Thinking more about the idea of creating a high quality curriculum resource that is open, I have focused in on writing as a subject matter. Why? First and foremost, I love writing and think it has the ability to transform lives. Beyond that, it transfers to all other subject areas and grade levels, and success in writing is correlated to success in many other endeavors. Writing is fun and rewarding. Technology can greatly enhance writing skills for many.

So here are some specifics. These are very preliminary. Please chime in with your thoughts by commenting or emailing me. (I hope to have a collaborative prototype up by early next year.)

The Open Writing Space

Project goals:
To inspire a love for writing and to help writers of all ages develop their craft

Target audience:
Writers of all ages, from elementary school through adult, both in formal and informal contexts
(I’m envisioning modules that could be used in elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms; sections that could act as online courses for adults; private areas for personal writing; springboards for personal writing; community space for writing and reading clubs; and more.)

Random ideas for modules:


  • Video vignettes from authors, casual writers, teachers, kids,and others talking about writing
  • Writing prompts
  • Reading to write (online book clubs, RSS feeds of relevant readings, etc.)
  • Real life writing tasks
  • Blogs
  • Writing portfolios


  • Writing process exercises
  • Developing a voice
  • Grammar/style handbooks
  • Traits of writing
  • Online writing assessment
  • Character development
  • Writing dialogue
  • Non-fiction writing

All content in the “community space” will be licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.
All content in people’s “personal space” can be licensed however individuals choose. (This content won’t be in public view unless users choose to publish it.)

Questions to think about:

  • What tools are best suited for this? (Elgg? Drupal? Moodle modules for online courses? What Open Source online writing tools are available?)
  • How do we deal with kids under 13?
  • Who would be useful partners in this project?
  • How do we make sure this is a useful and used resource (marketing)?
  • What parts should be built first?

Would you like to be a part of creating this, and/or is it is a resource you could use?

More specifics: An open writing learning environment

10 thoughts on “More specifics: An open writing learning environment

  • December 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    This is a beautiful idea! I love the natural room it leaves individuals to develop a published writing voice. The 13 and under issue is always a concern but teachers of younger kids could publish their work or parents, (a model I use on ArtSnacks) could participate on behalf of their young writers. This might encourage a family investment in kid’s writing. I think that Ginger Lewman would be all over this and I know that any project that encouraged writing could/should be very popular. We have to get word out and help people find the front door!

  • December 18, 2008 at 5:47 am

    This concept fits very nicely with something I’ve been thinking through of late. I am a veteran (no longer in the classroom) English teacher who faithfully taught the 5-paragraph essay (I still think the organizational process has some merit for forming a person’s thinking) and, less than enthusiastically, gave “creative” writing assignments (to students who were NOT the least bit creative – at least in narrative form) – because I had too.

    I believe that the need for people to be able to communicate clearly in many formats is vitally important in the 21st century, so with that said, I have been wondering how we can begin to develop lessons of study that will enable educators to teach students the appropriate forms of written communication that they will use in the 21st century and then translate that learning into appropriate learning experiences for students.

    I just heard Jason Ohler ( speak on digital storytelling. In the presentation, he talked about the kind of text students in which students need fluency – Visually Differentiated Text or web writing. This made total sense to me. He didn’t discount traditional forms of writing, but his point was this is the kind of text writing and reading our students (and us too) are and will be using.

    So, I’m game for approaching something from the perspective of developing tools to train teachers in a new way of thinking and doing with regard to teaching writing and the use of Visually Differentiated Text.

  • December 18, 2008 at 11:57 am

    This sounds very interesting.


    1) Will people be anonymous? There’s some something to be said for just being known by an online identify.

    2) As for online writing assessment, do you imagine this to be computer based or community driven or both. If community driven, just people doing the assessment know the identify of the author?

    3) Early on we will need policies to address bullying and slanderous or inappropriate content. Hosting content that could get us in trouble should be planned for. What about writing that leaves one concerned for the authors’ safety.

  • December 18, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Good questions, Brad. Hmmm….

    I think one thing that could help make this more manageable is to have a lot of the initial focus on the private side of the site. For me at least, a lot of my most important writing and writing related work is private. (Question: Would a hosting organization have any responsibility for private writing? Surely, Google and others have dealt with this.)

    On the public side, I think that pseudonymous online identities are desirable. We definitely need to have a very defined code of conduct. Ideally, it would be community-developed and community-enforced (like Wikipedia). I don’t think that the (probably small) administrative team could read everything.

    On the writing assessment, I am thinking of something computer-driven. I have a dream of having something with features like Criterion or MyAccess that is open source. (For those unfamiliar with these, they are phenomenal tools that give writers instant feedback on their writing. They go far beyond rudimentary spelling and grammar checks. I have seen students’ enthusiasm and skill in writing significantly grow while using these tools. In large part, I think it’s because of the instant feedback.) Someone once told me that a part of one of these tools was open source code, but I’ve been unable to track this down. Anyone know anything out there that could be a base for this?

  • December 18, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Great topic and discussion. This sounds like something that could be woven into a wide variety of learning experiences, both in and out of the classroom. As I was reading the overview description, I thought that a “MyAccess” type of aspect would be really useful, then saw that you were already on that track. It’s a shame that they don’t offer a “MyAccess Lite” version. Perhaps they would consider that if approached. …might give them some added exposure and help your site be a real draw for educators. The other side is that it brings a vendor and sales aspect into the mix. Some might view it as distraction while others might be very welcome to see the tool and possibly pursue licensing directly with Vantage.

    The community space does present some challenging questions. Ideally you want this area to be a safe and nurturing component. Moderating the area could help but would be time consuming and possibly restrictive to free thought. Perhaps some tools that filter on select words and phrases could be utilized to help control, or at least flag, some of the more obvious issues.

  • December 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Karen.

    I love your idea to create an open learning environment for writing in order to inspire children and adults to develop their writing craft. There are a number of writers groups on the web that I think would be very helpful and excited to give you feedback on your ideas. Plus, they will give you practical advice on the types of topics, features and functions they would like to see like the ones you outline above. As a literacy and expat blogger, I often visit sites like and to find other bloggers in these spaces as well. For me, important features of an open writing space would be:

    1) Providing a forum where people can easily find writing and writers by topic–not just a blogroll, but some feature where I can get a little more information about the blog along with the link (author, purpose, feedback the author would like to receive, etc.)

    2) Tips on how to connect with other writers and readers in your space.

    3) A place where readers can discuss the types of writing and resources they are interested. For example, I would love to get feedback from other teachers about the types of blogs/news/writing they like to read

    4) Videos–lectures, interviews, public readings, etc. For example, I would be very interested in watching a video of a creative writing professor discussing character development, voice, etc.

    This is great! BTW, I assume you know this, but has a number of writing lessons for teachers:


  • December 29, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Karen,

    Finally made it around to see your idea on writing. I love the idea and think I could certainly be a part of something like this.

    I think that the under 13 crowd could be best served with something a little more closed and therefore controllable. In that way it could be better developed to serve children safely and be accepted and valued by schools. If there is a technological way to create access to some things and not to others, that would help as well. As a writer is creating material they could mark it as G rated or otherwise. Perhaps the under 13 postings have to receive moderated approval from a group of participants that have that level of administration or something like the wikipedia editors group?

    In terms of writer feedback, I would hope it would not only be relegated to a computer assessment feature, but options for feedback from groups of participants and such would be great. Writer’s learn from giving feedback as well as from getting it… As one comment said, developing the protocol for participation is important. Maybe it should even be one of the first parts of development.

    I think there is a lot already out there that could be linked to such a resource that you describe. I would enjoy writing exercises, lessons, and such to spark people’s writing. I would be happy to do such under an opensource sort of site.


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