What We Are
Open English @ SLCC is an evolving digital book created and maintained by English Department faculty at Salt Lake Community College. It exists to provide our faculty–over one hundred full- and part-time instructors–with robust, flexible, and locally produced open educational resources (OER) that can be used for teaching a variety of courses across our composition sequence.
This book is evolving and adaptive, offering a range of texts on rhetoric, writing and reading, all written by SLCC faculty with specific attention to the needs of SLCC students and the local conditions of our work and study at a large, multi-campus, increasingly diverse community college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Unlike a traditional textbook, the writing in this book invites remix, adaptation, and repurposing to match the specific needs of its users–SLCC writing students and instructors primarily–but also faculty and students at other schools, course designers, WPAS, and anyone else interested in open texts about writing, language and literacy.
Open English @ SLCC is a community-authored, community-focused text, one that invites conversation, change, addition, and repurposing over time in the interests of attuning itself to the needs of those who use it. To this end the book invites public digital annotation through Hypothesis, allowing readers to add notes, questions, observations and resources directly to the texts. This ethos of shared knowledge, creative reuse, and ongoing conversation is at the heart of the Open English @ SLCC project.
Where We’re Coming From
The book is organized around a set of six locally-responsive threshold concepts that form the conceptual backbone of how our department approaches the work of teaching reading, writing and rhetoric. These threshold concepts–transformative, integrative and troubling ideas that we feel are essential for any kind of mastery in writing and literate practices–build on foundational work in thresholds by Eric Meyer and Ray Land, in addition to more recent work on threshold concepts in writing by Linda Adler-Kassler, Elizabeth Wardle and many others.
In our department, these concepts have served as an agreed-upon starting point, a collection of fundamental arguments about writing that remain open to adaptation, addition and revision. They provide a shared vocabulary and a simplified framework for teaching writing to our students–a framework that is both unifying in that it makes explicit our currently shared values about writing–but also flexible and expansive in that courses and instructors across our curriculum can teach with these concepts in individualized ways, according to their strengths and interests.
Threshold Concepts in Writing at SLCC
Writing is a resource people use to do things, be things, and make things in the world.
Rhetoric provides a method for studying the work that language and writing do.
Writing is a form of action. Through writing people respond to problems and can create change in the world.
Writing is a process of deliberation. It involves identifying and enacting choices, strategies, and moves.
Meaningful writing is achieved through sustained engagement in literate practices (e.g., thinking, researching, reading, interpreting, conversing) and through revision.
The meanings and the effects of writing are contingent on situation, on readers, and on a text’s purposes/uses.
Our department’s uptake of threshold concepts as a flexible and collaborative approach to course design coincides with a growing college-wide push towards more equitable learning conditions, including the shift away from expensive, general textbooks, and towards OERs that reduce learning costs for students and allow faculty to play a more dynamic role in selecting readings, resources, and projects tailored to our students’ specific needs.
Glynis Cousin has argued that a focus on threshold concepts helps “teachers to make refined decisions about what is fundamental to a grasp of the subject they are teaching.” Teaching with OERs invites the same kind of refined decision making. This growing collection of faculty-authored, open texts is intended to serve as an evolving record of how our department brings our most valued ideas about writing into our teaching practices–how we use these ideas, develop our knowledge about them, and create methodologies for sharing them with students.
Voices from Open English @ SLCC: Faculty Reflect on Working with OER
Faculty point to collaboration, creativity, interconnectedness, knowledge building, deep engagement, flexibility, and a sense of “walking the walk” with our students as some of the rewards of creating OERs and using them in their teaching at SLCC. The selection of faculty voices below speak directly to this expanding sense of what is possible when writing teachers take up the generative practice of teaching with OERs.
Collaboratively crafting and using Open Education Resources in my courses has given me a new appreciation for the interconnectedness of my various disciplinary passions. Those passions include composition, creative writing, literature, diversity and pop cultural studies. Additionally, creating OER texts affords me the opportunity to walk the research, writing, revision, and reflection talk with my students. And what’s more invigorating as a writing instructor than that? – Kati Lewis
My view of the department OER texts is all about activating knowledge about writing, both in our students and in ourselves, articulating that knowledge, and building upon that. In both creation and utilization, the texts are devices that invite us each to own what we know about writing, negotiate differences in understanding and belief among ourselves and others, and collaborate in the building of new knowledge. – Clint Johnson
Writing open educational content for our composition program has been meaningful for me because it is an opportunity to develop as a knowledgeable and skilled faculty member. In writing course content, I learn what I know and what I want to know about writing and the study of writing, and I hope to pass on my engagement with the writing process to my students when they work with this content in our program. – Marlena Stanford
Working on and with OER has been fulfilling in a lot of ways, but the one that stands out the most is collaborating with other faculty members. While working on the Contingency text, Justin and I had several conversations about how intricate writing situation analysis really is. I love having the opportunity to think about how interconnected the threshold concepts truly are and the challenge of articulating those thoughts in writing. The academic writer in me is very happy! – Jessie Szalay
For me, the big thing about OER is making teaching materials locally meaningful while also responsive to recent research in the field. For a publisher, the highest priority is profit, which encourages more traditional material in textbooks. The “tried and true” is a much safer bet for textbook sales, leaving the material often very generic or simply not making use of recent advances in the scholarship of teaching and learning. OER allows us to avoid these restrictions and is therefore the best option for student learning. – Chris Blankenship
Writing OER texts pushed me to do what I ask my students to do every semester: rhetorically construct a piece of writing for a particular audience. Sure, I know how to do that but rarely have I specifically written a text intended to appeal to both students and my colleagues. Peer reviewed academic writing has a clear set of troubling challenges, but OER texts also have their unique, troubling challenges. And it was a challenge. And it was fun. I’m proud of what we all have created. There’s value in showing our students that we write, that we care enough about teaching writing to write about it, and that we have struggled to create a text intended to appeal to these very students. – Ron Christiansen
Open English @ SLCC invites all SLCC faculty to consider submitting texts related to writing in their own disciplines. For details, email your queries and ideas to email@example.com.