- Cyborgography: A Pedagogy of the Home Page
My students make home pages. This simple activity, which takes place in networked computer classrooms, prompts a number of questions for me regarding pedagogy and writing. What is it about the home page that makes it a form of writing? Where does the home page belong in writing instruction? What is the relationship between writing home pages and general writing assignments that often ask students to explore personal narratives or construct arguments? How does the home page assignment reflect other practices relevant in the composition classroom? Is there a pedagogy for teaching home page construction?1
I ask these questions because of the role personal writing plays in both home page writing and many composition courses. Home pages often allow writers a place on the Web to discuss items of personal interest; likewise, many first-year writing courses incorporate the personal into their curricula: "We teach students how writing discovers the self and shares it with others," Erika Lindemann (2001: 7) writes in A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. "Through writing," The St. Martin's Guide to Writing (Axelrod and Cooper 1997: 3) notes, "we learn to reflect deeply on our personal experience and to examine critically our most basic assumptions. Thus writing enables us to understand ourselves better." I wonder what role technology, and in particular the home page, might play in this process. My purpose is to theorize how writing instruction, and consequently writing, changes when we apply technology to personal expression. I want to find a way to juxtapose the personal [End Page 61] writing valued in composition courses with the home page, a typical and familiar place of personal expression.
In composition studies, personal writing has often been defined through the concepts of clarity and coherence. The rhetorical need for clarity and coherence belongs to a long tradition of writing pedagogy dating to Aristotle's remark in The Rhetoric that "a good style is, first of all, clear" (Cooper 1960: 185). Aristotle's interest in clarity derived from his usage of the topoi, set argumentative positions audiences would recognize as familiar (thus helping the discourse to be understood). Following this rhetorical tradition, writing instructors teach students how to reach a given audience by conforming to clear and coherent, established discursive conventions; in other words, students learn how to create familiar writing within familiar situations. On the Web, consultants like Jakob Nielsen (2000, 2002), or organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium, also set standards to quickly establish rules that will instill clarity and coherence in format and design.2 These writers understand the Web (and the home page), too, as a place for familiar writing. When Nielsen, for instance, teaches home page writing, he situates his instructions in terms of clarity. "Use simple sentence structures," Nielsen remarks. "Convoluted writing and complex words are even harder to understand online" (2002). On his own home page, Nielsen writes, "Complexity or confusion make people go away. Of course, all other aspects of bad web design should be fixed as well, but if the homepage doesn't communicate what users can do and why they should care about the website, you might as well not have a website at all" (2002). The framing of Web writing as an issue of clarity prompts me to consider how such a rhetoric might affect or hinder the ways we teach new media like hypertext. I want to consider how clarity and coherence might not suit a specific practice of Web writing, and I want to propose that composition studies imagine unclear methods of home page (and thus personal) writing.