The Web is not a library

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Chris Abbott, in his EICC workshop, will raise issues about the World Wide Web that arise not only for teachers, but also for examining bodies, administrators and school managers.

A research fellow at King's College, London, Abbot believes that the Internet is primarily a place for writers and publishers: those who think of it as a vast virtual library are missing the point. He says it is an enormous, dynamic international publishing house, in which anything can be published, by anyone, at any length and in almost any form. Although there are parts of the Web that demonstrate how anarchic and pointless vanity publishing on a large scale can be, there are also many sites which have developed a regular audience or readership.

There is synergy, not conflict, between the electronic and printed word, Abbott argues. The Web is playing host to a renaissance of writing and a rebirth of small local publishing. For example, many British poets who find it difficult to get published by conventional publishers, are active on the Web. Sites such as the Bristol Poetry Page are allowing regional writers to reach new readers and stimulate interest in their poetry.

Traditional stories, many in danger of being forgotten, are being collected and archived through this medium, especially in North america. Some early British work is contained in a fascinating collection of Scottish myths. There are anthologies and archives of both prose and poetry which allow schools to tap into a far wider range of sources than their own libraries provide.

Such sites offer obvious opportunities to English teachers, using the Web in "library" mode. However, it is the scope for young writers to publish their work which presents a radical challenge to traditional methods of teaching and examining.

Many young writers have published their work on the Web, for example the Wheatley Park Writers' Web site has poems of quality from pupils at an Oxfordshire school who have chosen to become members of a writers' group. Yet few (if any) young writers receive recognition for their Web publications within the school curriculum and examination framework. Their teachers may not even be aware of their activity.

Abbott wants to urge schools and examining bodies to plan how they can accept and assess electronic items as part of coursework. Schools might also reconsider the assumption that print is the only medium for their magazines. Electronic magazines (Ezines to the cognoscenti) such as Bricolage provide an alternative model.

Teachers should consider the implications of e-mail for more constructive methods of helping young writers than the red pen. By receiving text on-line and embedding comments and queries (in a different font, so authorship is not confused), the teacher can move toward a model of shared writing.

This has major implications for correction time and e-mail access, but the creative opportunities should not be missed. Electronic editing and commenting allows pupils to write collaboratively with their peers, without imposing extra demands on teacher time.

* Bristol Poetry Page Wheatley Park Writers' site

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