Co-opting the Clickable Classroom

The argument that we ought to resist the "clickable classroom" just as we have resisted (or outlived) the insertion of television into the classroom is based on what may be a false analogy. Television is consummately rhetorical, but its rhetoric is a popular and a narrative one. It has never supported a community of discourse in which scholarly inquiry is conducted. Teaching academic discourse (if we agree with Bartholomae that this is what we should be doing) does not require us to teach students to conduct inquiry via television.

Hypertext is something else again. Electonic publishing has clearly begun to take over the functions of print as a scholarly knowledge-making element. If hypertext proves reasonably friendly to argumentative rhetoric, it may quickly follow the linear electronic document from the margins to the centre of academic discourse. Therefore we can't banish it, any more than Plato could banish writing from philosophy. We have to learn how to teach students to stay afloat in the electronic sea of discourse, just as we have been learning how to teach students to stay afloat on what to them is the somewhat alien medium of print academic discourse.

One thing that we will have to figure out how to do is to show them how to resist the urge to channel-surf. George Landow suggests that hypertext will automatically make students more active learners because it is impossible not to be active while following and creating links to widely dispersed data. He also claims that it is a fertile space for implicit learning, especially of "ill-structured knowledge domains" which are best explored in a criss-cross rather than linear manner. "The ways in which hypertext produces an active student make writers on the medium, like David H. Jonassen and R. Scott Grabinger, urge that 'hypermedia learning systems will place more responsibility on the learner for accessing, sequencing and deriving meaning from the information.'" (Hypermedia 121)

I think, though, that Landow is indulging in magical thinking if he thinks that this will happen automatically. The need for speed in the new media may well overwhelm our students with links to ill-digested data unless we find ways to help them turn that data into meaning.

This means much more than merely learning how to use the technology efficiently, as is recommended by writers such as Lemke and Barnes. Readers used to print typically become disoriented in hypertext or try to read it in too linear a fashion, failing to exploit the associational links it provides. But this is a transitional problem that can be remedied with simple procedural instructiion and will become less serious as hypertext becomes a much more common

I am more concerned about the opposite extreme: students who have made the transition from print to electronic space so efficiently that they can surf magificently but have forgotten discipline. Heim argues that the key to navigating electronic text also includes the ability to slow down, to create and follow arguments with rational contemplation, to "indwell" in other people's ideas despite the ability to surf off to another person's ideas as soon as one encounters a link. Students need to learn to use the web (or whatever technology supercedes it next week) as a web of knowledge, not a cloud of data and cool sites.to surf.

For me, this means learning to use hypertext in pursuit of a goal or in the conduct of a task. People channel-surf or web-surf when they are idly looking for something interesting. When they are trying to find out something, the surfing stops and disciplined reading begins.

Even when surfing stops, "gold-panning" may begin. Readers swoosh around the sand and water until they find a nugget, then immediately rush off with it without exploring further to find out what more might be in the pan. Reading tasks must be designed to encourage exploration, with ample time allowed to reflect upon what has been found. Possibly recursive tasks are one way to do this: students find, read, compare, then go back and read again in light of the discussion, deepening their understanding of other views and gradually coming to "indwell" rather than skipping off the surface.

Reading tasks must also be integrated with writing tasks in order to provide flexible tools that encourage a hypertext literacy promotes indwelling, not websurfing.


Resisting the clickable classroom A more resistant alternative to embracing the electronic text.
Reading Hypertext An opening move in my darker ponderings about websurfing.
Michael Heim on Reflection Heim's concerns about electric speed.
Michael Heim on Discipline Heim's suggestion for a remedy.
Reading as exploration in the hypertext classroom Back around the circle to the question of how we respond so that students know what good hypertext looks like.
"Hypermedia and Higher Education" A link out to Lemke's article on teaching students how to use hypertext efficiently.
"Hypertext Literacies" A link out to Barnes' article on the same subject
Flexible Tools for Hypertext Literacy How to, sort of, maybe.

Home | Index