Some of Morris Pierce's students are among the most courageous in the world of cyberspace: They're posting their final projects for the world to see on the fastest-growing part of the Internet.
The University of Rochester projects are appearing on the World Wide Web (WWW), a network of thousands of computers around the world that contain documents with information, images, sound, and links to other sites.
Pierce, a faculty member in the Department of History and the University's energy manager, gave his 25 students in two classes a choice between a final term paper or publishing their work on the Web. Though most had only a faint notion of what the Web was, about one-third chose to produce a "home page," the name that cyberfolks give to documents on the Web.
"Many of the students sat down, did some Web cruising and said, 'This is kind of neat,'" says Pierce. "But when they realized that millions of people will have access to their documents, it was kind of sobering. It made them think about their projects a little more."
The Internet first sprouted as a series of computer links between a few universities and government laboratories decades ago. Now it's a vast network linking millions of computers in homes and offices, as well as in governments and universities, around the world. Commercial services such as Compuserve, America On-Line and Prodigy now offer their customers Internet access.
The World Wide Web is a subset of the Internet, where computers contain viewer-friendly documents written in HTML, or hypertext markup language. Anyone with a computer can design a page using free software that lets the user format text and incorporate photographs, video and even sound in presentations. Users can put their documents on a computer linked to the Internet, and others use a browsing program such as Mosaic to look at the documents.
Both Internet and the Web are growing explosively; every month thousands of computers are added to the networks. Recently the White House went on-line, with a welcoming speech from President Clinton, information from several departments, and even a photo of Socks the cat, along with her mewing. The only down side to the Web phenomenon is that the increasing sophistication of data often means long waits as one's computer labors -- sometimes for minutes -- to gather information.
Pierce says the World Wide Web is perfect for his course on the History of Technology. "These students will have an appreciation of historical technological change, because they are actually using a new technological system," says Pierce, who is also using the Web in his other class, on the Politics of Energy and the Environment.
Matthew Shambroom is teaming up with classmate Mat Felthousen on a page detailing the history of computers on campus. The freshman, who had never seen the Web before, is already helping several departments on campus connect to the Web and set up home pages.
"The Web lets you think in a different way," says Shambroom. "You can jump from idea to idea, at any point and at any time. You're not limited to a standard, continuous flow of information."
Classmate Kazi Huque's project on solar energy includes links to databanks of information in Europe and North America on energy research, solar collectors, photovoltaic cells, and even a slide show on a solar village. Senior history major Andrew Falconer used the opportunity to write about composting and a backyard composter developed by a family friend. "This is a great way to get the word out about this product," says Falconer.
Pierce thinks that knowledge of the Internet and the Web are vital skills for students in today's job market. Indeed, hundreds of both small companies and large multinationals have begun marketing their goods and services on the Web, and some, such as Pizza Hut, even accept orders through the Web.
"It will help these students land a job if they can mention during an interview, 'We can put your company on the Internet -- I know how to do that,'" says Pierce.
Of the two dozen students in his classes, Pierce says that only one had used the WWW before, though most had heard of it. Pierce has equipped classrooms in the University's library with access to the Web, and students can write their pages at work stations in the history department.
To start, most of the students did some "Web cruising," Pierce says, scouting out what was already out there. Then they learned how to write their own pages, which Pierce says is not difficult even for someone with little computer experience, and then gathered their own material together. Their pages consist of a mixture of their own material and links to other relevant resources on the Internet.
"These students must learn how to grab someone's attention. They have to use their imagination to decide on the point they want to make and how to best get it across in a multi-media format," says Pierce.
Those with access to the Internet can see the students' work by going to the Department of History's home page: http://www.history.rochester.edu/.
Next semester Pierce is offering two evening classes, the History of Rochester and the Politics of Energy and the Environment. Students will again design WWW pages. Anyone interested in more information or in taking the classes should call Pierce at 275-4331, or the University's Office of Part-time Studies at 275-2344. tr