WITH the recent expansion of the World-Wide Web into academia, students have the opportunity not only to create their own complex learning environments - they have the ability to present that environment to other interested parties, whether they be students and a teacher in the same classroom, parents and friends at home, or professors at a university on the other side of the globe. The notion of the student as publisher has traditionally been seen in more conventional forms, such as book reports or class presentations. Teachers have always asked students to research a subject and then present it in either a group or individualized form.
The Web, however, offers a new twist to this time-honored method of teaching. Instead of presenting information in a conventional, linear format, a student can use the web as a publishing tool to create in-depth "hyper-reports," on-line multimedia projects with links leading to numerous subtopics and network connections. For example, a high school student is asked to present a hyper-report on assisted suicide, a subject which clearly is both complex and multi-sided. The student could design a project where the user would begin with a basic structure in which to explore (the general question of assisted suicide), but within that structure links could lead to subtopics for which an interested reader could continue to study, such as assisted suicide legislation, Jack Kevorkian, the religious implications of euthanasia, etc. Additionally, she may add links which will take the reader to various bioethics departments at major universities, which in turn offers a wealth of materials that could not have been completed by one student in a short amount of time.
Granted, a major hyper-report presents us with numerous problems. For example, each subtopic may only be a paragraph or two (unless a teacher expects a project dozens of pages longer than the typical school report), but even the most basic attempt at developing a clear and desirable linking structure can demonstrate that the publisher of that project has had to step back and assess the multitude of angles in which assisted suicide can be discussed. Undoubtedly, the most difficult constraint at hand is that of time - the average kid in the average class is rarely afforded the opportunity to work at length on a long-term, individual project. Yet some researchers, such as Harvard University's Howard Gardner, suggest that Americans schools must adapt to allow for such in-depth involvement. True assessment of a student's skills must be personal and intensive, not a periodic test which is gauged against the standard norm for similar students (Gardner, 1994).
For several years now, many teachers have used a form of assessment known as portfolio assessment, in which a student collects all of her best work in a class and presents it at the end of the semester for her final grade. Portfolios offer a simple and fairly effective way of assessing a student's work without the typical multiple choice, end of term tests. Howard Gardner, however, takes this concept one step further and refines it into what he calls a processfolio. Unlike a portfolio, a processfolio includes every single creative step towards some particular goal. In the case of a major report, a student would include all comments and criticisms made by the teacher and other students. She would also include her own personal interpretations of that criticism - in other words, a meta-assessment of her work-in-progress. In the end, the processfolio would demonstrate the student's growth, as well as her completion of the work (Gardner, ibid).
In addition, the Web is bringing new life to the world of classroom journalism. Gone are the days where the high school newspaper could only be distributed for a quarter outside of the cafeteria; now, students of all ages are publishing exciting on-line magazines and journals, using the World Wide Web as their international paperboy. MidLink Magazine, an electronic magazine created for and by middle school kids across the country, is just one excellent example. Under the guidance of teacher Caroline McCullen, the students of Discovery Middle School in Orlando, Florida produce a colorful monthly magazine on the University of Central Florida Web server. Receiving contributions from middle schoolers all over the world, MidLink is seen by many as the model on-line magazine for prospective publishers.
The World-Wide Web presents an excellent medium for students to organize and publish their own projects, processfolios and journals. Students are certainly catching on - the Web66 website, for example, has identified over 13,000 school websites in its directory. And because the nature of the Web allows documents to exist as dynamic texts - i.e., information can be formed and developed on-line - students can share their work as it grows and learn from the responses she may get from other Web users. The Web emphasizes the process aspect of the student publishing - the project is available for all to see and explore, 24 hours a day, instead of being viewed only once or twice a month during in-class project updates. And as older students become involved with more detailed and intensive work, the Web provides an excellent way to sift through enormous quantities of data.