After two years, this blog project and the personal wiki that grew from it have born something other than private fruit: I have installed pmwiki on a server and will use it to run a large-scale class project this coming semester. The course will be a basic college literature course. Because the course is for non-majors, composition and writing skills are an important aspect of the curriculum and are the basis for the project.
My Initial Goals
These are quite small. I hope to:
- naturalize the process of revision in composition by setting it beside the constant development and change of online materials;
- to offer students some sense that they are writing to communicate to an audience rather than writing assignments for me to grade;
- teach basic web literacy, which here means a familiarity with content/format separation and the use of markup syntax.
An Observation About these Goals
Only the last of these is specifically about teaching composition as transformed by the internet. The others are really about using the Internet to spice up or interpret established course material. This is something to track over the term because web-composition would be worth addressing more substantially. But doing that this first go around just seems like too much to bite off all at the same time. I mean, this will also be the first time that I manage a class project where every aspect of the tech–the server, the installation, basic site management, the tech-help for students, everything–will be done by me. And I’ll be doing it as I teach the course. So web-composition: track, keep notes, and maybe next time.
One Last Thought
Increasingly students read about assigned texts online rather than reading the text itself. Those who do must later rely on internet sources for the content of the essays, and so, plagiarism is becoming a huge problem. I explain every semester that reading texts is required and that copying text off the internet is not acceptable but I hear Peppermint Patty’s teacher’s voice in my head as I do. I say, “Read! It’s worth it!” and I suspect students hear “All teachers hate the internet. You should waste time doing pointless busy work because back in the day, uphill both ways, carrying a log for the fire, etc.”
My pie-in-the-sky hope is that the wiki project will elicit some buy-in to the course materials by:
- acknowledging online materials exist and are often useful;
- providing a forum for these materials to be cited, linked to and discussed;
- teaching and demanding some technical engagement with web-based writing (i.e. teaching students to write in ways that make the web rather than simply use it);
- demonstrating that discourse is about norms rather than rules by having two different written discourses developing in class: one online in the wiki, the other offline through traditional essays.