Integration Image

After learning to negogiate the WWW, students are often overwhelmed by the variety of design choices made available to them. Sometimes, I think they are unduly influenced by them. How do we guide students in this environment without constraining them? I believe that gradually integrating HTML into the curriculum as another or complementary compositional medium rather than as a replacement for text is the way to go. I ask students to produce a conventional paper for the first assignment so I can assess them in the print environment, because the transition to the virtual won't automatically improve their textual skills. But the computer environment may make them reconsider the importance of composition. Students begin to realize that their composition skills (in multiple environments) are transferable and meaningful in other contexts.

Integration of HTML into Curriculum
I attempt to make a gradual transition from print to HTML using a series of exercises to familiarize students with a different medium. I begin with an introduction to the internet based on Bruce Sterling's article in addition to other sources. I take time to explain how the web works--that it uses other elements of the internet (newsgroups, email, etc) and presents them through a single interface. It is crucial for students to cognitively grasp some representation of how information on the internet is stored and distributed so they can begin to think of their own work as available to a larger audience.

In all my computer-assisted courses, I teach my students how to use the World Wide Web as well as generate a bookmarks file (using a modification of the handout linked). After learning about search engines as well as how to use the particular client (three years ago I used Mosaic and now I primarily teach with Netscape), students are asked to submit their favorite web site to the class list-serv and articulate why they liked that site. All they have to send is a simple one or two sentence message that includes the URL. It surprises me that some students are already very aware of design considerations and mention this in their messages. Here are three examples from my 309M Computers and Writing Course mailing list:

  1. Colin sent a message about a web site and observes that it contains the a similar "writing style" to what we were doing in class and that it could serve as an example for their own work.
  2. One student, Cloyce, also sent a message about design before I asked the class to consider it as an issue.
  3. Claire sent a message about "the specter of multimedia mediocrity" that follows up Cloyce's posting.

The next 309M assignment (in collaborative groups) asked for a one page evaluation regarding the design of a particular Wired magazine (hard copy). I was especially interested in their responses to the unusual color and layout scheme of the magazine. The groups were divided about whether the colors were "appropriate" (none of the students liked the early florescent orange style of the early Wired magazines, though found other colors acceptable or "inventive") and if the articles were readable (from a design perspective).

Design author Edward Tufte recommends that we use a palette of colors "found in nature, especially those on the lighter side, such as blues, yellows and grays of sky and shadow" to represent and illuminate information (90). Tufte's books are terrific design guides and though his recommendation of this palette is understandable, it does not take contemporary college age students into account. Today's students have grown up with MTV and been heavily influenced by the usage of "unnatural" colors. Tufte notes the limitations of color representation on early computer displays, but does not address how American culture has shaped students' awareness of color. I'm not claiming that all students prefer artificial colors over natural ones, but their notion of "familiar" or "natural" colors has shifted. Prior to the class assignment I asked them to read a Handout on Design and the WWW. The groups presented their work to the class and discussed color, composition, graphic use, overall design and text. They also did a similar assignment on an individual basis and had a class discussion about site design. This served as practice for the transition to a WWW evaluation assignment.





Student Examples