this is the impression I get..."
-excerpt from Ginsberg's "America"
December 5, 1999
Dear Honors English 102 class of Christine Boese,
I am writing this letter as a reflection of the final project our class completed, the BeHeard website. My wish is that this letter helps you better fulfill your job in taking over the website, making it an easier task to accomplish while also helping you complete a better product overall.
The project started when Chris took us outside and the class sat down in a circle. She told us that she was going to give us a problem and our job was to solve it. The problem that she gave us was the fact that there are many writing centers out there that might have the need to be linked together over the Internet. Our job was to see if the need was out there and if the centers would want to be linked together.
At first, this seemed to be a very daunting task. We all wondered how we could connect them together and get in touch with them. So our brainstorming began. We finally decided that we wanted to make a website that would appeal to any homeless person by giving them a chance to learn how to use the internet and speak their voice. We did deviate somewhat from the original problem, but Chris did say that we were to build the foundation of this idea for the next classes to build on. Thus, I believe that the site we created gives excellent groundwork to build on.
Our class had a large amount of work that had to be completed in a fairly short amount of time. We started out by dividing up the research. Once that had been completed and we had begun to work on the project site, we divided up the work for the site. My personal job was to create the area for connecting to others. This area will be very important for the future of this site. As Chris stated, it will be the part of the site that people will come back for. To give people a chance to converse and speak their minds, we decided to create two forums. So I made two forums that can be publicly accessed. At first, I had to find sites that offered free forums. Once I had found two that fitted our needs, I signed up for them and began to manipulate them. I did my best to make their appearance close to the BeHeard site. I believe that these forums give good chances for people to say what they like and be heard while doing it. Once we can direct people to them, I believe that they will be a very popular area of the page.
Our class took on a fairly large amount of work. We decided on a fairly broad topic, covering many aspects. I really believe that we did a good job in accomplishing our goal. The true key that made it happen was the fact that everyone did their share of the work and we did a fairly good job in dividing it up. Some areas were thinner than others, but overall we did a pretty good job. Dividing up the work helped to lighten the load for everyone, while getting a whole lot done in the process.
There are definitely some suggestions for the website and working on it. When our class divided up the work, some people had much more to do than others. The person who did the tutorial section had a very large amount of work to do, while others did not have nearly as much. The problem was not how we divided up the work however, but the fact that our communication over how much work we had was not very good. We did not inform each other enough about how much work we had, whether it was too much, or not enough. I also found that the number of email that circulated from this project was quite large. The problem was that we sent out every email to everyone, no matter who it was addressed to. If we had sent emails addressed just to the people they pertained to, it would have greatly cut down the number of unimportant email that we received. The site as a whole can use improvement in every area. The forums can be tweaked to look more like the page, the colors and graphics could receive some minor changes, and much of the text could use some slight revision.
Doing the writing for the page was somewhat difficult. We had a specific audience to address it to, which made it much harder to write. This is one of the main areas of the page that could use revision. Our tone is good, but there are many things that could be changed about it. Humor could definitely be added, maybe put an automatically cycling joke of the day section or something. The text itself also needs to be better directed at the audience it is intended to address. Maybe you could make some of the text less technical where needed, and also provide better explanations for various subjects. A good way to get examples of this is to look at different pages that address the homeless and note their tone. This would surely be the best way to see how the text should be written.
The main thing our site is going to need is traffic. We are going to need visitors to make it successful. The forums will need a lot of different entries to get moving. They will also require maintenance to keep the trash off and the old messages deleted when needed. Basically this site will need to share links with other pages and have its address spread throughout libraries.
I truly hope that this letter gives you some ideas and guidance in the continuing development of the BeHeard site. It was a great idea that has been developed into a very useful reality. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you have great success in the further creation of this page.
(12:56 am, 12-6-99)
December 6, 1999
To the First Semester 2000 English 102H Class, instructed by Christine Boese:
Boy, that was a mouthful. But not too much to handle hopefully, because this class, especially this project, is going to be a lot of work. But it was a lot of fun. If someone had asked me at the end of October if I thought we were going to actually accomplish as much as we did in this past month with this project, I would've laughed in his or her face. Now, I merely stand in awe at what we've done, and I'm proud of the result of our efforts.
Granted, the project seemed extremely overwhelming at the start. I remember sitting outside at the amphitheater discussing it for the first time. And the first day wasn't the only confusing one. I don't think we really knew where we were going with it until a week or two into it. It started out as an attempt to help the homeless through writing, and Chris gave us a program called the Neighborhood Writing Alliance as a reference point. As you can see, this is an extremely broad topic, and so we began our research to decide what our focus might be. After assembling a large list of websites that dealt with the problem somewhat, we realized that we wanted our project to be a website that catered towards the technologically illiterate, a category into which most homeless would fall. We wanted to give the homeless a chance to have a voice on the Internet, to learn the basics of using it, and to be able to reach others. Thus BeHeard was born.
Even though we now had direction, the task still seemed an outrageous one to me, especially in the month we had left in the semester. But after we broke it down into smaller pieces, it didn't seem so impossible to accomplish. My work on the project came mainly in the form of developing the project site. I was a helper in the contact group, with Joel, as well. Both aspects were essential to the project in different ways. In the beginning there wasn't a lot I was able to do for the project site because it was meant for documentation purposes mainly. So for the first few weeks of the project I did a lot of letter writing.
Letter writing is one of the areas of the project that I would improve. If we had known from the beginning that responses to emails would take so long, perhaps we would've done this part of the project in the beginning of the semester. I wrote a letter to the mayors of several major cities and received responses from three out of eleven, I think. The problem is, I gave the mayors my email address to send replies to. So if I receive anything from them later on this year, I will have to forward it to Chris. It would work out better if we developed an email address to which responses could be sent for all aspects of the project, instead of to individual people. I feel that letter writing and contacting more centers is going to be a major part of this class's work on this project this semester, so I suggest writing letters out as early as possible, else, there may not be much to show for it in the end.
The project site was a lot of fun to develop. Chris Kuhlman came across the Ginsberg poem, "America", that he did a show and tell presentation on during the middle of our project. We found that it related to what we were doing, and Matt Brunson and I incorporated it into our site, not only as the general title for the site, but as subtitles to each individual section of it. As far as the work goes, it was somewhat tedious. Matt wrote the introductory paragraphs to each section, we both sifted through the tons and tons of messages in our SS Minnow mailboxes, and I had to figure out exactly how I was to go about designing the site. I think perhaps the most perplexing part of it for me was creating the button images in the top frame of the page, but the feeling of satisfaction once I finished, was great. However, this upcoming semester will decide how truly useful my contribution to this project was, as it is meant to be a tool for the furthering of this project. The project site documents everything we did as a class, all the hours we put in, all the setbacks we had, all the little triumphs, and the character of the class that built this foundation for the future. I hope it is a great help in your endeavors.
Now, beware those of you that work on the project site this semester, for disastrous things can happen. <grin> The day everything was due, Matt and I had spent a long time before class that morning doing finishing touches on the project page. I was saving my file, the "Doing It" section of this site, to the Share Drive. I unplugged and got ready to go upstairs to our class room, and Matt copied his files from the hard drive to the Share Drive, then he turned of his computer as well. When I tried to open the "Doing It" page upstairs in our English classroom, I found, to my horror, that my "Doing It" file had been over-written by the one Matt had on his hard drive ... which wouldn't have been such a big deal, had I saved a copy of the file to my hard drive, which I didn't. So we laughed, even though it wasn't quite funny, and I redid the page over the weekend. So let me take this chance to stress the importance of making copies of files to the hard drive so that this circumstance does not come back to haunt future project workers. <sheepish grin>
One of the things I had a lot of fun with on this project was the communication between the members of the class. We really became an effective team when we needed to, though there were occasions when more communication would've been a blessing. I encourage everyone to give as much feedback as possible to anyone who asks for it, and to sometimes even offer suggestions where none are solicited. We had a few good laughs over some interesting posts from a few class members (who will remain nameless <grin>), and ideas seem to grow a lot from the collaborative nature of the project, which is enhanced a lot by the communication between the class members.
As for the next step in the advancement of BeHeard, I suggest several things. Try to get a little bit more feedback then from simply class members. Ideas can come from the strangest places sometimes. The most logical thing to do next, and possibly one of the most important steps in the project as a whole, is choosing and making a lasting contact with a homeless center, a nearby library, and the city or town which both are located in, all of which would be willing to work collaboratively with the class to test the effectiveness of the site, and see what our intended audience actually thinks of our web site.
I think for the most part our tone on the web site is appropriate for its users. One thing that I do think we stepped away from is the idea of putting a bit of humor in the web site. We did fix the colors, and I'm glad we did, the site looks 300% better now. However, I think some graphics would add to it even more. Ama's buttons never got incorporated, and they might've lightened the tone of the site. I think humor and a light tone is important, and though the tone of the writing is good, the site in and of itself may be giving off a little bit too much seriousness. That might be something to think about this semester as well.
Overall, our work was in the development stage of this project, and so while we haven't made a difference yet, I really hope that as connections are made in the upcoming semesters and the site becomes more widely known and used, that our attempt to give the less fortunate a voice will be successful. I don't think we took on more than we could handle ... because I think if we had set a smaller goal for ourselves, we wouldn't have accomplished as much. It reminds me of a quote ... "Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you'll land among the stars." That's the way I feel about this project. We're reaching for an ultimate goal, and while we haven't reached it yet, we've still created something that we have a right to be proud of because someday the goal will be achieved.
Best of luck with the work, and have fun!
(2:37 am, 12-6-99)
December 6, 1999
To the honors
English 102 of Christine Boese,
As I jump on the Information Super Highway and marvel at the site http://www.nutball.com/beheard, I still find it hard to believe that we were actually able to get it done. Our website is merely one aspect of our work; it does not represent how far we had to come from day one and everything our experiences taught us along the way.
I guess that it all started on the day when Chris took our class outside, sat us in a circle, and presented us with a problem: we were to address the growing information gap in modern society by using the tool of the Internet in some way to connect or link homeless shelters. We all sat there sort of speechless, not having a clue where to start. In fact, for the first couple of weeks we didn’t really know exactly what we were looking for or what our final project would be. We did a lot of research: going to the library, searching through the endless number of homeless organizations on the Net, trying to find what was out there. It may not sound too complex, but trying to narrow down a large topic can become rather complicated when you don’t know what you’re looking for. At first it seemed as if we were looking to create some type of contact network. However, after much confusion was cleared up, we decided to create something that we could not find: a website geared towards the homeless.
Now it may sound rather odd, a homeless person using the Internet, but you must realize that there are public libraries and perhaps shelters that offer public access to the World Wide Web. We went about this mission by assigning people different tasks, mainly the construction of different pages for the site. I was assigned the duty of constructing a resources page and a bibliography. It may sound like simply searching the Net, but you would not believe the amount of pages that would be of no use to a homeless person. There are a seemingly infinite number of homeless organizations of the Web, but all sites seemed to be directed towards social workers or other organizations. I included some free services that can be found via the Internet (free email, free homepage, etc.), along with the few sites that are actually of some use to a homeless person. There could always be more searching done, for the World Wide Web is expanding at an incredible rate. In terms of the bibliography, it is important to go through and make sure the sites are documented correctly. I got no feedback when it came to documentation, and found that the Easywriter did not contain enough examples of web sites in its documentation chapter.
I remember Chris mentioning that her next semester’s class might work with a particular shelter. If this is the case, I recommend you pay close attention to whether or not the tone of our writing should be changed first. We were pressed for time and did not get the chance to make several revisions of what we wrote and included on the site. Also, take full advantage of this field research to make our site more effective. The Be Heard project could be an ongoing undertaking, with work to be done until the site has helped the lives of many homeless people. If you do not have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a particular shelter, it is crucial to communicate in class early on and clearly define your final goals. I mentioned earlier that “perhaps” shelters offer public access to the Web. Critique, improve, and expand our site all you want, but remember that it exists to serve a function. I recommend placing the most emphasis on making the site known through contact with shelters and public libraries. Possibly follow up on our idea of making table-top tents to place near terminals and sending them to libraries. What’s the purpose of even improving the site if no one is going to use it?
Throughout this semester you will learn a great deal about communication and collaborative group work. You will be writing and receiving more emails than probably ever before, and become frustrated. For this reason, I believe that the best piece of advice I can give is to take full advantage of class time. We often went to work on our project in class and only asked questions if we needed to. It would have been more helpful if each person’s work was critiqued at the beginning of class as a group, bringing out into the open what needs to be done and how it should be completed. Tasks could have been rearranged so that the workload was shared more evenly. Also, oftentimes people asked for feedback or suggestions through email and never got enough, if not any, responses. This is could be due to the fact that the amount of emails received exceeded the amount that could be replied to. Each individual was extremely busy with his or her own task and did not have much time or motivation to write an email message. This may sound like laziness, but you will come to find that much more can be easily said face to face rather than electronically. As you read over a million emails this semester, simply organize them and just remember to try to not get overwhelmed.
…So the foundations have been laid and are waiting to be built upon. We, the honors English 102 class of fall semester, present you with the challenge of taking our project to the next level. What defines this next level and where it stops is up to you. We all wish you good luck as you prepare for a semester of English like none other.
(2:38 am, 12-6-99)
Boese's Honors English class of 2000:
As I look back at all that we have accomplished as a class as well as individually, I'm shocked. Its kind of hard to believe that we did all of that work in about a months time. With 20-20 hindsight I can see where we went wrong and what was a waste of time. I can also see the things that worked superbly. I'm writing this letter in hopes that you and your classmates don't fall into the same pitfalls and take the same dead end roads that we did. Unfortunately you will not be covering the same ground as we did, and therefore my advice can only go so far. Still, the basic premises of the project remains the same and many of the same principles and ideas will be used when you begin your work. So without any further ado here is what I came across.
First of all I guess I should tell you the specifics about my part of the project. I was the project manager. Basically I was in charge of making sure that everyone followed the same path and were striving toward the same goals. This isn't as easy as it sounds though. You are going to be introduced to the world of collaborative work. I know that this sounds great. Everybody can split up the project and maybe even work on the same document. But this in itself was one of our greatest challenges. I'll give you an idea of what can go wrong. Approximately one hour before we were supposed to complete our work on the project and turn it in, someone uploaded a folder which cut all of the links in the nutball site. So you can see that while the collaborative idea can be a blessing, it can also be a curse.
Ok, as the project manager I had my hand in just about everyone's business. Right now I'm going to focus on the communication aspect of the project. This is the primary area in which I dealt. I found that the most difficult aspect concerning communication is keeping in touch with everyone's progress. When we first started we had a lot of ideas for the site. One thing we didn't have a good idea on was the scope of certain aspects. About halfway through the project everyone turned in their first progress report. While I found that some people were sitting around with nothing to do, others were absolutely buried. This almost brought us down. In fact, the tutorial section of the nutball site was barely finished in time. If there is one thing that you retain out of this letter it should be the need for progress reports. This doesn't mean that everyone should turn in a written page long document before every class. We found that short oral reports on the progress, or lack of, were more helpful than the written progress memos. One thing that we didn't do was to conduct progress reports from the beginning. If you want to work efficiently you need to have progress reports throughout the entire project, from start to finish. One thing that I would often ask is if anyone was in need of any help. Usually if someone is feeling stressed out, then they need some more help on their section of the project.
Now I'd like to touch a little on the collaborative environment. Toward the end of the project, we encountered several obstacles. First of all people were working on files and uploading them without informing the webmaster. This was a big problem and the way that we dealt with it was to have anyone who uploaded a new file inform the webmaster. This touches on another problem. Often on the larger sections of the project several people would be working on the same folder. Because of the way that the CLE is set up, you can save over someone else's work. Personal messages between the two people working on the same section of the project were often enough to prevent this from doing too much damage.
With everyone sending short notes and replies to each other, we were all spammed with a lot of mail. One thing that we discussed as a group was that a lot of the questions directed to a single person and the ensuing reply shouldn't be sent through the class email address. Sometimes I would check my mail in the morning and find out that I had 45 new messages. Maybe three or four pertained to me. This wasn't a problem until I was pressed for time near the end of the project and I didn't have the time to sort through every email. We also found out the importance of the subject line. After we had completed the project, we discussed the idea of coming up with certain subject lines for messages dealing with certain sections of the project. I think that this could help prioritize the messages and even filter out the junk.
I don't know if Chris has had you guys sit down in the big circle to discuss ideas, but if you haven't, you need to do so. Once you figure out the big goals for the project, you need to decide what your group is going to do. Don't think that you will complete the entire project. Let me tell you, if you try to complete the entire project, you will die. The point is just be realistic. You might have a better sense of where the project is headed than we did, so plan ahead. If you plan on contacting anyone, do so in the very beginning. The people whom we contacted only started to reply at the very end of the semester. Try to lay out a timeline and keep to it. Don't be inflexible, however, and end up rushing things. If you screw up here, a lot of people are going to notice and more importantly you are representing Clemson University. We spent a lot of time dealing with the tone of everything that we wrote. You need to be careful because a wide variety of people will read your work and you can't afford to offend any of them. We spent a lot of time critiquing each others work and so should you. The best thing to do is to be crucial of your own work. Try to find errors or bad tone.
Now from what Chris has told me, your class will probably deal with contacting specific groups. This seems like the next logical step in the project. We created an extensive website, but it is useless until it gets used. That is where you come in. Your class will probably deal with the individual libraries and organizations. Whatever you do, let as many people as possible know about our website. Libraries are a good place to start, but don't discount other groups and organizations. They might be easier to deal with. First of all, we found that the libraries usually don't have a very knowledgeable staff on hand. Dealing with them might require going through a bureaucratic mess. When contacting these libraries, groups, and organizations, do so with one central return address. The people whom we contacted for this project are sending their replies to us directly. This is fine until you stop working on the project. Then what happens? This was one area where we noted a definite need for change.
Well, with this advice I wish you the best of luck. Remember that what you are doing is for an excellent cause and hopefully will one day help a great many people. Also keep in mind that this is groundbreaking work. There are few precedents to follow or fall back upon. This is both good and bad. Never lose your ingenuity or creativity. Don't discount anything until you have tried it because there are no bounds here. The only bounds are the ones that you and your classmates set. I wish you the best of luck.
(12:02 pm, 12-6-99)
Boese's Honors English class of 2000,
By now you
are probably thinking, "Wow, we've got one crazy English teacher
here; I think she fell off her rocker quite a while ago. This project is
insane." I understand your sentiments completely, but stick with this
project. It can be one of the most enjoyable group projects you'll ever do
if you do it right. You'll have a great time, but you'll get stressed
every now and then too. It's all part of solving problems as a team, I
guess. Well, I guess I should probably tell you exactly what I did right
and wrong so that I can help you to reduce your stress and increase your
effectiveness. Well, here it goes.
When our class
started out on this project, we really didn't know exactly
what we wanted to accomplish, a whole lot of questions and ideas but not
too many answers or much direction about where to go. So we started off by
researching some, mostly on the internet. The research as a whole didn't
really give us a whole lot of direction, although it did allow for us to
get a clearer idea of what we wanted to do. I hope that your class will be
able to get more focused in a more timely fashion. Once we decided that
what we wanted to do was an internet tutorial for people who are less
fortunate, the project really got rolling.
Before I get
into the portion of the project that I did, let me just say
that a vital skill that would have made our project go much smoother is the
art of communication. Make sure that you figure out a way to let everyone
know (an in class 5 minute presentation style update seems to be the best)
how your are doing on your part of the project, especially if you're
feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that you have. Different jobs
have different times of intensity and lulls, so grab someone who seems to
be in a lull and get them to help you if you need it, and if you're in a
lull, don't be a lazy bum. Help someone out. They'll be much more likely
to help you out later.
My job for
the project was as the communications manager and the assistant
graphics person. The key to communications is to get a letter template
early and send it out to as many people as you can to get as many responses
as possible. If you wait too long, then you won't have enough time to get
responses. Get on the ball. After the first few weeks, it slows down a
whole lot for the communications group, so don't feel bad about asking for
help early, then giving more help later when everyone is stressing about
getting things done. Believe me, it all evens out in the end. As graphics
assistant, the key is to be willing to work within the framework that the
web master and the graphics manager set up. See if you can do things like
tweek and resize graphics to make them fit to be just the right size. It's
that type of stuff that makes web sites look professional and user
friendly, so do not avoid the small stuff.
The major needs
that I see for this project next semester are the
fine-tuning of the writing on the site to better fit our audience and
getting the site into more public view so that homeless people everywhere
can connect to the site through free internet access, and thereby learn how
to use the internet for their benefit. You might also want to find some
readings that have the correct rhetorical tone toward those who are
homeless, whether it be a web site or simply a letter or any piece of
literature that might be helpful.
The only thing
that I would really say that I wish we would have done that
we didn't was to connect electronically all of the local organizations like
Streetwise, jot, and community writing centers together so that we could
create a communication web that shared various ideas on how to empower
those who are less fortunate with a voice so that they can show that
they're no better or worse than anyone else in these world even though
they've fallen on hard times.
I hope all
of you have a great time with Chris. Enjoy it while it lasts.
(2:32 pm, 12-6-99)
of the Honors 102 English class,
The best way to get my feelings across about the Be Heard project is to start with a question. When you complete a research assignment, do you feel like you have accomplished something or are you just relieved it is finished? In my case, when I type the last sentence of a research paper and my finger presses down on the period key to bring my paper to a close, a huge burden is lifted off my chest. I know this might not be the case for everyone, but I also know that many of my peers feel the same way. When one completes a research paper, what happens to it? Other than the teacher or professor reading over it and assigning a grade, nothing. It usually either finds the trash can or the bottom of a draw to collect dust. But the Be Heard project is different. At the completion of it, I was amazed at how proud I was of it. I sent my high school English teachers an email explaining the site and giving the URL. While this didn’t seem like that big of a deal initially, I realize that the reason I did this was because I was so proud of it. We created something that can reach a huge number of people instead of collect dust! It was a real life application of research.
The Be Heard project was a challenge. When we sat down on the lawn the first day and discussed what to do, I remember thinking, “Yes, a group project! That means less work because everything will be split up ten ways.” Well, little did I know how much work there was to do. Fortunately, we had very responsible students in the class who all got there work done on time, as it should be in an honors class. I never had to worry if someone was going to do what he or she said because there was a big level of trust in our class. If someone said they would do something for me, I didn’t have to worry about it really getting done which is rare in group projects
the different tasks that needed to be done for the project to be a success were
written on the board, I sat in my chair quietly thinking of what I could do
to contribute to the project. Some of the tasks were very technical
such as creating graphics, chat rooms, or using computer programs I had never
heard of before. Not having much experience with such tasks, I looked
for a less computer-oriented job. I didn’t want a dinky job where people
didn’t think I was doing my fair share, so I decided to be in charge of the
Tutorial portion of the site. I knew it was going to be a lot of work,
but I thought I could handle it on my own. I thought the tutorial should
have a single voice, and I was afraid if I split up the different sections,
the different writing styles would be obvious and it would take away from the
site. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to finish everything
and get enough sleep to function properly, I asked Ama to help me by writing
the email section of the tutorial. I figured that I would have to rewrite
what she said in order for it to share a common voice with the other sections,
but to my surprise, it sounded much like what I had written. This is when
I realized I had made a mistake trying to take on too much by myself.
There were other people in the class who were willing to help me, but I wasn’t
sure if they would. I think one of the reasons this occurred was because
our level of communication outside the classroom wasn’t as good as it should
be—or maybe it was because there was too much communication. I’ll explain.
Everyday when I’d wake up in the morning, I’d go to my computer to check my
email and I’d find that I’d have about fifteen emails; twelve of them
would be from people in the English class discussing the project. Then
after my classes I’d check my mail again and I’d have eight more messages.
Before I’d go to bed I check my mail one more time and I’d have ten messages.
It was impossible to keep up with all the email. What started to happen
was that if a message didn’t seem to pertain to me personally, I wouldn’t read
it all and I’d just throw it into the project folder. If someone asked
the class to look over a sample of writing for grammar errors, I think very
few people responded because there was so much mail to keep up with. I
know I wasn’t very good about responding to other sections questions, and when
I’d ask for an opinion usually only one or two people would respond. This
got very frustrating and this was one of the reasons I was afraid to ask for
someone’s help; I just figured no one would respond. The only time
opinions were really given was during class, so take advantage of class time.
This is when lots of things can be discussed help can be found. Perhaps,
the project manager next time could make sure communication ran more smoothly
because the four days between class on Thursday and class on Tuesday is too
long not to know what is going on. My best advice is for you to know your
goals as soon as possible so it allows you more time to work out the kinks.
Also, try to set deadlines for yourself and hold yourself to them. I tried
this many times but usually something would take me longer than I anticipated
and I would fall behind. This way, if you do need help, you’ll know before
it is too late.
(5:03 pm, 12-6-99)
Dear Honors English 102 class,
The BeHeard project that you are currently working on began in our
class. The original plan was to build a networking site of sorts. Chris
told us about various community writing centers that existed across the
nation, and asked us to decide on a way that we could help them using the
Internet. Initially we planned to build something to network them
together. We thought it would be helpful if these writing centers did
their work on a national level in addition to a local level. Our outlook
on the project would soon change, however.
After some initial research, we decided to change the direction of our
project. Instead of creating a site to join various groups, we decided to
make a web page that would independently give the homeless a
voice. Because this is such a large task, we realized that we might not be
able to finish it completely this semester. Hence this letter to you, our
During our work this semester, we built a foundation. It is up to you
those who may follow to continue the construction. Our work shall live on,
but it must be tended and shaped by you. We knew when we began this
project that the final goal was not for us to attain. We did what we set
out to do, however, and I feel that we did it very well. Now it is your
turn to determine what direction our project will go in. This site has the
potential to make a difference, and it is up to you to help it realize that
In order to be productive while working on this project, you must
determine realistic goals. It is important to have something to focus on
that you know you can finish. This will keep you from being overwhelmed
and allow you to be more productive. While determining what to focus on
during your term on the project is up to you, I do have a few
suggestions. I think that instead of simply enhancing what we did this
semester, you should build a new wing onto our developing home. While what
we did this semester is good for the beginner, try to add some meat for
those who are more experienced and would like to participate in an online
community. Develop the forums idea into something truly spectacular, and
get publicity for the site. No matter how much work we do, it will never
amount to anything if nobody knows about it. When you read the Schuler
article for Chris, look at the requirements for an online community, and
pick one to build up. Since we are trying to give people a voice, a
community is what will make this happen. To be truly effective, however,
it needs to appeal to a broad range of people. Sharing ideas with those
who are like you is great, but giving a voice that is heard by those who
misunderstand you is essential.
My part in this project was to answer any questions that group members had
and put them on the FAQ page. I also built all of the myths vs. realities
and helped on the tutorials section. One thing that I wish had been done
differently in this area was a clearer definition of what belonged in what
area. While I did help on the tutorials section some at the end, I feel
that time management would have been more efficient if some of those tasks
would have been given to me. I think that things like definitions could
have fallen under my jurisdiction, but they ended up under the
tutorials. Make sure you are clear from the beginning what falls under
each category, and distribute the work evenly. This will reduce stress on
One thing that I want to stress is to always have a backup of your work on
your computer. This way if anyone accidentally erases your work, you won't
have to start over. Another way to prevent this is to have one person in
charge of transferring files into the CLE folder. This way they will know
what needs to go in and what is already updated. Another important aspect
of this project is communication. Email is a great tool, but DO NOT rely
solely on electronic communication. Talk to people. Your responses to
questions will be faster, more numerous, and sometimes more meaningful this
Do not forget that this is a writing course, either. Practice those
skills throughout the project, as they will serve you in the future. Make
sure that your tone is appropriate for the delicate nature of the work. I
think that we did pretty well on this, but this is one reason while I think
that we need a second wing. We need to have a part of our site that isn't
for newbies, as I think that anyone with net experience may find the site
useless or condescending. This needs to be something that reaches all
people in our target audience, which I do not feel should be limited to
those without Internet experience. It should include all those who are
unfortunate enough to be without financial resources at the moment, and
allow them to reach out to other groups of their choosing.
Good luck, class of the future!
(9:37 pm, 12-6-99)
December 6, 1999
To Christine Boese’s English 102 Honors class of 2000,
Let me first say to you that your teacher is one of a kind—and do not feel afraid to ask her questions or advice…she’s more than willing to help. Her goals for your class, although they may seem ambiguous and impossible at first, are goals that will leave you feeling like you have truly accomplished something, constructed things you can surely be proud of. To be specific, our help-the-homeless project, Be Heard, was perhaps the most fulfilling project I have ever done. We built the foundation for your class project, designing a website that would teach and link homeless people all over the world through the Internet. I believe her next plans are for your class to further unite the homeless through actual personal contact. I hope in this letter you will find some of the advice, inspiration, and thoughtful reflection that will help you in your part of the project.
Although it was a little difficult to concentrate while trying to avoid getting soaked in the wet grass in front of the amphitheater, I was astounded by Chris’s initial ideas about the project. She had stressed all along that this was our project, and that she was just there for us for advice and assistance. She candidly presented us with three main problems: how can we research, what did we wish to accomplish, and most importantly, was there a need for what we hoped to do? The answer to the first problem was a bit more difficult than any of us imagined on that damp day. We scoured the Internet and the Clemson library for any information on homeless literary organizations like Streetwise, hoping to link all these organizations together, make them aware of one another. However, we quickly found out that these groups were small enough to be virtually non-existent, at least in cyberspace. So, once again we sat in our circle (this time no wet grass!) and discussed what we wanted to do—a website that would teach the homeless not only how to use the Internet, but give them resources they could actually use and ways of connecting with one another, all in a language that was not condescending or superior. This was a bit different than our initial goal, but through our research we saw a greater need for a website than linking together literary homeless centers via the Internet. Although we took on a lot of the preliminary work, I feel we accomplished our particular goal, which was to set your class up with a site to build upon and reference. We felt the most important issue with helping the homeless is to unite them, give them a place in society—their own place—and a list of resources that might actually be helpful. I believe enhancing the connection aspect is what your class will take on in your project, and hopefully it is easy to see why it is such a necessity.
Once we decided what we wanted to do, the next task came in actually doing it. We divided up the tasks as best we could, not realizing in the beginning how much work would eventually be involved in each section. The tutorial section was the biggest single section, and in hindsight I think it became obvious that we did not divide the task up as much as we should have. Luckily, with a lot of work, the student in charge of that particular section pulled it off and did very well, in my opinion. It would be great if your class could expand upon this section because it was very difficult to see what exact issues we needed to teach. We started out with the basics, which became the theme of the entire project—to create a basis for the next class, your project. I was given the primary job of graphics, which I think, in the end, became a main issue (although it did not seem like such a big one at first). Navigation also fit into this category, and appeared to be key in the design of the site. If our audience felt too confused, bored, or disgusted by the navigation tools and appearance of the site, how long would they stay? What incentive and patience would they have to actually look through the site in entirety? These are questions I believe are important to keep in mind for your project. Perhaps graphical design and layout, as well as navigation, should be a big part of any changes your class makes to our basic pages. There is definite room for improvement, although I think we did a great job in the end, improving a great deal from the beginning of the project (changing from a revolting orange background color!). My secondary jobs were to help with the FAQ and myth sections, as well as give assistance in the tutorial section. I helped think of possible questions for the two former sections and wrote the section in the tutorial on email—how to get it and how to use it. It was a bit difficult to explain, in layman’s terms and in as much detail as possible (keeping in mind the audience is supposed to know little or nothing) how to use email. I had to keep chanting to myself, “They know nothing they know nothing” in order to even write the little I did! And every program on the net is so different, so it was hard to write detailed instructions that would work for most of the free email services. I did my best, and I feel proud of what I accomplished—keep in mind as well that no matter how insignificant your task may seem, it has far-reaching impacts on the entire project and all tasks are essentially important. That is what group projects are all about, after all.
Working in a group was probably the hardest feat of the entire project. I am more of an individual worker, and I honestly believe the site could have been completely written and designed by one person in less time than it took our group. A bit of advice from my experience—DO NOT ALTER FILES DIRECTLY FROM THE SHARE DRIVE! Always save a copy of a file to your hard drive, alter it, and post it up to replace the other file. Working with the CLE was great, although we did have a few mishaps (as a result of my mistakes, I will admit) that came from more than one person working on a file at the same time. It helped having all the latest revised files available to everyone at all times though, as long as people kept uploading the altered files as soon as they were done so we were all kept up to date on the newest work. We all communicated by email, which worked well considering the largest quantity of the work was done outside of class, but I found that a few words face-to-face (and group discussion in class) did the same work as numerous emails back and forth to the class. There is definitely something to be said for real time conversation, and I think your class should keep that in mind. Use class time for working out problems that would be hard to discuss and get effective feedback through email. An idea to present to Chris would be maybe a chat program that the class could have on whenever anyone is outside of class (decide to use ICQ or AIM or Yahoo pager for example) so that you could have at least a virtual conversation. I also realized, like many of my classmates, that I would not respond with suggestions or ideas to someone’s email pertaining to a topic or task not affiliated with any of mine. A lot of the time one of us would present an idea for part of the site to the entire class, asking for help and suggestions, but no one would reply unless it was in some way connected with a task pertaining to one of their own. Categorizing emails with subject introductions such as “Urgent” or “Suggestion/Idea” would allow your class to prioritize which emails need response from either the entire class or just a few people.
All writing done on the Be Heard site kept in mind our audience—the homeless. If your class has the same audience, try to keep that in mind as well. We did not want to deter people in our audience from reading the site thoroughly or revisiting at a later date as well just because they felt the site was not for them; we wanted to make them feel as welcome as possible. Perhaps the tutorial section remains too technical (it was very hard to speak on a totally base level), although the glossary section helped define terms used most frequently on the Net. For revision I believe this section might need the most work, and certainly there is room for more tutorial on other subjects. Another good section to add might be on how to use chat programs (like Yahoo, Realcities, and/or TalkCity just to name a few) because the connection theme is most important and essentially the main goal for our site. Hopefully your class could extend the connection from a purely virtual one to one of more personal contact through email or even snail mail, thus creating a connection of the possible ways to connect available to anyone, including the homeless. Certainly adding more to the resource section is a definite possibility, as we listed only the sites we found in the sort time we researched the project. There is a great expanse of websites (almost endless it seems, as we quickly found out in our own research) regarding resources out on the Net and even the most trivial of sites might be of benefit to someone. We had hoped to give some basic resources for the homeless, as your class may add to the list as seen fit, creating an ongoing project, at least in that aspect.
I wish to leave you with some closing remarks of advice and inspiration to help your class through your project. Do not lose hope in completing your goal, not matter how big it may seem. Accomplish what you can and be proud of it, knowing you have done your best and that any work you do will surely reach a much appreciative audience, as long as you keep their interests as your own. I hope our site will be a useful tool for your class in your next endeavor and remember we (my class) will all be available for advice and assistance should any of you need it next semester. Good luck and try to have fun! It is your class project and what you make of it!
(10:29 pm, 12-6-99)
December 6, 1999
Dear Boese class of spring 2000:
This has certainly
been one of the most unusual undertakings that I have
ever experienced. It seemed at first, when we were faced with the problem
of the poor and technology, that there was no clear answer. You will no
doubt face the same type of seemingly-answerless problem, maybe even to a
higher degree. But don't get discouraged! When we discussed what our
first step was going to be, I honestly had no clue what we were trying to
accomplish; I had no clue where we were going, and thus no clue how to get
there. We wanted to help the homeless and poor by somehow using technology
and the Internet-- that was our goal; but I didn't quite know how we were
going to do that. In fact everyone seemed to not know what the outcome of
this project was going to be. Yet what I, as well as others, soon realized
was that I was understanding the problem better the more I worked on
it. You too will likely encounter the same, though it may be from a
different side of the whole situation.
To be honest,
I'm not sure whether we got as far as we originally thought
or hoped. When we first started, we already knew about things such as
Streetwise and computer terminals in public libraries. That is how I think
we realized our goal. Obviously, technology was going to be the focal
point of this project, particularly the Internet. Yet there were already a
huge number of charities and poverty organizations on-line. So we wanted
to deal with the homeless directly, not with the money donators. We
decided to make an on-line resource that could perhaps help someone find
housing, work, or others to connect with. We were already looking ahead to
the point where we could directly interface with a homeless person, even
before we had something to interface with. In that respect, we didn't make
it as far as we thought-- we only got the tool itself made. But now you
guys will take the reigns. We created a web site that the homeless could
use; now it's up to you guys to decide how to use it. You might even want
to modify what we have. But that's fine-- I have no idea how you will want
to move forward, so we as a former class have no reason not to be flexible
(though we don't want to lose credit for our work :-> ).
I can only give suggestions on what you as a class should or
could do. Based on what we have now, it makes a lot of sense to spread the
word for our site somehow. This may mean contacting every library you can
and asking them to encourage the use of our site. Or this may mean that
each of you could contact a homeless person directly, and have him as a
type of pen pal. Or maybe you could contact homeless writing projects and
somehow collaborate with them and their work on-line. You might could
provide links to web sites that could get a homeless person a job or
shelter in his particular area. You could even spread the word of our site
to everyone, not just the homeless-- that way, an ordinary person could
maybe "adopt" a homeless person to write to and give help (kind of like how
we could "adopt" a poor foreign child to support through a Christian
Children's Fund or something). Contacting social workers even sounds like
a good idea. Keep in mind, these are only my personal suggestions. You
can do whatever you want.
A little bit
about me personally. I had two main jobs for this
project. The first job was to help Adam Weeks with the on-line resources
that we used. This included going through all the web sites we had from
our research, picking out the ones useful to us, and documenting them. But
this part turned out to be less work than we thought. Since we didn't
really deal with any of the sites directly (we only mentioned them), we
didn't have to do more than just document the sites in a bibliography. So
I did not do anything to this end. But my other job was a big one. I,
along with Jen Pappas, was responsible for creating the CLE project site
that you see here. This site would document our progress through the
project, including many of the e-mails we sent to each other in communication.
I admit, this
site has A LOT in it, and I know that none of you may really
have the patience to go through every e-mail or look at every graphic; I
personally got tired of reading all of the e-mails from my classmates. But
please don't brush off this site as useless. One of the main reasons why
we made this monster was so that you guys could get an idea of where we
were trying to go with this whole thing. So when I say "please use this
site guys," I'm not just saying that so that my work won't go to waste. A
couple of you will have the same job as I did, so I hope it doesn't take
till then for you to realize why Jen and I did this.
There's a couple
other things that you guys really need to consider. One
of the biggest things that I learned this year was how important it is to
consider your audience. Speaking to a homeless person is not the same as
speaking to one of your friends. You have to be careful what words you
use, and how you use them. The last thing that many homeless people want
is someone acting like he is better than they are. So don't be
condescending. Another thing-- if you use e-mail to communicate with each
other, you don't necessarily have to post everything to the listserv. If
you're just responding to someone else's e-mail, and it's not really
something that the whole class has to know, don't post it, just reply. You
may not really understand what I'm talking about right now; but you
probably will, especially if you use e-mail to talk to each other like we did.
Check on the
actual BeHeard site for us. What do you think? Like I said,
we were trying to watch our tone in writing for the homeless. In fact,
this site wasn't even totally for the homeless; it was for anyone who is
new to the Internet and it's technology. So we tried to keep things pretty
simple in format as well as wording. So how did we do?
about it. Don't be fooled-- it will probably turn out to be a
lot of work, no matter what you decide to do. And it may take a while
before you realize where you want to continue our work. The best advice
that I can give you guys right now is to hang in there. You will do fine,
and you will actually learn something in the process. I promise. If you
need any help or have any questions, you can always contact me
personally. Other than that, good luck.
Project Site Co-Creator
(11:28 pm, 12-6-99)
Honors of the New Millennium:
As my class sat on the wet grass, we were presented with a problem. We were given a goal on a piece of paper, a goal that was to try and help a group of people. Chris had found a group of centers that were trying to help homeless people with their writing. Chris wanted us to somehow connect these centers or find a way for homeless people to access them. Though we were not exactly sure how we were going to accomplish our goal, we started brainstorming ideas. After some extensive discussion we decided that the best way to accomplish our goal was to provide an information resource for people inexperienced with the Internet. This way, these “newbies” could learn the methodology necessary to navigate the information superhighway. They could use their knowledge to work through the vast resources available on the Internet to both better themselves and provide them with a voice to the rest of the country. “BeHeard” had been born.
My specific job for this project was to be the Webmaster. Taking a little creative license, I eventually evolved in the “Web God.” It was job to set the basic templates for the pages and help to make a site which could easily be accessed by people with little to no knowledge of how the Internet functioned. With these as my parameters, I decided it would be necessary for the site to be both easy to navigate, but complex enough to not make people feel like they are being talked down to. Also, we tried to interweave resources which homeless people might find helpful. These included various homeless shelters and other networks of resources that we thought they might find helpful. As webmaster, I designed a large quantity of the pages, as well as providing templates which others could use to construct their pages. I came up with different color schemes, font sets, prospective formatting options, and various other design options. For all you prospective webmasters out there, I must warn you. It is a time consuming position to hold. Still, it is very rewarding to see stuff that you have produced put out for the world to see. Most importantly, make sure you always handle over what is going on in your site, otherwise you could have a lot more work than you probably would have had otherwise.
One of the main issues with the project was the communication and collaboration between all the people working on it. It was necessary that we made extensive use of e-mail and took advantage of the file sharing resources that Clemson University makes available to us. We used a space on the network, which allowed the everyone to have access to the file at nearly all times. Though this was helpful and made it unnecessary for transferring files between numerous computers, it does provide complications. Being the webmaster, I constantly was updating pages and restructuring their content. Unfortunately, people would sometimes reload previous copies of the page and undo the work which I have done. I feel, therefore, that it is important to make sure the webmaster is made aware before any uploading of pages or site alterations are made. Also, it is important that people download the most recent versions of the pages before beginning to edit them. Both of these are essential to smooth site construction. Here’s a quick tip too: If the CLE is working slowly, download the page to your hard drive, edit it, then upload it again. Remember to let people know you are doing that though.
Though the site evolved into something that could be utilized by all different types of people, it started as a way to help homeless people access the internet and utilize the resources that it has for them. Keeping this in mind, some of the writing had to be of a particular tone. In order to establish what this tone would be, we had to look at different types of media that were written with the audience we had in mind. I would tell all the you prospective students that the best way to learn the correct tone is to read media yourself and develop an understanding of how to write with that audience in mind. If you look at our site, I think a lot of the writing has a pretty good understanding of the tone. One sentence that glares out at me though, is the introduction to the Hotmail service. It explains how the service is run by Microsoft and people have used it to hack. It gives no further explanation about what it means to hack or how the service was used to hack or what that means to the people who are using the service. Though this is a smaller error, it really stands out in my observation of the site. Still, items like the Myths/Realities section and the FAQ really dispense with some of the barriers which people think of when they think of the Internet. The one thing I must caution the readers of this letter is to be careful not to fall into writing a site that is designed for social workers instead of the people they are helping. It seems that many sites that we came across were not written with the actual person in mind. Instead, they were written with the social worker in mind. Try to avoid this if you want to convey the correct image to the people you are attempting to help.
Looking back now at all that has transpired since that day sitting in the grass, it seems like we accomplished a lot. At times I wondered if we had bitten of a bigger hunk of the problem than we were capable of dealing with, but now, it seems like we accomplish a tremendous amount. It might be helpful to fully explain what it is that you are setting out to do and to set up checkpoints along that path. I have always been a person who likes to know how much progress has been made on something, and those checkpoints would probably keep me from being discouraged. I think the structure that we have set forth can be tremendously helpful to people as it is, but if you are willing to fine tune the site, and then try and get it out so it can be utilized by more people than might stumble upon it on search engines, it could really be a valuable resource. Ultimately, this is the foundation of something which could really help a large number of people and I hope that you dive into the challenge which is set before you. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you too try and solve a part of a much larger problem.
John T. Kivus
Email Address: email@example.com
(12:58 am, 12-7-99)
Twists of Fate
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