spring 1997

   of english

   of virginia

Elizabeth Bluemink's "Hypertext and Mass Media" combines an attractive site with some mature writing about the new media that convincingly articulates the proto-hypertextuality of previous mass communication technologies such as the newspaper. My only concern with this project is the brevity of some of its prose passages (after all, there's certainly enough to say about the topics Bluemink is addressing). 


Dave Cohen's "Exploration Into the Next Frontier" is consistently engaging on every level, a virtuoso performance of wickedly clever design and fine prose shifting across multiple rhetorical stances and authorial voices. This rich, fascinatingly allusive hypertext is one of the two or three best pieces of student work I've seen in any medium, and is a bracing rejoinder to those who would suggest that the Web is without value as a writing space. 


Robb DeJean's "Cyberspace, Virtual Reality, & The Web" is a thoughtful consideration of recent developments in information technology; but DeJean's work is also unabashedly playful, bringing a refreshing sense of humor to his topic. The hypertext offers a strong dose of collage, though it's obviously collage with a techno-edge: the blinking and flashing images and backgrounds and text colors are all evocative of our most commonplace imaginging of the medium -- but DeJean finds rhetorical potential amid the glitz. 


In "After Modernism Comes . . . What?" Tom Hastings adopts a relatively conservative design for his hypertext, with the majority of its links spoking from the initial page. His brisk prose and effective descriptions create a likeable narrative of postmodern literary forms. Still, I would have enjoyed more of a sense of movement through the essay, some trajectory of links that carried me beyond the initial starting point. One obvious place to have attempted this would have been a "conclusion," obviously a suspect word in this medium -- or perhaps several conclusions, each originating from different arrival points. 


Jessica Henderson begins by asking: "Is the Internet Replacing Human Interaction?" Shrewd prose and some stunning visual design quickly complicate that otherwise tendentious question; with the simple but effective device of the split-screen presentation she achieves a near seamless blend of medium and message. Perhaps the most important thing the author does is to allow the contents of the different frames to cross-over into one another, making the piece much more interesting and helpfully complicating what otherwise would have been a facile opposition between the personal and the artificial. 


Brian Hunt's "Slaves to Technology?" is top-notch work, clever and subtle, self-conscious of its medium without being seduced by it. Like Henderson, Hunt immediately seizes the reader's attention through a dramatic opening juxtaposition, in this case between television and the Web. The conventions of HTML become rhetorical devices here through the absence of links in the former column and their plenitude in the latter. Likewise, the passage quoted from White Noise relies entirely on its visual dimension to allude to the pervasiveness of TV in postmodern consciousness. 


In "This Is Your (Internet) Life" Kathleen Kambic mixes critical commentary with personal reflection; the result is quite compelling, with the medium itself rendered as a space simultaneously permitting introspection and connection. My main criticisms of this project are not at the level of concept but rather design technicalities: for example, the frames don't work as well as they might because on many monitors the pages don't have enough room to display -- the image-mapped card catalog, which is a wonderful interface, could perhaps have been accessed in some other way, a separate browser window for example. 


Barbara Kirkman's "Post Modernism in Contemporary Literature" is a good attempt to work through some of the major themes and issues we considered in the course. Nonetheless,this essay has two major flaws: first, several of the links are broken; second, and more importantly, the essay's attribution of other online sources is problematic. Citations apparently refer to path names on a hard drive, not URLs, and often it is difficult to tell where the student's work ends and someone else's begins.  
[ Editor's Note ] 


Greg Moore's "Postmodernism: People, Computers, and the Internet" initially appears to be a linear essay: which it is, geometrically. But the writing loosens up, both in discursive stlye -- a gradual shift from an objective survey of various theories of the postmodern to more subjective musings -- and also in the way the linearity itself begins to unravel, first through the intrusion of quotations and then visually, as the writing becomes sparser until the essay trails off into the final set of quoations and allusions (which rather resemble bursts of static). Having said that, I still think the writer is playing it safe at heart, and that some more aggressive experimentation with the non-linear capabilities of the medium would have been desirable. 


Jocelyn Payne's "Virtual Reality" establishes some solid connections between information technology and the literary texts surveyed in our course. I think, however, that the project could have been more innovative in its use of the medium. The frames, for example, don't seem to accomplish much in the way of generating textual energy through juxtaposition -- they function mainly as organizational devices. Likewise, the images seem more decorative than integral parts of the text. And, I would have liked to have seen some of the longer stretches of prose broken up as an attempt to experiment more with the possibilities of hypertext. 



What follows are some observations meant to supplement the student projects and other course materials for the course entitled "Literary Narrative in an Information Age." The remarks below are essentially my field notes on teaching hypertext in the college classroom: one semester, fifteen weeks, thirty 75-minute sessions, twenty pages of required writing (or the equivalent in kilobytes), three credit-hours earned, eleven enrolled students (and one auditor), ENLT 248, Spring 1997 at the University of Virginia. 

ENLT 248 is the Virginia English Department's rubric for an introductory-level seminar in contemporary fiction. When I was asked to teach a course under this rubric last fall I prepared the following description for the undergraduate catalogue: 


How does literary culture perform its age-old ritual of narrative in an era when fragmentary and discrete units of information -- whether they come in the form of the mass-media soundbite, the corporate icons littering the plastic landscape of MTV's alternative nation, or the hypertext link of the World-Wide Web -- have become the dominant means by which we communicate with the communities and cultures of which we are a part? In this course we will explore the ways in which a number of contemporary novelists have responded to the challenge of living and writing in the latter half of the 20th Century -- a historical moment in which even the paper and ink with which they have traditionally worked have begun dissolving into the electronic hyperspaces of the post-print era. Under what conditions does story-telling still remain possible? Is the fragmentation of the literary text a progressive rethinking of past narrative conventions or a potentially dangerous development for writers whose fiction engages the social realities of their day? What is really at stake in the distinction made by one recent critic [Alan Liu] between being well-read and well-informed? 
From the outset I envisioned this course as culminating in a set of Web-based hypertext projects which would be distinguished from the customary term paper in two ways: 1) they would be electronic in nature, allowing the students to write and work in the medium they had spent a semester exploring; and, 2) unlike most term papers, the projects would be collaborative in nature. 

At the time I also had a vague notion of eventually seeing the work produced by the students published in some recognized forum. Instructors who teach with online technology often speak of "publishing" work by their students in the sense that it has become relatively common to see portfolios of student writing available on the Web. I had done this myself in a previous class, a composition section. 

But what exactly do we mean when we speak of the Web as a publication medium for student writing? Is there a difference between publishing and making student work public? Is publishing or publicizing it worth the effort? Does anyone (proud parents aside) actually read student essays online? Are there circumstances in which it is appropriate to submit undergraduate writing to a scholarly journal, electronic or otherwise? And how, finally, does student writing alter the professional economies that govern academic publishing? 

As I have said, I had already begun working through some of these questions in an earlier class, a composition course offered in the Fall of 1995. At the close of that class, my students "published" what I then described as a collaborative hypertext, entitled Once Upon a Time in the Eighties; essentially it was a collection of linear, individually authored essays which shared a common concern with some figure, event, or trend from the 1980s, and which featured some modest internal linking and a smattering of images. Written and assembled during the final weeks of the semester, Once Upon a Time in the Eighties was subsequently reviewed by Point and rated a "Top 5% Web Site," and has also been a featured link on several high-profile Internet hotlists, including Yahoo's "What's Cool" links. 

Although I think the overall quality of the student work is good, it's not clear to me whether the standards used in establishing these rankings had anything at all to do with the writing (I tend to doubt it), or even why an essay about the Challenger explosion or the eighties' sneaker boom might be considered "cool." But because of the publicity, the site now records upwards of 100 hits per day, making it the most popular item on the English Department's Web server -- and (nearly two years later), the students still receive regular comments on their work. 

But with "Literary Narrative in an Information Age" I was after something different. The Eighties project was gratifying in that it confirmed my belief that the most crucial element Web publishing adds to student writing is the dimension of audience. Now I wanted to try something different: I was less interested in hit counts than I was in discovering whether student writing could actually contribute to a scholarly conversation. This, after all, is one of the core claims of orthodox hypertext theory: time and again we read that hypertext is a democratic technology in that it decenters any one person or institution or text as the locus of authority. The pedagogical implications here are obvious, and they have been explored by such commentators on the medium as Michael Joyce, George Landow, and Gregory Ulmer, not to mention many previous contributors to Kairos

I was (and still am) skeptical of these democratizing claims to the extent that they gloss over the complexity of the institutional and material circumstances governing our professional conversations. But it seemed clear to me that in order for student hypertext writing to even begin to claim an equal footing with established voices in the field, it first needed to be read by the owners of those voices -- and not just by cyberspace's yahoos and accidental tourists. 

 So it was that during the Spring 1997 semester, as the class was underway, Doug Brent published a piece called "Rhetorics of the Web" in Kairos 2.1; I immediately decided to assign Brent's hypertext to my class as both an introduction to the rhetorical challenges posed by electronic writing spaces (its arguments are easily accessible to undergraduates), and also as a position statement of sorts which the students could respond to in order to develop their own views on writing hypertext. 

These responses to Brent served as "beta tests" for the final project; what's more, by giving the class a specific argument to respond to, I had immediately positioned each of the students within an ongoing critical dialogue. What they didn't know but perhaps suspected was that I planned to invite Doug Brent to read and reply to their responses to him. Brent obliged with several sets of comments (available here and here), as did other scholars after I announced the projects on public listservs. In particular, the following remark (from the message archived at the preceding link) seems significant to me: 

 ENLT 248, 

 First of all, thanks for the quick overview of Brents _Rhetoric of the Web_. One of those nice things about the web is the ease of information access, and your site gave me a wonderful digest of Brent (OH! If only I had the time to read EVERYTHING). 

 Here the students are participating in an academic conversation at its most mundane level: collectively they have acted as reviewers, offering a synopsis of a recent piece of scholarship which the author's colleagues may have a professional interest in, but not the time to immediately read in full.  

Just as importantly, their beta test responses to Brent allowed my students to begin accommodating themselves to the Web as a writing space. Not all of their first efforts were very successful -- though some were extraordinary -- but then again, there is no doubt it is asking a lot for any writer to take hold of a new expressive medium overnight (and, as is the way of things, many of the hypertexts for this first assignment were probably written quite literally overnight). The beta tests are included here both because of their interest as a response to Brent, and also because they make it possible to trace the development of individual students' hypertexts from their first attempt to their work on the final projects (listed to the left). 

 As a publication venue for student work, this Kairos issue is to a certain extent a compromise, since the student writing is clearly being presented here in a highly contextualized manner, appearing as the focus of a "Classroom Spotlight" and framed by this set of introductory remarks (or "wrapper" as we've taken to calling it) from the instructor. Nonetheless, I think this controlled environment is probably the best solution. 

A good deal of the student work can in fact stand alone on intellectual merit: Jessica Henderson's project, for example, which takes as its point of departure the question of whether the online environment is fundamentally impersonal. Henderson opens her hypertext with a split-screen display: to the left, a gorgeous, radiant sunrise which is the backdrop for a quotation from Michael Joyce, "We are all of us at the dawning of what will eventually will be seen as a new language"; while in the right-hand frame, Henderson constructs a grey, metallic space, studded with buttons inscribed with binary code. As her hypertext unfolds, however, these initial dichotomies collapse, and the contents of the opposing frames begin crossing-over into one another, reflecting her complication of the initial question. 

Or else, David Cohen's "Exploration into the Next Frontier," which is an exploration in the fullest sense of the word: his initial query, "Where will we go next?" (placed beneath a Renaissance-era world map) opens out onto a vast expanse of links and nodes which few readers will traverse entirely upon their first encounter with this complex hypertext. Of course it is also true that certain of the projects are less ambitious or compelling, but here -- in this context -- these too have immediate value by providing documentary evidence of what can and cannot be achieved in the classroom in the space of a single semester. The rhetorical failings or conceptual dead-ends are therefore themselves eloquent as expressions of the limits of the technology's impact on the students' writing practices -- at least to the extent that these students and their classroom setting are typical. 


I'm not going to comment further on the individual projects here. I leave it to Kairos's readers to explore the communicative horizons of each student's hypertext. But there is one recurring theme I want to address, namely the skepticism with which many of my student's approached hypermedia as a discursive medium. Doug Brent poses the question this way: 

If "good" hypertext has no preset form, no default path for the reader, then has the rhetor any reliable way of presenting her thoughts to others? Do we sacrifice the ability to share others' minds in the labyrinth of the self-constructed, always evolving text? 


My students, for all their putative Gen-X attention deficits, were wary of a medium that promises (at its most vulgar) the expository equivalent of channel-surfing. They dug in their heels -- many of them -- and at least initially tended to regard my hypertext assignments as moments of truth in which they needed to choose sides, either for print and its cultural heritage, indeed for Civilization Itself, or for the self-indulgent anarchy of the vast and nebulous Web. I've encountered this response (to greater or lesser extents) from students often enough before to have given it a name: the Foreign Legion Syndrome. 

What's behind this moniker is the perceived notion that any dipping of the toe into the Lethean stream of hypertext entails an irrevocable renouncement of all belief in linearity, meaning, and order, in favor of having signed oneself away into a nomadic troop of brazen cultural guerillas possessed of dubious motive. Here for instance are excerpts from an email message one of my brightest students sent to me after I responded critically to his reply to Brent, which I had thought disappointing in its timidity and recalcitrance toward the medium: 

 As for you thinking I should find the exploratory model of learning attractive, fine, I do, and I love to learn that way, but when it comes to writing essays, when was the last time a professor really cared about or expected to learn anything from a student? Let's be realistic here, I write essays, not textbooks. Students don't write essays for the enlightenment of their professors, essays are supposed to express opinions. This is subjective, not objective. I don't think that the exploratory format is suitable for college essay writing. For this to happen, a lot is going to have to change first. 

 [. . .] 

 For instance, If I was writing an essay on abortion and I wanted to argue the pro-life side, a linear essay would be better than hypertext. Having the reader jump around would weaken whatever argument I was trying to make. On the other hand, If I was presenting both sides with the intention of letting the reader make his or her own decision, Hypertext would be fine. Here's the problem with hypertext: when professors assign papers they expect some kind of thesis. Hypertext is great for presenting the facts, but when it comes to making a point about those facts, you need to have complete control over the order in which you present things. 

 [. . .] 

 If hypertext is good mainly in exploring (not arguing) what are we supposed to do? I have been trained to argue -- exploring means having an ambivalent thesis and a weak conclusion (like Brent). Unless my thesis is a double-sided argument I'm afraid I won't take advantage of the medium. It's fine with me to create a project like this (exploratory), but I'm more comfortable with the traditional essay. It's going to be hard to come up with a clear thesis that also employs all of the bells and whistles of HTML. I guess that was really the point of my essay. I think hypertext is good for artistic effects and rhetorically ironic devices, but not for rhetorical essays. Poetry, not prose. Textbooks, not essays. Literature, not criticism. It may I ndeed change the nature of literary narratives and help literature be responsive to the world we currently live in, but it's going to be nearly impossible to write a real essay that uses hypertext creatively. 

 Obviously there's much one could say in response to the institutional conditioning that leads students to think that they are not meant to "write essays for the enlightenment of their professors." Significantly, a similar concern was articulated by several members of the class when we first discussed the possibility of submitting their work to Kairos or some other professional journal; they said in effect, "How can our work be published alongside the writing of people with advanced degrees and who are specialists in this field? Why would anyone take it seriously? Or worse yet, what if someone did take us seriously, and used our projects as a basis for their own research?" 

 From its earliest days, whenever hypertext theory has turned its attention to pedagogy it has done so with goal of breaking down precisely this sort of client-server model of the student's role in the classroom. We discussed this at the time, along with the fact that everyone working -- writing -- on the Web is still a relative newcomer to the medium and its rhetorics, and that their insights, as students, had the potential to be as subtle as those of any professor. But what I really want to underscore here is the way in which this student (who had earlier in the semester turned in a daring printed essay on Borges that carried out much of its argument through the footnotes) froze when caught in the highbeams of the information superhighway, retreating to the safety of a monologic, thesis-driven model of writing when faced with conscription into the hypertext Foreign Legion. 


My response, not only to this student, but to the Foreign Legion Syndrome more generally, is that writing in hypertext should not be regarded as an absolute binary either/or choice. The medium should be understood as an experimental space, one that is suited to some writing situations, and perhaps less well-suited to others. It is an extension of our writing environment, not a replacement for earlier, supposedly outmoded forms. This is also Brent's essential conclusion in "Rhetorics of the Web," where he writes: 

If hypertext does become a major medium for scholarly, argumentative, discursive, or philosophical rhetoric, we will therefore need to engage in rhetorical analysis of its rhetorical forms (assuming that it develops stable forms). Our problem, of course, is that we do not yet have a very clear idea of what rhetorical forms hypertext may take, or even whether it will catch on as a medium for argumentative rhetoric at all. 


The point here is not to be wishy-washy or noncommittal, but rather to emphasize to students the extent to which all writing technologies, print included, impose certain horizons of restrictions and possibilities. Any change in the medium dramatizes those restrictions and possibilities by foregrounding both their old and their new rhetorical forms. Writing in hypertext can be seen as analogous to the cognitive shift that accompanies learning a foreign language: the experience of radical difference at some fundamental level of expression reveals the underlying structure and assumptions of the once-naturalized communicative process. Or to come at this all in yet another way, consider the messages which I posted in response to two students on the class list early one morning following a MOO-meeting with Michael Joyce, author of the classic hypertext novel afternoon which we had just read [student comments are preceded by angle brackets]: 

 > If this text-based virtual reality 
> is supposed to be so good 
> for learning, and he felt so linked  
> with his geographically far 
> away class, what are we doing 
> wrong? Why don't I feel like I 
> accomplished a lot or learned a 
> lot in an hour long 
> "discussion" with the author 
> of our latest novel? 

Perhaps its because either consciously or unconsciously you're imposing the same expectations on the discussion that you would have had were Joyce actually physically present in Bryan 203 with us. He wasn't. He was here "virtually" and that's not just cute wordplay -- the medium makes a difference, it makes for a different kind of communication, and therefore carries with it a different set of expectations. And I suppose this is also where Joyce's slipperiness comes in -- you'll notice, for example that he occasionally responded to questions with gestures rather than words, as when he "didn't reply in words" or displayed his modernist identity card (though on another level *everything* in this space is words, language). 

 Had it been within my power, I think I would have preferred bringing Joyce (or another author) physically into class. But it wasn't. But the point is also not that the MOO is the "next best thing," but rather that the MOO is a "different thing" i.e. a thing -- a tool, a technology -- that allows for a form of interaction that made for a different class than would have been possible if Joyce were physically present or if Joyce had not been present in any way, at all. 

 > since i've never seen him nor 
> heard his voice, how do I know it was 
> really he whom I was speaking with? 

In a very real sense, we weren't speaking with Michael Joyce at all. We were speaking with Michael.Joyce. The difference made by the punctuation is just one trace of the role the medium plays in constructing his and all of our identities and personalities in the MOO. These independent personalities have been with us in our previous MOOs as well, though I think they were foregrounded in this case by the presence of an outsider. 

 Nor is this phenomenon limited to the MOO. Email, I'd say, is another instance, where mgk3k@virginia.edu (for example) becomes a different entity from the flesh-and-blood me. Not that "I'm" not really typing this message -- but "I" can do things here that I can't do in Bryan 203 (and vice versa). 

 [interlude: it's 1:37 AM by my clock; am I "teaching" now, at this ridiculous hour? am I addressing -- albeit asynchronously -- you all collectively as a class? I suppose I am, but then the question becomes, who is the "I" of which I speak? and who is the class, your twelve individual identities, or enlt248@virginia.edu?] 

 Again, I'm not that interested in value judgements here (i.e., the MOO was better than email but not as good as face to face, etc.); rather, what's interesting to me is the way these different communicative media combine to create a spectrum of possibilities that illuminates the power and limitations of each form of interaction. Which is also, I'd say, a variation on the argument about hypertext that I've been making all semester. 

I signed this message with "mgk3k," my email ID, rather than my usual "Matt." Although many of the students remained guarded in their attitudes toward the medium, even in their final projects, I believe that I met with some success in presenting the view that electronic textuality is properly understood as a part of the above-described "spectrum of possibilities," a spectrum composed of our various writing tools and the different kinds of writing people do. 

The distance separating the initial and concluding attitudes among the students is clearly evident in the contrast between the final set of projects, and their first responses to Brent, where many of the students were much harsher in their assessment of the rhetorical potential of hypertext; they were encouraged in part I think by Brent's own cautious and even somewhat skeptical views of the medium. But where Brent's ambivalence is ultimately in the service of positioning hypertext and the Web within a broader set of rhetorical strategies and their attendant material technologies, many of the student's mistook such measured statements as "the structure of hypertext encourages a rapid movement from item to item that could discourage reflective engagement with the medium" as outright hostility toward the medium on its own terms. 

 Some additional comments, mainly on logistics. I assumed from day one that while many of my students would have surfed the Web before, and while a few might have already written their own homepages, that I would need to teach them HTML and various other technical skills from the ground up. I therfore structured our writing assignments in such a way that the students would gradually find themselves eased into the medium. 

The first response paper was to be a conventional in every way, a sample of expository writing turned in as a printed document on paper; my rationale at the time was that for this first assignment I wanted to get a sense of how the students would write when their medium was transparent to them and the instructor's expectations were the familiar ones. Hindsight allows me to see that these turned out to be by and large the least inspiring works of the semester. 

The second of the three response papers was to be more or less conventional in its aims and style, but was to be submitted to me as an online rather than a printed document. To prepare students for this task, I had them attend a 90-minute HTML workshop presented by the Library's Electronic Text Center. This covered the basic concept of marking up a text, and provided students with the core tags they would need to place their papers online. 

The third response paper, the one on Brent's essay, was conceived by me as a "dress rehearsal" for the final hypertext project. I encouraged students to experiment with internal and external linking, with incorporating images into their writing, and with using graphic design and page layout as extensions of their verbal rhetoric. We spent two class sessions critiquing the results of previous class's (at Virginia and elsewhere) which had included online projects in their requirements -- this proved to be an important step in getting students to begin thinking seriously about what it meant to write in a new medium, and what they wanted to accomplish with their own work. 

In between this essay and the previous one, I had also been gradually building their HTML vocabularies through what I called, tongue-in-cheek, the "tag-o'-the-day" method. At the beginning of every class I spent five or (no more than) ten minutes teaching them a new HTML tag and answering technical questions. By the end of the semester we had tackled tables and frames; students were also free to experiment with JavaScript and the like, and some did, but I did not cover in class any Web programming other than HTML. The key point here is that rather than smothering my students with the full load of technical matters, I saw to it that they had learned the basics through the Library workshop and then built upon those basics gradually, and in such a way that was largely non-intrusive to the literary focus of the class. 

 Virginia's English Department is fortunate enough to have its own Web server to maintain, with some four gigabytes of storage space. Humanities departments with their own servers are still the exception rather than the rule at most universities. I believe it is imperative for English departments and other humanities departments to begin becoming technologically self-sufficient, acquiring their own disk space, network access, technical expertise, and so on such that they are not forever relying on the hand-me-downs of, say, the local Applied Engineering program. 

It strikes me as significant that those English Department's which seem to have made the greatest strides with the new technologies -- in addition to Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Texas at Austin, and a handful of others -- all possess their own servers. At Virginia, any faculty member or graduate student teaching in the Department is entitled to an account and disk space. In the past, group accounts were created, with a shared login and password for the instructor and students. More recently, the Department's Web editorial committee decided that this situation presented enough of a security risk to warrant an account for the instructor only; students are given access to the server via a public FTP directory where they can deposit and retrieve materials in dropbox fashion. 

 In practice, the students found the FTP system cumbersome. Though the courses' main Web pages and other materials were mounted on the Department's server via my instructor's account, we decided that their individual projects would (temporarily) reside in their personal accounts on the University-wide server where they each possessed direct login access. Each student is allocated 20 MB of personal disk space, which proved sufficient for the various text and image files they accumulated. 

Since it is the University's policy, however, to terminate student accounts upon graduation, I took the precaution of a.) having each student submit their work for class to me on floppy disk at the end of the semester, and b.) having all of their course-related Web materials archived in .tar files which I then transferred to the English server for permanent safe-keeping. When I teach a course with Web projects in the future, I probably will insist that students learn to use the server's dropbox; though it means that they cannot edit their work directly online, it is the best solution under the circumstances for ensuring that none of their work is lost in the electronic shuffle. 

 The use of electronic mail lists as extensions of classroom discussions has been well-documented, and I will not go into details about our majordomo list here. I do, however, want to draw attention to the utility of Hypermail, software which builds a dynamic Web-based archive of an electronic mail list. All messages sent to the class list over the course of the semester were archived by the Hypermail program, and the archive is accessible as a link off of the main class homepage. The result is that the discussion list is transformed into an evolving communal resource which the students can refer back to throughout the semester, without needing to save numerous messages in their personal mail folders. Several students commented that the Hypermail-generated site was an invaluable resource in studying for the final exam. 

It's also worth mentioning that a second class at Virginia that semester, an upper level majors class on contemporary literature, was reading many of the same books we were, and likewise had its own Hypermail archive. Throughout the semester students from both class's browsed and occasionally contributed to the discussion list in the other class. 

 I have restricted my comments here mainly to the ins and outs of teaching hypertext as a rhetorical form, and to the logistics of assigning students work to be completed online, in HTML. Much of our classroom time, however, was spent on more traditional matters, or at least "traditional" understood in the context of a contemporary literature seminar which focused on postmodern and experimental writing. Michael Joyce's interactive novel afternoon, and his Web-based short story "Twelve Blue" were in fact the only actual hypertextual works we read (though we spent much time with such proto-hypertextual writers as Borges, Calvino, Acker, and Nicholson Baker). 

I chose afternoon as a text for "Literary Narrative in an Information Age" for two reasons: First because it has become the best-known, one could even say canonical work of electronic fiction (excerpts will be included in the next edition of Norton's Anthology of Postmodern Literature) -- and deservedly so, for the quality of the writing is remarkable, and while I'm extremely dubious of attempts to separate content from form, I cannot ignore the fact that many students commented that they would have enjoyed the prose even if it were "only" in print. 

The second reason I selected it is that afternoon is written not in HTML, but rather using a proprietary hypertext system known as Storyspace, whose interface and features differ in a number of important respects from HTML-based hypertexts. afternoon is distributed as a 3.5" disk, a piece of software (essentially) that one installs on their computer. The choice of afternoon therefore helped reinforce my argument about writing's "spectrum of possibilities" in yet another way: even the electronic medium, my students saw, was not homogeneous. afternoon was neither on the Web nor of Web. 

If our students are to begin applying to their wired world the kinds of critical thinking skills that we have thus far sought to teach mainly through attention to printed texts, then it is vital that we begin insisting on the electronic medium not only as one that is different from print, but also as a medium that is itself composed of multiple writing technologies -- hypertext in its varied forms, electronic mail, MOOs, and so on -- all with distinct rhetorical possibilities and material limitations. Failing this, we who teach and write (here and in other spaces) are likely to learn that we have made fewer differences than we once thought.