How I Got into This Whole Mess in the First Place

As a graduate student studying the uses of computer technology in the teaching of writing, and then as a community college instructor teaching in a networked computer lab, I followed the development of Intermedia, Storyspace, and the World Wide Web with great interest. In my classroom, I had used local area network software such as the Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE) program to promote discussion and collaboration among my students, and had experienced first-hand the benefits of this form of collaborative learning.

In the Spring of 1993, I was given the opportunity to offer a course via computer modem, and set up a first-year composition and rhetoric course on a local electronic mail bulletin board system (BBS) operated by Tomball College. Although it did not provide access to the "true" internet, it did allow students the opportunity to participate in e-mail discussion conferences similar to internet e-mail discussion lists. The next semester I offered an introduction to literature course using the same system. Students would answer discussion questions, respond to each other, send and critique each other's essays, etc. One interesting off-shoot of using the BBS to communicate via modem was that it allowed other BBS users who were not officially enrolled in the course to participate in the discussions, and led to the formation of what is now know as "The Gatsby Project," where students from our local junior high school participate in discussions of literature with Tomball College students.

I continued teaching with this system until Fall 1995, when it became clear that there would be many advantages to the students if I were to move the course to an internet e-mail list, and construct a Web site which would serve as not only a "place" for me to post assignments, due dates, course syllabi, etc., but, similar to Landow's Dickens Web, would also be constructed as a hypertextually-linked "learning space" through which students, at their leisure, could browse through sample research papers, guidelines for writing and descriptions of critical theories, Web sites containing vast databases of literary texts, critical articles, transcripts of electronic discussions held at other schools, and more.

Moving the course to the Web has not only created an entire new world of possibilities, but has also raised an entirely new set of issues: administrative, ideological, pedagogical, and technical in nature. Since Web sites and internet e-mail lists are accessible to the general public, the knowledge of the availability of interactive, computer-based English courses has increased our potential student base, and Tomball College will offer a total of nine English courses via the Web in Fall 1996. This new "place" to teach and learn has also brought to the forefront other important factors, such as control, authority, cost, and access (or lack of it).