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I decided to undertake this project for a number of reasons. I wanted to explore the use of imagery in monument design, so I knew to do that I would need a medium where I could easily and cheaply incorporate images with the text, and the web, or, more accurately, the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web-authoring programs enable me to do this. But as I began to create a web page and after my lousy first attempt that my professor called an "amphibious creature" caught somewhere between a print document and hypertext, I also realized that cognitively, in designing the web page, I was entering new territory, which leads me to the numerous reasons for why I chose to incorporate a metacognitive thread into the project as well.
In her book "In the Age of the Smart Machine," Zuboff (1988) studied the changes that computerization brings to various companies. For several years she interviewed people before, during, and after their workplaces were computerized, recording how they initially reacted to computers and then, later, how computers became incorporated into their concept of work. At the time of her research she felt that the people she studied "were on the edge of a historical transformation of immense proportions" (p. xiii) and that because "history would offer only a brief window" during which computers were not familiar, she felt that the "The jolt of unfamiliarity had to be exploited for the heightened sensibility it brings" (p. xiv). Similarly, I feel that the ways we conceptualize writing and the teaching of writing is on the cusp of change. In fact, if I adapt as quickly as some of the workers in Zuboff's study, then in a few years creating hyperlinked documents may become second-nature , and I won't even think about so many of the issues that I struggle with right now.
For me, a person schooled in a linear, print way, the process is at times overwhelming. So I am creating this web project, or at least this metacognitive ring of the web project, as a means to exploit the "heightened sensibility" brought on by my immersion in the unfamiliar.
A number of composition theorists have examined their students' experiences with hypertext, and the questions they ask of their students are ones that I feel as a writing instructor I can and should ask of myself. McKillop and Myers (1999) focused their research on "How do students compose in hypermedia? What influences are there on that process?"(p. 69). In separate studies Dewitt (1999) and Norton, Zimmerman, and Lindeman (1999) examined how students conceptualize and structure hyperlinks and how that conceptualizing differs from linear-based conceptions. And Golson (1999) focused on "The links, the trails of cognition, and the shaping" in hypertext and and asked "What guides the shaping?" (p. 155). In my various metacognitive pages, I attempt to discuss some of these different issues, particularly the conception and use of hyperlinks. (See Writing with Hyperlinks for a more detailed analysis of hypertextual writing.)
By studying my own composition processes, rather than my students',
I believe I have gained greater understanding of some of the possibilities
and pitfalls of hypertext. For example, without my own experience with hypertext,
I would not really understand what McKillop and Myers (1999) meant when they
wrote that "the authors in our study brought to the hypermedia electronic
space the traditional mind set of linear exposition," a common statement
in the numerous reports I read (p. 113), or what Dewitt (1999) meant when
he stated that "hypertextualizing composition instruction means rethinking
how both we as teachers and the English studies program to which we belong
operate"(p. 145), or Morton's (1999) call that TAs should receive help
to "conceptualize and understand their own uses of hypertext" before
writing programs "encourage or expect TAs to introduce hypertexts into
their classrooms"(p. 265).
Speaking from experience, reading hypertext and writing it are two completely different operations, and just reading and analyzing the hypertext composed by others does not prepare someone for the actual experience of composing in hypertext. ( I guess this is an updated version of "you only learn writing by writing.") So it is my hope that the understanding I gain about composing in hypertext--and I'm sure my understanding will continually evolve--will help me teach my students how to both design and critique hypertext compositions (Kress, 1999). In fact, when I do design a course incorporating web design, I plan to save my notes and my handwritten site map, and, of course, this site to share with my students.