In conclusion, we return to Feller and Fitzgerald's description of the Open Source model:
Open Source ... is parallel, rather than linear
Academia already uses this method, with geographically diverse scholars pursuing disciplinary questions simultaneously. Composition classes working in parallel would focus on collaboration, distributing work to a number of students or classes of students. The students would each work on sections of the projects to develop their areas, which would include the actual writing, documentation for later writers, documentation of the process for others to use the process, maintenance, or review. Parallel structure allows students to see the overall project goals while writing collaboratively on sections without being overwhelmed by the overall scope of the project.
Open Source... involves large communities of globally distributed developers.
Composition classrooms do not inherently have globally distributed writers, so student work would need to be available online for input from other sources. Open Source composition would be best served by collaborative projects between multiple universities or groups. For instance, an Open Source composition class project could be to write documentation for an Open Source Software like the Mozilla web browser. A project of this type would connect students to a pre-established community of Open Source developers who could review their work, and help them in revisions. This would provide real world experience and it would connect the classroom to a larger writing community.
Open Source... utilizes truly independent peer review.
Composition classes already utilize peer review. The difference here would be in making the work accessible for review by others. Student projects for writing Open Source Software documentation would garner peer review from the software developers and their users. Student projects for writing Web sites for non-profit organizations would garner peer review from the users of those Web sites and from those working for the non-profit. Students projects for writing school documentation would garner peer review by other students at the school. All of these projects could be incremented by semester such that the first release could occur in the first semester. Then, the second semester could have students write further on the existing projects, and the students could be asked to reconceptualize the existing project to make it easier to use or more thorough.
Open Source... provides prompt feedback to user and developer contributions.
Composition class assignments traditionally ask students to discuss and write their individual papers, and to then peer review each others' work. Then, the students re-edit their work and turn the work in to the teachers. The Open Source model would ask for a much tighter release structure such that the incremental work is available, with email links from the pages so that users can submit suggestions and corrections. The immediate nature of putting the material on the web could then require that day-to-day homework for each of the student groups would be to document and respond to these emails. The groups could be structured such that each group had to respond to a day's worth of comments, like Monday, Tuesday... In doing so, the homework assignment could ensure that each days feedback and contributions were documented and set for weekly incorporation.
Open Source... includes the participation of highly talented, highly motivated developers.
While students are not always the most adept or motivated, a concrete and tangible project that connects their work to real world benefits generally serves as a greater motivation for students than work that never seems to leave the classroom. Ideally, an Open Source composition classroom would draw collaboratively from many fields for project insight and development. Since such projects already exist elsewhere (Wikipedia, for one), the composition instructor's challenge will be to guide students in choosing a topic that will spur involvement.
Open Source... includes increased levels of user involvement.
Stereotypical composition class projects are assigned by the teacher, worked on by the class, revised, and finally graded by the teacher. The stereotypical cycle involves no level of user involvement because no users exist. The Open Source composition classroom would define projects that would have users and that would require their use and input for development, revision, and maintenance. The simplest method for this is to make web pages that the users would need or want to read, so that the users do read them and then the users do work to develop better documentation. Creating projects that extend beyond a single semester will also encourage user-interaction.
Open Source... makes use of extremely rapid release schedules.
For a composition class implementation, the class could be organized around several key project dates, with incremental changes in between. The key project dates keep the Open Source model in line with traditional composition classes, which have several projects due each semester. With semesters generally lasting sixteen weeks, a project due every four weeks is common. This release schedule is quite rapid for Web sites or documentation resources, and students would have incremental goals within the major project due dates.
Conclusion. Open Source provides two lines of inspiration for academics. First, as many have noticed, it highlights the value of Open Content as a publication and distribution model. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it provides a model for a new way to produce scholarly workone which few have explored in the composition classroom. We suggest that the strongest use of Open Source as a model will come when we emulate, both as instructors and as scholars, both halves of the model.