Posted by: Ellie Kutz | June 14, 2012

Reading, Writing, and Hypertext

How do we best help our students to become strong readers and writers in academic settings?  And how might new, digital tools contribute to that work? These questions were explored in several sessions at this year’s conference, some focusing on tutoring, others on classroom instruction, some face-to-face, and others online.  I’m going to focus on three sessions that addressed the ways in which technology could support our students’ work as readers and writers.

In “Thinking and Linking:  Teaching with Hypertext,” Alex Mueller of the English department and three of his graduate students (Melody Anderson, Brendan Holloway, and Alex McAdams), who are teaching entry-level courses at UMass, explored how working with hyperlinks could support students as readers.  Starting with the Freirean premise that students should be offered, not a passive, banking model of education in which the teacher deposits bits of knowledge in students’ minds for them to reproduce at a later date, but rather one in which they can engage actively in their own meaning-making, these presenters explored ways in which working with hypertext could facilitate such engagement.

Working in Wikispaces and creating a hyperlinked structure for short texts or portions of texts that students were reading, each instructor has found ways to increase students’ interaction with those texts: creating links that not only offer clarifying information but pose questions about what’s being read; creating links that guide students’ work with key terms of a difficult text, not just by defining those terms but by encouraging students to see how they relate to one another; and creating links to visuals that present related issues in quite different compositions.  Students may also be invited to add their own hyperlinks to the text under consideration, opening up a teacher’s reading and contributing to a growing pool of knowledge.  With their examples, these presenters showed how using the affordances of digital media might complement the reading of print text and provide a potentially richer understanding of what’s involved in active reading. You can hear their presentation and see their examples in the Conference Proceedings.

The social web is also providing an opportunity for students to see themselves as part of a larger community of readers, beyond the classroom, and to connect to others who are reading the same texts. Christian DeTorres of IT/Edtech, is a big fan of Goodreads (  which he calls “Facebook with less face and more book,”  where readers can share reviews of books they read, connect to friends, join or create groups, start and respond to topic threads, and receive new recommendations based on their ratings of what they’ve read.  When they post a new review it shows up on friends’ home page feeds.  Teachers have been using Goodreads to support their students’ independent reading (you can choose to have email notification about posts from a group), and they appreciate the fact that this site, like public blogs and wikis can provide a larger, authentic audience for students’ writing—in this case about their reading, but there are also privacy options to restrict the audience to members of a group.  Goodreads (or a similar site, Shelfari) doesn’t typically focus on close work with text, but it can help students see themselves as part of a larger reading community beyond the classroom.

Going online can also alter the work of the writing classroom.  Kate Gonso, from Northeastern University, described her “Transparent Classroom,” where students collaborate and share their work using most of the Web 2.0 technologies—googledocs for posting and commenting on each others’ work, an IPad app to create working drafts of flyers, WordPress blogs to offer ongoing reflections and generate “an unending converstion.”

The principles of the transparent classroom, where student work is not hidden but shared for comment and collaboration, are evident in many courses at UMass Boston as well.  In their session exploring “Group Authorship in the Cloud,” Eileen McMahon (Communications/Edtech) and Neena Estrella-Luna showed the ways in which they are using blogs and wikis and googledocs for longer collaborative writing projects.  The online sites also allow students to integrate audio visual material.  Encouraging students to respect each other as writers and researchers while gaining a clearer understanding of copyright, they suggest that students create their own Creative Commons copyrights and recognize these copyrights as they draw on what their classmates have done.

You can visit/revisit each of  these sessions in Conference Proceedings.


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