The Ups and Downs of Hypertext in the Classroom

Bolter- Chapter 3
Hypertext and the Remediation of Print

I like to think of myself as a strong reader with a fairly good understanding of technology. When faced with the question of having a book in my hand or reading on a screen – nine times out of ten I would choose to have a book in my hand. Hypertext is non-linear, one must navigate through different layers to find the information they are looking for and troll through many documents. Personally, hypertext still takes significantly longer to read and make sense of then picking up a book and reading chapter through chapter. However, we are thrown into a world of hypertext and I think as a critical reader, I can gather a deeper understanding from this type of writing then the typical, linear book. As a teacher, I must broaden my horizons around hypertext so I am better able to provide the essential skills of finding information for my students. There is fear however, being a digital immigrant – that my digital native students may perhaps have a better understanding of hypertext then myself. This commentary will look at the challenges and merits of hypertext through the eyes of an educator.

Hypertext has opened the door for students to make connections and create deeper meaning from their readings at a rapid rate. In Chapter 3 of Bolter’s book he addresses the important issue of information overload. “In the late age of print, however, we are concerned not that there is too much in our minds to get down on paper, but rather that there is too much information held in electronic media for our minds to assimilate.” (Bolter, 2001,p.33) As an educator, the mass amount of information available presents a large challenge and a gift to teaching. Students must be explicitly taught about how to read hypertext, sort through the pertinent information and create meaning and connections from reliable sources. Currently, I am exploring how to teach these skills and am finding that many students have an innate understanding that I don’t have. They have all grown up in the digital age and many of them have the natural ability to navigate hypertext. Above I spoke about the availability of information is as a gift to teaching. Gone are the days of answering boring comprehension questions out of a text book. Reading through hypertext gives students a strong context and easier access to create connections. Learning is more focused on the process and the ability to problem solve then just answering a question correctly today. They are exposed to a unique visual piece that is not as advanced in print.The associative nature of hypertext often takes students along a path of visual and text features.

Although I believe that students learn and comprehend at a deeper level reading hypertext; some research tells a different story. The Dobson and Willinsky article Digital Literacy looks at just that. ” Dillon (1996), however, has pointed out that these notions are seriously flawed: first, there is no definitive evidence supporting the hypothesis that facilitating associative thinking might improve comprehension” (Dobson & Willinsky, p.7) I disagree with Dillon’s claim. First, when students search for information through hypertext they create their own personal connections to the text and are able to draw them between different texts they have researched. How can this not lead to deeper comprehension? The evidence is in the classroom discussion and quality of work they turn in. Teachers are constantly working with students to create connections to what they read- be it a book or digital text. These connections help students digest the information in a way that is personal and relevant to their lives. Learning happens through associative links.

As Bolter points out hypertext remediates print. The fear of hypertext is that it could create a decline in student writing or writing may be oversimplified. Teachers often speak about the impact of media, email, text messages and the internet on students writing ability. These tools are often used for informal communication that is reflected in classroom work As educators, we expect creative, well written compositions that are free of abbreviations and the like. Hypertext relies heavily of visual components to complement or even provide the message to readers. Bolter refers to this as reverse ekphrasis remediation. Ekphrasis refers to using words to paint a picture – hypertext does the opposite and replaces the written word with an image. Perhaps it is us who must adjust of expectations and what we believe writing should look like. Will students writing continue to be oversimplified with the increased exposure to hypertext or will it enhance student performance in the areas of reading and writing?

In conclusion, I have realized that I must push forward and engage with hypertext as much as possible to fulfil my role as a teacher. We can’t expect kids to learn the same way that we did as the 21st century learner attends school in the information age. I wonder if there will ever be a day when I prefer to read hypertext over the traditional book or if it will be a gradual process I do without thinking. One day, I will look back at this commentary and think about the days when I thought hypertext was a challenge to understand. As hypertext continues to remediate print it will evolve into the new “book” and become the common medium for reading just as the codex remediated the papyrus roll. Although it presents challenges, the benefits of hypertext far outweigh the negatives. I believe hypertext will continue to challenge students to a deeper level of thinking and comprehension through its associative links contrary to what some research says. The future of literacy is exciting!

Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Dobson, T. and Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital literacy (draft). The Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Retrieved: November 10,2010

Englebart, Douglas. (1963). “A conceptual framework for the augmentation of man’s intellect.” In Hawerton, P.W. and Weeks, D.C. (Eds), Vistas in information handling, Volume I: The augmentation of man’s intellect by machine. Washington, DC: Spartan Books. Available (as “Augmentation of human intellect: A conceptual framework”):

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2 Responses to The Ups and Downs of Hypertext in the Classroom

  1. Soraya says:

    Interesting commentary! I agree that as teachers or facilitators our role has changed and in many ways our responsibility is greater as you mention that we have to assist the students to develop essential skills and create meanings and connections through hypertext.
    I think I will go further here and consider that as teachers or just as global citizens we need to continue to be constant learners. I think a teacher/educator is someone that is responsible for learning new technologies and also learning ways to teach students critical research techniques. I am not sure what you mean however, when you state that ” I believe hypertext will continue to challenge students to a deeper level of thinking and comprehension through its associative links”- what do you mean by associative links? how will this challenge students to a deeper level of thinking? or will it actually just teach students that the information on the web is correct just because someone posted it there? how will they make the links exactly? and how will this challenge deeper level thinking? Yes, I agree with research (ex. Tapscott) that today’s adolescents have a greater ability to multi task but still what about real world problems? Education without borders is attempting to use technology to solve some of the world’s major issues (ultra-poor, environmental issues etc) so yes, I agree all of the information out there can be viewed as a ‘gift to teaching’ but I think that we need to look deeper into this information age as things have changed faster in the last 20 years than anytime before in human history. We need to look at it in a serious manner and as educators reflect and collaborate and think about this as not just a new cel phone invention or social networking site like Facebook but we need to consider hypertext as something that has and will continue to change our world for the better and for the worst. Perhaps, there won’t be traditional classrooms very soon? teachers will need to find new ways to engage in their profession?
    What are your thoughts? 🙂

    • abaillie says:

      Hi Soraya,

      Thank you for your comments and taking the time to read my commentary. When I wrote this I was speaking from my experience and trying to synthesize some of the information Bolter believes about hypertext. Last year, I gave my students a blog project to complete over the term. Specifically, I wanted to see if the introduction of a new medium would improve writing in the areas of meaning and style in boys. Although my whole class completed the project – I was looking specifically at the boys as in my class their writing skills were slipping through the cracks. I found initially that they would write or “steal” information of the net and post it on their blog. Through explicit teaching looking at sources such as ect. the boys were able to learn about the validity of sources and using their own words. They loved travelling through a hypertextual environment and creating links between sources. Associated pages and information gave them a bigger picture and different viewpoints. So yes, I believe from personal experience that associative links creater deeper thinking – it’s not just a regergitation of information but students need to synthesize and make sense of it.

      I agree with you about the need for educators to constantly refresh and build new skills as the learner today is far different then before. I don’t think the traditional classroom will become extinct at the elementary and high school level but rather it will transform. I also don’t believe that teachers will be replaced by the ‘machine’ but will have greater pressure to remediate their skills. Cheers, Alison

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