I am trying to get my ducks in a row for English 328 for the fall, a term that will see a couple of “firsts” and/or “haven’t done that in a long time” sort of milestones for me. It will be the first time in a long time where I have taught a “full load” because I have no administrative/quasi-administrative obligations next year. It will be the first time in three or so years (not counting the year I was both the writing program coordinator and the WPA) in which I will teach all on campus– no online courses for me in the fall.
And, and I say this with some sadness, it will be the first time since I started teaching English 328 ten years ago where I will not be including some kind of “make your own simple web page” assignment.
There’s basically three reasons why I decided to axe this assignment.
First, I really wanted to include a simple video/movie assignment in the class and something had to go. I think the “invent your own writing technology” (where students have to make things and reflect on some of the theories of writing as a technology readings from people like Ong and Baron and the like) is really fundamental to the whole idea of the course, that writing is a technology and the technologies we use to write has a direct impact on what/how/why we write. I think the “style project” (where students read, compare, analyze, and write about a couple of style manuals, my current choices being Strunk and White and Williams’ Style: Toward in Clarity and Grace) because I think it’s critical that students in this advanced writing course think about and pay very close attention to their writing in this nitty-gritty sort of way. In theory, most of the people who take English 328 are wanting to be some flavor of professional writer (journalist, PR person, tech writer, etc.) or a high school teacher. It seems to me that those people ought to have some critical awareness of “the rules.” And I didn’t want to give up on the comic assignment because it’s still comparatively new to me, it’s a great way to introduce the connection between “the visual” and text, and it will serve as a great gateway to a motion picture/multimedia project. So in an odd way, the web site became kind of the odd man out.
Second, there’s a lot of other ways nowadays to publish stuff on the web and a lot of other ways to incorporate a set of “technology literacy skills” into a class like English 328– Google docs and various related tools, blogger, flickr, wiki software, chat software, audio tools, YouTube, etc., etc. All this “web 2.0” stuff, whatever that means. And a pretty good argument could be made that for most students in English 328, students who tend not to keep maintaining a web site after the class is over, these other writing and literacy tools are a whole lot more useful than learning how to make and revise a simple web site.
And third– oh, I don’t know, I guess it’s just not that relevant anymore. Static web sites are still useful– I’m in the process of creating a new one here for my English 328 materials— but in an age of blogging tools, facebook, linkedin, myspace, etc., etc., does it really matter if someone has something like a “homepage” anymore? I abandoned that assignment in English 444: Writing for the World Wide Web last term and instead had students convert/re-purpose a print text to the web, and I think that was a more useful and better assignment.
This might not work out. I think a pretty compelling argument can be made that basic HTML and basic CSS are still fundamental building blocks to all things web and web 2.0-oriented. I might be doing students a disservice by skipping these details. But after 10 years– more than that, if you count the times I was teaching web page authoring before EMU– I think it’s time to give this one a rest.