RIP NWE

Besides the other things I’ve already written about Cs, I got to catch up with some folks from Florida, where the relationship between the writing program, the university, and the Department of English has been turbulent, to say the least. It’s a long story, and I don’t pretend to know all the details; I can only hope things work out for the best. I did hear good things about Chris Hazlett, whose masters work I advised here at Western. Not surprisingly, he’s doing super, and both Raúl Sánchez and Sid Dobrin spoke highly of him.

I also heard my former obsession, the Networked Writing Environment, will be shut down soon. When I started my MA work at Florida, the NWE was mind-blowingly innovative: five classrooms using terminal servers running Unix. Students in the NWE created web pages, wrote essays, and hacked on a MOO. System administrators fed a culture of experimentation and collaboration, constantly trying out new software, deeply involved in its use. They wandered in and out of real and virtual classrooms, watching, helping with techy bits, and talking with students and teachers. The English administration backed this up, giving graduate students wide latitude in curriculum design. Once I was evaluated by a professor clearly horrified by both the projects my students were working on (MOO installations) and the open environment (students and other TAs coming and going). After about ten minutes, he left, and told the chair what I was doing was unacceptable. The chair shrugged and assigned me a different evaluator.

I could recount the history of the NWE; problems with upgrades, staff turnover, etc. But the real end began when this culture began to disappear. Couple that with (and in part caused by) the novelty of the web wearing off, and the lack of an institutional home for a big fat budget, and the end is continued problems and eventual failure.

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5 Responses to RIP NWE

  1. John says:

    The NWE’s influence was far flung, for my part reaching west of the Mississippi. (But that’s part of the idea behind the web, right?) Any way, never having set foot in the state of FL, let alone the NWE, I’ll be mourning its passing.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I don’t remember that story. Which wight was that?

  3. cbd says:

    Heh, I don’t remember, either. A middle-aged man. Maybe Thomson, Shoaf, or Kershner.

  4. Glenn says:

    This is really depressing. I thought the NWE really epitomized the best in innovative teaching environments. It actually gave me faith in the work I was striving to do. Not that I ever really got to where I was good with the technology–I flailed about quite a bit–but I really believed in it. I find myself in my little technology-deprived school now looking back longingly at what was available through the NWE and what I would do with it now. I really hope that Florida can get its act back together.

  5. cbd says:

    Glenn, given what I’ve heard about how unusable the NWE had become, and how far removed from the innovative culture which made it exciting, I’m not upset at all. As Jeff notes, the help database shows a lot of the same infrastructure which was present in ’02 after the last major upgrade. Too bad.

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