From Classroom to World
By Mike Jackman
The World Wide Web has become nearly as useful as libraries, research databases, overhead projectors, professional journals, syllabi, discussion groups, and lecture notes, to mention some pedagogical uses facilitated by the Web. This article introduces ways the Web can be used in WR courses.
Hypertext & the World Wide Web
Hypertext refers to the ability of a computer program (often called a browser) to fetch and display a document on the screen, by activating a link. Typically, a link is activated by clicking a mouse over some specially displayed text or graphic. A document can be anything a computer can reproduce—words, pictures, videos, audio. For this reason, hypertext is also referred to as hypermedia. Hypertext allows the creation of paths through information.
The World Wide Web makes possible the use of hypertext over the Internet. Thus hypertext, already available on stand-alone programs, becomes a powerful connection to globally available information, sometimes referred to as the docuverse.
With an Internet account, a multi-media computer with a modem or network connection, and a browser, any available information in the docuverse can be retrieved to your screen.
Using the Web in WR Classes
Practical use of the Web in WR classes can be made in fulfilling the research component of the course. (A&S guidelines suggest that WR classes should have at least one research component.)
The World Wide Web offers many research resources. Faculty may already be aware of journals, both refereed and un-refereed, that are published online. Background information, handbooks of formulas, and late-breaking disciplinary news can all be found by searching the Web. Click here to link to some Web addresses for useful research materials you may want to review and offer your students.
Because information on the Web is ephemeral, changes in citation styles are necessary. MLA and APA styles now include adding the full Web address and the date the information was last viewed. As Web documents seldom include page numbers, citation styles must find other ways to locate a specific quote.
Evaluating Web Research
Web researchers face problems evaluating information. Even moderately experienced student researchers learn that professional journals are found in the library serials section, and not in the tabloid rack at the Winn-Dixie. The physical location of a source, as well as its visual design, or what Kostelnick calls visual rhetoric, are important cues to the appropriateness of a source.
Enter the World Wide Web, where text looks polished and professional; links deliver information without spacial cues. Students must learn methods for evaluating the appropriateness of Web information.
Quality can be indicated by the Web site—is it academic, sanctioned in some way, or personal and idiosyncratic? This does not immediately disqualify information; other cues such as the type of sources cited, the ways arguments are maintained—in short, internal textual evidence—ought to be observed. These and other Web skills are covered in a growing number of textbooks (a list of textbooks appears in the sidebar).
Placing Course Materials Online
The quality and speed of Internet connections have improved, and more college students have at-home access to the Internet. These conditions make it worthwhile for instructors to put course materials on the Web. Advantages include a central location for course information, twenty-four hour access for students, and the ability to use color, bulleted lists, and other clear visual presentation of information. Finally, the essential feature of hypertext, the link, allows online course material to be related and integrated. Help with the details of Web design is available at http://www.louisville.edu/it/help/www/.
A Final Word
Hypertext and the World Wide Web, having been embraced by our culture as a major communications medium, is making a major impact on pedagogy and academic scholarship. WR courses can benefit from the Web because of the amount of online information, provided this information is contextualized for students, and the appropriate modifications are made in research papers. WR instructors, who are required to present their assignments in writing, can benefit by putting course materials on the Web, creating a course site that is integrated and accessible for a growing number of students.
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