September 1996


Taking a Writing for the Web Class? Don't Get Ripped Off!

by John December

Imagine signing up for a creative writing class and finding out the instructor covers no more than touch typing.

You may have paid a thousand or more dollars for the course. You eagerly anticipated expanding your creative skills with language and growing your appreciation of how language can evoke experience. But on the first day, you find out that the text for the course is Teach Yourself Typing. The instructor describes, with enthusiasm, how you will soon master the keyboard--you'll know all the keys, all the keystroke combinations, and how to properly insert and take out paper. This, the instructor breathlessly tells you, will make you a writer!

No doubt, you would be disappointed if such a scenario happened in a class you took. What institution would offer such a ludicrous course? Probably none. But many institutions are offering something similar: poorly constructed courses about "writing for the World Wide Web."

The Web has exploded in popularity. Many organizations and institutions need people to develop Web sites, yet there is little training for Web content developers. Therefore, the higher education industry justifiably salivates at the opportunity to fill this gap. Many higher educational institutions, having difficulty drawing customers, offer "Writing for the Web" classes. These courses raise the profile of the institution--showing off "cutting edge" technology (despite the fact that writing for the Web has been going on for about a half-decade).

It's too bad that some of these courses are oriented only to the mechanics of the Web: HTML, graphics, multimedia, and other buzzwords that the Internet industry regularly pumps out. Instead of focusing on meaning-centered processes, such as a process-oriented information development methodology, these courses instead focus on the "coolness" of the technology. This emphasis may attract and please the students who may love the Web because of its current place within popular culture. But a technology-oriented emphasis gives students nothing for the months and years after the course, when everything they would have learned will probably be out of date or occluded by still newer, jazzier technologies.

The education industry certainly must step up to the challenge of providing excellent instruction in Web information development. But course instructors should not be blinded by science: creating meaning online is a relatively new activity, but focusing on only the mechanics of it gets students nowhere. Writing for the Web involves much of the same drive and creative innovation that compels poets, philosophers, and essayists to record language on paper. We are still discovering how this creative drive can be expressed in hypertext and other means on the Web. We must discover these means of expression and teach them, and not get caught in mere technology: the medium of the Web is not its message. [TOC]

John December is editor of CMC Magazine.

Copyright © 1996 John December. All Rights Reserved.

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