ABSTRACT The writing process has become a more
complete art form with the World-Wide Web. Writers have become
their own publishers. Writers have a larger audience. Writers are
in more control of their work at all levels of its development.
This is more true for student-writers today then ever before.
And the results are astonishing. The high school writing process
has evolved from literary magazines to webfolios in a very short
time because of the Internet.
When I was a student in college in the early 70's, I was
introduced to the concept of being my own publisher in a book
binding course. The instructor explained that the writer was one
of few artists who had very little control over his or her work.
Once the idea was put on paper and presented to a publisher the
artist lost control to editors, a printer, typesetter, book
binder, distributor, and others. Unlike other artists, such as
musicians, painters, sculpturers, dancers, to name a few, the
writer had little control over the final product. However in
this bookbinding course we created the text, we printed our work,
we chose an ink, we chose a type, we bound the book, and then
distributed the finished product to local bookstores. As the
writer we had control over the entire process. That feeling of
power stayed with me and has finally been manifest as a teacher
of high school English who uses the Internet. Publishing one's
work is power which we have seen since our early American
pamphleteers to our publishing moguls of this century.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE COMPUTER IN A WRITING CLASS
Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers is a 3200
student public high school in New York City. My classroom has 34
networked computers connected to the Internet. When I first began
using the computer in my English class in 1983, I was overjoyed
with word processing software, the dot matrix printer, and a LAN.
The word processing programs gave the writer vast editing
capabilities far beyond hand written papers and type written
papers. More time could be spent in the writing of the paper and
not in its physical manual creation. The dot matrix eliminated
the hand writing stigma of many students. The dot matrix and word
processor allowed me to standardize the final product in terms of
headers, margins, spacing and the like which speeded the reading
and grading process. This uniformity also provided for equity in
presentation. The LAN provided me with three powerful tools:
distribution, a peek function, and a broadcast function. The LAN
distribution feature allowed me to deliver my lessons to all of
the students more efficiently. In addition, correcting or
augmenting existing LAN lessons was easier and quicker. If I
found a mistake in a lesson I could correct it and redistribute
it to the students in a matter of minutes. The second important
tool afforded me on a LAN in the writing process was the peek
function. I could sit at my workstation and view what the student
on the other side of the room was writing. I could watch the
thought process. I could watch the sentence be written and edited
as well as follow the thinking of the student while he or she was
writing unaware of my presence. I could assist at this time if I
needed to. I had more control of the writing process then I had
ever had heretofore. The one problem was I had to be in the lab
to do all of this. I couldn't do this from home. A third
important tool was the broadcast function. With broadcast I could
distribute the students work to the rest of the class. This was
important for peer review and for creating a larger audience than
just one. It helped the student-writers develop a critical eye of
others work as they had to learn how to criticize. The LAN was
just a prelude to what was about to come.
When I connected my classroom to the Internet in 1994, I was
able to take what I had been doing thus far in a LAN environment
even further. Each student had a web page. The students now wrote
and published on the Internet. They did HTML (HyperText Markup
Language) coding as they wrote their essays which replaced the
desktop publishing features of the best word processing programs.
INTEGRATING THE INTERNET INTO THE WRITING CLASS
Traditionally the student-writer writes for one person, the
teacher. The student-writer was not getting just one voice of
criticism, s/he was now subject to many voices of criticism.
Those voices could be peers, teachers, student teachers,
retirees, and virtual community volunteers from around the world.
Different points of view were available for my student-writers.
These other voices came from telementors. Using the Internet,
telementors could quickly visit a student's web page and view the
student's work and then email advice to the student. This
provided valuable real world applications and a real world
audience for my young student-writers.
One of the first applications we begin with is a lesson on
peer review. By teaching the student-writers how to be peer
reviewers themselves, they can better understand how to be
mentored and how to accept criticism. By learning about and
applying tactics of proper peer review, they become better
critics of their own writing.
I communicate with the class via the Internet. I use a
listserv to distribute information to the class and to have class
discussions. I use the web to present the class syllaweb (WWW
version of a syllabus). I use the WWW and email to correct
EMPOWERING THE STUDENT
In true constructivist practice, the students create a
personal web page which houses and serves up their work. Their
webfolio is an electronic hypertext version of the portfolio. The
webfolio introduces all of their work and to many of the
student's own WWW resources.
A further benefit to a project oriented class is that it
allows the students to work on the project of choice. Their work
is always under construction. The project driven curriculum
empowers the students. By empowering them, I have transferred the
responsibility of the coursework to the students. At any time,
the students will be writing a book report, writing an essay,
writing a poem or short story, or working on vocabulary, grammar,
and spelling. These are just a few of the types of traditional
lessons we can now do more efficiently on the web. More
efficiently, because I never had access to many of these
resources before the Internet.
There are many reasons this approach is effective. First,
students select the project upon which they wish to work, which
empowers the student. Secondly, this approach appeals to
students of different abilities. Since we are not working
simultaneously on a project, quick students can move right along
while slower, more deliberate students can take their time.
Thirdly, for students who might be absent due to sickness or
other reasons, can make up work more easily. Fourthly, students
are often found in the lab on their own time. What I find is
that students work more diligently because they have control over
the project upon which they choose to work; they do more, no
matter what their ability; and they never fall too far behind
because when absent they can work from home or in non-class time.
HYPERTEXT ENHANCES WRITING APPLICATIONS
The students cover the traditional genres. The traditional
paper is linear and provides references which the reader may not
have immediate access to. With hypertext links, the student-
writer can supply added information to the reader by creating
hypertext links to the sources quoted or alluded to in the essay.
For example if a student-writer is making reference to a poem and
the reader has not read that poem nor does he have access to the
poem, the essay looses effectiveness for the reader. However, if
the student-writer provides a link to that poem, the reader can
pause, link to the poem, read the poem and then return to the
essay with more knowledge to better appreciate the essay.
Hypertext provides equity in shared knowledge. Another example
of hypertext might be when a student-writer needs to provide
definitions of terms or words. By creating separate files
containing this information the reader merely clicks on the link
goes to that file and returns to the document. When student-
writers write that ubiquitous research paper, linking to the
sources provides great veracity to the paper. A particularly
engaging exercise is Hypertext Haiku. The students write five
haiku. Within each haiku they select appropriate words which
will logically link them to another haiku. Rather then present
the five haiku in a linear order the reader can select a word
from each haiku and link to another haiku. The reader has some
control by selecting an order in which the haiku will be read and
the writer has some control by selecting the words which will be
linked. Equity is achieved to some degree between poet and
reader. More advanced uses of hypertext are possible in short
stories, novels, and plays. Many fine examples of these new
forms of literature are cropping up on the Internet everyday.
Perhaps one of the most worrisome aspects of Internet
resources is veracity. I do not think this is a problem.
Consider these salient points. First, we do not rely on just one
source. By finding many resources we can compare resources. If
we find a resource is really off base, we reject it, just as we
would in a traditional print research search. Secondly, a
resource on the Internet found to be lacking in credibility will
soon find its critics writing to point out the errors. An
advantage to Internet resources is that if they are blatantly
wrong, they will be corrected soon. This is not so in the print
world. A book with a mistake will always show that error. We
teach our students to find more than one source and to judge the
information they find against that which they already have.
Doing research on the Internet isn t any different than doing
research with books.
Assessing the students' work is easier and more efficient now
then it ever was before. I review the students' work on the web
and use the mail function of my browser to return corrected work
of the student to the student. I do not collect work nor do
students hand in work. I review their work at all stages of
progress. This method allows me to begin the teacher-student
interaction from the time the paper is begun. I can monitor the
progress on a daily basis and email my comments to the student. I
do not have to wait for drafts or for the final paper. I can
check it whenever I wish. Because I am involved in the writing
process so early and so often, I can better guide the student
through a more pleasing writing experience. Mistakes are caught
early and are not repeated. What I am able to teach is editing
skills. The student-writer on the web learns early and quickly
that work may not necessarily be ever completed.
In this very high-tech environment, I have discovered a way
to keep my classroom very simple. It is less complicated now then
when I taught in a traditional classroom and even when I began
using computers in my classroom. The key is simplicity and the
Internet offers me that access to simplicity. As Internet access
becomes more commonplace and universal equity in the classroom
will become a reality. The Internet is the common ground and
potential source of equity. I invite you to examine our site and
the work of our students to better determine its effectiveness in
my class and appropriateness in your class.