I just heard about the educational tool Hackasaurus (Mozilla) at NCTE. The tool reveals the code behind web pages–the html and css make up the text and images of any given page. Any browser offers something similar (just try viewing the source), but Hackasaurus takes it one step further: it lets you change pages and publish them. This makes Hackasaurus an ideal tool for aspiring web designers, and indeed, this is what Mozilla intends. Mozilla even includes a lengthy curriculum guide for educators, as well as a HackJam tool kit for users who want to organize meetups to work on Hackasaurus projects.
But what is really fun, I think, is engaging in what Rob Pope calls “textual intervention,” or the deliberate and meaningful manipulation of an existing text (in this case, a web site) to change its purpose or audience. Hackasaurus is really the ideal tool for this. Just change an image or language and publish your result. Hackasaurus even provides the URL. I’m planning on using Hackasaurus in my writing methods courses as a part of our study of critical pedagogy. One quick caution: be aware that Mozilla, to date, has not really explained whether a hacked site violates copyright law.
What I would do in a secondary writing environment is get students to write about why they changed things and what resulted from their changes. To be safe, I’d say have students do a screen capture rather than publish the hack to the site. But this tool is definitely worth checking out.