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Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

Blog on Hypertext and the Changing Role of Readers

I must admit that I personally prefer reading a book to reading on a screen. I, like the author, learned to read lying on my bed, hoping not to be interrupted. I love to read. When I have to read something long I always print it out too, and peruse it at my leisure and mark it up to suit my purpose.
As an English teacher I really struggle with the whole idea of encouraging students to always "challenge the author" or add their own thoughts to a text. All too often they listen, not to learn but to find fault and they thus miss any chance to learn and change because they are seeking to change or challenge others. Unfortunately my students' thoughts are rarely insightful or profound; they are much more likely to be insipid or just smart-mouthed.
I totally agreed that they would be likely to be more "animated" and "engaged' but it would be because of the novelty of the activity. A few of them would respond to the element of power intrinsic in clicking and directing their own path of research and would do more than they ordinarily would. Some would just try to find ways to goof around and make it look like they were working, but all their clicks and links would be viewed or read on only the most superficial level.
I did like the idea of the Scavenger Hunts. I thought this would be a great way to get reluctant students engaged in a pursuit of knowledge that they might not be open to if it were presented in another format (like lecture). In fact, I am already thinking about ways that I could incorporate a scavenger hunt into my classes. Most of my students have Internet access at home, or at a friend's house, so I would probably not have to take them to a lab. Perhaps they could do the assignment at home. Perhaps it could be extra credit, to allow for those who might not have the Internet at home. I will have to give that more thought.
I was also intrigued by the idea of creating a space for a discussion forum. My senior class reads the novel Montana 1948. There are several issues that would lend themselves beautifully to a cyber-discussion. Since some of the issues are touchy, the students might be much more willing to discuss if I were to give them a "voice" in a setting that was less threatening than a face-to-face classroom discussion. I am definitely going to investigate the NCTE Web site. I was also enticed by the description of the National Geographic Web site that allows readers to become someone accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Wouldn't this be a great addition to any study of The Crucible?
I found myself agreeing with Janet Murray's position that the "reader of electronic text... is not experiencing authorship. The reader is experiencing agency, Deciding where to click does not constitute authorship." I am very much a creature of my training. Snyder suggests that "the tradition of print literacy privileges the author." YES. And in my archaic world that is exactly how it should be. That is the reality that I am comfortable with. I am also comfortable with the author's contention that hypertext is here to stay and we just need to accept that and do what we will with it. I just cannot see it ever replacing that wonderful feeling that books give me.
I am currently writing this on my laptop sitting in the car while we travel to Iowa to visit our daughter who is a freshman at Grinnell College. It is family weekend and they have many "events" planned. But the upshot of all that is that I am not currently able to access the Internet and can hardly wait until we get to the hotel to look at some of the sources this article discusses.