Classrooms which have computers and access to the internet, but which are not networked can benefit from the incorporation of hypertext in the same ways that non-networked/no internet access environments can; however, internet access adds another layer of complexity (and another level of opportunity) to the use of hypertext in the writing class. Access to the Internet (in this context I am referring to access to the World Wide Web--not just email, for instance) can provide both positive and negative models for hypertextual writing, and it can offer a rich source of material--material which can be appropriated, manipulated, and incorporated into the students' texts.
One of the possible disadvantages of WWW access is that students may be tempted to model their forays into hypertext after what they see and experience on the Web. I would argue that if we hope to see digital media become the main form of cultural discourse (displacing the printed text), then we must also provide information resources that have the depth and sustained focus that printed texts are known for, while also radically changing the structure of the text and the function of the author. Kairos and other web journals are beginning to do just that, and I encourage composition instructors who incorporate hypertext into their classes to guide their students away from the current web-rhetoric of organizing and categorizing lists of links--a rhetoric which encourages writers only to make links rather than contributing original thought to the socially-constructed on-line culture. I recommend that instructors first encourage students to create their own hypertexts, and then allow them to see the good, the bad, and the ugly webpages currently proliferating on the web itself. Ideally, students will be asked to critique existing web-page genres, after first identifying those genres and the criteria by which they should be judged (see, for instance, the web analysis assignment at the end of this lexia). Thus, hypertext (and more specifcally the World Wide Web) becomes not only a text to be written, but also a text to be read.
Aside from providing a truly multivocal text for students to analyze and critique, the WWW also offers a wealth of texts for appropriation. By appropriation, I mean the taking of an external text and internalizing it, changing it by virtue of placing it in a new context and making it one's own, in the best Bakhtinian tradition. The idea of appropriating and manipulating the texts of others can help to reinforce the notion of a socially-constructed dialogue, but it is also a useful tool for learning to write hypertext. Examining and appropriating (consuming) the works of others can itself be a useful learning tool--for how do we ourselves become better writers if not by reading and to some extent imitating that which we have read and deemed to be of high quality? The appropriation of WWW materials can also be used to support research and argumentative assignments--part of the act of appropriation is the synthesis of the supportive materials (which is really no different from the cognitive process that we as writers use even without computers).
Putting theory into practice: The WWW Page Critique Assignment.