Writing
to the
World Wide Web

R e n s s e l a e r_P o l y t e c h n i c_I n s t i t u t e
Spring 1997 | 43.2961.01 | Kevin Hunt, Instructor (huntk@rpi.edu)
Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30 - 11:30 a.m.; Sage 2510
http://www.rpi.edu/dept/emac/webwriting/index.html

Course Description: This course is an introduction to communicating on the World Wide Web. We'll take as a starting point the study of rhetoric -- theories and practices of creating discourse of social value for an intended audience. From there you'll examine how traditional rhetorical theories and practices are being transformed by the Web as we grapple with such issues as what constitutes audience, purpose, exigency, and social value. In the process, you'll examine and develop your own strategies for evaluating and creating effective communication on the Web.

Along the way, you'll consider how the Web is expanding traditional notions of reading and writing in ways that require using tools and methods from fields such as graphic design, human-computer interaction, hypermedia design, and software development.

What It's Not About: This is not a course in HTML coding. While we'll learn HTML, the emphasis will be placed on the whys of using different coding functions; we'll examine how different codes add to or detract from messages aimed at specific audiences -- instead of merely coding features to show we know how to do so. In addition, this is not a course in graphic design. Though we'll of course consider the rhetorical use of graphics, we won't spend a lot of time learning the intricacies of color palettes, JPEGs, GIFs, imagemaps, etc. Nor is this an advanced course in developing Web multimedia applications. However, if you want to explore the use of CGI programming, Java scripts, etc., you're free to do so, provided that you can offer a sound rationale for its use.


Projects and Grading: After discussing the usefulness of various theories, methods, and tools drawn from rhetoric and other disciplines, you'll draw on what you know to
  • critique an existing Web site. (100 points)
  • develop personal home pages that contribute something of value to a specific Web community. (100 points)
  • collaboratively design and develop a Web site for an organization within the Capital District (or, alternatively, at RPI). (600 points)
In addition to these projects, you'll be graded on attendence and the contributions you make to the class (100 points), and you'll take a series of brief quizzes during the course of the semester (100 points).

As you can see, the points awarded for assignments, projects, and participation total 1000. You'll be graded on the following scale:

  • 900-1000 = A
  • 800-899 = B
  • 700-799 = C
  • 600-699 = D
  • Below 600 = F
If you're concerned with any grade you receive on any assignment, please don't hesitate to discuss it with me.


Schedule: The first few weeks you'll read about theories and methods, discuss them, and learn HTML. Then you'll begin applying the stuff you've read about to evaluate existing sites and experiment with your own. During the last seven weeks you'll collaborate on a Web site design for a local, "real world" client.

Here are some important dates:

  • Final Project Proposal due February 10th (50 points)
  • Web Critique due February 12th (100 points)
  • Personal homepages due March 5th (100 points)
  • Web Design Planning Document for Final Project due March 24th (200 points)
  • Web Usability Test Plan due April 16 (50 points)
  • Beta version of Final Project due April 16th (100 points)
  • Final Website Due May 1st (200 points)


Readings and Resources: You'll need to purchase one textbook: Mok, Clement. Designing Business. Adobe Press, 1996. Most of the rest of the reading and resources can be found on the Web itself. There will also be a few readings placed on reserve in the LL&C Office and at Folsom library.


Course Policies: Your participation and attendance are both expected and required. Because people participate in different ways, depending on what they're comfortable with, you'll have a variety of ways to participate. You're also expected to do your own work, in accordance with Rensselaer's code of academic honesty.

Attendance: My attendence policy is simple: it's required. If you miss a class, send me an email message explaining why you couldn't be in class. I reserve the right to subtract up to 25 points per missed class from your final grade. If you miss class and fail to send me a note, that's an automatic 25 points subtracted from your final grade. Note that coming to class unprepared or being inattentive in class is the same as missing the class altogether.

If you miss a scheduled conference, either an individual conference or a conference scheduled for your design group, you'll be docked 50 points from your final grade.

Late Assignment Policy:

For late assignments, I reserve the right to penalize you 10 points per day, including holidays and weekends.

Academic Honesty: Like all relationships, those established in the classroom are built on trust. Acts that violate this trust make for an unpleasant situation for all involved. A sure way to violate this trust is to submit another person's words, thoughts, research, or organization as your own. If you use another person's work without properly crediting that person, you'll receive a failing grade for the assignment and likely for the course. You may ask someone to read and comment on your work, but you're not allowed to have anyone else do your assignments for you. The Rensselaer Handbook has specific policies about various forms of academic honesty and procedures for responding to them. You're encouraged to familiarize yourself with them.

We'll spend time in class discussing issues such as using code, images, and other symbolic elements from other Web sites, as well as other issues of ownership in electronic environments.

Netiquette and Computer Ethics: Much of the communication between all of us in this class will be conducted in various electronic environments (email, electronic chat spaces, etc.). As such, you should be aware of the need for a certain code of behavior in these environments. This code is usually referred to as "netiquette," etiquette on the Net and in other electronic forums.

Most netiquette is simple common decency and common sense. If you are engaging electronic environments as a member of the class then you are subject to the same expectations and rules of conduct any teacher or administrator might expect of you in a face-to-face environment. "Flaming" is a reality in electronic environments, just as arguments and disagreements are a reality in the classroom; but there are limits.

If your conduct in electronic space is deemed unbecoming the professionalism expected of Rensselaer students, you will be removed first from the specific learning environment; second, as warrants, from the class as a whole; and upon repeated offenses, as necessary, referred to Institute-wide disciplinary action.

You should also be aware of the ethical considerations of your use of computers in the classroom and at Rensselaer, as outlined in the ten commandments for computer ethics below (as expressed by the Computer Ethics Institute).

  1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
  2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work
  3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.
  4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
  5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
  6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
  7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization.
  8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
  9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.
  10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.


Class List: You'll spend a lot of time working with your classmates in small groups and in design teams. You're encouraged to share resources via email, both privately and by posting to the class discussion list, webwriters@rpi.edu.