5.0490 Rs: Philosophy of Hypertext (2/78)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 2 Dec 1991 15:59:59 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0490. Monday, 2 Dec 1991.

(1) Date: Fri, 29 Nov 91 22:29:13 AST (15 lines)
From: Thom Parkhill <PARKHILL@UNB.CA>
Subject: hypertext

(2) Date: Sat, 30 Nov 91 20:01:23 CST (63 lines)
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 5.0484 Philosophy of Hypertext?

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 91 22:29:13 AST
From: Thom Parkhill <PARKHILL@UNB.CA>
Subject: hypertext

Following on Will McCarty's musings on Hypertext as a teaching
tool, I have a hunch edging toward a prejudice that constructing
a Hypertexted piece of writing would be far more conducive to
learning than using the same piece of writing. I am reflecting now
on how to engage students in Hypertext construction. I'm especially
wondering how to make the task relevant. My question, more con-
cretely, is why should they create such a text? Who is their
audience? How will they use it? And so on.

I have some tentative responses to these questions, but I'm interested
in hearing from Humanists with "classroom" experience with Hypertext.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------68----
Date: Sat, 30 Nov 91 20:01:23 CST
From: Charles Ess <DRU001D@SMSVMA>
Subject: Re: 5.0484 Philosophy of Hypertext? (1/47)

Well, having seen a reply to Willard's query regarding hypertext, and
then the query itself (mailer randomizing as a hypertext technique?) --
I rise confusedly to Willard's query and at least one reply which echoes
his reservation(s) about the novelty and/or effectiveness of hypertext.

My first comment is: what is the question? Are we attempting to assess
hypertext as an imitation of cross-references in printed media, in terms
of effectiveness regarding ___? Hypertextual programs as creative environ-
ments for traditional scholarly tasks? Hypermedia as a pedagogical
environment? I'm just a humble philosopher teaching in a small college --
but, as much as I welcome Willard's raising important questions for
HUMANIST readers, I believe some greater precision in defining the
questions would be helpful.

My second comment: having had the great good fortune to use Intermedia in
the classroom, I can point to a large number of traditional pedagogical
goals which Intermedia allowed me and my students to achieve more fully
and more completely -- including greater use of _traditional_ printed
media (the experience of hypermedia links seems to teach and/or reinforce
the importance of following out cross-references in texts). As well, I
can point to a number of impacts on the learning experience of my students
brought about by Intermedia and the networked environment which I have
only rarely, if ever, seen in the "traditional" classroom: much greater
communication on the part of those less likely to find voice; communication
which more fully reflects and demonstrates the importance of diversity and
pluralism; and absolutely astonishing levels of student participation in
creating materials for seminar and subsequent student use.

My point here is not to pound the drum for hypermedia. Nor is it to
mindlessly sing the praises of new technology, out of what I believe
to be an entirely unjustified faith that newer is always better --
or that technology follows some inexorable path of "progress" which
will eventually sweep us all within its currents, will(iard)-he,nil-he.
Rather, I simply want to point to some concrete results within a
specified niche of hypermedia application which may be helpful starting
points in a discussion of the efficacy of hypermedia and its future.
(At the risk of self-advertising, _my_ summary report of these and
other classroom impacts of Intermedia are in a paper to be presented
at Hypertext '91, and thus available in the Proceedings.)

I suspect that Williard, as usual, is pretty much correct in his suggestion
that we are still very much in the early days, where imitation of familiar
forms defines the new technology much more than development of its genuinely
new possibilities. I will also attest that these Model A computers and
software systems often present the analogue to the starter backfire that
sprains a wrist or breaks an arm: try explaining to the Dean why you have
to have high-end computing equipment -- try explaining to a student why
two months' worth of work is entirely gone, thanks to a major disk crash
and a faulty back-up disk. Indeed, if only to stir up a few more comments,
let me criticize Willard's analogy as too optimistic. Perhaps if a few
more people had their wrists broken -- we'd still be using horses? (And,
given the impact of the automobile on especially U.S. cities, the world
environment, etc. -- is it entirely clear that the automobile in fact
represents a social advance?)

Enthusiastic, but not ecstatic --

Charles Ess
Drury College