Hypertext: A Natural Shift

The online world is structured in a much different way than how a traditional printed book is structured. This results in a changed perception and interpretation of information. In “Chapter 3: Hypertext and the Remediation of Print” from Bolter’s Writing Space, the ideas of hypertext are discussed. Hypertext is remediating, or refashioning, printed text. With this change in the presentation and access to information, learning and understanding information is also changing. Hypertext is flexible and it tailors to our associative ways of thinking. We must incorporate teaching methods to adapt to this new associative learning.

Hypertext and Remediation

Bolter (2001) proposes that the World Wide Web is remediating, or revising, the linear way of reading a printed book or scroll. The shift from one medium to another is a “remediation” of the previous technology.  New technologies may supplement or replace established technologies based on cultural requirements.  As the need for restructured electronic writing has arisen, the dominant linear book has become remediated. Hypertext is the software system that allows extensive cross-referencing between related sections of text and associated graphic material (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).  Bolter describes hypertext as a network of interconnected writings (2001).  When someone accesses the Internet today, they can constantly shift from one page to another through the linkages in the hypertext, creating multiple reading paths, much different from the linearity of the printed book.

For hundreds of years, footnotes were used in books as a means to obtain more information about a particular topic. In order to do so, the reader would have to go to the bottom of the page or the back of the book to find more information. Even by doing this, there may not have been adequate information for the reader resulting in the reader then having to do tedious research in order to gather more information.  The difference between a footnote and hypertext link is that with hypertext, you can click on phrases or graphics and get a related new page instantly (Bolter, 2001). The new page then has access to many more linked phrases. This allows the reader to access seemingly endless amounts of information in just moments. The accessibility of a vast amount of information has an incredible effect on human thinking.

New Pathways to Find Information

Bolter claims that supporters of hypertext argue that hypertext reflects the nature of the human mind itself (2001). Vannevar Bush (1945) explained that humans think in more associative ways rather than through linear and hierarchical manners.  He states that the human mind operates by association. “With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain” (Section 6, para. 2). Associative thinking is not new. We have made many connections and thought in non-linear ways for thousands of years. Printed books may have been limiting our minds into a linear structure that inhibited our potential to discover many pathways of information at the tip of our fingers. From this plenitude of information that hypertextual environments enable, we have the ability to form new connections and form knowledge in a meaningful, experiential way. We choose our own pathways to collect data and make our own, deeper understanding. We can access graphics, videos, personal blogs and much more. We are discovering and creating knowledge in a non-linear way.

Implications for Teaching

With associative thinking, hypertext has created a new generation of learners. Students are constantly accessing many web pages and sources of information. As Bolter describes how humans are changing with the remediating technology of hypertext, teachers need to be able to understand the implications of hypertext in order to help their students. They should assess and assist the capacity for their students to connect what they are learning in a meaningful way instead of sifting through information too quickly. Instead of only using one resource in schools, such as a single textbook in a class, teachers need to apply more media and different resources. Students need to be trained to use hypertext while attaining important knowledge and meaning from their sources. When students are required to write, they should be given ample opportunities to display their information in many creative ways such as concept maps, wikis, open-source software, and different interactive web pages. Just as a printed textbook should not be the only source of information for a student, the traditional essay should not be the only means of expressing information for a student.

As humans adapt to new forms of technology remediating older forms of technology, our minds go through a shift in thinking. Sometimes the newer technologies are more appropriate for our particular thinking patterns. In the case of the hypertextual online environment, more natural ways of thinking may be activated. Bolter sees remediation as an attempt to redefine cultural values (2001). If we, as a culture, perceive a hypertextual environment for learning as an important medium, then we will continue to use and adapt to this. For practical teaching strategies, more research needs to be done in the area of information processing and attention spans for our ever-changing student learning environment. Our abilities to remember the vast amount of information that hypertext has allowed us to access could be changing rapidly.

References

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly, 176(1), 101-108. Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

“hypertext, n” (2012). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hypertext?q=hypertext

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1 Response to Hypertext: A Natural Shift

  1. troos says:

    Your commentary covers some of the same material as mine: the link between hypertext and learning (See http://blogs.ubc.ca/etec540sept12/2012/11/10/learning-through-hypertext/). As teachers we certainly need to be aware of the ways our students learn and do not learn when exposed to hypertextual environments. It is interesting how much of the MET program stresses the need for a constructivist perspective in teaching and learning yet assuming that students will simply learn by being exposed to multiple sources of information without guidance is simply a “remediation” of didactic and transmissionist styles.

    Tim

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