The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Category — Major Project

Paradoxical Paradigm: Multimodality Literacy

Paradoxical Paradigm: Multiliteracies and Multimodalities


The development from an oral society to a print based society demarcated the transformation of speech and thought, restructuring literacy. (Ong). Writing as a technology along with development and proliferation of multimodalities continues to challenge traditional views of literacy. With the fundamental purpose of education to “ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community and economic life” (New London Group), one must challenge the viability of traditional educational institutions.

One of the criticism of the educational system involves the artificiality of the classroom experience. Educators decide what students should study as well as the particular skills that need to be demonstrated and create an artificial environment in which students practice those skills in isolation and out of context. This greatly contrasts with the situational, contextual environment in which learning is applied and decisions are made outside of the classroom/school environment. In an informational society, the advent of digital technologies catalyzes changes  in the educational institutions, in order to prepare students for the future they will enter. Mulitliteracy and multimodalities are critical skills necessary for digital citizenship. Educational institutions remain tied to traditional codex formats in their dependence upon textbooks and other print resources despite the proliferation of digital media. Pedagogists encourage the transition to a multimodality literacy. (New London Group) A learning conversation in the Web 2.0 era “consists not only of words, but of images, video, multimedia and more” (Downes 2009). George Siemens advocates incorporating connectedness, diversity, currency and a shifting reality in order to effectuate the cataclysmic change critical to the development of 21st century literacy skills. (Siemens, 2009).

Traditional Literacy

Transformative Multimodality Literacy

Isolated Skills

Situated Practice



Controlled Environment


Text Based

Contextual Framework



The following video demonstrates the contrast between the constraints of educational institutions and real world literacies.

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Stephen Downes proposes that learning occurs in communities, “where the practice of learning is the participation in the community” (Downes). This viewpoint is corroborated by recent studies conducted by the Digital Youth Project in which the traditional, formal role of education is challenged:

“Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement? “(Ito et al).


Information workers need dynamic learning skills which will enable them to navigate the varied aggregate formats in which information is available in a digital age. The industrial based model by which most formal educational instruction still occurs does not prepare students for the world they will enter. “Fluent and expert use of new media requires more than simple, task-specific access to technology…” (Ito et al)


Bersin, J. (2009). Modern Corporate Training: Formalize Informal Learning. Retrieved from

Downes, S., Learning Knowledge and Connective Knowledge (2006), retrieved on Dec. 1, 2009.

Gee, J., & Hayes, E., Public Pedagogy Through Video Games, retrieved on Dec 1, 2009

Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittani, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P. G., Pascoe, C. J., Robinson, L., Baumer, S., Cody, R., Mahenran, D., Martinez, K., Perkel, D., Sims, C., & Tripp, L. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project.

Livingstone, D. W., and Eichler, M. (2005). Mapping The Field of Lifelong (Formal and Informal) Learning and (Paid and Unpaid) Work. Retrieved from retrieved on Dec 1, 2009

Multiliteracies. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2009, from

New London Group. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review66(1), 1-33. doi:

Ong, W. (2002). Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge.

Siemens, G., Connectivism, retrieved Dec 1, 2009

Sontag, M., A Learning Theory for the Net Generation, 2008, retrieved on Dec 1, 2009

December 18, 2009   No Comments

Considering Some Less Noticed Effects of Technology’s “Ecological Change”

A recurring theme in discussion of digital writing technologies is the unprecedented freedom they offer both writer and reader; freedom from the constraints not only of paper and of place, but of linearity, hierarchy, and passive receptivity, among other limitations of tangible media-based print.  There is also considerable celebration (if conspicuously less actual use) of the potential for enhancement through image of ideas and genres traditionally expressed entirely in text.  But much less is said about the areas in which these technologies may have quite a contrary effect; for example, impact on demographic and other survey-based information, use of and resistance to bureaucratic forms, and what can be lost both in the present and from the historical record in terms of personalization, subtext, and incidental and unintentional artefact, in a shift to increased use of digital media.  Although there is a great deal of flexibility possible in these technologies, there is also increased homogeneity, restriction of ability to resist and subvert bureaucracy, and potential great loss of contextual insight.

Two areas particularly interest me: the effects of digitization on forms and related information gathering tools; and the implications of the disappearance of physical documents such as forms, letters and printed photographs.  The following essay offers a brief look at each.

Required Fields and Invalid Responses

Jay David Bolter devotes most of Chapter 6 in his book Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print to the implications of hypertext for writers and writing in particular.  “If linear and hierarchical structures dominate current writing, our cultural construction of electronic writing is now adding a third: the network as a visible and operative structure” (106).  Bolter acknowledges the network as a very ancient “organizing principle” of writing; now, Bolter maintains, the network can “rise to the surface” of the text.

Bolter continues to illustrate how hypertext has the potential to be non-linear, non-hierarchical, interactive, and dialogic.  Bolter is interested in the writer’s perspective, but the implication is equally clear for the reader, who is freed from a traditionally passive role.  Gunther Kress is gleeful about the social effects of this power newly offered to the reader:

The screen offers the facility in ways that the book did not . . .  for the reader to become author . . .  I can change the text that comes to me on the screen. . . . That factor, of course, brings about a radical change to notions of authority: When everyone can be an author authority is severely challenged. The social frames that had supported the figure of the author have disappeared or are disappearing and with that the force of social power that vested authority in the work of the author (19).

The overall picture they paint is of collapsing walls and expanding vistas – a new era of possibility in writing and reading facilitated by digital technology, in which their user or audience invoked invariably has both full access and unfettered use.  Their enthusiasm is shared by many theorists and users.

But while theorists re-imagine the structure of text and its implications for writing in hyperspace, and the flower children of the world wide web ‘reach out’ to each other in an orgy of blogging and friend-making, institutions and bureaucracies discover their own uses for new technologies.  In the realm of forms and official documents, where traditionally the roles of writer and reader meet and cross, the digital environment is increasingly used to enforce separation and inflexibility.

Bolter and Kress overlook the traditionally non-linear and non-hierarchical possibilities in these types of writing, which are lost as they become electronic.  In what was one of the few aspects of print where the reader could talk back as writer, the relationship between text and reader has become increasingly rigid, unidirectional, even dictatorial.  The reader’s traditional power to resist the writer’s agenda by leaving demands unanswered, writing complex responses across divides of restrictively small spaces, commenting in margins or on the back of the sheet, and so on, has been eliminated.

In a digital age and environment the aims of the designers of a form or template can finally find their fullest realization.  The freedom of the reader to resist a passive role, to step beyond reactive compliance, to write what is rather than what is expected, accepted, acknowledged, or allowed, can at last be effectively curtailed.

The result is an increasing occurrence of online and electronic forms – surveys, reports, applications, evaluations, purchase orders, and many others – in which the user’s options are severely limited. Many of these are driven by economic interests; among them a desire to save considerable expense on data collection and analysis, and a cultural preference everywhere from academia to industry to government, for quantitative information.  Opportunities to comment are available at the discretion of a form’s author, but may also reflect bias, as in the case of a university department reviewing its programs, which included 13 open comment fields in its survey of faculty and two in its survey of students[i]. Others are filled with responses from a prepared set, rather than individually composed; an example is report card software with ‘comment libraries’, which may serve a perceived desire for consistency (uniformity?) and be intended to save time, but also limit the reader/author to saying only those things which the author/reader deemed appropriate or thought to include.  Ironically, this environment is powerfully reminiscent of Kress’ characterization of traditional print, in which “[o]rder is firmly coded” (7).

required fields

Figure 1: An example of fields in a form designed using an online survey utility.

In this example of an online form[ii], the Full name field allows only 25 characters – fewer than this user needs.  Date of birth is required, and for Gender choices are the traditional male or female.  The potential negative effects are clear.  Certain elements of the user’s reality are denied as possibilities: a long name; a non-traditional gender identity; uncertainty about date of birth – unimaginable in Western culture, but common in many places; in regard to any facet of interrogation, a desire to maintain privacy.  Answers for which the form’s author has made no provision – for whatever reason – may be rejected as an ‘Invalid Response’.

Even the pop-up box directing the user to complete required fields allows only one response – ‘OK’.  Many such ‘interfaces’ offer only a few pre-scripted responses – e.g. ‘now’ or ‘later’, for an action which the user may not wish to take at all.

These requirements and omissions can create alienation, barriers to service, and misunderstandings or misrepresentations through relying on information so gathered.  The denial in a single form of alternative gender identity may seem trivial, but in both language and statistics that which is not named appears not to exist.  When this question appears so in, for example, a census form, the statement to citizens from government is that it recognizes no other gender identities.  And any law or social policy based on the data would reflect only these two possibilities.

The cumulative effect is, as Neil Postman presciently wrote in 1992, that “[t]heir private matters have been made more accessible to powerful institutions.  They are more easily tracked and controlled; are subject to more examinations; are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them; are often reduced to mere numerical objects” (10).

Compare these characteristics of electronic forms with this traditional paper example.


Figure 2: Calgary School Board high school reporting form, completed in December 1920.

The Calgary School Board has indicated how it wants teachers to report on the Progress, Attendance and Deportment of students.  DEPORTMENT is given prominence with bold uppercase, but not one teacher who contributed to this pupil’s report chose to comment in that column[iii].  Teachers have made the priority of deportment to them just as clear as has the school board.

Though this may seem trivial, it has significant potential to convey shifting priorities, and to resist bureaucratic dictation at the ‘front lines’ of work.  Similarly the record left for history reveals both what was elicited and what was produced – and the nature of any gap between them.

My Grandfather’s House

Personal mementos also suffer a loss of dimension in entering the digital world.  Most people have had the experience of looking through old family papers and photographs – finding yellowed letters and dog-eared snapshots of parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents.  Many interesting insights come through pieces that were not necessarily saved for posterity; they are often the unexpected fruit of incidental artefacts, items filed temporarily and then forgotten.

It is almost reflexive – at least for older people[iv] – to turn photos over and look on the back for a name, date, place, or some other glimpse into their origins.  Although we think of these images on paper as having but two dimensions, they in effect have three – the ‘back story’ adds depth, sometimes well beyond the words themselves.   Handwriting may be recognized, giving context to incomplete, vague or cryptic notes.  “Grandpa MacDougall’s house” describing a photo leaves questions lingering in type that are answered by your grandmother’s distinctive script. A photographer’s imprint, the photo paper, film lab’s package or mailer, even a frame or an album and mounting materials add context.  Their absence is more than merely a loss in the tactile element of documentary history.

The example below of a Kodak slide mailer shows some of the insight and context that may be provided quite incidentally.


Figure 3: Kodak photo processing return mailer, 1959.

The photographer, most likely the addressee, lived in Edmonton, Alberta (his residence can be pinpointed on a map should a researcher wish to do so).  Those who knew him well could also identify him here by his handwriting.  The postmark gives an approximate date to the photographs within – July 1959.  At that time this little package – measuring about 11cm x 6cm x 1.5 cm – could be sent by letter post for eight cents, from Toronto (suggesting that Kodak had no labs closer than that to Edmonton).  By looking at the photos themselves one can learn also that he is a skilled photographer, with high standards – as evidenced by the quality of the photos, and the fact that in spite of it he has noted on the back of the box, “BIRDS.  Not good” – and with a tendency to keep even his unsatisfactory work carefully filed.

Letters are likewise filled with information beyond what the words themselves convey, encoded in handwriting, illustrations, paper, envelope, postage, postmark, stamp, layout of page and density of writing, and any additional marks such as seals, recipient’s notations (handwritten or stamped), and any scars of passage.

It is likely that the almost complete digitization of personal communication in some parts of the world will soon result in, among other things, a generation of children who may never have received a personal letter by post, are even less likely to have written one, and very possibly would not recognize the handwriting of any but their closest family members.  Casual interpersonal communication is generated at an ever accelerating rate but is increasingly ephemeral and without context.  Even formal letters now rarely include the traditional header providing date and place of their writing, and email messages are characterized by casual style that often omits even a salutation.

As explained by handwriting expert Rosemary Sassoon, “[a]n individual sample of handwriting reflects the writer’s training, character and environment.  Collectively, the handwriting of a population of any period is a reflection of educational thinking, but overall it is influenced and ultimately moulded by economic need, social habits and contemporary taste” (9).  On a personal level handwriting can be powerfully evocative, especially the writing of someone loved but no longer living.  Bolter and Kress and their fellow enthusiasts apparently overlook the fact that writing, produced by the human hand, inherently straddles the divide between text and image, conveying both literal meaning and at least a few hundred of the proverbial ‘thousand words’ of pictorial richness.

Ultimately, the effect of digital media on personal memento may be quite the opposite of what its proponents have expected and declared.  Rather than the facilitation and proliferation of unique and personal archives and aides-mémoire, the result may be an increasing bulk of material with ever fewer individualizing characteristics.

Ecological Change

Writers such as Bolter discuss traditional prose, fiction and non-fiction and academic writing, while others are interested in myriad ways of using hypertext to expand the possibilities of educational materials, artistic expression, personal memoir, alternative approaches to publishing, and implications for copyright, collaboration and cultural entitlement.  While the advantages they see in hypertext are real for all these forms, and while the forms discussed in this essay differ significantly in structure and function, they are all part of a larger social whole.  What are the implications for a society in which people are able to express themselves with ever greater flexibility and variety in creative ways but quite the opposite in their interactions with the state; and in which personal memento becomes increasingly ephemeral, two dimensional, and homogeneous?  Such questions are inevitable, as Neil Postman recognized, “when one grasps, as Thamus did, that . . . it is not possible to contain the effects of a new technology to a limited sphere of human activity. . . .  Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive.  It is ecological.” (18).



[i] An actual case, presumably reflecting the attitudes and assumptions of the department, which shall of course remain nameless.  The decisions made were probably not calculated, nor are they unusual.

[ii] Designed specifically for illustrative purposes for this essay, using the commercial online survey utility Vovici EFM Feedback.

[iii] The same is true for this pupil in the following term.  The implication may be that none of the teachers thought his deportment needed comment, but given the nature of their other remarks that seems unlikely.

[iv] In a quick and entirely unscientific experiment with the teenage members of this author’s household, even considerable curiosity about the subject of a photo did not prompt the examiner to turn it over.


Works cited:

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001. Print.

Calgary School Board. Report of the Progress, Attendance and Deportment of Student. 1920. Print.

Kress, Gunther.  Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning.  Computers and Composition 22 (2005): 5–22. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology.  New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

Sassoon, Rosemary. Handwriting of the Twentieth Century.  London: Routledge, 1999. Web. 16 Dec. 2009.

December 16, 2009   No Comments

Final project: Literacy and Critical Thinking

Here is the abstract of my final paper and a link to both a podcast and a print version.


The New London Group (1996) starts their discussion of multi-literacy by presenting the needs of future citizens in the work place of tomorrow. They argue that to engage and negotiate critically with a working environment, students need to have multi-literacy skills or the ability to communicate meaning through a variety of mediums. Students also need to participate in literacy activities as members of communities; they need to be able to discern meaning from multiple media sources and produce meaning using these “new media.” The change in participation and literacy is in part because hypertext, the Internet, and associated applications have changed the way knowledge is created and presented.

The author is no longer the authority. As we all become authors of a collective knowledge the authority of knowledge is no longer clear, print is no longer associated with truth as it may once have been. Knowledge is created changed and rework, represented mixed and fed in to what is becoming known as a participatory media culture. The following is both a historical and modern understanding of how western society has understood the transmission of knowledge and how the transformation of the transmission has changed what it means to be educated or knowledgeable.

Critical thinking


November 30, 2009   No Comments

Adaptive Reading Technologies

Kurzweil 3000 is an adaptive technology that provides support for students who have reading and writing difficulties. In order to better present this technology’s affordances please view this video that I have created.

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November 30, 2009   4 Comments

Final project, Comment#3

cmaptransitional learning copytablenewloresThe article “Does the brain like e-books” in our readings is relevant to my educational work since I deal exclusively with adult learners who are not “digital natives” (term after Pranskey, cited in Mabrito & Medley, 2008). A typical student in my online class has grade 12 education, and ages range from 18-65, with many students engaging in online constructivist collaborative learning using modern hypermedia for the first time. The typical student seems to have a period of adaptation which is required for them to become comfortable with the new skills needed for use of computer and Internet, and to develop independent self-learning and critical thinking skills.
I dealt with the issue of the aspect of independent learning (learning how to learn) “the what” (after the New London Group, 1995, p 24) and its importance for students new to hypermedia in commentary #2. This commentary will focus on the learning of the content itself (the “how”, after the new London Group, 1995, p 24), and the social focus of web 2.0 learning, for students in transition between traditional literacy and learning methods, going into a web 2.0 environment. The research here will help to support or disprove my driving question of whether the transition learning period requires different pedagogy, as my daily observations seem to suggest. This subject is perhaps not as relevant for those in K-12 learning since these students are either digital natives or well versed in multiliteracy (term after the New London Group, 1996), and not faced with many first-time issues. The commentary will close with a reflective summary I developed to help understand integration of teaching initiatives outlined in the New London Group paper.
Other study groups such as Liu’s in California, the ”Transliteracies Project” (October, 2009) are shedding valuable light on this area. Liu reports “Initially, any new information medium seems to degrade reading because it disturbs the balance between focal and peripheral attention”. His observation does seem typical for newly-online learners who do in fact get sidetracked in class. Even for those adult learners with educational backgrounds, some time to adjust is required. In the MET 540 discussion forum Prizeman (2009) observes “The hypertextuality of digital writing spaced at first confused my linear mind, but now that I have spent a great deal of time interacting with them, I feel like “I’ll never go back”!” Her insight certainly reinforces the sense that there is a transitional period.
Liu (October, 2009) also concludes “It takes time and adaptation before a balance can be restored, not just in the “mentality” of the reader…but in the social systems that complete the reading environment.” This makes good sense as all literacy occurs in context, and so the student would be expected to adapt to the new way of learning in a bigger sense. Traditional pedagogy is didactic and students are used to being passive, linear and focused on one package of learning at a time as described in the Mabrito & Medley (2008) article. The Liu group confirms that in early phases of transition to new media “We suffer tunnel vision, as when reading a single page, paragraph, or even “keyword in context” without an organized sense of the whole. Or we suffer marginal distraction, as when feeds or blogrolls in the margin (”sidebar”) of a blog let the whole blogosphere in.”
The multidimensional environment calls on the learner to multitask. The open-ended resources on the Internet can be overwhelming at first as the learner enters this novel research realm. It is not the reading comprehension that suffers, as most students are adept at reading on a screen. In the “Does the Brain like e-Books?” article, Aamodt concludes, “Fifteen or 20 years ago, electronic reading also impaired comprehension compared to paper, but those differences have faded in recent studies.”
Aamodt (October, 2009) also reports that “Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read. “ The deep concentration which is required to reflect on what is read, heard and seen may be reduced in this type of environment. Learning to focus on the work at hand and dismiss the outliers is a learning strategy that can be coached. Aamondt points out that, “Frequent task switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read.” Mark (October, 2009) concurs “When online, people switch activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes”. That is bound to impact reflective learning. Mark also reports “My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information” so maintaining focus is confirmed to be a challenge, and her study did not just include learners new to hypermedia. She agrees with Aamondt about depth of engagement, “ It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.”
Well adapted online learners with established multiliteracy are comfortable with social networking, and multitasking in hypermedia, so more experienced learners will need more flexible environments to correlate with their skill set. Prizeman (2009) in our forums put it very well “The possibilities are endless, and the once hierarchical order that knowledge was presented in print, no longer exists in hypertext–I feel more in control of my learning, and with flexibility and freedom, I am able to search out the information that I need, as well as explore the connections between it and my world.”
The interface with online learning needs to evolve with a new appreciation of interacting with media versus human communication. Ong explores this concept and determines “communication is inter-subjective” (Ong, 2002, p 173). Ong refers to a media model of communication that focuses on informational, performance oriented interpretation, versus true communication which requires one to have advance appreciation for the other person’s inner self. That new setting is important as he points out that getting inside the minds of persons you will never know is not an easy thing to do, “but it is not impossible if you and they are familiar with the literary tradition they work in” (Ong, 2002, p. 174). Learning online does require this re-set of human communication through the window of the computer screen, and learning a new type of literary tradition, which takes time to become internalized.
Guided learning will help to address the distracting environment for transitioning students. Use of learning objectives, goal-oriented learning agreed upon by instructor and student and web or wiki quests help to direct newly-online learners to a subset of what is a large resource pool for relevant information. This limited structure is a guide not a limit. Bolter (2001, p169) points out that “relationship between the author, the text, and the world represented is made more complicated by the addition of the reader as an active participant”. A transitional learner will need to become adapted to the necessity of being more engaged and constructive when interfacing with electronic materials compared with one-way media. Use of RSS feeds can help students find key learning materials that are of high relevance. Another strategy to help a learner in that adaptation phase is to pair them with a mentor who is comfortable in web 2.0, and can be a resource for them. As well, collaborative grouping will allow students to split up a literature search or web search so that each has a self assigned area to focus in. Critical analysis of resources can be integrated with that orientation session. Some of these strategies will only be needed until new-online students’ multiliteracy is established.
The appendix table below will provide a summary of the critical pedagogy strategies that may be used to cultivate the intellect, and how they can be utilized in courses for learners of varying competence in multiliteracy.
In conclusion, it does appear that the literature supports observations that transitioning learners may need to have some early scaffolding and support and that their learning is constantly evolving through that period. Once transitioned, students can enjoy the full richness of multiliteracy and online networked learning.
A hanging issue is sparked by the observation reported by Mark (October, 2009 in “Does the Brain like e-Books?) “More and more, studies are showing how adept young people are at multitasking. But the extent to which they can deeply engage with the online material is a question for further research” Baxter (2009) mirrors these concerns when she posted “I’m not convinced that getting used to the extra activities does actually enable one to concentrate fully in spite of them. I’m more inclined to think that – along with a lot of other abilities, like amusing themselves during a power outage – the “digital generation” is losing the ability to concentrate fully on something that doesn’t engage them.”
Though these learning strategies summarized below will help us understand the transition to multiliteracy in an online learning environment, that is another realm of future enquiry; addressing the hanging issue of how transitioned students can effectively internalize and reflect on what they have learned which has been left as a question mark in the summary table.



Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd ed]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
[Ed’s] Does the brain like e-books? (October 2009) featuring Liu, A., Aamodt, S, Wolf, M., Mark, G. Accessed online at the New York Times, November 1, 2009 at: from
Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittani, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., et al. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. From: , University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley.
Mabrito, M & Medley, R. (2008). Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the net generation’s texts. Innovate. Vol. 4, No. 6. Retrieved online November 1, 2009 from: Page 1 of 7

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 66, No. 1, 60-92. Retrieved online from :

Ong, W. (2002) Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Menthuen.
Prizeman, S. (2009). From Calculator of the humanist-Miller MET ETEC 540 Forum on November 23, 2009 10:34 am.
Baxter, D. (2009). From Origin and nature of hypertext-Miller MET ETEC 540 Forum on November 27, 2009 1:18 pm

November 30, 2009   2 Comments

Navigating the Hypermedia Sea

Final Project Site: Navigating the Hypermedia Sea

Interactive (Non)Fiction
For my project, I used interactive fiction to explore the use of hypermedia and how it has affected my development of digital literacy. I consider my technical abilities to be advanced but I still have the same experiences as that of a technical novice. This self-exploration has enabled me to compare my experiences with studies and articles and also provides some insight into the implications of media literacy and education. The experiences are reflections into how I have come to see, engage and interact with print through its published and online formats. As well, it has given me the opportunity to list some of the many distractions online.

The story begins with a short narrative and then, in interactive fiction form, asks the user to choose a path. Not all the links are found at the bottom of the page and have been embedded within links inside secondary pages. A site map has been included for full exploration of the web site.

The WordPress platform provided the best environment for which to create my interactive fiction work. Furthermore, it is a platform which I am comfortable with. This work permitted me to write creatively while maintaining a scholarly position at the same time. The web site’s appearance is simple, clean and basic.

Critical Issues
Hypermediacy contains a wide range of issues that I wanted to cover as much as possible in this interactive (non)fiction work. Through use of common distractions such as search engines, news sites, and social media, I was able to cover the issues in a general fashion. The main issues discussed in this interactive fiction piece include multiliteracy, gaming literacy, and media literacy in general. Consequently, there is discussion of how print literacy has evolved into the online world along with the implications of this change.

The New London Group (2006) posits that teachers and students need a language for talking about language, visuals, texts, and meaning-making interactions. Otherwise called a metalanguage. Each reflection conveys the implications of the various aspects and issues in education – how one learns through exploration or with assistance and how the metalanguage affects the user in a variety of different media formats, with respect to the major Web 2.0 tools as well as traditional print materials.

The theme of distraction is congruent with the notion of the multimodal design of the web and the challenges associated with meaning-making (New London Group, 1996). In my reflection on distractions and multimodality, I have come to appreciate the technologies of the past and the present and, with this project, I hope the audience can also reflect on and relate to the implications of digital and hypermedia literacy.


New London Group. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review. Retrieved from

November 30, 2009   3 Comments

It’s Up To You

For my course project, I decided to create an interactive fictional story for students learning English as a foreign language.  The target audience is a small to medium class of upper intermediate students between the ages of 15 and 25 who have recently learned the difference between direct and reported speech.  Appropriate level reading material for non-native English students is hard to come by, especially in a non-English speaking country and is greatly appreciated when available.  As indicated in the directions to be read before students start their reading journey, the activity can either be completed individually or as a group.  Often when there is a competitive element to activities such as these, students are much more motivated to participate as a group.  It could potentially be completed remotely but would best be suited for a face-to-face-to-screen computer lab scenario.   

This project is a product of my exploration and experimentation of the mixed media hypertext as a teaching tool.  Therefore the focus should be much more on the medium than on the actual content.  The storyline is of course fictional and is relatively inconsequential other than providing some authentic dialogue (between the reader and their cellmate) and vocabulary appropriate to the students’ level.  The story is somewhat shorter than I originally expected, however as I was writing it, I realized that it would be better to start with a simple storyline both for students and a writer that are new to this genre and the tools to create it. “An interactive fiction is an extension of classical narrative media as it supposes a direct implication of spectators during the story evolution. Writing such a story is much more complex than a classical one, and tools at the disposal of writers remain very limited compared to the evolution of technology” (Donikian and Portugal, 2004).  I also had an idea of how the story would go before I started writing, but the direction changed in the process as well and I learned that creating a graphic storyboard is very helpful for organizing the different directions it can take readers.  There are multiple endings, yet students are redirected to try the story again until they reach “the end.” 

Bush, Nelson, and Bolter were the three main authors we read in ETEC540 in order to gain an understanding of the origins, complexity and implications of hypertext.  Both Bush and Nelson were primarily concerned with hypertext as a natural means to disseminate nonfictional information, while Bolter’s chapter on fictional hypertext is the by far longest chapter in Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print.  In that chapter, he presents many literary techniques using hypertext to move readers between elements such as time, place, character, voice, plot, perspective, etc.  Although these techniques are intriguing, their complexity is not appropriate for my target audience.  Bolter’s analysis of hypertext goes further by pointing out that instead of being nonlinear, it is actually multilinear. He points out that all writing is linear, but hypertext can go in many different directions.  Even in his chapter titled Hypertext and the Remediation of Print, he writes, “The principal task of authors of hypertextual fiction on the Web or in stand-aloe form is the use links to define relationships among textual elements, and these links constitute the rhetoric of the hypertext” (Bolter, 2001, p. 29). 
Unlike a traditional storyline, hypertextual storytelling gives the students the freedom over how they read it.  This (perceived) control is a much more common characteristic to the way we interact with digital information today and therefore should be incorporated into classroom activities regularly.  Putting the student in the proverbial driver’s seat is indicative of a constructivistic teaching approach, which is especially effective when employing ICT in the classroom.  However, as Donikian and Portugal observe, “Whatever degree of interactivity, freedom, and non linearity might be provided, the role that the interactor is assigned to play always has to remain inside the boundaries thus defined by the author, and which convey the essence of the work itself” (2004).  For that reason, I have suggested that students actually modify and customize the story after they have read it.  They could do that individually or in pairs in class or for homework.  Most often, the more control students are given, the more they are motivated to participate and learn.  For their final project, they could create a complete story with multiple endings.

There are so many possibilities when writing fiction with hypertext and I have hardly scratched the surface in my first exploration into this genre.  This project has given me a solid base from with to create longer and more complex pieces for wider teaching contexts.  I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you experiment with this exciting medium as well.  Click here to access the story or copu and paste this url:


Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 27-46, 121-160.

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176(1), 101-108.

Donikian, S. & Portugal, J. (2004). Writing Interactive Fiction Scenarii with DraMachina. Lecture notes in computer science, pp. 101–112

Nelson, Theodore. (1999). Xanalogical structure, needed now more than ever: Parallel documents, deep links to content, deep versioning and deep re-use.

November 29, 2009   2 Comments

The Holocaust and Points of View

My Project

I chose to take the following photograph as a start to a project for students, as a way to teach aspects of point of view, short story reading and writing, social responsibility, and social studies content:

Classroom Humiliation

Classroom Humiliation

I wrote three short stories, all using different points of view, as models for students, and created a writing assignment for them.  I used tips from the Bolter text to create a site that I, tomorrow, will have the students start working on.  (I find my best learning – and best retention – happens when I use a practical application of materials!)  The following is the project information included on my website; here is the site itself.


This project has been prepared for a grade 6/7 class that has already been studying background information on the Holocaust, and that has already been taking on the persona of a variety of different people connected to the Holocaust in numerous paper journal entries (e.g., Hitler, a Jewish person being moved into the ghetto, a member of the Hitler Youth).

I received electronic permission from the Yad Vashem website ( in order to use the photo, and although their website says the picture is from Germany, other websites that used the same photo referred to it as being from Vienna, Austria, so I took the artistic liberty of calling the location Vienna.

Materials Used

By using photoshop’s slice function, I was able to make the large picture clickable in a variety of locations.   I used my previously established Mambo website for the majority of the project, but used an SMF bulletin board for homework and Classblogmeister for student blogs.  (Student responses may not be up at this time; they will be doing this assignment shortly.)


I chose to use this particular photograph as a starting point as it allows for students to connect with people from the past who were roughly their own age.  Earlier in the year, my students had reacted quite strongly to this image, in disbelief that a teacher would post such a message and humiliate students.  This photograph also allowed for an explanation of several different points of view, the star conveniently representing the omniscient, or all-seeing point of view, thus creating a multidisciplinary assignment that addresses learning outcomes for Language Arts (both Reading and Writing), Social Studies, and Health and Career Education.

I included hypertext in the short stories to reinforce information that students have already learned, or to introduce new information that will help in their understanding of the stories, thereby extending the ability of print to improve understanding. (Bolter)  These hypertexts open in new windows, to prevent students from “losing” the original stories through a series of mouse clicks, yet allowing for further research as the students wish.

As my students have already been establishing their own educational blogs, I chose to have students post two different assignments related to this activity on their blogs: the first asks them to reflect on point of view, the hyperlinks, and content, whereas the second requires students to show their understanding of both point of view and Holocaust content by writing a story that connects with the sample stories, that is written in one consistent point of view.  This isn’t necessarily interactive fiction in the way Bolter describes, yet for younger students, it is a manageable start.  Students will have opportunities to read and comment on other people’s stories as they complete their activities.

Their marking rubric for this last assignment is included in our class homework electronic bulletin board.  This lets both students and parents to know the criteria for assignments.

By using a variety of different electronic platforms that all link together, students not only develop knowledge and skills in academic subject areas, but also improve their technology knowledge and skills.  The use of blogs for their final drafts of their short stories also gives further incentive to producing good quality work, as their audience is not just the teacher, but the world.  This alone “remediates print.”

Works Cited

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Yad Vashem Shoah Resource Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2009, from Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority:

November 29, 2009   3 Comments

Major Project: Integrating Online Technology into Classrooms

This paper examines the issue of effective integration of online tools and technology into classrooms.  For me, there is a deeper issue other than funding and support that is stalling education’s participation in the technological shift. This deeper issue revolves around the remediation conflict currently occurring between the classroom space and the online space. Developing an effective model for integration involves understanding this conflict and creating an online tool that allows teachers to make the transition towards effective integration of online technology into their classrooms.

Below is the research paper. I’ve posted the paper at Zoho with support materials.
Click here to see this online version…

A Model for Integrating Online Technology
Drew Murphy

The Remediation of Classrooms
Business, communications, politics, media, are all experiencing significant change under the influence of online technology innovation. Yet, as we witness technology inducing staggering change in the world at large, classrooms are conspicuously absent in their participation in this phenomenon.  Many people will point to inadequate funding, lack of technical support and professional development as significant obstacles (Tech Talk Survey, 2006) However, new technologies are eroding these barriers.  Essentially, there is a deeper issue that is stalling education’s participation in the technological shift. This deeper issue revolves around the remediation conflict currently occurring between the classroom space and the online space.  Bolter refers to this remediation issue in terms of print text and digital text where “This debate turns on the question: which form is better at constituting the real, the authentic, or the natural” (1995, p.43) This debate holds true for classrooms and computers as well. For print centric classrooms to participate more actively in the greater technological shift, teachers and technology need to reconcile at a deeper classroom cultural level, pay homage to one another and restructure together in incremental but important ways.

The Impact of Web 2.0 Online Services
With the development of new online technologies, the improvement of hardware and software systems, and the access to high speed internet connections, new possibilities are available for classroom teachers.  In the new millennium, the web has exploded with interactive content, social networking and user generated content functionality.  Coined as Web 2.0 (O’Reilly, 2005”), these online applications and resources are creating new possibilities for classroom technology integration.  Needing little or no training and often provided for free, barriers around cost and onsite support traditionally inhibiting technology integration are eroding.

For teachers in particular, there are a multitude of services for creating interactive slideshows, photo galleries, timelines, flowcharts, sketchpads and more. However, a closer look reveals that most of the applications are aimed at a broad market of internet users and not classrooms specifically.  Without specific classroom conscious remediations many of the applications don’t adapt well to the time pressured practices of traditional classrooms.  Wikis and blogs are somewhat of an exception.

Wikis and blogs are getting serious attention as tools that offer classroom integration possibilities. These tools create opportunities for new online teaching methodologies which emphasize creative, resource rich, self-directed learning experiences for students. (Bruns, 2005). Yet these, powerful, flexible Web 2.0 tools still require significant technical understandings on the part of classroom teachers.  These online spaces also create a whole new environment of engagement , access and control that represent significant shifts away from traditional classroom cultures (Bruns, 2005), where the teacher still leads the learning process, orchestrates classroom talk, designs and sets the activity schedule and measures learning progress.  Thus Wikis and blogs, although pedagogically valuable, are broad and challenging tools that remain as peripheral, somewhat complicated innovations.

For most teachers, web 2.0 tools are complementary resources offering novelty engagement or broad innovations requiring leaps of professional faith.  It is the technology itself that is often the innovation.  The ability to create the slideshow, the video, the flowchart in an online environment is an innovation in and of itself but it is not an innovation that directly impacts the inner workings of the classroom delivery model.    They are innovations that represent radically new modes of teaching and genres of communication for teachers.  Can they be beneficial for students? Yes.  Do they represent innovations that can readily integrate into traditional classroom methods and practices, unlikely.

The Nature of Classrooms Today
Understanding why technology integration in schools is happening slowly, against the backdrop of rapid social integration, involves understanding certain key aspects of classroom cultures.  Classrooms are pre online technology environments.  Technology, in general, is not new to these classrooms where the use of overheads, tv’s, vcr’s and projectors, has been common for years.  However, these older technologies have become part of the methods and practices developed by teachers over many years and are deeply engrained in the culture of the classroom medium.  At its core, the classroom model is a learning production model within a hierarchical leadership structure. The are exceptions and pockets of innovation but in general for most classrooms, the teacher leads the learning process, orchestrates classroom talk, designs and sets the activity schedule and measures learning progress.( Helena Austin, et al, 2002)  Resources such as desks, textbooks,  handouts,  whiteboards, overheads, projectors, etc.., all contribute to the efficiency and productivity ethos of this curriculum delivery system.  Classrooms are still primarily print based cultures that value and promote print based literacy.   And, it is a model where, over the years teachers have discovered and exercised numerous efficiencies and economies of scale to create effective learning environments.  Persuading teachers to integrate new technology and the accompanying new methods and practices into this kind of deeply entrenched classroom culture requires a special type of innovation.

Looking for Incremental Innovation
Looking at the characteristics of effective innovations, we find research shows that incremental change to current practices is a common feature of effective innovation (Marquis, 1969).  This makes sense for classrooms too.  Relevant innovation for teachers means constructing web tools that make key incremental improvements to current classroom practices.  Radical innovations, although offering possible pedagogical improvements, are typically much more difficult to integrate.  Effective incremental innovation comes from understanding how teachers work in classrooms and how they currently engage with the online environment.

As previously mentioned, classroom teachers typically lead the learning process, orchestrate classroom talk, design and set the activity schedule and measure learning progress.  Within this general process, teachers use a variety of tools and resources including the internet.  In particular, research indicates that the majority of teachers use the web most often to look for online content that might be used to support their curriculums. (Kenton, 2005, NSW Department of Ed., 2007).  Numerous content aggregation sites aimed at teachers such as WatchKnow , 2Learn and Teachertube attest to the usage of the web as a major source of classroom content.  Connected to this usage is the act of browsing for websites as a common teacher activity (Project Tomorrow, 2008) as evidenced by the popularity of bookmarking services such as  All of this online activity makes perfect sense in the context of a classroom.  Using web tools to find appropriate and engaging online content is itself an incremental innovation that both builds on and adds to the methods and practices teachers currently use in classrooms.   The question for educators is what are the next incremental innovations that might induce effective integration further.

Discovering the Moment of Remediation Conflict
If we build on the current online behaviors of teachers and link them back to their fundamental classroom methods and practices, we can start to piece together an incremental innovation model that is both realistic and transformative.  Research shows that teachers inherently understand the value of technology to enhance teaching and learning. (Teacher Talk, 2006). Furthermore, the popularity of web browsing as an online teacher activity and the use of the web as a source of content demonstrates a fundamental connection the web has with traditional classroom practices.  In other words, the web has content and classroom teachers will seek it out to use it.  The question thus arises as to how do teachers integrate this web content into classrooms.

Studies show that teachers typically accompany visits to websites with paper handouts of instructions and questions.(Kenton, 2005 NSW Department of Ed., 2007)  Other typical integration practices involved writing instructions on the board or giving oral instructions regarding the teacher’s desired usage of web content.  Herein, lies the point of conflict between classroom spaces and online spaces. Traditional print based mediums and teacher oratory are being used to cast off students into online content spaces. This bridging of print to screen is a radical transformation because the nature of the digital screen “changes methods of organization, structure, consultation, even the appearance of the written word.” (Chartier,1995, p.15).   Having students switching between paper based information or board posted instructions as they interact with browser based content is a major obstacle to effective integration of online content into classrooms.  The changing modalities of paper and screen interrupts the cognitive flow for the student as they mentally re-focus back and forth between the conflicting stimuli of what McCluhan called the hot precise and visually arresting nature of print text versus the cooler meaning making nature of online multimedia mediums (1964). The mixture of mediums creates subtle confusions of organization and meaning and changes the focus away from learning and more on mechanically understanding the instructions as students look back and forth to verify what they are reading.  Kress describes the screen as an environment of “spacially organized representation” (2005, p14) where the placement of elements in relation to one another conveys significant meaning.  Kress goes on to say that “the arrangements of visual representation, which we can also aptly call syntax, are also developments and elaborations from the logic of spatial display” (2005, p14). In the case of the text handout, the lack of proximity of the teacher’s text to the spacially organized syntax of the screen implies a grave syntactical error in the “grammar” of the teacher’s instructional process.

In my own experience I have often observed other teacher’s classes shifting between handouts, the board, a word processor and a website.   Needless to say these “trips to the lab” are loud and disruptive affairs where the teacher’s hopes for an engaging web experience are never truly manifested in the actual lesson event. And so the impetus to integrate technology into classrooms is mired in an ineffective remediation process between classrooms and computer screens, where at the moment of transaction when the teacher says “Read your handouts and go to this website and do this….” students fend for themselves in the new modality.

A Tool Designed for Remediation
A possible incremental innovation is, however, possible in the form of a new web tool design.  The tool should build on the teacher and the student’s classroom relationship and tie their online content experience more closely together.  Once someone is online, user’s eyes and minds should remain online, starting with the teacher’s initial experience of browsing for content.   Once a teacher finds a site they like, teachers should not have to create a handout as a student guide.  Instead, the teacher calls up an online application that attaches a simple expandable side bar to the web page.  The sidebar is a widget into which the teacher may give instructions, pose questions, post a discussion, or create a simple activity for that site. The sidebar also contains a form into which students submit their responses. All student responses are collected in a separate feedback window for the teacher to view, respond, moderate or assess.  Now, when teachers send students to the site, the sidebar activity is waiting there for them in direct visual proximity to the site and thus the web experience stays in a single modality. The sidebar is integrated into the spacially organized representation of the screen and implies a syntactical cohesion with the other elements on the webpage. The sidebar also conveys a sense of authorship on the part of the teacher that accompanies the students into the space and mediates a constant relationship between the student and web content.  The sidebar’s direct proximity to the web content, creates a new online relationship between student, teacher, and computer and opens up new pedagogical possibilities.

This simple idea incrementally builds on what teachers already do in traditional classrooms, namely design activities around content. Of course this is a simplistic model and teachers want to do more than just ask questions about content.  But if the tool also allows for multiple questions, discussions and tasks in various combinations for any one or many websites, the pedagogical possibilities begin to rapidly expand. The mindsets of traditional teachers can now enter into the vast wealth of online content with incremental simplicity attaching simple questions to sites or, in time, building out into richer processes and sequences of enquiry and discussion.  Once the handout is eliminated the full focus of teacher and student can be on exploring and exploiting web content. The proximity of the sidebar also puts the pedagogy of teachers into closer contact with online media. Questions and discussions become lenses through which teachers can shape critical responses to web content.  Teachers are also composing directly in context to web content and constructing meaning making processes of inquiry and discussion born from their direct experience of the online in the moment. Finally, with the feedback window, the teacher stays in the online feedback loop, moderating and assessing the process and helping themselves migrate over from their classroom space into their digital web presence and discovering new efficiencies and economies of scale that come with digital database functionalities.

Over time, as the teacher collects and creates more activities, teachers begin to harness web content in a codex like fashion categorizing activities in terms of durations and themes, archiving activities into sets and building out a personal canon of lesson content. The plethora of web content is thus repackaged and republished in the daily course of teacher planning.  Ultimately this innovation allows for the incremental blending of classroom practices into their digital realm.

This, of course, is one of many possible routes to incremental innovation that could be considered and it is by no means perfect or even proven.  However, its persuasive design potential comes from understanding the remediation processes occurring between classrooms and computers in schools today.  Through this process we can establish possible foundations on which other incremental design innovations might be built so effective integration can occur.

Austin, Helena, et al. (2002).Schooling the Child: The Making of Students in Classrooms. New York: Routledge-Falmer.

Bolter, J. D. (2000). Writing Space:  Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation
of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bruns, Axel, Humphreys,Sal (2005) Wikis in teaching and assessment: the M/Cyclopedia project, Proceedings of the 2005 international symposium on Wikis, p.25-32, October 16-18, 2005, San Diego, California

CDW-G, (2006), Teachers Talk Tech Survey. Retrieved November 19, 2009 from

Chartier, R. (1995). Forms and meanings: Texts, performances, and audiences from codex to computer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kenton, Jeffrey. (2005, December 22). Toward technology integration in the schools: why it isn’t happening The Free Library. Retrieved November 26, 2009 from technology integration in the schools: why it isn’t happening.-a0138483291

Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1):5-22. London: Elsevier

Marquis, Donald, G. (1969). The Anatomy of Successful Innovations . Innovation, November, 1969, Technology Communication Inc.  retrieved November 20, 2009 from

McCluhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man; 1st Ed. NY; McGraw Hill

NSW Department of Education and Training (2007). How do NSW DET teachers discover, access, and use online learning resources in their practice? Strathfield,  NSW: Centre for Learning Innovation.

Project Tomorrow (2008). Speak Up 2007 for Students, Teachers, Parents & School Leaders Selected National Findings – April 8, 2008. Retrieved November 19, 2009 from

O’Reilly, T. (2005). What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.  Retrieved November 19 from

November 29, 2009   No Comments

Major Project – E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography

Typography shapes language and makes the written word ‘visible’. With this in mind I felt that it was essential to be cognizant about how my major project would be presented in its final format. In support of my research on type in digital spaces, I created an ‘electronic book’ of sorts, using Adobe InDesign CS4 and Adobe Acrobat 9. Essentially I took a traditionally written essay and then modified and designed it to fit a digital space. The end result was supposed to be an interactive .swf file but I ran into too many technical difficulties. So what resulted was an interactive PDF book.

The e-book was designed to have a sequential structure, supported by a table of contents, headings and page numbering – much like that of a traditional printed book. However, the e-book extends beyond the boundaries of the ‘page’ as the user, through hyperlinks, can explore multiple and diverse worlds of information located online. Bolter (2001) uses the term remediation to describe how new technologies refashion the old. Ultimately, this project pays homage to the printed book, but maintains its own unique characteristics specific to the electronic world.

To view the book click on the PDF Book link below. The file should open in a web browser. If by chance, you need Acrobat Reader to view the file and you do not have the latest version you can download it here:

You can navigate through the document using the arrows in the top navigation bar of the document window. Alternatively you can jump to specific content by using the associated Bookmarks (located in left-hand navigation bar) or by clicking on the chapter links in the Table of Contents. As you navigate through the pages you will be prompted to visit websites as well as complete short activities. An accessible Word version of the essay is also available below.


Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

To view my project, click on the following links:

E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography (PDF Book)

E-Type: The Visual Language of Typography (Word Version)

November 29, 2009   4 Comments

Hypermedia and Cybernetics: A Phenomenological Study

As with all other technologies, hypermedia technologies are inseparable from what is referred to in phenomenology as “lifeworlds”. The concept of a lifeworld is in part a development of an analysis of existence put forth by Martin Heidegger. Heidegger explains that our everyday experience is one in which we are concerned with the future and in which we encounter objects as parts of an interconnected complex of equipment related to our projects (Heidegger, 1962, p. 91-122). As such, we invariably encounter specific technologies only within a complex of equipment. Giving the example of a bridge, Heidegger notes that, “It does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream.” (Heidegger, 1993, p. 354). As a consequence of this connection between technologies and lifeworlds, new technologies bring about ecological changes to the lifeworlds, language, and cultural practices with which they are connected (Postman, 1993, p. 18). Hypermedia technologies are no exception.

To examine the kinds of changes brought about by hypermedia technologies it is important to examine the history not only of those technologies themselves but also of the lifeworlds in which they developed. Such a study will reveal that the development of hypermedia technologies involved an unlikely confluence of two subcultures. One of these subcultures belonged to the United States military-industrial-academic complex during World War II and the Cold War, and the other was part of the American counterculture movement of the 1960s.

Many developments in hypermedia can trace their origins back to the work of Norbert Wiener. During World War II, Wiener conducted research for the US military concerning how to aim anti-aircraft guns. The problem was that modern planes moved so fast that it was necessary for anti-aircraft gunners to aim their guns not at where the plane was when they fired the gun but where it would be some time after they fired. Where they needed to aim depended on the speed and course of the plane. In the course of his research into this problem, Wiener decided to treat the gunners and the gun as a single system. This led to his development of a multidisciplinary approach that he called “cybernetics”, which studied self-regulating systems and used the operations of computers as a model for these systems (Turner, 2006, p. 20-21).

This approach was first applied to the development of hypermedia in an article written by one of Norbert Wiener’s former colleges, Vannevar Bush.  Bush had been responsible for instigating and running the National Defence Research Committee (which later became the Office of Scientific Research and Development), an organization responsible for government funding of military research by private contractors. Following his experiences in military research, Bush wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly addressing the question of how scientists would be able to cope with growing specialization and how they would collate an overwhelming amount of research (Bush, 1945). Bush imagined a device, which he later called the “Memex”, in which information such as books, records, and communications would be stored on microfilm. This information would be capable of being projected on screens, and the person who used the Memex would be able to create a complex system of “trails” connecting different parts of the stored information. By connecting documents into a non-hierarchical system of information, the Memex would to some extent embody the principles of cybernetics first imagined by Wiener.

Inspired by Bush’s idea of the Memex, researcher Douglas Engelbart believed that such a device could be used to augment the use of “symbolic structures” and thereby accurately represent and manipulate “conceptual structures” (Engelbart, 1962).This led him and his team at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) to develop the “On-line system” (NLS), an ancestor of the personal computer which included a screen, QWERTY keyboard, and a mouse.  With this system, users could manipulate text and connect elements of text with hyperlinks. While Engelbart envisioned this system as augmenting the intellect of the individual, he conceived the individual was part of a system, which he referred to as an H-LAM/T system (a  trained human with language, artefacts, and methodology) (ibid., p. 11). Drawing upon the ideas of cybernetics, Engelbart saw the NLS itself as a self-regulatory system in which engineers collaborated and, as a consequence, improved the system, a process he called “bootstrapping” (Turner, 2006, p. 108).

The military-industrial-academic complex’s cybernetic research culture also led to the idea of an interconnected network of computers, a move that would be key in the development of the internet and hypermedia. First formulated by  J.C.R. Licklider, this idea was later executed by Bob Taylor with the creation of ARPANET (named after the defence department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency). As a extension of systems such as the NLS, such a system was a self-regulating network for collaboration also inspired by the study of cybernetics.

The late 1960s to the early 1980s saw hypermedia’s development transformed from a project within the US military-industrial-academic complex to a vision animating the American counterculture movement. This may seem remarkable for several reasons. Movements related to the budding counterculture in the early 1960s generally adhered to a view that developments in technology, particularly in computer technology, had a dehumanizing effect and threatened the authentic life of the individual. Such movements were also hostile to the US military-industrial-academic complex that had developed computer technologies, generally opposing American foreign policy and especially American military involvement in Vietnam. Computer technologies were seen as part of the power structure of this complex and were again seen as part of an oppressive dehumanizing force (Turner, 2006, p. 28-29).

This negative view of computer technologies more or less continued to hold in the New Left movements largely centred on the East Coast of the United States. However, a contrasting view began to grow in the counterculture movement developing primarily in the West Coast. Unlike the New Left movement, the counterculture became disaffected with traditional methods of social change, such as staging protests and organizing unions. It was thought that these methods still belonged to the traditional systems of power and, if anything, compounded the problems caused by those systems. To effect real change, it was believed, a shift in consciousness was necessary (Turner, 2006, p. 35-36).

Rather than seeing technologies as necessarily dehumanizing, some in the counterculture took the view that technology would be part of the means by which people liberated themselves from stultifying traditions. One major influences on this view was Marshall McLuhan, who argued that electronic media would become an extension of the human nervous system and would result in a new form of tribal social organization that he called the “global village” (McLuhan, 1962). Another influence, perhaps even stronger, was Buckminster Fuller, who took the cybernetic view of the world as an information system and coupled it with the belief that technology could be used by designers to live a life of authentic self-efficiency (Turner, 2006, p. 55-58).

In the late 1960s, many in the counterculture movement sought to effect the change in consciousness and social organization that they wished to see by forming communes (Turner, 2006, p. 32). These communes would embody the view that it was not through political protest but through the expansion of consciousness and the use of technologies (such as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes) that a true revolution would be brought about. To supply members of these communes and other wayfarers in the counterculture with the tools they needed to make these changes, Stewart Brand developed the Whole Earth Catalogue (WEC). The WEC provided lists of books, mechanical devices, and outdoor gear that were available through mail order for low prices. Subscribers were also encouraged to provide information on other items that would be listed in subsequent editions. The WEC was not a commercial catalogue in that it wasn’t possible to order items from the catalogue itself. It was rather a publication that listed various sources of information and technology from a variety of contributors. As Fred Turner argues (2006, p. 72-73), it was seen as a forum by means of which people from various different communities could collaborate.

Like many others in the counterculture movement, Stewart Brand immersed himself in cybernetics literature. Inspired by the connection he saw between cybernetics and the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller, Brand used the WEC to broker connections between ARC and the then flourishing counterculture (Turner, 2006,  p. 109-10). In 1985, Stewart Brand and former commune member Larry Brilliant took the further step of uniting the two cultures and placed the WEC online in one of the first virtual communities, the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link or “WELL”. The WELL included bulletin board forums, email, and web pages and grew from a source of tools for counterculture communes into a forum for discussion and collaboration of any kind. The design of the WELL was based on communal principles and cybernetic theory. It was intended to be a self-regulating, non-hierarchical system for collaboration.  As Turner notes (2005), “Like the Catalog, the WELL became a forum within which geographically dispersed individuals could build a sense of nonhierarchical, collaborative community around their interactions” (p. 491).

This confluence of military-industrial-academic complex technologies and the countercultural communities who put those technologies to use would form the roots of other hypermedia technologies. The ferment of the two cultures in Silicon Valley would result in the further development of the internet—the early dependence on text being supplanted by the use of text, image, and sound, transforming hypertext into full hypermedia. The idea of a self-regulating, non-hierarchical network would moreover result in the creation of the collaborative, social-networking technologies commonly denoted as “Web 2.0”.

This brief survey of the history of hypermedia technologies has shown that the lifeworlds in which these technologies developed was one first imagined in the field of cybernetics. It is a lifeworld characterised by non-hierarchical, self-regulating systems and by the project of collaborating and sharing information. First of all, it is characterized by non-hierarchical organizations of individuals. Even though these technologies first developed in the hierarchical system of the military-industrial-academic complex, it grew within a subculture of collaboration among scientists and engineers (Turner, 2006, p. 18). Rather than  being strictly regimented, prominent figures in this subculture – including Wiener, Bush, and Engelbart -voiced concern over the possible authoritarian abuse of these technologies (ibid., p. 23-24).

The lifeworld associated with hypermedia is also characterized by the non-hierarchical dissemination of information. Rather than belonging to traditional institutions consisting of authorities who distribute information to others directly, these technologies involve the spread of information across networks. Such information is modified by individuals within the networks through the use of hyperlinks and collaborative software such as wikis.

The structure of hypermedia itself is also arguably non-hierarchical (Bolter, 2001, p. 27-46). Hypertext, and by extension hypermedia, facilitates an organization of information that admits of many different readings. That is, it is possible for the reader to navigate links and follow what Bush called different “trails” of connected information. Printed text generally restricts reading to one trail or at least very few trails, and lends itself to the organization of information in a hierarchical pattern (volumes divided into books, which are divided into chapters, which are divided into paragraphs, et cetera).

It is clear that the advent of hypermedia has been accompanied by changes in hierarchical organizations in lifeworlds and practices. One obvious example would be the damage that has been sustained by newspapers and the music industry. The phenomenological view of technologies as connected to lifeworlds and practices would provide a more sophisticated view of this change than the technological determinist view that hypermedia itself has brought about changes in society and the instrumentalist view that the technologies are value neutral and that these changes have been brought about by choice alone (Chandler, 2002). It would rather suggest that hypermedia is connected to practices that largely preclude both the hierarchical dissemination of information and the institutions that are involved in such dissemination. As such, they cannot but threaten institutions such as the music industry and newspapers. As Postman (1993) observes, “When an old technology is assaulted by a new one, institutions are threatened” (p. 18).

Critics of hypermedia technologies, such as Andrew Keen (2007), have generally focussed on this threat to institutions, arguing that such a threat undermines traditions of rational inquiry and the production of quality media. To some degree such criticisms are an extension of a traditional critique of modernity made by authors such as Alan Bloom (1987) and Christopher Lasch (1979). This would suggest that such criticisms are rooted in more perennial issues concerning the place of tradition, culture, and authority in society, and is not likely that these issues will subside. However, it is also unlikely that there will be a return to a state of affairs before the inception of hypermedia. Even the most strident critics of “Web 2.0” technologies embrace certain aspects of it.

The lifeworld of hypermedia does not necessarily oppose traditional sources of expertise to the extent that the descendants of the fiercely anti-authoritarian counterculture may suggest, though. Advocates of Web 2.0 technologies often appeal to the “wisdom of crowds”, alluding the work of James Surowiecki  (2005). Surowiecki offers the view that, under certain conditions, the aggregation of the choices of independent individuals results in a better decision than one made by a single expert. He is mainly concerned with economic decisions,  offering his theory as a defence of free markets. Yet this theory also suggests a general epistemology, one which would contend  that the aggregation of the beliefs of many independent individuals will generally be closer to the truth than the view of a single expert. In this sense, it is an epistemology modelled on the cybernetic view of self-regulating systems. If it is correct, knowledge would be  the result of a cybernetic network of individuals rather than a hierarchical system in which knowledge is created by experts and filtered down to others.

The main problem with the “wisdom of crowds” epistemology as it stands is that it does not explain the development of knowledge in the sciences and the humanities. Knowledge of this kind doubtless requires collaboration, but in any domain of inquiry this collaboration still requires the individual mastery of methodologies and bodies of knowledge. It is not the result of mere negotiation among people with radically disparate perspectives. These methodologies and bodies of knowledge may change, of course, but a study of the history of sciences and humanities shows that this generally does not occur through the efforts of those who are generally ignorant of those methodologies and bodies of knowledge sharing their opinions and arriving at a consensus.

As a rule, individuals do not take the position of global skeptics, doubting everything that is not self-evident or that does not follow necessarily from what is self-evident. Even if people would like to think that they are skeptics of this sort, to offer reasons for being skeptical about any belief they will need to draw upon a host of other beliefs that they accept as true, and to do so they will tend to rely on sources of information that they consider authoritative (Wittgenstein, 1969). Examples of the “wisdom of crowds” will also be ones in which individuals each draw upon what they consider to be established knowledge, or at least established methods for obtaining knowledge. Consequently, the wisdom of crowds is parasitic upon other forms of wisdom.

Hypermedia technologies and the practices and lifeworld to which they belong do not necessarily commit us to the crude epistemology based on the “wisdom of crowds”. The culture of collaboration among scientists that first characterized the development of these technologies did not preclude the importance of individual expertise. Nor did it oppose all notions of hierarchy. For example, Engelbart (1962) imagined the H-LAM/T system as one in which there are hierarchies of processes, with higher executive processes governing lower ones.

The lifeworlds and practices associated with hypermedia will evidently continue to pose a challenge to traditional sources of knowledge. Educational institutions have remained somewhat unaffected by the hardships faced by the music industry and newspapers due to their connection with other institutions and practices such as accreditation. If this phenomenological study is correct, however, it is difficult to believe that they will remain unaffected as these technologies take deeper roots in our lifeworld and our cultural practices. There will continue to be a need for expertise, though, and the challenge will be to develop methods for recognizing expertise, both in the sense of providing standards for accrediting experts and in the sense of providing remuneration for expertise. As this concerns the structure of lifeworlds and practices themselves, it will require a further examination of those lifeworlds and practises and an investigation of ideas and values surrounding the nature of authority and of expertise.


Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Bolter, J. D. (2001) Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from

Chandler, D. (2002). Technological or media determinism. Retrieved from

Engelbart, D. (1962) Augmenting human intellect: A conceptual framework. Menlo Park: Stanford Research Institute.

Heidegger, M. (1993). Basic writings. (D.F. Krell, Ed.). San Francisco: Harper Collins.

—–. (1962). Being and time. (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Keen, A. (2007). The cult of the amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture. New York: Doubleday.

Lasch, C. (1979). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage.

Surowiecki, J. (2005). The wisdom of crowds. Toronto: Anchor.

Turner, F. (2006). From counterculture to cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—–. (2005). Where the counterculture met the new economy: The WELL and the origins of virtual community. Technology and Culture, 46(3), 485–512.

Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On certainty. New York: Harper.

November 29, 2009   No Comments

Final Project – Graphic Novels, Improving Literacy

Before I started this course, I had noticed the increased availability of graphic novels in our school library.  My teenage son is a fan, preferring Manga to the North American style comic books.  When our school recently began school-wide silent reading to promote literacy, student interest in and requests for graphic novels increased further.  There seemed a clear link between this form of literature and the need to improve  literacy rates as part of our province’s Student Success initiatives.

In the past weeks, I researched the topic of graphic novels to find the link between improved literacy and an alternate form of literature.  This website is meant to be an informative document.  My hope is to link it to the school website for parents to find documented answers to their questions about how to get reluctant readers engaged in regular reading.

A website is unlike a traditional essay in that I found it difficult to conclude the document.  You will find both internal and external links.  Typical of websites, the readers can choose the path to follow – it was never meant to be linear.  Ultimately, I hope this site encourages readers to continue their own journey in learning about graphic novels.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

The rising influence of the visual over the purely written word.

The rising influence of the visual over the purely written word.
Third Formal Commentary

Richard Biel
University of British Columbia
Etec 540

Professors Jeff Miller and Brian Lamb

Many have claimed the death of the author is nigh (Barthes, 1968).  One of Michel Foucault’s most pivotal works “What is an author?” may have even started the dirge.   Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) do not go as far as that but they do both argue that there is an incredible change that is presently occurring.  Information and knowledge are moving from the long standing dominance of writing to a multi-modal form of communication best exemplified by the Internet and the webpage however extending far past this to more common forms of text.  This “remediation” as Bolter (2001) phrases it, is causing a shift in power from the author to the reader.  The reason for this shift is the limitations of text and the development of technology that allows this change to occur.  Both authors are wary of being labelled technological determinists and distance themselves from this position citing the complexity of human/societal/technological relationships.  One thing is for certain whether the advent of the Internet and hypertext is the executor of the author is questionable however they most certainly have mutagenic capabilities.

In the natural sciences there are a number of species that have, despite all odds, hung on for a “unnaturally” long period of time.  Kress (2005) contends that this is certainly the case for writing.  Writing has had and continues to have a very prominent place in the dissemination of information, knowledge and entertainment.  However this dominant role of writing is changing.  “In particular, it seems evident to many commentators that writing is giving way, is being displaced by image in many instances of communication where previously it had held sway.” (Kress, 2005).  Bolter (2001) contends that text and writing actually, “contained and constrained the images on the printed page.”  The rise of the image in dominance is demonstrated on an almost daily basis by newspapers, textbooks and magazines that are resembling more and more like webpages and hypertext.  I doubt very much that writing not supported by other multi-modal forms of communication will be completely supplanted however there is no doubt that a change is occurring towards a more visually dominant age.

Traditionally the author of the written word has taken a far more prominent role when it came to the author/reader power differential.  This relationship is changing.  The author traditionally had control over syntax, grammar, word order, word choice and a myriad of other conventions that allowed the author to dictate how information and knowledge was metered out.  Readers traditionally took more passive roles in their interaction with the written word but with the ever growing prominence of the visual image “ we get a reverse ekphrasis in which images are given the task of explaining words.” (Bolter, 2001).   This is best exemplified by the “novelization” of films.  Where films are first released and then the novel is written almost as a second thought.  “In a multimodal text, writing may be central, or it may not; on screens writing may not feature in mulimodal texts that use sound-effect and the soundtrack of a musical score, use speech, moving and still images of various kinds.” (Kress, 2005).  Both Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) recognize that we are currently living in the age of the visual and the written word, although still highly regarded, is slowly taking a backseat to the visual.

So why has the written word been bumped out of the drivers seat?  This can best be explained by outlining the limitations of the written word.  Kress (2005) contends that individual words are vague and rely to heavily upon the interpretation of the reader.  An image, on the other hand, is far less open to interpretation by the viewer.  However, I would argue that images can be manipulated to highlight different aspects of the images and downplay others and thus lead viewers to interpret the images in particular ways.  Images, Kress(2005) contends have a much greater capacity and diversity of meaning.   “Hypermedia can be regarded as a kind of picture writing, which refashions the qualities of both traditional picture writing and phonetic writing.” (Botler, 2001).  Although a purely written text is being relegated to the halls of academia and higher thought it still has a place in supporting the successful transmission of information and knowledge.

Multi-modal representations have become common place in the visually rich culture of the western world.  Traditional forms of concept transmission such as the written word are being re-tooled and enhanced with sound, video and images.  Kress (2005) and Bolter (2001) both contend that this is to the betterment of the media as a far richer and more diverse form of communication is evolving.  The purely written word that is supported with few if any images is being pushed to the margins of higher learning and thought.  With the advent of digital media we will continue to be offered a greater diversity and more individualistic experience when it comes to information, knowledge and communication.


Barthes, Roland (1968).  The death of the author.  Downloaded on November 28th, 2009. From

Bolter, Jay D. (2001).  Writing Spaces:  Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Mahwah, New Jersey, London.

Foucault, Michel (1977).  What is an author? In Language, counter-memory, practice:  Selected essays and interviews (pp.113-138). (D. F. Bouchard & S. Simon, Trans. ).  Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University

Kress, Gunther (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning.  Computers and Compostion 22, pp.5-22.

November 28, 2009   No Comments

Radio Restated: Podcasting in Education – Major Project

By Stephanie Hopkins & Michael Haworth

podcastingMany years have passed since the dawn of the “golden age of radio”, and the birth of educational radio in North America.  Educational radio programming in Canada and the United States brought forth new pedagogical methodology while supporting text-based education.  Named “the new transistor radio” by Jon Udell, (Campbell, 2005, p. 38), and “the next generation of radio” by Steven Jobs (as cited in Baker, Harrison & Yates, 2007, p.31), podcasting now brings to the digital age what educational radio could not: portability, convenience, and choice.  While “audio has traditionally been neglected and underused as a teaching and learning medium” (Chan, Lee & McLoughlin, 2006, p. 111), this is beginning to change as educational institutions focus on the perceived opportunities and benefits that podcasting offers.  In both K-12 and post-secondary sectors, podcasting is making an positive impact in literacy, the sciences, language arts, second language education and more.  Institutions are beginning to recognize the benefits of podcasting, and universities such as Purdue, Duke, and Georgia College & State University are now involving students in podcasting.  George Siemens (2004) argues that technology shapes learning.  It is clear that the potential for learning through podcasting in all levels of education is great; “[i]t’s enormously motivating to watch learners learn through dialogue – forming connections with learners and experts beyond the walls of a classroom” (Siemens, 2009, para. 9).

References cited in main paper.

Radio Restated: Podcasting in Education Main Paper

To view a PDF copy of our main paper use this link.

Radio Restated: Podcasting in Education Supplementary Podcast

Length 5:44

Please Note: May take a few moments to fully cache podcast.
Download link for podcast mp3 file if player is not present above.

Radio Restated: Podcasting in Education Podcast Creation and Distribution Diagram


Radio Restated: Podcasting in Education Delicious Links

In addition, we have also created delicious page to share our some of our resources with you.  Please feel free to view or add any of the links at

November 25, 2009   6 Comments

A Case For Teaching Visual Literacy- Major Project

Here is a link to my major project on Visual Literacy.

November 23, 2009   4 Comments

Pen and Paper Project

Hello all

Please take a few minutes to explore our Google Website on Pen and Paper.

Ed Stuerle & Bruce Spencer

October 31, 2009   1 Comment

The Rise of the Newspaper in America: Boston 1690-1719

Please view my project on the rise of the newspaper in America (focusing on Boston from 1690-1719) at the course wiki.

Please note that my assignment was created in the spirit of hypertext, and as such, it is best to view in wiki rather than me pasting here.


October 29, 2009   No Comments