will increase by one order of magnitude the time it will take to get a text into publishable form.

There are some brilliant people out there doing composition and writing about it, but whether we can attract them to donate their valuable time (and I'm not speaking sarcastically here) is something else. I'm sure if you could somehow gain them publicity, you'd be half-way there. Maybe we could get the mass media interested in a PR story on professors who care, or a biting 60 Minutes critique of the rampant corruption in the commercial textbook industry.

What you'd really need to do is get a big federal grant and use that to pay reputable scholars to write the books, professionals to edit them, and others to contribute artwork or design. We're probably talking about $100,000 or more per book, and that's naively low. Still, ultimately the savings would be immense--after all, many of these publishers are earning a 40% rate return on their investments..

Thanks for the reply--

I did not know about wikibooks, but after looking at it, I don't think it is quite what I have in mind, anyway. It's on the right track, but I don't think that this project can compete in a completely collaborative world, anyway. I'm envisioning books written by a team of authors who commit to the project from start to finish. There may have to be some financial component, but I don't think we can ever compete with the big textbook industry. However, given the multitudes of professors out there and the relatively few subjects I'm interested in publishing, I think it's a doable project, regardless of compensation.

The difference between what I have in mind and the wikibooks project is mainly that I intend these books to be written with publication in mind, complete with sidebars, color graphics, review questions, glossaries, etc. These books should be optimized for print. There is no reason that wikibooks and what I am thinking of can't complement each other. I also envision lots of engagement from foreign professors, especially from countries like Italy and Mexico where textbooks are pretty much in the public domain already.

I don't see huge grants from the federal government, but if the project sticks to the sciences, I can see it working pretty well. The humanities will be more difficult, but should not be undoable.

Best,
Jason

Funny thing, I recently have been introduced to wikis and just had the same thought myself, being tired of sifting through text-books that never quite hit the mark. I searched around to see who else has thought of doing this and found this post. Disheartened to see no one is too enthusiastic. I think this is a great idea.

V. Marianiello

Well, V, a few brave souls can get this done if we try. I've decided that it'd be redundant to try to setup a new mediawiki server when there's already one available for us to use--and we might attract some helpers working on other projects. A few folks have started a VERY humble project already, but shows that some people are interested in this. I think I'd like to start from scratch with help from this page.

Maybe I should start a new thread and try to recruit some more help. It'd probably be easy enough to setup the structure. We should get together six or seven of those desk copies the publishers always send us and get some ideas on how to organize the book. For readings we could use Yahoo's new CC search engine. Who's up for it?

I think it's a great idea for a project, Matt, but I also still think you really need to answer Clancy's question about genre if you're going to get things going. Is this a reader, a rhetoric, or a handbook? How do you see the book being used in a course? Does it lend itself to a particular sort of pedagogy? Corbett's Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student is a text that's very different -- and implies a pedagogy very different -- from Bartholomae and Petrosky's Ways of Reading. I bring this up because I'm one of the co-editors for a textbook right now, and much of the first year of the project was spent just figuring out and making explicit our pedagogical assumptions and how we saw the text being used in the classroom. (Personally, I think there are plenty of good handbooks out there, and way too many readers, many of which enact a silly or inadequately theorized relationship between reading and writing, so my interests would be in doing a rhetoric -- but then, rhetorics are the hardest of all to do, and are often deeply and idiosyncratically tied to institutional context.)
--
Mike
http://www.vitia.org/

I'm not quite sure I understand the 'genre' question. I'm assuming that you are thinking more in terms of which body of comp theory will undergird the text (i.e., current-traditionalism, expressivist, etc.) I've worked closely with Joe Moxley's online comp textbook College Writing Online, and have a pretty good idea of how to build something like it in wiki. Joe's approach was to try to include all manner of approaches--if you were an expressivist, you could include those kinds of exercises.

The question about it being a reader is pretty interesting. I'd assumed that we would either copy/paste examples of things that were either in the PD or CC, or maybe even link to things externally (which is what Joe did).

What I'd like to build is a comprehensive FYC resource, so students wouldn't have to buy anything else. There'd be room for grammar, style, rhetoric, and comp materials (document planning, composition methods, peer review strategies, citation methods). I don't want to re-invent the wheel here. I have no problem with taking the top three comp textbooks and taking what works. If you look at enough comp textbooks (which I have), you see many of the same things duplicated from book to book, with most of the difference being in the reading selection and how they setup their writing projects. Since we have multiple people working on this, it'd be a cinch to include projects and label them appropriately (personal/reflective, persuasive/argumentative, and so on). Ultimately, it'd be up to the individual teacher how to use the resource in his or her class. I'd like to be inclusive rather than exclusive with the approaches.

Interestingly, though, since this is a wiki, ultimately the people using it would decide how to focus the book. How many times have you thought, "I wish this book included THIS," and then made copies of it for your class? Or how about explaining that even though something is in the book, you have a different idea of how it should be (and give it to the students in a hand-out or notes). With this approach, teachers could put whatever they wanted in there and then work with the other authors to make it consistent.

Matt, the genre terms Clancy and I used are common, and they don't have anything to do with various theories of composition. I hoped the examples I used would give some indication: a reader is a collection of readings to which students write response essays -- think Ways of Reading or McQuade and Atwan's The Writer's Presence. A rhetoric is an explicitly pedagogical text that directs students in how to write: the subtitle of Elbow's Writing with Power, "Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process," should give some hint as to what textbook rhetorics do. Handbooks are quick reference guides: think Lunsford's Everyday Writer or Hacker's A Writer's Reference. Obviously, they're very different kinds of texts, performing very different tasks, which is why Clancy and I were urging you to think about genre -- and which is why I'm still not quite sure what you have in mind.

I will say that I'm strongly opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach. A textbook that tries to be all things to all people will wind up being so general and diffuse as to be of little classroom use to anyone. The reason why Ways of Reading is so successful as a textbook (and, conversely, why The Writer's Presence is such a dud) is that it's very focused on the specific types of reading and writing it asks students to perform (and TWP isn't). This is why I made that point about all the recent work I've been doing as a co-editor: putting together a good textbook means thinking really hard about the specifics of the pedagogy that the textbook enacts, not throwing a bunch of different stuff into a pot and giving it a good stir.

It sounds like your primary motivations for doing this are (1) making course materials free, in the various senses of the word, and (2) in so doing, making the viability of such digital resources more publically visible. I think those are great motivations, and I share them -- which is why I would emphatically not want to see the first species of such a text be some cobbled-together one-size-fits-all hodgepodge. Paste together "what works" from already-extant textbooks and you'll likely be greeted with a big collective yawn -- but put something out there that's tight, carefully theorized, focused, with a unified pedagogical purpose, and I don't doubt that you'll generate some excitement.

One thing I've been doing to try and get folks in my program thinking about these issues is asking if teachers might start putting CC licenses on the materials they submit to our public database of teacher resources. Not as ambitious as a textbook, but it's a start.:-)

--
Mike
http://www.vitia.org/

Okay, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks for clarifying, Mike. I definitely agree with you--a "hodgepodge" wouldn't be as effective as a textbook that knew where it was going from the get-go.

The rhetoric seems to be the book that costs the most money. I don't want to reach a stalemate where people can't agree what body of theory to use, though. Perhaps we could open a dialogue with the folks interested in this project and see what kinds of theoretical approaches and assumptions they are most interested in promulgating in a text. I'm probably drawn most to the discourse communities approach and emphasis on social construction, but I also couldn't teach writing without good ol' Aristotle's rhetoric.

"A textbook that tries to be all things to all people will wind up being so general and diffuse as to be of little classroom use to anyone."

True enough in traditional publishing, but this is different. I see a project like this being more of a "take what you need" kind of textbook, not "here's what we have for you to use."

I think one of the major problems with textbooks is the publication process, which can ruin even the best work. These genres are the result. Textbooks are so concerned with fitting their niche that they forget to do the one thing they prmote: covey ideas in an understandable manner.

V. Marianiello

Matt,

Have you seen DocBook Wiki? Stores the wiki in DocBook XML, can generate multiple file formats for download (docbook xml, pdf, html, rtf), and allows one to edit the text in a variety of formats, including docbook xml, text (wiki style), and html.

I've quietly (well, I guess now not so quietly) began work on the free rhetoric and composition wiki text. The thing is in its infancy, and I've just been working on its structure and written an overview. I'm not exactly trying to be revolutionary here; just the standard stuff I've been teaching and tidbits I've collected over the years. I hope--really--that some people will begin chipping in, but I know that people are more likely to contribute once they see a substantial bit of the work has been done. So, that's my job. I've been dedicating about four hours a week to this project.

If anyone has any feedback for me, please leave it here or on the site.