Contradictions of Digital Literacy

I am interested in exploring some of the contradictions of digital literacy that are suggested by the article ““Multiliteracies”: New Literacies, New Learning.” Written by Cope and Kalantzis in 2009, the article revisits the New London Group’s influential article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” (1996). Both the 1996 and 2009 articles place the multiliteracies theory in the context of political changes that have taken place in Western countries over the past 30 to 40 years, namely the shrinking of the welfare state and the rise of neo-liberalism. With political and private power increasingly decentralized in many ways, and the loss of authority that has taken place in almost every realm of Western culture and society, Cope and Kalantzis create a new paradigm for literacy pedagogy that gives stronger agency to the learner. The crux of the new paradigm is that literacy is a process of “design” or meaning-making that incorporates changing practices of multilingualism (hybridity, varied social and cultural discourses) and multimodality (text, image, sound, video, print, digital…).

Digital literacy in the schools

The growing importance of digital literacy is a commonplace. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life project reports that 47% of American teachers surveyed “strongly agree” and 44% “somewhat believe” that digital literacy lessons should be taught at every school (Purcell et al, 2012). Although students are now quickly able to find information, the problems of information overload, confusion about credible sources of information and short attention spans have created a generation for whom digital technologies may “do more to distract…than to help them academically” (Purcell et al, 2012). Empowerment, creativity, collaboration, communication…these are all buzzwords of the Internet skill set and the goal of educational reform rhetoric of the past decade. Yet teachers perceive distraction and confusion in the schools. Is this because of a disconnect between the old paradigm of education/literacy (hierarchical, authoritarian, standards based) and the new paradigm where students expect more engagement as well as personal control over their time and efforts? Or is it a result of changes to the brain created by a media diet of constant stimulation? (Richtel, 2012) So we are faced with the contradiction of limiting screen time, while at the same time trying to incorporate more and more technology into our children’s education.

Growing income inequality

Another contradiction is that proficiency with digital technologies is widely seen to even the playing field in many areas, such as publishing (blogs, websites) and education (MOOCs, distance learning). But, of course, proficiency itself is not evenly distributed, and it is the poor, unemployed, and undereducated who overwhelmingly populate a digital underclass, excluded from the benefits of digital technologies (Helpser & Kaczuba, 2011). Income inequality is growing in almost all developed countries (OECD, 2011) – the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. Some studies have placed the blame on technological progress. Since access to the benefits of the ICT revolution is skills biased, the benefits accrue unequally to those with the skills (IMF, 2007), and “those low or no skills have been left behind” (OECD, 2011, p. 2). Over time, as the supply of ICT educated workers increases, inequality due to technological change may lessen, therefore the appropriate policy response is not to reject technological progress, but to improve the ICT skills and education of the general population (IMF, 2007).

Funding for education

Hence we see large scale initiatives such as the Digital Agenda for Europe ( – “the EU’s strategy to help digital technologies, including the internet, to deliver sustainable economic growth” (the tagline of the Digital Agenda website). Some of the specific goals of this overarching Agenda are to implement digital literacy policies and prioritise digital skills for jobs. Yet although government rhetoric and programs are pushing for more advanced ICT skills, appropriate financial support for education has not been forthcoming. It is troubling that the ideas of student-centred learning, distance education, and technology in the classroom can too easily be given lip-service by governments in a way that belittles the role of the teacher and entails no commitment for significant resources to genuinely transform education. In fact, “educational reform” and “21st century learning” can be a good way to cut costs.

A pedagogical solution

Cope and Kalantzis (2009) write: “For every moment in which agency is passed over to users and consumers, power is also centralized in ways that have become more disturbing with time.” (p. 172). Concentration of ownership in the technology industry, not to mention video game and internet addiction and the ‘escape from reality’ effect of media immersion, suggest the opposite of freedom and empowerment. Contradictions are inherent in any complex issue. “The multiliteracies approach suggests a pedagogy for active citizenship, centred on learners as agents in their own knowledge processes, capable of contributing their own as well as negotiating the differences between one community and the next.” (p. 172) If we are aware of the contradictions, we can individually attempt to resolve them to the benefit of ourselves and others.


Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “ Multiliteracies ”: New Literacies , New Learning. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 14, 164–195. doi:10.1080/15544800903076044

Helsper, E. & Kaczuba, D. (2011). Dossier: digital inclusion and ICT policies. Retrieved from

International Monetary Fund. (2007) World economic outlook. Washington, D. C.: IMF. Retrieved from

OECD. (2011). Divided we stand: why inequality keeps rising. Retrieved from

Purcell, K., Rainie, L., Heaps, A., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L., Jacklin, A., …Zickuhr, K. (2012). How teens do research in the digital world. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life website

Richtel, M. (2012, November 1). Technology is changing how students learn, teachers say. New York Times. Retrieved from

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Using Gliffy Concept Map to make connections in the weblog.

I am proposing to use the concept map posted in ETEC 540 weblog at to connect much of our work.  I think many of the concepts connected in this map have been covered in some form in our commentaries or other projects (Many of them appear in the weblog tag list).  Gliffy allows the text in each nodes of the concept map to be formatted as a hypertext link.  If you access the concept map at, you will be able to access these links into the weblog.  Just look for the underlined words in the concept map.  There will likely be some weblog posts covering the same concept nodes.  We can add these as Link 1, Link 2, etc.

If you would like to join me in this, just provide an email address as a reply to my post in the Vista course forum under the “Making Connections” thread and I will add you as an editor to the concept map.

If you have any ideas on expanding the concept map or any links that I/we may have missed, please leave a note in reply to this post.


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Hypertext in the Elementary School Classroom

During the course of my day as an elementary school teacher I’ve grown accustomed to many forms of “hyper”: most notably hyper-activity and hyper-sensitivity.  Hypertext, however, is not as readily apparent in my daily routine.  As Alexander (2008) professes, ”K-12 institutions are often behind, building classrooms constructed physically and socially along decades-old patterns” (p. 152).  By and large, my students seem quite technologically savvy.  They can turn on a computer and understand the visual language afforded through icons on their desktops.  Word processors have helped increase an interest in writing stories, but have neither helped nor hindered the laborious creative process.  Strangely enough, the most obvious demonstration of hypertextual knowledge is transmitted during informal conversations with classmates and friends.

Early one morning as a young boy in the second grade I excitedly woke up my parents and demanded to know “how to make it play games”.  The evening before, my family had purchased an Apple II computer and was forced to sit through an orientation session intended to familiarize the family with the computer.  My mother sat with a pad and paper, furiously taking notes, while my father sat and absorbed whatever information he could.  In 1986, computers relied much more on written commands than they did on graphical user interfaces as they do today.  What was once somewhat of an elitist activity, is now a routine, even mundane, function of daily life.  The use of elaborate visual displays has rendered the conceptual knowledge obsolete: double clicking an icon produces the same effect as typing several commands of code.  As Bolter (2011) explains, “the image therefore slips out of the control of the word and makes its own claim to presenting the authentic as real” (p.70).  Perhaps even more than the desktop computer, the tablet is the greatest proof of the concept of “text is often displaced in favor of graphic presentation” (Bolter, 2011, p. 72).  Remediating the desktop, tablets place neatly arranged columns and rows of icons as the newest method of interacting with technological devices.

In removing much of the language required to interact with computers, the fact that their most common use remains performing word processing tasks is quite ironic.  Teaching in a French Immersion school to a group of students whose predominant language is English, the word processor in the computer lab has helped increase interest in writing, but has inadvertently caused many problems for students.  As emergent authors in both English and French, their confidence is, at best, shaky.  The precise and exact size of the typeface on the screen promotes, as Dobson and Wllinsky (2009) claim, “greater length in composition” but has yet to yield any notable “gains in the quality of writing” (p.3).  In fact, the computer has led to the opposite result due to the relentless spell-check features “correcting” students’ spelling errors wreaking more havoc than the students’ lack of phonetic awareness could ever cause.  Persistent lines and paragraphs of underlined words and sentences cause more frustration to the students than simply writing alone.  Students are excited to type at the computer, and marvel at how pristine their work appears on the screen, only to realize later that it is plagued by errors the software has so helpfully “fixed” for the student.

The remediation of the written English language as brought about by “texting” has permeated not only students’ written skills, but has begun to plague their oral discourse as well.  As Dobson and Willinsky (2009) propose, “speed, convenience and asynchronicity were the most appealing features of the medium” (p.10) when it first became popular.  Characterized as English without conventional grammar rules of any sort, it is a dialect unto itself with an endless array of abbreviations and acronyms to replace often used expressions.  While it’s understandable that such shortcuts alleviate the time required to compose messages, few people, if any, are aware of the entire library of abbreviations used today.  Interestingly, many of my elementary school students seemed to have nearly mastered the dialect and use it even when conversing with one another.  Sadly however, when composing formal essays or written works, they use text-ing abbreviations in lieu of real words.  While I would not go so far as to claim, as Dobson and Willinsky (2009) do that text-ing is at the root of problems such as  “declining standards to poor academic achievement to social breakdown” (p.11), I do feel that it is at least playing a role in the erosion of academic achievement.

 As Kress (2000), and others have pointed out,  “the ‘screen’ may be becoming dominant” and that “the visual mode may be coming to have priority over the written” (p.143).  K-12 institutions, as they exist in my part of the world, are unprepared for such a reality.  With budgets stretched as far as they can be, IT support being sporadic at best, formal advanced technological learning opportunities are simply not a viable reality for my students.  Students are becoming more technologically literate outside of school while engaging in pleasurable activities on their home computers than teachers have the capacity to offer them in school.  The way and pace at which children are becoming technologically literate far surpasses the rates at which they are becoming literate in the traditional sense.  As Bolter (2011) describes, “although print remains indispensable, it no longer seems indispensible” (p.2).


Bolter, J. D. (2011). Writing as technology. Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Dobson, T., & Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital Literacy. In D. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds.) Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kress, G. (2000).  A curriculum for the future.  Cambridge Journal of Education, 30(1), 133-145.

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An Idea for ‘Making Connections’

I have an idea for how to approach this week’s ‘Making Connections’ assignment. I’m already finding a number of other people’s posts that connect to my own project.

So as I go along and make comments on my fellow students assignments, when I find a connection or similarity between their work and my own I will add two links. One connecting their work to my own, and also from theirs linking back to my own. I think the ‘bi-directional’ linking will be of benefit and I invite others to try the same thing.


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Evolution of the World Wide Web

Brian Alexander’s recent articles (2006, 2008) discussing the emergence of Web 2.0 and its applications, or even consequences, for literacy, teaching and learning provide a lens through which to view the evolution of the World Wide Web.  In this commentary, I wish to explore this evolution as it has occurred in the past and surmise on where it may develop in the future.

From the beginning, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau (1990) intended the web to be an internet service for the distribution of information, specifically documents, from one user to be read at will by another and enhanced by the inclusion of hypertext.  The form of the information here, as static documents or complete information sets of text and later images, is significant as it is the starting point for later innovation and remediation.  Similarly, it is important to identify human users as the target audience and consumer of the information shared on the web.  For approximately the next ten years, the web did not see significant change in its purpose.  Though the scale of the internet substructure and volume of information being shared increased exponentially (Cisco, 2012), the form of what was shared did not fundamentally change.  Information was still being shared in a complete form and being read by humans.

Near the turn of the century, the way in which information was being created and distributed began to see a noticeable change.  No longer were documents static, completed objects for consumption; they were being remediated by new technology both in the figurative sense described by Bolter and Grusin (1999, 2011) in which “new media technologies improve upon or remedy prior technologies,” and the literal sense in which the documents themselves begin to become dynamic entities, continually editable and constantly in-progress, as was evident in the rise in popularity of weblogs and wikis.

The shift in the form of documents being shared on the web, from static to dynamic, also brought about a shift in the purpose of sharing.  The combinations of these shifts have come to be known as Web 2.0, and are where Alexander begins his description and analysis.  Alexander’s approach is to describe Web 2.0, or Web 2.0 projects and practices, as having a somewhat ephemeral definition, but typically “[abiding] by a fairly coherent set of digital strategies” which he describes as “social networking” and “microcontent” (2008) and are paralleled by in my description of shifts in purpose and form of document sharing on the web.

Microcontent refers to the contribution of small pieces of information to Web 2.0 projects by users.  Contrasted with earlier web publications where authors needed not only to provide content to be published, but also have the knowledge and skills required to publish online, microcontent greatly increases the immediacy and accessibility of publishing for Web 2.0 authors.  In this form, online publishing becomes something no longer reserved for technological experts, but a practice that most people with the requisite hardware can partake in.  The application of Web 2.0 microcontent then is largely within the umbrella of social media.

Social media takes many forms, but inherent in most or all of them is the idea of interactivity.  These sites do not exist to be repositories of information in the way that earlier sites did, they are constantly being altered, added to and interacting in some way with users.  Users inform these sites as much as they inform the users.  It is interesting to note that Alexander largely focuses on the latter direction of information transfer rather than the former.  Much of his discussion surrounds sites and tools that look to scrape, mine, glean or otherwise collect microcontent from social media.  However, it might be seen that the major driver of the rise of social media is from a desire of the general public to produce rather than consume.  This can be seen in the endless tweets about what was eaten for breakfast, and YouTube videos of kittens.  While the inherent significance of such productions is questionable, the social significance is undeniable: people want a voice online and take it when the opportunity arises, however trivial.

Where Alexander seems to miss an opportunity in his microcontent-centric discussion of Web 2.0, and in particular its application toward education, is the potential to delve deeply into discussion that synthesizes the social interactivity of Web 2.0 projects with emergent theory of education, such as social constructivist theory, activity theory and situated cognition.  Within the framework of these theories, the value of content is de-emphasized, and process and connections are stressed.  It seems that Alexander’s stress on the searching, collecting and management of microcontent is more applicable to an economic approach for future innovation in online business than to teaching and learning.

Regardless of the relevance of Alexander’s analysis of Web 2.0 projects to teaching and learning, the microcontent on which focuses may be where the next remediation of the web occurs, bringing about one version of what might be seen as Web 3.0, and is what Berners-Lee proposes is the next step in web development: the semantic web (Shannon, 2006).  In such a model, web sites of various sorts would not only explicitly offer documents for users to read, but data that is published in such a way that it is easily understood by automated systems, and processed for specific, and often economically motivated, purposes.

Other visions of Web 3.0 also exist, including what futurist John Smart (2010) describes as the “Metaverse.” Conceptually, the Metaverse is a combination of the physical and virtual worlds and incorporates the idea of TV, 3D environments, augmented reality and geosocial data produced, consumed, remixed and shared using an open-source model.  Interestingly, Smart predicts the semantic web to evolve as Web 4.0.  Whatever the future of the World Wide Web holds, it is sure add a layer of complexity that remediates the production and consumption of information and data for social and economic purposes.



Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning. Educase, March/April, 33-44.

Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies.  Theory Into Practise, 47, 150-160.

Berners-Lee, T., and Cailiau, R., (1990). WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a hypertext project.  Retrieved from:

Bolter, J. (2011). Writing space: Computers, hypertext and the remediation of print (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Bolter, J. and Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cisco, (2012). The zettabyte era. Retrieved from:

Shannon, V., (2006, May 23). A ‘more revolutionary’ web. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Smart, J. (2010). How the television will be revolutionized. Accelerated Studies Foundation. Retrieved from:

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How Can An Educator Possibly Manage Web 2.0 Storytelling Lessons Amidst the Vastness Of the Web 2.0 World?

Web 2.0 is the future of education. (Hargadon, 2008)

Storytelling is a standard part of education that has taken many forms over time. In Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine’s article, Web 2.0 Emergence of a New Genre, they explore the history of Web 2.0 and its implication for storytelling. While their article effectively describes the vast possibilities for storytelling offered with Web 2.0, I was left wondering how teachers can be expected to properly guide students through storytelling lessons amidst the immeasurable vastness of the Web 2.0 world.

As Alexander and Levine explain, Web 2.0 content is rather easy to create. An individual simply needs to make some selections from menus, choose from a variety of templates, or add a page name to a pre-made wiki page (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Consequently, participation and publishing to the world becomes vastly accessible compared to the world of books and magazines. Teachers do not require an extensive knowledge of website editing and local campus web directory structures, but rather a brief lesson about blogs and wikis to begin broadcasting to the world (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Since this technology is user friendly, more attention can be focused on content. This ease has allowed the amount of rich web media and content to grow in quantity and diversity, which means there are many opportunities and methods for today’s students to use for storytelling.

Regarding social media, Alexander and Levine describe how Web 2.0 tools are built to combine microcontent from different users with shared interests. Posts, comments, bookmarks, descriptive tags, wiki authors, etc. are all different ways that Web 2.0 projects can be built by multiple people via numerous areas (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Search engines also are a major help for story creators to quickly locate related microcontent, while bookmarking allows content that has already been found to be easily retrieved (Alexander & Levine, 2008).

The ease of content creation, combined with increased social connectivity, allows for more interactions to occur and extend outside a single environment. These distributed discussions offer many entry points for readers and co-writers, which offers a new environment for storytelling (Alexander & Levine, 2008). This new world means that there are numerous new paths for teachers and students to approach when creating stories.

Typical digital storytelling follows a singular flow where the author creates a linear narrative bound to a clear story arc direction. Web 2.0 narratives can also follow is this timeline, such as podcasts. However, they can also link in multiple directions. Web 2.0 creators have many options regarding the paths they set before their users, while being fully hypertextual in its multilinearity (Alexander & Levine, 2008). At any time, the audience can also venture outside of a story to research further information from sources (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Thus, a Web 2.0 narrative can also follow paths that do not necessarily follow routes and destinations entirely generated by the story’s creator.

User-generated content is another key element Alexander and Levine explore, which can be found in Web 2.0 stories. A reader can directly contribute content into a story platform via wiki, commenting, replying, video response, etc. (Alexander & Levine, 2008). These interactions have an impact on the overall experience of the story for subsequent readers. In addition, Web 2.0 stories can be distributed and accessed across multiple sites and platforms (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Thus, Web 2.0 stories tend to expand into layers of content over top of the original story core. Original content can also be taken beyond the control of a creator to be redesigned via Web 2.0 tools to produce a completely different kind of story (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Consequently, all of these affordances mean that the boundaries of Web 2.0 stories can often be blurred at best. So how can an educator expect to focus on a student’s Web 2.0 story, which by nature is free and expanding rather than contained?

Alexander and Levine make it clear that they do not support a blanket endorsement of using Web 2.0 storytelling for all educational purposes. Rather, they feel it can be very educationally effective during certain times, and believe that new storytelling tools will emerge soon. Their recommendation for incline teachers is to, “…jump down the rabbit hole,” and explore Web 2.0 storytelling for themselves (Alexander & Levine, 2008). While I agree that exploration is a great starting point, I chose to explore for myself how other teachers have made further steps for integrating Web 2.0 storytelling with their students.
When Web 2.0 storytelling is interpreted from a pedagogical perspective, students’ digital fluency, initiative and responsibility, imagination, creativity, communication and distinct collaboration, and problem solving skills must be considered. Many teachers have shared their advice online to help other teachers reach these objectives. They recommend others to give up frontal teaching and adapt a form of activity based teaching on both group and individual work (Grosseck, 2009). Students need to be encouraged to collaborate and get involved in actively creating content and to share online information, rather than being penalized for not being independent and linear (Grosseck, 2009). Though this shift in practice aligns well with Web 2.0 tools, how can teachers keep a focus on their students’ needs and ensure they’re on task in a boundless environment?

Once teachers are confident with Web 2.0, they can provide their students with clear guidelines and expectations and then let their students lead the direction of their storytelling project. Some teachers advise to begin their unit planning with a consideration of the story objectives (character development, concept to explain, etc.), audience, and acceptable platforms (Alexander, 2008). Teachers should discuss and finalize risk controls with their students and establish a project timeline (Alexander, 2008). Assessment and expectations must be clearly stated and numerous examples should be presented to students to refer to. So in essence, managing Web 2.0 storytelling in the classroom is no different than managing most types of lessons. Teacher just need to focus on the areas they have chosen to explore with their class, with the scope being as far as the teacher is prepared to venture.

As Alexander and Levine stated, the biggest challenge teachers will face when integrating Web 2.0 storytelling is jumping down the rabbit hole. Educators online have warned others to expect a great deal of time to be set aside to familiarize yourself with Web 2.0 tools, lesson examples, rubrics, and management, all of which can be found online (teachwithweb2, 2012). For those who are ready, they will likely find themselves taking the role of a facilitator looking over the shoulder of their digital native students, rather than leading students through a step-by-step process. If this is done well, teachers will not only allow their students to learn about narratives, but also build upon their Web 2.0 skills through the age old art of storytelling.


Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 storytelling overview. NITLE workshops. Retrieved November 17, 2012 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 November 17, 2012, from

Grosseck, G. (2009). To use or not to use web 2.0 in higher education? Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 1, 478–482. Retrieved November 16, 2012, from

Hargadon, S. (2008). Web 2.0 is the future of education. Web 2.0 Labs. Retrieved November 17, 2012, from

Teachwithweb2. (2012). Digital Stories. Retrieved November 17, 2012, from

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Final Project: Hypertext and Spatial Processing



Hypertext allows readers to interact with text in a non-linear fashion.  This interaction requires additional skills for success beyond those required for linear print text, including visual-spatial skills to track link structures and maintain orientation within the hypertext document.  Research supports hierarchical link structures and content maps as supports for those facing difficulty in processing information and structures of hypertext documents.


The move from scroll to codex afforded more opportunity for non-linear expression, however aside from reference items, most published materials continued to present information in a largely linear fashion.  Information in pages is more easily accessed randomly than information in scrolls, but pages still follow each other in a sequential manner. The introduction of hypertext not only affords the opportunity, but creates an environment which requires a non-linear approach, both from the reader and the writer, if used in its intended manner.

This non-linear approach can be challenging to certain readers depending upon their familiarity, ability and personal reading styles.  For those coming from a background with a heavier concentration of printed material, orientation cues are often provided by the reader’s location within the text.  For example, physical proximity to the beginning of the text informs the reader that they may encounter introductory characteristics in the writing.  These orientation cues are absent in hypertext.

Certain skills are necessary to become successful at reading in general.  Fluency and connections to content ideas are prerequisites for success with linear text and are equally important in reading hypertext.  However, hypertext may require additional skills for success, in particular strong visual-spatial skills to compensate for non-linearity and absent orientation cues.

Lessened skill levels can cause cognitive overload which in turn can lead to disorientation within the hypertext.   Disorientation occurs when the sense of location and direction is lost in a non-linear document system.  (Conklin, 1987)   The reader does not know where they are within the document, and does not know where to proceed to as a next step.

Therefore, web content creators face dual challenges in meeting their readers’ needs; the pre-existing need of written material to include content relevant to the reader, but also the challenge in presentation, in order to ensure their information is being properly conveyed.

Literature Review:

Hypertext documents contain nodes of information which are connected by links, which transport the reader between the nodes.  Two separate varieties of document structures have been identified in hypertext documents.  Hierarchical structures organize information and allow links only between nodes which are organizationally above or below each other.  Networked structures create links between referenced nodes, thereby allowing any node to link to any other conceptually connected node.

Wenger and Payne (1996) conducted research which attempted to discern processes which were traditionally predictive of reading performance and those which would link spatial ability with performance with hypertext.  Working memory, word information retrieval and choice reaction tasks were used as general performance measures.  A letter matching task, as well as a bar chart comparison task, were used as measures of spatial ability.   The relationships between information processing measures and hypertext reading were similar to those relationships with normal printed text.  Relational processing such as spatial information processing were the critical component to reading hypertext. (Wenger & Payne, 1996)

Aside from hypertext, lack of orientation cues also effect readers’ abilities to read plain text on a computer screen.  Readers are shown to be 10-30% slower in reading plain text from computer screens compared to paper.   (Kurniawan & Zaphiris, 2001)   Text on screens is more difficult to use.  Kurniawan and Zaphiris (2001) hypothesize that inability of readers to track location on a screen causes them to re-read sections, effecting speed and processing.  Familiarity with technology was not shown to be a factor as research between hypertext processing and prior web surfing and history of technology use showed no significant correlation. (McEneany, 2003)

To deal with disorientation, readers create link structures mentally while browsing and following links.  However, their ability to create this structure is limited by the degree to which they can delegate resources to this task, which is secondary to their primary concern of gathering information.

Rouet, Voros, & Pleh (2011) conducted a study using 4 versions of a hypertext document which paired 9 or 12 pages of content with or without content maps.  The versions with content maps represented the hierarchical structure.  Subjects were then tested for content recognition, layout recall and overall visual-spatial ability.   Readers in the lower visual-spatial group scored lower in their ability to track link structure; they required greater effort and resources to create these mental structures.  Limited resources caused them to lose track of orientation while navigating through documents. However, content memory was similar between the high and low visual spatial groups. (Rouet et al., 2011)  The primary goal of information gathering was preserved at the expense of orientation.

Similarly, readers with low prior knowledge of hypertext content would expend greater effort in gathering and processing new information, leaving less available to track link structures.  Hierarchical structures, with organized linking of nodes caused less disorientation for readers with less prior knowledge.  Accordingly, with the lessened burden of creating the mental structures, larger knowledge gains were made with these readers using the organized hierarchical structure.  (Amadieu, Paas, Tricot, & Marine, 2009)

Interestingly, there was no converse benefit to network structures for those readers with high previous knowledge of the content.  Rather, document structure had no effect on their performance.  (Amadieu et al., 2009)

Relationships have been suggested between spatial ability and criteria such as age and gender.  Studies have shown a negative correlation between age and spatial ability. (Oosterman, Morel, Meijer, Buvens, Kessels, & Postma, 2011)  As such, the aged perform more effectively when using hypertext documents with an hierarchical structure. (Lin, 2003)

A content map can alleviate the burden of creating the mental link structure for a hypertext document.  Content maps are visual representations of content included in the hypertext document.  Rouet et al., (2009) investigated the effects of content maps on readers’ memories of hypertext structures.  Using 6 and 9 node documents with or without content maps, they found that the content map acts effectively as external visual-spatial memory, eliminating the processing difference between high and low spatial memory readers. (Rouet et al., 2012)  This allows readers to organize structure prior to reading and lessens the need for spatial processing ability.

Use of overview sections is a strategy used to by expert computer users and those with high orientation ability, leading to high performance outcomes when processing hypertext documents.  (Calcaterra, Antonietti, & Underwood, 2005)


Information retrieval on the internet can be purpose specific or knowledge driven.  When it is knowledge driven, readers can browse, following referential links to gather information in areas of interest.  This information is then connected conceptually to prior knowledge.  When it is purpose specific, browsing is replaced by searching.  Content often becomes more novel; with large amounts of new information.

In the fields of higher education, we can strive for more knowledge driven pursuits as content can be created and discovered by students.  However, in more elementary fields of education, the information required becomes more purpose specific.  Elementary does not refer only to primary grades, but to any course which deals with the elemental aspects of subject material.  Any foundational learning which covers particular facts, curriculum or concepts will be purpose specific, where students must acquire a distinct parcel of information before moving on.

Particularly in these fields, a hierarchical structure to hypertext documents would be beneficial at best and neutral at worst.  Organization of nodes would assist those with low visual-spatial ability and allow those with low levels of prior knowledge to concentrate on the material at hand.

Content maps would likewise free mental resources to concentrate on the content rather than the structure of the hypertext document.

Hypertext allows for non-linear thought.  In doing so, it creates an additional concern for the writer as to the level of organization required in effectively delivering content to their intended audience.


Amadieu, F., van Gog, T., Paas, F., Tricot, A., & Marine, C. (2009). Effects of Prior Knowledge and Concept-Map Structure on Disorientation, Cognitive Load, and Learning. Learning And Instruction, 19(5), 376-386.

Calcaterra, A., Antonietti, A., & Underwood, J. (2005). Cognitive Style, Hypermedia Navigation and Learning. Computers And Education, 44(4), 441-457.

Conklin, J. (1987). Hypertext: A survey and introduction. IEEE Computer20(9), 17-41.

Johnson-Sheehan, R., & Baehr, C. (2001). Visual-Spatial Thinking in Hypertexts. Technical Communication: Journal Of The Society For Technical Communication, 48(1), 22-30.

Kurniawan, S. H., & Zaphiris, P. (2001). Reading Online or on Paper: Which is Faster?.Computer43(29), 29.

Lin, D. (2003). Hypertext for the Aged: Effects of Text Topologies. Computers In Human Behavior, 19(2), 201-9.

McEneaney, J. E. (2003). Does Hypertext Disadvantage Less Able Readers?. Journal Of Educational Computing Research, 29(1), 1-12.

Oosterman, J. M., Morel, S., Meijer, L., Buvens, C., Kessels, R. C., & Postma, A. (2011). Differential Age Effects on Spatial and Visual Working Memory. International Journal Of Aging And Human Development, 73(3), 195-208.

Rouet, J., Voros, Z., & Pleh, C. (2012). Incidental Learning of Links during Navigation: The Role of Visuo-Spatial Capacity. Behaviour & Information Technology, 31(1), 71-81.

Wenger, M. J., & Payne, D. G. (1996). Human Information Processing Correlates of Reading Hypertext. Technical Communication: Journal Of The Society For Technical Communication, 43(1), 51-60.




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The History, Present and Future of Educational Technology: Web 2.0 and Beyond

Educational technology is a catchphrase on the tongues of many educators of the digital age. It is a conglomerate term that suggests an updated teaching pedagogy, a transition to a student centered classroom and a combination of tools that are meant to facilitate learning. Technology alone cannot fix a broken lesson. Advanced computer-aided technology may however inspire a revolution in education that is situated in an authentic context and promotes the tenets of distributed cognition. The walls of our future classrooms are coming down and in their place a global collective intelligence will surmount.

What is the future of educational technology? To answer this, you must begin with the past.

Please follow this path to view a timeline documenting the history, present and future of educational technology.

All references used in the creation of this timeline are located in the timeline, located in the final entry currently dated January 01, 2014. 

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Breakout of the Billboards by Sheza Naqi

Breakout of the Billboards by Sheza Naqi

Visual Overload – Billboard Advertisements in New York’s Times Square (Lefkowitz 2007)

Jay David Bolter’s chapter, “The Breakout of the Visual” from his book, Writing Space: Computers, Hyptertext, and the Remediation of Print discusses the idea that today’s late age of print is really a visual age rather than a linguistic one. He asserts that we are living in a culture over-run with visual. From highway billboards to graphic texts, to flash-based web pages, our society consumes information largely through visual means. Advertising is one of the big winners in this cultural transition, considering that the number of ads that we are exposed to has jumped dramatically: from 500 a day in the 1970s to 5000 a day in 2009 (Johnson 2009). The success of advertising today is an excellent example of the breakout of the visual.

Through the visual, advertisers are able to deliver their message more clearly than ever before. In his chapter, Bolter discusses ekphrasis, a technique traditionally used to convey a visual message through prose. However, he recognizes its redundancy in today’s society by stating that, “as we have seen in digital media and even in print, we get a reverse ekphrasis in which images are given the task of explaining words” (Bolter 2001, pp. 56). Thus, advertisers now use the visual to paint the very picture that words could only describe. Ads not only make the claim that the product will make you wrinkle-free, your house cleaner or your social life more exciting – they show you that it already has for someone just like you. The saying, “a picture is worth a 1000 words” is quite apt when it comes to what advertisements today are able to convey through such visual messages.

But gone is the golden age of television when, “an ad on one of the big three networks could reach 70 percent of the viewing audience” (Johnson 2009).  Instead, advertisers today have to contend with the fact that their consumers can fast forward through their visual stimuli and miss the message entirely. Caitlin A. Johnson, writer for CBS News, wrote an article describing the new reality for viewers, given this power: “The viewing audience became not only scattered and fractured but in control ” (Johnson 2009). Her observation is extremely astute in connection with Bolter’s critique of how text and the visual have negotiated for control in the traditional spaces of reading and writing over time. “Control is not just a matter of ratio of images to texts, but of the way in which text gathers around the image and supervises its reading” (Bolter 2001, pp. 49). Visuals dominated medieval illuminations, but lost the battle for control with the printed book as text took control of the page and graphics came to be used textually. However, as digital media has emerged, so too has the use of the visual to supervise the reading and convey the message. The visual once again dominates reading spaces, especially on the World Wide Web and in the world of advertising.

Even though a viewer may be able to fast-forward through 2 minutes of commercials they are still inundated with visual ads on a daily basis. Advertisers have had to change their techniques with the times and take their message to the viewer; and with the digital age, multiple mediums exist for them to effectively deliver this message. “Marketers have found a way to use parking stripes, postage stamps and floors, even buses and buildings, like a target ad which practically engulfs an entire New York city block” (Johnson 2009). The visual jumps out at you when waiting in line for your morning coffee, with the newly installed LCD menu screens at Tim Hortons. When you take the bus to school, the public transit has built-in TV screens in front of your seat so that you can get the weather, headline news and a few important messages from sponsors before it’s even 9 a.m. These TVs have no sound, but it is not required since we are now so used to “reading” the message delivered visually.

Bolter discusses the new spaces of reading and writing throughout his book and identifies the window as the defining feature of the Graphic User Interface (Bolter 2001, pp. 67). “Like perspective painting, which offers the user a window onto a world, each GUI window also contains a world – it may be a world of text, a graphic image in two or three dimensions, or a live video feed” (Bolter 2001, pp. 68). A prime example of how advertisers have taken this digital space of reading and writing and made it their own can be found in New York City’s Times Square. The two buildings on Times Square have 11 spaces for digital signage and the overall annual advertising business was estimated to be worth $69 million in 2005 (Digital Signage 2005). The target market is the 29 million American tweens (ages 8 to 14) who had the purchasing power of approximately $38 billion in 2004 (Kennedy 2004). And the best way for the advertiser to deliver their message to this net-generation of consumer is through the visual. As Kress points out in his article on visual modes of representation, “Representation and communication are motivated by the social; its effects are outcomes of the economic and the political. To think or act otherwise is to follow phantoms” (Kress 2004, pp. 6).



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

Digital Signage. (2005, May 9). Times Square Advertising Business Annual Estimate. Web Pavement. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

Kennedy, David G. (2004, April 1). Coming of Age in Consumerdom. Advertising Age. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

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

Lefkowitz, Lester. (2007). Visual overload … adverts in New York’s Times Square. Corbis. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

Johnson, Caitlin A. (2009, February 11). Cutting Through Advertising Clutter. CBS News. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

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Electronic Books and Digital Information Systems

There is much to be said about how the electronic book is shifting the way we access knowledge in comparison to the capabilities of the print book. Amongst this discussion is the thought that “the eBook must promise something more than the form that it remediates: it must offer what can be construed as a more immediate, complete or authentic experience for the reader” (Bolter, p.80). In chapter 5 of Writing Space, Bolter (2001) looks at the evolution of the printed book as it takes on a digital form. Bolter’s investigation targets the electronic adaptation of the textbook as it applies to research. As the amount of eBooks grows at exponential rates, we are continuously redefining the way we interact with print. There are now new expectations for the availability of print because of technology.

The portability of a book continues to make it relevant and appreciated by a large population of current day readers. The book does not require an electrical charge, nor does it rely on additional accessories to function for restricted periods of time. The book is a durable tool compared to many of its technological counterparts; it can be dropped without damaging the overall function. To many people who continue to believe in its timeless practicality, the book can provide a visual and tactile experience that cannot be replaced by digital technology. The book can be left at a bus stop with little monetary loss and it can be passed on and shared in a way electronic books cannot. The most limiting aspect of the book is its physical containment of knowledge. In a social context, the book’s inability to connect to other evolving information parallels the emergence of hypertext.

As with any technology, the eBook is constantly shifting the way we approach learning and our expectations of the availability and overall quality of information. Bolter (2001) focuses his discussion on the ways in which digital text can be organized. Counter to the goals of information distribution today, the print book implies a certain limit to knowledge. At present, knowledge is said to be more of a living entity, having the ability to be reconfigured by current research. Bolter (2001) explains the way information is organized and stored “controls other constructions of knowledge and the contemporary technology of writing” (Bolter, p.84). The contemporary technology he refers to here is hypertext. The linkages made between digitalized literature via hypertext goes beyond capacity of the tangible book.

Perhaps the greatest setback associated with print books is the availability to gather a sufficient amount of academic resources to conduct valid research. Digital books are sorted under more than a single subject heading, increasing the likelihood that a researcher will find more specific information that applies to their area of focus. The use of hyperlink has made it possible to create new digital links between eBooks and other academic resources. For university students, the days of limited resources are a thing of the past, because resource availability is no longer linked to the amount of books in a library. The increase in availability of digitalized information could be said to enrich the accuracy of student research today. Bolter (2001) suggests that the growing network of resources should be organized in an encyclopaedic format that facilitates subject-based searches providing hyperlinks to other resources as well as websites. Alexander (2008) proposes that individuals could contribute to the organization by tagging literacy using platforms available through Web 2.0. Tagging naturally gives “urgency to further research” and opens up possibilities for learners to “pursue multiple inquiries in rapid and almost sequential sequence” (Alexander, p.156).

To maintain a spot in the scheme of innovative technologies, the eBook must continue to offer more than what the book is capable of providing to the reader. As mentioned above, the eBook deviates from a linear thinking, a trait that distinguishes it as a tool associated to 21st century learning. Products, such as the Kobo, Sony, Box and Apple eReaders have changed the nature in which we read a book but further systems will be required that continue to organize information. We are living in text heavy generation where our abilities to read and write have increased due to the technological tools that are readily available to us. The eBook gives multileveled readers the opportunity to interact and have a more personalized experience with texts that they wouldn’t have otherwise read. It is hard to predict how our conceptualization and usage of the book will evolve in the future. In schools today, electronic textbooks provide links to virtual activities that augment learning experiences. When thinking about all of the print materials that are currently utilized by teachers, I wonder how these materials can continue to compete with the rising influence of multimodal learning. Bolter (2001) predicts a textual environment where electronic books will improve accessibility and lead to deeper intellectual understandings of information available through the World Wide Web.


Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into practice. 47(2), 150-60. Retrieved November 20, 2012 from

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

Holler, M. (2012). Parents Choose Print Over iPad for Kids Books | Strollerderby. [Photograph] Retrieved November 25, 2012, from

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