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Sometimes, as we peruse the Web, it seems as if the important things are graphics, sound and video; JAVA, after all, is meant to make the Web responsive to "users." There seems to be little left to attract anyone to the simp le act of reading. Yet, I would like to point out that, while there is reason to worry if you love books and reading, we, or at least our colleagues, brought this situation on us our-themselves.
Hard to believe? It's true. The first "visionaries" of hyper anything had hypertext in mind above all else. Vannever Bush wanted to link all knowledge for &qu ot;useful" purposes, not for Disney; Ted Nelson dreamt of a new literature in which the "conversation" --which has always existed between authors who have read work by living or past colleagues -- becomes explicit rather than impli cit. Readers could follow the "links" between names and ideas to read allusions for themselves.
Of course, the vision did not stop there. With the influence of Deconstructionism heavily upon all aspects of 20th Century life, how could literature escape? The resulting decrease in authority experienced by authors had to be off-se t by an equal and opposite increase in the importance of "relative" choices made by readers. Hence, the non-linear story was born and and continues to rise in prominence today. For better or for worse, we have not seen it reach its height yet.
As usual, such esoteric trends are hotly debated in post-secondary circles and those of us teaching younger students wonder what it all has to do with teaching people to read and write "functionally" or with "engenderin g" a love of literature in those of our students who are responsive. It is not untruthful to say that to teach the latest craze to students can do them a disservice; we are the last who should encourage further the trend toward short attention spans and a seeming inability to complete a thought (paragraph) logically or otherwise.
I personally struggle with these worries; yet here I am using hypertext as my tool for deeper reading and more understanding. I see the positive potential more easily when thinking of non-fiction: Vannever Bush's idea was that a reader could follow the current of his or her mind, and not wait until he or she had entré to some very prestigious library, to learn the beginning or the end of an idea or thought, which ever seemed more important or interesting. That's what I'm doing with TIPS. Fiction worries me more but I'm not ready to talk about it yet.
My students will grow up in a world where hyper-everything is common-place; I hope that they will have a sense that text deserves a place in that world. I will nurture their love of words to that end. Althou gh I admit some of my reasons are romantic, I think that others having to do with our ability to think are not easily dismissed. However, I'm not prepared to talk about that yet, either. I don't know enough. For the present, despite my reservat ions, I want to encourage my students to write and read in any way that I can; and if they can be au current in their delivery, well, that doesn't hurt them. Besides, it's only a little garnish on the repast that is the process of beco ming literate: I and you still depend on paper publishing for the huge majority of our teaching and learning.
I have made a small start. There are certain to be those who have started and finished the experiment long before this; if so, I'd love to hear from them: what were your results? Have you any conclusions or recommendations for th e rest of us? We all look forward to hearing from you. Now, those of you who have not tried yet, but are interested in some small experiment will want to read on.
Here is what I have done. My Year Nine (Eighth Grade) students can be a skeptical bunch; so it is probably right that I have begun this experiment with them. We had a traditional book week and I gave them the traditional assignment t o read an entire book during that week. Heady stuff, eh? Well, once they were done, I had them write one or two paragraph summaries (still a good skill, I'm sure you agree) and draw graphs of the emotional tension (in terms of temperature) in their books' plots. Finally, I asked them each to interview a classmate about his or her book and to make their questions as different from ordinary book report questions as possible. Well, they're really still not done, or I would have included an ex ample or two. Needless to say, however, I recognize that nothing I've described is extraordinary. Nothing I will describe is extraordinary, either.
I simply suggested that those interested put their work on disk, saved as text, and wrote on the board the basic html they needed to make a browser recognize their formatting. Then I showed them how to link the three texts: that got their attention. Now they are all trying it; they don't all have computers, let alone graphical browsers, but they want to try it. They come to class and want me to test their work on my own computer.
My students don't have sufficient access to computers to type out homework more than occasionally, let alone to go paperless. We cannot even think of doing our projects in Hyper-anything-fancy. Still, I expect that by this time n ext year, they will be doing the occasional presentation using hypertext (I bought a relatively inexpensive scan converter that shows the computer screen on a large television screen), showing first their interviews, then their graphs and, finally, their summaries -- unless, of course, they wish to start with their summaries, or their graphs.
If anyone else out there is foolish enough to give the experiment a try, then I'd love to see the results and would willingly publish an example or two. Show us how your students add their own touches.
P.S. Now I can tell you why I chose such an outrageous title for this piece. If you don't know HTML, and don't have a schmancy-fancy authoring suite, or, like me, don't have enough computers or copies of Hyper Fancy Software, don't despair. Acquire the source to this page, or any other page on TIPS: I grant you permission. (Just send me a note that I can show to any potential bigwig sponsors to prove that you were here!) Look at how the head and foot and the body are formatted, and then use them as templates for your own text. Soon you'll know enough of the basics to teach your students. Just keep it simple: text; pictures can come later and don't have to come at all.
All html writers except the very first (Adam and Eve) "acquired" someone else's work. Just make sure you make sure your own work, eventually, is easy for others to learn from. Don't be responsible for breaking the chain o f learning; let me know how it works. One more thing. To view your pages with Netscape without going on-line, drag the icon of your file to the Netscape icon and drop it. If you can't drag and drop, then try opening Netscape, or any other browser, and hitting the Stop button before it dials. Good luck and who knows? Maybe some other classes and levels in your schools will get interested and, heaven forbid, you might find yourselves encouraging writing across the curriculum.
Read plans for the English Pages and how you can contribute. , New International School of Thailand
All html writers except the very first (Adam and Eve) "acquired" someone else's work. Just make sure you make sure your own work, eventually, is easy for others to learn from. Don't be responsible for breaking the chain o f learning; let me know how it works.
One more thing. To view your pages with Netscape without going on-line, drag the icon of your file to the Netscape icon and drop it. If you can't drag and drop, then try opening Netscape, or any other browser, and hitting the Stop button before it dials.
Good luck and who knows? Maybe some other classes and levels in your schools will get interested and, heaven forbid, you might find yourselves encouraging writing across the curriculum.
Cass Foster's Sixty-minute Shakespeare Series
Publishers and other Resources
Style Guides, Grammars and other References
Interactive Fiction Sites