Narratio (Background Information)

For several years I experimented with hypertexts in the classroom. At first I used paper and ink, having students compile hypertexts by weaving together layers of pages and images linked by a numbering system or hierarchical map that would give readers options when consuming the text. Later, when my classes started to meet regularly in a computer lab, we experimented with using files and multiple windows to create the hypertext experience. Yet these experiments were never very satisfying because they were often too cumbersome to manipulate. It wasn't until Netscape Navigator became a fixture on computer lab servers that we found a way to create hypertexts.

Using a word processor, a disk, and a few simple HTML commands, students began creating hypertexts by setting up a number of linked files on a disk. By saving their files as text only with the proper HTML coding, students could view their work using Netscape. Although students enjoyed creating hypertexts in this manner because they could add backgrounds, images, and multiple links, they often lamented being unable to access their work on the internet. During the summer of 1995, I solved this problem by setting up a small internet server on my office computer, a Power Macintosh 6100/60, using the server software MacHTTP. Although a small site, it worked as a wonderful resource for students and colleagues who wanted to publish home pages and hypertexts on the internet. It not only allowed me to set up syllawebs and writing assignments that helped to introduce my students to the resources of the internet, but it also allowed my students to do peer workshops and view sample student papers without the bother and expense of endless copies. Most important, though, it gave my students a sense of accomplishment to see their works "published" on the internet for a larger audience than the instructor.

Students could find an audience for their work by using internet search engines. As many know, internet search engines--such as Alta Vista, InfoSeek, Yahoo, Excite, WebCrawler to name a few of the more well known--are excellent resources for finding information on the internet. Using them, students simply type in keywords, phrases, titles, or names to find information and images on almost any conceivable topic. Yet they are also an important tool for student publication on the internet. When a student posts a project on the internet, the URL (internet address) will be known by only those he/she tells (i.e., the instructor and other students in the class). Students, however, can submit their URL to search engines so that their projects and home pages can be indexed. The indexing process can take anywhere from a few days to a few months depending on the capabilities of the particular search engine. Some search engines will also periodically index servers using automated "robots." Once indexed by a search engine, if a student project contains the names and titles of popular people, terms, or events, it may be visited by several dozen net surfers.

Yet project #17 was a special case. In the first month that it was posted, the Alta Vista search engine indexed my server and the project received over 50,000 hits from keyword searches. After I removed it from the server, it received another 40,000 hits before finally being removed from the Alta Vista index. I should add at this point that I post student projects using a numbering system because it allows me to keep track of student projects more easily and it allows students to post works anonymously. Anonymous posting is important for helping both some reticent students feel more comfortable with web publishing and others, especially women, who are subject to harassment feel safer.

Making things more comfortable and safer for students . . .