The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Category — Commentary 3

Web 2.0 and the Home Economics Classroom

Collaboration is the process of shared creating. It is about collective intelligence.” (Attaran, 2007).

Bryan Alexander, a leading researcher of emerging technology for teaching and learning, believes that the social software movement is not new, he argues started in the 1960’s with the idea “to connect people in order to boost their knowledge and their ability to learn” (Alexander, 2006, p.33).  More recently, Web 2.0 has taken hold of our culture and educators are attempting to keep up.  Home Economics classes have traditionally focussed on theory and lab work that is created within the classroom.  Asking Home Economics educators to expand their horizon’s, the most recent BC Foods and Nutrition curriculum states, “when planning for instruction and assessment in Foods and Nutrition 8 to 12, teachers should provide opportunities for students to develop literacy in relation to information and communications technology sources” (BC Ministry of Education, 2009).  Utilizing Web 2.0 technology in the Home Economics classroom allows students to create a more authentic and enriched learning experience.  Students can expand their own knowledge base around their interests and collaborate with fellow students and students globally.  Using Bryan Alexander’s research, this paper will examine the opportunities and threats for utilizing Web 2.0 in the Home Economics classroom; in particular, social bookmarking, course management systems and Web 2.0 storytelling will be explored.

Social bookmarking can be done by individuals or groups and is used to store, describe and share bookmarks (Alexander, 2006).  Alexander comments from a pedagogical standpoint that social bookmarking can be beneficial in the following ways:

  1. Acts as a memory device – retaining memory from each student and different classes.
  2. Students can connect with others of similar interests and build upon their own knowledge base.
  3. Since tags are created by users they can offer a different perspective on how to view content.
  4. Cooperative nature fosters teamwork and collaboration.
  5. Benefits the teacher as they can follow the train of thought of the students.

Within a Home Economics classroom, social bookmarking can be used to assist students in meal planning and skill building.  Working in groups, students are required to plan and prepare a meal of their choice for term projects.  Social bookmarking sites, like Delicious, can be a working space where students collect and collaborate with recipes and techniques.  The threats to this approach are that students may not be aware of the time and budget constraints of all their meal choices; however this provides an opportunity for the technology, the students and the teacher to work together to create a meaningful experience.

Course management systems (CMS) evolved around the same time as Web 2.0 and allow for social networking and collaboration within a classroom environment (blogs, wikis, discussions, etc.) (Alexander, 2008).  Alexander does not believe that CMS offer a true Web 2.0 experience as users are usually confined to the localised classroom versus the global web environment (discussion threads and wikis are usually class based).  That being said, CMS do offer Home Economic students the ability to explore beyond the classroom walls and participate globally.  Please see an example of a Home Economics CMS (username: wood and password: password) Ms. Wood’s Foods 9 Moodle.  This Moodle site provides a platform and a jumping off point for Home Economics students interact with social bookmarking and storytelling technology that Alexander believes both “promotes higher order critical thinking skills” (2009, p.157).  This Moodle also introduces students to a wiki environment so that they become more familiar with adding information and editing others content. 

Please see an example of a Home Economics Web 2.0 story using Mapwing.
Foods around the World

Web 2.0 storytelling is revolutionizing the way stories are being told – “stories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, exploratory, and unpredictable” (Alexander & Levine, 2008, p.40).  Alexander and Levine argue that traditional stories have a beginning, middle and an end; in contrast, Web 2.0 stories can have multiple starting points, can be hyperlinked and can allow user editing of content.  Alan Levine, co-author of Web 2.0 Storytelling Emergence of a new Genre, created the site CogDogRoo which explores 50+ tools for creating a digital story.  In true Web 2.0 fashion, Levine created his site as a wiki to enable users to edit and add as they see fit.  Web 2.0 stories also can take many forms and there is a myriad of available applications to assist Home Economics students with creating their own stories. As Web 2.0 stories, do not follow the traditional linear path they have many applications in the Home Economics classroom.  The Mapwing story, Foods Around the World, is a personalized story that allows the individual to tell a story about cuisine that they are passionate about.  The story also encourages students to research the ingredients and techniques used in creating the dishes of a particular region.  One of the threats to Web 2.0 storytelling is following proper copyright laws and only using images and recipes that are legally available.  Students will need to be educated on Creative Commons licensing and sites offer this. 

Alexander credits much of the success of Web 2.0 to openness and “wisdom of the crowd” and (2006, p.34).  Much of the learning that goes on in the Home Economics classroom mirrors this philosophy as students are encouraged to work together to create recipes.  Web 2.0 technology allows students and educators to work together to expand learning opportunities beyond the classroom walls.  Social bookmarking, CMS, and storytelling facilitate students in creating collaborative learning experiences based on their own interests.  Home Economics is a lifelong skill and as educators, we have succeeded if we can instil a passion for learning new cuisine and techniques.

 Reference list:

Alexander, B. (2006) “Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?” Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44. Retrieved, April 5, 2008, from

Alexander, B. (2008)  “Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies.” Theory into practice. 47(2), 150-60. Retrieved, July 20, 2009, from

Alexander, B., and Levine, A. (2008).  Web 2.0 story-telling: The emergence of a new genre. Educause Review. 43(6), 40-56. Retrieved, August 10, 2009, from

Attaran, M. (2007) Collaborative computing: a new management strategy for increasing productivity and building a better business. Business Strategy Series. Vol 8(8). p. 397-393.

BC Ministry of Education. (2008). Retrieved November 22, 2009 from

November 24, 2009   3 Comments


word cloud commentary 3

Social media is interpersonal media.  It supports the sharing of personal exchanges in new and unique ways. It is not the relationship between humans and machines that makes social media powerful. In contrast, it is the relationship facilitated between people through the use of machines to foster the building of social networks and a new network society.” (Barnes, Susan. 2009, p.23)


Social networking sites and online communities have, as Bryan Alexander (2006) states, “emerged as a major component of the Web 2.0 movement”. When using these sites, individuals can present themselves in a variety of different ways by choosing whether or not to accurately reveal their name, age, gender, physical appearance, personality and history. Individuals’ online identity is shaped by the details and information they do or do not indicate about themselves and the persona they present in each online community they belong to. As Bolter, (2001, p.190) mentions, “…we write both to express, to discover, and to share who we are, and in a postmodern age our identity is, like hypertext, dynamic, flexible, and contingent.”


In professional or work related online communities, individuals may chose to accurately reveal certain details (name, age, gender) about themselves while omitting others (history, groups you belong to). On the other hand, multi-user virtual environments such as MOOs and MUDs encourage or even require individuals to assume a completely imaginary persona. “Almost the sole purpose of chat rooms and MUDs and MOOs is the construction of and experimentation with the users’ identity” (Bolter, 2001, p.198).  Most other social networking sites and online communities fall somewhere in between, allowing for the individual to choose the depth of information they wish to share and whether that shared information is accurate or not.


“Higgins (1987) distinguished between ideal, ought, and actual self-concepts: the ideal self contains those qualities one strives someday to possess, the ought self those qualities one feels obligated to possess, and the actual self the one actually expresses to others at present.” (Bargh, McKenna, & Fitzsimons, 2002). The true self differs from these three as it is what one currently possess, but unlike the actual self, it is not fully expressed in social situations.


Wiszniewski and Coyne (2002) describe how whenever an individual interacts in a social setting they portray a “mask” of their identity. This “mask” allows the individual to choose what aspects of their identity they reveal. Individuals who act very different in the ‘real’ world than how they are really thinking and feeling inside, may feel more comfortable revealing and expressing certain aspect of themselves without fear of persecution in online situations.


John Suler mentions in his article The Online Disinhibition Effect (2004), “online identity has given people the opportunity to feel comfortable in wide-ranging roles, some of which may be underlying aspects of the user’s life that the user is unable to portray in the real world.” These opportunities may allow for the expression of ones true self. “Our true identity tends to be what we reveal about ourselves spontaneously, often right on the surface for others to see but without our being consciously awareness of it” (Suler, 2004). For some people, online situations allow them to become, as Suler (2004) says, “disinhibited” and reveal aspects of their personalities they wouldn’t normally share. A young man might be the ‘life of the party’ in the online chat room, yet be very shy in his day-to-day life. In this case it would seem that his outgoingness when communicating online is an aspect of his true self, whereas his shyness in face-to-face situations is an aspect of his actual self. Both are important aspects of his identity.


Individuals present variant aspects of their identity when using different media such as social networking sites, Blogs, online chat rooms, MOOs and MUDs, email, Skype, ‘real’ world relationships, and face-to-face conversations. Each of these different situations allow for an individual to express certain aspects of themselves, while concealing others. It is important to remember that, “The self expressed in one modality is not necessarily deeper, more real, or more authentic than another. They allow us to see the different perspectives of that complex thing we call identity.” (Suler, 2004).




Bargh, J., McKenna, K. and Fitxsimons, G. (2002). Can You See the Real Me? Activation and Expression of the “True Self” on the Internet. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 1 (33-48)


Barnes, Susan B. (2008). Understanding social media from the media ecological perspective. In Mediated Interpersonal Communication Eds. Elly Konijn, Inc NetLibrary, Elly Konijn. Boston: Routledge.


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


Higgins, E.T. (1987). Self-discrepancy theory. Psychological Review, 94, 112-1134.


Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. The Psychology of Cyberspace. Retrieved from:


Wiszniewski, D. and Coyne, R. (2002). Mask and Identity: The Hermeneutics of Self-Construction in the Information Age.In K. Renninger & W. Shumar (Eds.), Building Virtual Communities: Learning and change in cyberspace. (pp.191-192). New York: Cambridge University Press.




November 22, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary #3: Web 2.0 Collaborative Learning

In “Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?”, Bryan Alexander (2006) examines how social software has become an important part of Web 2.0 enabling people to connect with other people all over the world. Alexander (2006) compares social software applications to “static or database-driven web pages” (p.32) whereby users can modify social software sites such as wikis, but can only read information on static web pages (p.32). Web 2.0 builds on the microcontent that users have been creating for years and enables them to develop “web content often collaboratively and often open to the world” (p.34). Alexander (2006) emphasizes the importance of Web 2.0 users being information architects who create microcontent in an open environment (p.34).

Alexander (2006) then describes and compares the various types of Web 2.0 tools that exist. Folksonomy is a type of metadata that users assign to data to tag it so that it can be easily identified, retrieved, and shared with others (p.34).

Social bookmarking is a “service for storing, describing, and sharing bookmarks” (Alexander, 2006, p.34) that plays an important role from a teaching and learning perspective because social bookmarking allows for “collaborative information discovery” (p.36). Social bookmarking is also beneficial because it provides a location to post links and facilitates networking with peers who share common interests which can lead to collaborative learning with others. It also offers new perspectives on one’s research: “as clusters and tags reveal patterns” (p.36). In addition, for groups who are collaborating on a project, each member can upload their own bookmarks to a central location without being co-located and an instructor can easily track their students’ “progress in their research” (p.36).

The wiki is the best Web 2.0 tool for facilitating social interactions and collaborations (p.36). In addition, some Web 2.0 tools exist to enable users to create websites using user-friendly graphical user interfaces (p.38). These tools are similar to wikis in that they offer social interactions like wikis, but differ in that they are more user-friendly than wikis and identify the authors (p.38). From a teaching and learning perspective, wikis and these websites that exist for creating websites easily promote collaborative work environments where many people can work together on group assignments (p.38).

Blogging is an important tool for digital writing and there are various search services that exist to “let users search for content within blogs” (p.38). From a teaching and learning perspective, creating blog entries and the ability to search for blog entries enables students and teachers to track a search throughout a semester (p.40).

Blogdex and other similar sites combine news and social software to enable people who share a common interest in news stories to connect with each other. These sites contain powerful search engines that “enhance the pedagogy of current events” (p.40) enabling classes to explore the various perspectives contained in these sites (p.40).

Although in closing Alexander (2006) is hopeful and excited about the prospect of Web 2.0 tools continuing to evolve and offer easy to use social collaborative environments in which to teach and learn, he raises concerns about IT support being an issue and copyright violations posing a problem as well in the future (p.42).

Dalsgaard (2006) concurs with Alexander (2006) that Web 2.0 tools offer innovative ways for teaching and learning: “social software tools can support a social constructivist approach to e-learning by providing students with personal tools and engaging them in social networks” (p.2). However, Dalsgaard (2006) recommends that social software tools be designed specifically to support learning considering the fact that social software such as wikis, weblogs and social bookmarking were not developed with teaching and learning in mind (p.9).

Uribe, Klein, and Sullivan (2003) examined the effects of learners first learning a four-step problem solving process on their own through an eLearning course. Then, they examined the same learners working in computer-mediated pairs or alone to apply the four-step problem solving process to a problem-based learning exercise. The learners who worked in pairs using a computer-mediated collaborative environment: a chat room in a virtual classroom hosted through a learning management system did better than the students who worked on the same problem alone. As a result, “the study indicates that computer mediated collaborative learning is a more effective strategy when teaching problem-solving skills than is individual learning” (p.17).

When it comes to computer supportive collaborative learning, Lou, Abrami, and d’Apollonia (2001) affirm that learners learn better when they collaborate in groups of 3 to 5 people either asynchronously or synchronously as opposed to learning on their own “by comparing alternative interpretations and solutions, correcting each other’s misconceptions, forming a more holistic picture of the problem if the task is complex, or simply pooling resources” (p.479).

Clark and Mayer (2008) also state that synchronous and asynchronous social software help facilitate group collaborations for learners in e-Learning courses: “chats, breakout rooms in virtual classrooms, wikis, blogs, and discussion boards offer a variety of channels for online collaboration” (p.259). Similarly, Bennet and Bennet (2006) state that a learning management system (LMS) facilitates learning by providing social software applications within the LMS for collaboration and sharing of knowledge amongst learners (p.4).


Regardless of whether Web 2.0 asynchronous and synchronous social software applications are located within a learning management system or on the Internet, they offer wonderful tools for facilitating collaborative learning without learners needing to be co-located. In addition, learning in small groups with social software has proven to be a better method for learning than learning on one’s own due to the rich collaborative environments that these applications provide to their learners.


Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? EDUCAUSE Review, 41, (2), 32-44.

Bennet A. & Bennet D. (2008). e-Learning as energetic learning. The journal of information and knowledge management systems, 38, (2), 1-12.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Pfeiffer San Francisco.

Dalsgaard, C. (2006). Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, (2), 1-11.

Lou, Y., Abrami, P.C., & d’Apollonia, S. (2001). Small group and individual learning with technology: A meta-analysis.  Review of Educational Research, 71 (3), 449-521.

Uribe, D., Klein, J.D., & Sullivan, H. (2003). The effect of computer-mediated collaborative learning on solving ill-defined problems. Educational Technology Research and Development, 51 (1), 5-19

November 19, 2009   2 Comments

The future of Professor Johnny

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           I have a class full of the Net Generation.  They live in a hypermediated world where they can virtually dissect an owl pellet on, they can learn about simple machines on or play math and literacy games on  They expect that when they do a science unit on bats that they will be able to see bats in their natural habitat.  They know that when they don’t understand what a word means they can not only look it up online and it will usually be accompanied by a digital image of some description.  The world is at their fingertips.  They are in grade 2.

            In their article, Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s texts, authors Mark Mabrito and Rebecca Medley (2008) offer an opportunity for educators to examine what they will need to do in order to make themselves more effective in educating the next generation.  Today’s students are a fundamentally different iteration of learners.  They have grown up with, “pervasive digital technology” (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  And, according to Marc Prensky (2001) this change represents a singularity in that the effects of changes in technology are so dramatic that there can be no return to previous ways of thinking or doing.

             Key to this difference, the authors claim, is the way in which educators and the Net Generation view texts (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  As the Net Generation has been inundated by digital technologies they have developed skills that their teachers do not necessarily have.  These savvy kids have the ability to move within the text presented to them and to create and modify information in a multi-media environment.  Most of their teachers grew up using text in a linear fashion and are used to the text itself being in control of the way in which information is presented to, and gathered by, the user (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).  Today, the presentation of information occurs not only in a non-linear format but is also multi-modal in nature in that it may also be enhanced by video, audio and digital images.   Our Net Generation students are learning to move fluidly in this environment and have come to expect that everything they experience will be presented in this fashion.  This shift in how the two generations learn suggests that culture influences both what and how a person thinks and that the actual processing of information may, “differ according to the culture in which a person matures” (Mabrito & Medley, 2008).

             For our educators, teaching to this new breed of student will be a challenge.  If our practice is truly self-reflective it will be ourselves that need to morph to work with the different set of skills that our learners need and are currently developing outside of the classroom environment.  Mabrito and Medley (2008) suggest that educators will have to embrace to concept of distributed knowledge and move away from the traditional notion of individual knowledge.  This strategy for learning is evident in many of the classrooms of today in the form of an increased emphasis on “doing” rather than “receiving” learning.  Good teachers are striving to have their students participate in learning in a more vocal and kinesthetic way but this trend in education is, most likely, not born out of cultural trends in learning.  The authors also feel that educators will need to go out to the world of their students and experience and learn from it first hand (Mabrito & Medley, 2008). 

            Looking at the criteria for this very assignment leads me to wonder what the impact of the Net Generation’s vision of reading text will be on the world of academia.  The criterion for this very assignment includes the following elements.

           “Commentaries should show evidence of considered, critical    response, and           claims should be supported through citation of relevant sources. Writing is            expected to be of a professional/scholarly standard.” (ETEC 540, 2009)

Will the definition of “formal” change when the Net Generation takes over the helm in the academic world?  Will what is considered to be “professional standard” change as professions evolve to reflect cultural changes?

            Last night, my twelve year old son sat on the couch with the laptop balanced on his knees.  His assignment was to find two words in the novel they were studying in class and to find the definition for each.  When I asked him what he was doing he said that, “Going to was a lot easier than looking through that big honking book”.  I burst out laughing at how apropos his comment was to what I was currently working on.  The teacher intended the students to learn some of those dictionary skills we have spent so much time on with our students in the past but my son has always had the ability to seek out information in ways that I did not as a student.  Resistance, as they say, is futile.  Today’s educators will have to step up their involvement in the world of their students if they want to help prepare them for their world.



Mabrito, M. & Medley, R. (2008).  Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s texts.  Innovate: Journal of Online Education, Vol.4 (6).  Retrieved from!1296897521!!20001!-1!-1968798209!!20001!-1

Prensky, M. (2001).  Digital natives, digital immigrants.  On the Horizon, Vol.9, No. 5.

November 19, 2009   2 Comments

From tangible to electronic

Commentary #3 – In response to Bolter, Chapter 5 The Electronic Book from Writing Space

Much thought continues to go into the shift from the book to the electronic book. That is, an electronic entity that replaces the need for a tangible book. Bolter (2001), in Chapter 5 – The Electronic Book of his book Writing Space, explores the differences, similarities, practicalities and otherwise significant characteristics of both the book and the emerging electronic versions of it. This chapter begs the reader to contemplate the affordances of the electronic book and think critically about how the nature of the book will continue to evolve. Beyond unpacking the implications of the electronic novel, Bolter discusses the electronic book in general and his discussion warrants a further look at the electronic version of textbooks and books used for research purposes. Interestingly, I find it uncomfortable to use the word “book” for the purpose of this commentary when referring to an electronic book. The word “book” itself denotes the sense of containment afforded by a cover, a back and a spine. The open-endedness of technology means that book wouldn’t be the appropriate term, but rather electronic information or electronic resource, would be more appropriate when referring to electronic versions of the tangible book.

There is no question that the book in its tangible form represents a sense of permanency in comparison to its digital counterpart. We are re-envisioning the way we look at print resources and at its technological counterpart and we have now come to have expectations of print as a result off what is available via technology. Bolter notes, “as we refashion the book through digital technology, we are diminishing the sense of closure that belonged to the codex and to print” (2001, p. 79). The very nature of technology requires that information is constantly evolving and there is a sense when visiting sites online that upon a return visit, changes will have been made. Working in special education, we refer to Individual Education Plan’s (IEP’s) as “living documents”, that is, documents that don’t remain fixed but rather change and evolve as necessary. This parallel works well with Bolter’s discussion but warrants the question of how evolving and living information can be appropriately organized. This is where hypertext becomes the defining technological feature that allows the information itself to dictate the nature of organization.  Bolter says “its organization, the principles by which it controls other texts, and the choice of organizing principles depends on both the contemporary construction of knowledge and the contemporary technology of writing” (2001, p.84). The contemporary technology that we are currently using to further the precision by which we organize is hypertext, and that hypertext is creating parallels and links between information in a way that the tangible book simply cannot. A common challenge presented by the tangible book is the ability to collect, in one location, enough sources to properly conduct research.

Whereas pre-technological forms of organization only allowed for a piece of information to be housed in one category, electronic affordances remove the issue of quantity. As a university student, I was often frustrated by the fact that the perfect book to help support my thesis would be on loan, and I would be forced to wait or settle for different, and sometimes seemingly lesser, information.  By storing resources digitally and organizing it appropriately, I would argue that the nature of research would actually improve because of the greater access afforded by electronic information. Bolter’s Chapter 5 leads me to believe that the ideal situation would be to have access to giant online encyclopedia that incorporates links to all related books on a subject (scanned in and searchable through the Google Books Project naturally) and all related sites through the use of hyperlinks. While Wikipedia exists as a popular encyclopedia, the openness it allows in editing articles does not make the Wiki conducive to facilitating electronic books.

Earlier in Writing Space, Bolter argues “in graphic form and function, the newspaper is coming to resemble a computer screen, as the combination of text, images, and icons turns the newspaper into a static snapshot of a World Wide Web page” (2001, p.51). While books may not be able to resemble a computer screen as easily as a newspaper, there is certainly a need for innovation in the presentation of books given the technological culture we now live in. While Kindle and other systems have continued the evolution of how a story is told, there needs to be a system by which informational texts can be made electronic and further improve the nature of how we come to know about a subject. Already, electronic textbooks contain links and virtual activities that have enhanced the learning experience. Bolter lays the framework for analyzing the nature of improvements that moving to the electronic book will afford and it is clear that electronic books will lead to greater access and therefore greater understanding of information now contained outside of the container of a tangible book.


Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

November 15, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary #3 – Associative Information Structures Revisited

“Indeed, printing made textual overload a permanent condition: more books were produced in each succeeding century, and new editions preserved all books that changing cultural norms continued to regard as important… What many have called the “information revolution” ushered in by the computer is only the most recent manifestation of a problem that is now 500 years old.” (Bolter, p.83)


Were Bush and Engelbart’s claims that associative information structures are likely to improve human ability to approach and solve complex problems valid?

Referred to as the conceptual creator of ‘hypertext’, Vannevar Bush was amongst the first to propose the development of a mechanical machine capable of organizing and displaying information in a way that made it possible to ‘make sense’ of it in the hope of solving some rather complex problems. His article, As We May Think, “…presaged the idea of the Internet and the World Wide Web and was directly influential on the fathers of the hypertext and the Internet as we know it today. Ted Nelson, who coined the term “hypertext” in 1967, describes Bush’s article as describing the principles of it.” (Malone)

Bush was convinced that many of the technologies developed by scientists during the war had practical applications for everyday use. “The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.” (Bush, p. 1) Bush was clearly frustrated with the archaic way in which information was being stored and retrieved. “Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose… publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record.” (Bush, p. 2) He pointed out how improvements in the science of photography led to the development of new technologies like the microfilm and facsimile. He foreshadowed how further modification and extension this technology would eventually lead to things almost beyond imagination “… it would be advantages to be able to snap a camera and look at the picture immediately.” as was the case with the Polaroid camera and today’s digital cameras. (Bush, p. 3) Most visionary however was Bush’s notion of a ‘memex’ machine.

“The memex and its description have long been hailed as inspiration for the creators of hypertext and even the web.” (Malone) As Bush explained it, “Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process [intricacy of trails] artificially… but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.” (Bush, p.7) Memex would not only have the capability of storing huge amounts of information (albeit on microfilm), as with the human mind which operates by association, the memex machine would likewise have the ability to select by association. The memex “affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing.” (Bush, p.8) The tying together (trail) of information is precisely what hypertext does today.

Douglas C. Engelbart was another one of those early computer pioneers interested in the study of HCI (human computer interaction) and the development of hypertext. He was credited with inventing the computer mouse. Like Bush, he was also committed to the development and use of computers and computer networks in an effort to solve some of the world’s most perplexing problems.

Engelbart understood the uniqueness behind Bush’s memex machine, particularly the notion of duplicating a trail so that information could be shared with others. “Making it easy to establish and follow the associative trails makes practical a new symbol-structuring process whose use can make a significant difference in the concept structuring and b[a]sic methods of work. It is also probable that clever usage of associative-trail manipulation can augment the human’s process structuring and executing capa[b]ilities so that he could successfully make use of even more powerful symbol-structure man[i]pulation processes utilizing the Memex capabilities.” (Engelbart, Examples and Discussions, Background: Comments Related to Bush’s Article) Engelbart tested this principle by developing a sequencing technique and applying it to his computer card coding system.

Engelbart firmly believed that technologies such as computers would someday help mankind by “…improvin[g] the intellectual effectiveness of the individual human being.” (Engelbart, Introduction) He used computer card coding/punching techniques to demonstrate how associative linking could worked “There was no convenient way to link these cards together so that the train of thought could later be recalled by extracting the ordered series of notecards. An associative-trail scheme similar to that out lined by Bush for his Memex could conceivably be implemented with these cards to meet this need and add a valuable new symbol-structuring process to the system… A very quick and simple human process thus initiates the automatic extraction of the next item on the associative trail.” (Engelbart, Examples and Discussions, Background: Some Possibilities, Associative Linking Possibilities)

Engelbart understood the link between entering data and retrieving results. He realized that more knowledge could be had if we could find some way to link existing knowledge together. He also believed that similar processes could be used to enhance human intellect, something he felt was needed if mankind hoped to keep abreast of the world’s problems “… we will have amplified the intelligence of the human by organizing his intellectual capabilities into higher levels of synergistic structuring.” (Engelbart, Introduction)

Engelbart’s 1968 hypermedia demonstration on human computer interaction showed how the computer could be used to deal with everyday tasks. The information he presented was in a simple hypertext. It demonstrated many different methods of organization and how each was appropriate to the task at hand.

Both Bush and Engelbart firmly believed that properly constructed associative information structures would be useful in helping mankind to solve some of life’s most puzzling and complex problems. Bush’s memex machine was the precursor to the computer. Engelbart worked with some of the first computers ever built. He knew that these machines were capable of performing complicated mathematical calculations more accurately and far quicker than any human could. Like Bush, he realized that the storing and retrieving of vast amounts of information was the next logical step in the development of computer technologies. It would be our responsibility to ensure that both the information and the technology were used in an appropriate manner and to the benefit, and not the detriment, of the entire human race.


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

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

Engelbart, Douglas C. Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. Summary Report AFOSR-3223 under Contract AF 49(638)-1024, SRI Project 3578 for Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, Ca., October 1962.

Malone, Erin. (2002). Foreseeing the Future: The Legacy of Vannevar Bush, Boxes and Arrows, 2007.

Picture retrieved from here.

October 31, 2009   1 Comment