Miles, Adrian. “Hypertext Teaching.” Reading Hypertext. Eds. Mark Bernstein and Diane Greco. Watertown: Eastgate, 2009. 223-38.
What follows is a preprint version of this chapter, the version that appears in the anthology has been substantially edited, and tightened.
There appears to have been surprisingly little written about how to teach hypertext to students. While we have some major contributions from figures such as Douglas and Rosenberg on how we read hypertext, and their key differences to traditional print texts, this work does not provide any real guides for others on how to go about hypertext in the classroom. In this essay I intend to describe the teaching activities that I have developed over a number of years to teach hypertext to undergraduate students. In describing these activities I want to emphasise that my aim is to provide a ‘thick description’ of my practice so that others can appropriate aspects of these for themselves. My teaching is aimed at helping students to contextualise hypertext amongst other textual and discursive practices, and to begin to recognise what is specific and peculiar to hypertext. This, inevitably, is strongly influenced by my own views of what constitutes ‘good’ hypertext as a particular sort of writing and reading practice, and I will try to make this as visible to the reader as I can. Hence, what follows is not a curriculum for ‘Hypertext 101’ but a practical series of tasks and activities that I have employed that seem to work. I hope to outline what some of these tasks are, how they are applied, and why they are done in the way that they are.
The general aim of these pedagogical tasks is to help a series of naïve and novice students become literate in hypertext as a practice, which includes some sense of the critical and theoretical implications of hypertext, as well as its differences to other forms of writing and reading. Finally, what follows has worked in my context, however I am a teacher who employs an explicit process based pedagogy where a great deal of what I teach concentrates on a variety of ‘meta’ questions and problems around how we learn, why we are learning what we are, and ways of grounding what is being learnt into the everyday professional and life worlds of the students. As a reflective teacher I regard the classroom as an experiment in participatory learning where I routinely make mistakes. I see my role as facilitator, provocateur and foil rather than content expert and if I had to describe my curricula in terms of hypertext it would be constructive rather than exploratory — the class is able to change direction and to create knowledge as we proceed rather than exploring an existing curriculum . Finally, students are given time and resources to make connections themselves, so in what follows please bear in mind that it may not translate well, if at all, to a content directed traditional lecture based program.
When students come to hypertext they bring with them many years of acculturation within print literacy where they have become deeply implicated in and by the values of print. As a consequence they rely very heavily on the values and model of existing print based paradigms by which to understand hypertext — after all it appears to be primarily textual so applying existing print schemata would seem a reasonable hypothesis from which to begin. This is both a benefit and a problem for teaching hypertext.
Firstly, it provides a substantial benefit as it means that, as a teacher, I have a clear understanding of a series of basic knowledges and competencies that I know all my students share. These are such things as some ability to write an essay, which also means to construct an abstract argument. They are deeply familiar (willingly or otherwise) with books as artefacts and so have, unconsciously, accepted an entire suite of protocols including the presence of libraries and librarians, pagination, alphabetisation, linear sequential written forms consisting of beginnings, middles and ends, and complex sentence structures with clauses and subclauses. They must have these basics of print, for without them it is highly unlikely that they would have even gained entry to a university, and they routinely exercise these things in their day to day activities as students.
On the other hand, this is a problem because many of these protocols do not translate very well, if at all, into hypertext, and so students quickly become disenchanted, confused and even alienated by their experience of hypertext precisely because their existing models of print based text appear to no longer work. This difference provides both the bedrock, and the beginning point, for one aspect of how I teach hypertext, as what I do relies upon illuminating and ‘making strange’ the naturalness of print in order to make hypertext simply one way to read and write amongst others. Neither is better or worse than the other, just different. I begin this through a very simple exercise where I role play someone completely unfamiliar with a book. I have an academic anthology with me, and I invite the class to describe to me what it is, and how to use it. We go through everything that we can think of, no matter how minor it may appear, in describing this book to me. For example, that it has a cover (“why? what does it do?”), serial pages, page numbers, a table of contents, headers, footers, a spine, an index, the words are created by things called authors, and so on. I also wonder where you go to find them, why you would use them and how you actually use them. We begin to see the extent of the institutional and social apparatuses around this object, that there are book shops, libraries, publishers, printers, systems of classification and even social conventions of use — silent reading, not marking borrowed books, and so on. All to make concrete the technological and cultural protocols we have as a consequence of, and requirement for, the book. This activity, which usually takes an entire fifty minute lecture, is to make strange something they take for granted, and through this making strange to make print, the book, and by implication how we read and write, the culturally and technologically mediated activity that it is. From this point it becomes much easier to introduce, situate and contextualise hypertext for once print begins to be seen as a more or less arbitrary cultural and technological system students are unable to insist or rely upon print as a privileged ‘natural’ (or inevitable) way of reading and writing. In other words, making the book strange generates a gap between the book, and reading and writing, as a taken for granted cultural object, and this gap is then used to locate other ways of thinking about reading and writing. The object of the teaching then is not so much to fill this gap, but to place within it a variety of ways of doing reading and writing.
Hypertext, like print, is a problem of literacy. Literacy is always a problem of reading and writing — I simply don’t understand approaches that treat literacy as only a question of reading, as if print literacy is of value because we can then all read Shakespeare, without also acknowledging that for the majority of us it also lets us write the more prosaic things such as a Valentine, shopping lists, and a letter home. Therefore, when I teach hypertext, I always teach hypertext as a reading and writing practice as both of these are fundamental to hypertext literacy. As a consequence, I usually begin with writing hypertext because the struggle of learning how to write within a hypertext environment provides concrete experience of the particular possibilities of hypertext, and this helps students to realise the sorts of affordances available to hypertext authors. It also means that as students read hypertext literature (whether fiction or non fiction) they can also think about how what they read and find can be applied or is relevant to their own writing practice.
All of the introductory hypertext writing that I have taught has utilised and relied upon Eastgate’s Storyspace. This is a deliberate pedagogical decision as Storyspace is simple to use, offers complex hypertextual features (multiple links, visualisation of structure, a variety of link types – text to text, text to node, node to node, and link conditions if desired) and prevents hypertext writing from becoming confused with web design, graphic design, or information architecture. Storyspace lets the students concentrate on hypertext structures via linking, and by writing in a specialised hypertext system they are immediately ‘doing’ hypertext in a manner that translates easily to any other hypertext system. This may seem trivial, however, if students begin with HTML then there is no imperative in the tools to actually do anything hypertextual — HTML for example can be used to simply mark up single long pages of text — and for novices it too easily slides into an activity of visual design and technical tom foolery as they play with background and text colours, layout, fonts, roll overs and so on. This is not hypertext, in the same way that traditional typography and book design is not writing.
As a first exercise students write a short autobiography. This is chosen as a topic because they have (hopefully) intimate knowledge of the subject and so rather than wondering about what to write, they can immediately move away from a concern with content towards actually writing. A simple principle is provided where I insist that each node should be about one key idea or thing. For example, someone might create a first node that indicates they have a mother, a father, and a brother. Rather than going on to describe or discuss their family in that node, they are to link to a new node for each of those family members, and that is where they are then described. As they write, if they find themselves writing a second idea or going into detail about a second thing, then they should copy and paste this to a new node, and link accordingly. This writing is only done for a short time, perhaps a half hour or so, and we then critique a small selection of student work.
The role of the critique is to begin to identify some of the problems and affordances of writing hypertext hypertextually. This is done after some writing has been done as discussing it before hand generally appears to be a waste of time — like writing in general this is a learning by doing — and the sorts of issues that are identified and discussed at this preliminary stage generally revolve around the basics of link structure. It is reasonable at this point to recognise that in link node hypertext I regard links as the most important problem or concept to be understood. Links not only constitute the hypertext as a hypertext (after all if there were no links it would simply be a traditional page) but are what forms and defines structure and establishes the relations between nodes that lies at the heart of link node hypertext as a discursive system.
At this point we examine the draft writing to identity dead end nodes, and I argue that all nodes should contain at least one out bound link. Students often argue against this, citing the legitimacy of using the meta navigation tools of ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’ (as derived from reading history), in lieu of explicit links. We discuss and argue about the differences and implications of both approaches. I argue that explicit, authored links are architectural, productively constructing relations between parts, while the use of the meta–navigation tools is only ever contingent, accidental and instrumental. If you rely on using the reading history (forwards and backwards) for your readers, or as a reader, then the relations that are produced move towards the accidental, but if you write with links then pathways are always planned passages through the work. Furthermore, if it is possible to have a link to an existing node, then it is reasonable to believe that it is possible to create a return link from that node, and that it is these connections that create structure within the writing, and that the structure that flows as a consequence of the linearity of the page now becomes a consequence of the link.
From here it is common, and often necessary, to have a discussion about how a particular node does not offer any points of connection with any others, usually on the basis that its existing content has no connections and that is why it leads no where. It is simple to demonstrate to the class that this is not the case, that there are possible connections between this node and others, and that to achieve this new text simply needs to be added to provide a link opportunity. In other words, students are taught and encouraged to write in such a way as to ensure that there are words or phrases that they can link from to other nodes. Once again, some students will complain that this is highly artificial. Of course it is. However, is it any more artificial than the use of any other figures of speech in our writing, such as ‘therefore’, ‘however’, or ‘hence’ which implicitly assume and require sequential linearity? Furthermore, as all of my students are also studying radio or television production, I use the example of the ‘cutaway’ to show another entirely artificial practice that is used to make editing possible. A cutaway is a shot you record before or after an interview of some object or thing, it might be the desk, a phone, bookshelf, and so on. Its role is that when the interview is being edited material will be removed, thus breaking continuity. At such points a cutaway is inserted by the editor as a simple device to preserve continuity. This is a staple of editing, and so I define the creation of link opportunities as similarly artificial but required in a writing practice that is deeply defined by these links. In practice in the autobiography example it often is as simple as adding to, say, the node about a brother some text that mentions (almost in passing) the father, or mother, or the family pet, and so then being able to link from that text string or phrase to relevant nodes.
This is a different writing practice to what these students are accustomed to. Throughout their education they have been taught to privilege sequential writing that develops and shows complex linear causal argument and reasoning. This style of academic writing eschews repetition, yet for a successful hypertext some degree of repetition develops in response to the need to provide for link opportunities. In the very simple example of the autobiographical hypertext several nodes might make mention of their mother, in turn allowing links from ‘mother’ to the relevant node. However, as they mature as hypertext writers they may no longer rely on such simple nouns as ‘mother’ but rephrase their writing so that the link can still be created. By using a variety of terms or phrases their writing is no longer quite so literal, and it allows for a more poetic or associative series of terms to develop to describe an idea, or in this case their mother.
While still within this first hypertext the visual structure is also utilised to help students theorise and reflect upon hypertext structures. Many students, when they first begin to experiment with hypertext writing, produce hub and spoke or radial hypertext structures where there is a primary, central node with multiple links out to the subsidiary nodes. These subsidiary nodes routinely link back to the hub, and may or may not link to each other. There are even examples where a student will literally make a wheel, relying on the visualisation of the hypertext structure to understand linking. These patterns are useful, as they rely heavily on conservative notions of structure that remain deeply embedded as a consequence of print. The central hub might be legitimate, after all in an exercise such as this where they have described themselves a hub might be inevitable. However, the single links from the second tier of nodes is, frankly, nonsense as there are always many more possibilities of connection. For example, there might be a link from a node about a sister to a node about a brother, and they’ve been written and linked sequentially and that is why there is a single point of connection between them. However, if I ask the students to think of other rules or principles of connection, for instance ‘family’ or ‘kinship’, then they immediately see that there are many other possible points of connection from this node to others. This helps them to see that the creation of link opportunities provides multiple possible points of connection between nodes and that this builds discursive structure. For example, once they realise they can produce multiple links from something as straightforward as ‘family’ to each node for each family member a form of abstract ‘meta’ linking emerges where links are now defined by ideas and associations rather than literal nouns. This produces a complex and sophisticated level of abstraction where the types of links students create changes from more or less simple navigational cues towards the authoring of links as the creation of abstract and associative patterns between nodes, which in turn encourages the creation of nodes as a consequence of link possibilities.
This more complex facet of linking is supported by a simple exercise that I invite students to do. As they return to some more writing of their autobiographies I require students to no longer link from nouns (eg “mother”, “dad”, and so on) but from verbs or adjectives. I require this as in my own experience of writing hypertext links have performative force where what you choose to link from encourages and leads writing . For example, in even a simple sentence like “My dad works for an insurance firm and enjoys footy” I’ll suggest a link from ‘works’ and ‘enjoys’ rather than ‘dad, ‘insurance firm’ or ‘footy’. This encourages a change in their attitude and approach to their writing, as what is written in a node that comes from a link entitled ‘enjoys’ is quite distinct to a node connected to a link entitled ‘footy’ and encourages a more abstract and sophisticated writing. This is in contrast to the default manner in which most students link, which I suspect is partly derived from the example of the Web where the majority of links (certainly before blogs) are navigational and instrumental. In this more conservative model the student would generally only link from nouns, and as a consequence the destination nodes become descriptive of whatever the node name (which they generally default to be the link name) and link text have been. Of course, this is not very productive hypertextually, as there may be other possible links to the same node which are overlooked as writing stays descriptive and literal. Such a writing style tends to produce what I think of as catalogues, and there is nothing in the practice that encourages the associative and creative development of structure and thought within writing that hypertext enables. By changing the link text towards more abstract terms there is an imperative to write differently in the destination node, as linking from ‘enjoys’ produces a more evocative, associative and engaged writing than a link from ‘footy’. This not only helps to develop a more sophisticated writing, but also by moving towards more abstract links each node tends to become more amenable to links in and out. This helps the individual nodes to become more porous to the other nodes in the hypertext, which encourages more links, and through this more complex link patterns are able to be produced. This is important, for one of the significant ways in which students develop as hypertext writers is to experience hypertext writing as a generative practice where structure emerges through, and not prior to, writing. This is where writing ‘flips’ from being something predesigned where links and nodes are deliberately planned in advance (much like the traditional essay plan) to something more associative, emergent and productive. This is a hypertextual writing, in situ, where students are able to recognise that linking produces structure as an act of writing and that this is coterminous with argument. This experience of hypertext is associated with a reasonably high level of node and link density where links are suggested within the very activity of hypertext writing itself. The writing, and linking, becomes promiscuous and students commonly have the experience of then not knowing how to finish their writing simply because they recognise it can continually expand.
This is the moment when students begin to understand the intent and depth of the problems and questions that hypertext structure poses for reading. Just as they no longer have a clear external definition of what it now means for the work to be finished, or even where their writing may go, so they also realise that to read such a work (including their own) it is no longer sufficient to rely on their existing paradigms of comprehensive reading as traversing beginning, middle, and end, in that order. This is where we begin to read hypertext literature.
Existing work on reading hypertext can be divided into two main approaches. The first is exemplified by scholars such as Landow, Bolter and perhaps even Joyce, and is about the manner in which hypertext literature is affiliated with postmodern and poststructural theories of textuality and discourse. The second is characterised by the canonical work of Douglas and Rosenberg and is best characterised as an approach that identifies what is specific to hypertext reading where texts are constituted as ‘whole’ by the reader’s activities and interpretation rather than materially by the media itself.
The first approach is productive as it allows a very broad range of theoretical material to be employed in considering hypertext. This material, what I would loosely describe as poststructuralism in general, allows many collateral learning outcomes to be a consequence of considering hypertext reading as it provides the opportunity to explore poststructural theories of textuality beyond the exemplar of hypertext literature. On the other hand, the second approach also provides for a variety of learning outcomes beyond the specifics of hypertext literature. The materially indeterminate text, that is a text that is to some extent created and defined by the actions and activities of reading (Aarseth’s ergodic text ), provides a productive heuristic for understanding other varieties of distributed creativity and practice, including games, interactive video, and blogs.
In my teaching of hypertext reading I employ aspects of both approaches, however as my students are not literature students (they are generally media students) I also consider hypertext as a post–cinematic reading practice. While this approach may, or may not, be at odds with existing literary models, my general intent in teaching the reading of hypertext is primarily to develop general competencies so that students develop a critical vocabulary for the reading of hypertext in general. Specific theoretical outcomes are less focussed, but include general ideas around multiple narratives, the dialogical, multilinearity, marginalia, acentredness and the plurivocal.
I have historically based my introduction to hypertext reading on Joyce’s “Afternoon: a story”. I have a relatively strict reading protocol for this, which involves students reading “Afternoon” for, say, 2o minutes, and then forming small groups to discuss what they think the story is about, what events they have read, characters they have found, how they navigated the text, and their general experience of reading such a work. A class discussion is then held.
After this preliminary reading the overwhelming experience for the majority of students is that the work appears to be unstructured and almost random, that their choices don’t appear to have had consequence, and they are unsure about who is who and what the story may be about. In sharing their experiences they can see that while others have had similar experiences they have also found other parts of the story, indeed may have been reading around characters that in their own reading made no appearance, and that some may have employed different strategies to read the work — for example clicking on particular words within a node, or just hitting the return key for every movement through the text. Students are then required to begin a new reading of “Afternoon”, and if they relied upon the default reading (pressing return within each node) to now select text. They now read for another twenty minutes. It is imperative that they begin a new reading and do not continue from their previous reading. It is this second reading that makes all the difference to the students as hypertext readers.
In this second reading students generally find themselves in different parts of “Afternoon”, while also occasionally returning to nodes or sequences they have already read. In doing this they realise that their choices actually do make a difference, and so have consequence in terms of what the story might be. In addition, they begin to realise that “Afternoon” appears to be structured around constellations or clusters of interlinked sequences, and that in their second reading they commonly find themselves in a different sequence to their first reading. However, the writing has enough detail, and ambiguity, for the students to be able to find connections to what they understood and found from their first reading. Through this they begin to recognise that while the work is not linear and ordered in the sense that they have come to expect from print based literature, there are recognisable patterns and structures that can be used as a basis for interpretation, and that these structures are produced through repetition, reiteration and quite specific sorts of rhythms that are quite distinct from existing literary models.
This is why the second reading is so important. It is through this second reading that patterns are able to form, be identified, and that particular rhythms begin to be noticed. This is used to structure a class conversation about their agency as readers, and while the common experience is to feel subjected to, or by, the text it is also recognised that their individual decisions as readers produce quite different reading experiences because they read quite different texts. This point receives quite a lot of attention and explication as it lets me illustrate what is at stake in the discussions about reading, meaning, and interpretation. Many students think that hypertext’s claim for different ‘readings’ is on a par with the soft serve post modernism they received in high school where they learnt that all interpretation is variable, to some extent individual, cultural and political. No. Hypertext’s claim is that each reader, by their actions, makes and reads a different text, which is a very different proposition to agreeing that we may have different interpretations of the same text.
I then ask the class to describe their experience of reading the hypertext. This usually produces a long list but within the terms several distinct clusters emerge, for example around repetition and looping, exploration and feeling lost, and narrative causation. A general discussion is then held about these properties, what they are, how they appear to be different in “Afternoon” to other stories the students have read, and to then ask why these differences might exist, and what their implications for the story (and reading) might be. Remember, the role here is not to provide a hermeneutic interpretation of “Afternoon” so much as to defamiliarise the students’ experience of reading by providing a reading context that, at first glance, appears to be so different from all their other reading experiences. Hence, the conversation continually tries to move away from a negative and reactive negation of the work (“it doesn’t work like a book so it is wrong/silly/stupid”) to productive questions about what it might mean for a story, for reading, and writing, when the reader appears to have to accept much more activity and responsibility than was previously the case.
It is around this point that I introduce another way of thinking about reading hypertext literature which is intended to locate hypertext outside of the domain of literature. This alternative relies upon cinema. I, and others, have argued elsewhere about the ways in which hypertext can be theorised as a post–cinematic writing, and the affinity that hypertext links appear to share with cinematic edits. I use the example of cinema in two fundamental, though related, ways. The first is to return to their experience of writing hypertext and to recast this as a cinematic practice. I do this by reminding them of the almost ‘self contained’ nature of the nodes in their hypertext, and that this makes them analogous to the shot in cinema. Each node, like a shot, is meaningful, in and of, itself, and so to some extent already whole, but each is also placed within differing series to build narrative sequences. In cinema this is through editing where shots are cut and placed in any variety of possible sequences to produce a narrative. In link node hypertext this is achieved through linking. I then suggest that in a system such as Storyspace each node can be literally thought of as a shot, and a link as an edit, and that the only deep difference it has to cinema is that in Storyspace each shot can now have an edit at different points, and can also exist in multiple sequences. In over ten years of teaching I have yet had a student suggest to me that this is not a reasonable claim.
The second example, which is a product of the first, relies on Kuleshov’s canonical examples from the early history of the cinema. In his experiments he used an identical shot of an actor’s face and in each case intercut it with something different (the specifics of the experiment seem to vary somewhat depending on which sources you rely on). Audiences interpreted the actor’s expression completely differently in each case — even though it was the same image each time. From this we can see that the meaning of a shot, and by implication a hypertext node, is not only based on what the shot or node contains, but on the sequences and series it is located within. “Afternoon”, of course, affords a simple and famous example as the node that contains “I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning” has quite a different significance if you arrive there immediately as a consequence of the default reading, or much later. This also applies with re–readings, where you may know the node exists, but when it appears is much more significant than just the fact of its appearance. This lets the class think about how it can be a strength for the style and content of nodes in a hypertext to be relatively poetic or abstract, less linear and causal, as in this way they can more easily be connected to other nodes, and so able to exist in multiple possible sequences. From this it is a simple step, though one that still takes considerable time to discuss and consider, to recognise that when reading hypertext the meaning and interpretation of the work is no longer simply understanding the content of each node but is very heavily dependent upon the sequences that the nodes form. What appears when, matters.
I make this even clearer by two simple exercises. The first is to invite students to work in small groups to describe four brief cinematic shots which could be rearranged into different sequences to see how these different arrangements produce quite different versions of what may have occurred. This helps make concrete the way in which what things mean in a hypertext is a combination of the content of the node and the sequence it is contained within. Therefore, if a node can appear in different points in a sequence, or within different sequences, then the way to understand a hypertext is to pay as much attention to where and when things appear as much as to what is written. This is quite distinct to the students’ existing experience of reading where they pay little attention to sequence and treat close reading as synonymous with having read all of the words (“cover to cover”). However, as they have learnt, sequence clearly matters, and in hypertext we have a system that allows for variable sequences within a single work so what it might mean to have read a hypertext comprehensively is in itself problematic. This provides material for further discussion around the question of what ‘comprehensive’ reading might mean in the case of hypertext, and what constitutes closure. This clearly has very strong affinities to the work of Douglas and Rosenberg and helps construct a conversation about the significant distinction between a comprehensive as opposed to a satisfactory reading of hypertext.
For example, the former retains connotations of having read all content nodes, with some sense of having also read, or having sufficient knowledge of, the possible sequences available. On the other hand the latter is a much more pragmatic experience where ‘comprehensive’ is no longer equated with such a sense of completeness but must now be negotiated between the reader, reading, and the text. The difference between these is largely a consequence of the respective materialities of print and hypertext. The print text is bound, linear and sequential which obviously has a beginning, middle and end making it trivial to equate comprehensive reading with reading it all. In the hypertextual case the materiality of the form provides no such empirical substrate so what counts as a complete reading must now shift from the object itself to the reader and the reading as an event.
In my experience, this discussion about what then is a ‘satisfactory’ reading in hypertext becomes significant. It helps the students to recognise that their existing model of reading as consuming all of a text just can’t work in these contexts. Once again, this difference is utilised to illustrate the distinctions between hypertext and literary texts, and the different competencies they require. It is also to make strange their default assumptions about what it means to not only read, but also what constitutes a whole text — when being able to read from beginning to end has been treated as the model for comprehensive reading what does this become when sequence always varies and the works have no materially determined scale?
Following the four shot, cinematic sequence, exercise students work in pairs to write their own version of a four node hypertext sequence where any node can appear in any point in the sequence. This sort of task makes very clear that if the writing within, or between, nodes is highly linear and sequential then the possible sequences that can be formed are highly constrained, but if the writing is more self contained and atomistic then it is easier to have them in multiple sequences. This allows for a consideration of the differences between these styles, how they might be combined, and more importantly to see the distinctions between a linear print model and the multilinear hypertextual form as about providing the opportunity for links to produce narrative structure in concert with the content of nodes.
Finally, this four node task is used to show that complex multisequential patterns can be produced through simple procedures. In the case of the four nodes there are twenty four possible combinations, and this complexity is achieved through a very simple constraint. For new readers and writers of hypertext this is important as many confuse complex structures with either link density or the development of overly elaborate trails and pathways through a work. However, as this task helps illustrate, complexity is able to be productively created through the iteration of a simple rule and it is this that allows for the formation of complex but intelligible patterns.
The idea of pattern, and hypertext as a post cinematic form, are then reapplied to the consideration of “Afternoon”. This leads to intriguing conversations about what sort of film it would be (Jean Luc Godard remains a popular choice for those with sufficient cinema history), and also to the recognition that a key facet of reading such work is the ability to identify and then interpret such recurring patterns.
All that I have described can take a semester of teaching to achieve, and is routinely repeated or alluded to in an ongoing way through other subjects. While I have no direct evidence that these students go on to be regular readers of hypertext works, or even hypertext authors themselves, anecdotally it is clear that they do develop a vocabulary of practice that they are able to successfully apply to the reading and writing of multilinear works. These skills have gone on to be used in a variety of different contexts, including in some cases the writing of academic hypertext essays in Storyspace, the development of interactive multilinear video works, and the writing of hypertexts using HTML. However, the most significant outcome that I seek to achieve from this teaching is for the students to recognise that they have been deeply acculturated to particular forms of reading and writing that are determined by print and that there are other ways of writing that can express knowledge and experience. These other ways require other literacies, or competencies, that are as legitimate, though different, to what we find in print literature and traditional academic writing. The role of repetition, linking, and the creation of meaning through sequence are highlighted, and become the basis by which they can appreciate and approach not only hypertext but other multilinear forms. The specificity of hypertext as a literary system is emphasised so that students do not make the error of disregarding or dismissing hypertext because it doesn’t appear to operate the same way as their more common experience of the novel and story. While this approach departs some way from more literary ways of approaching and teaching the reading of hypertext, I hope it is clear that it is quite easy to teach and learn that hypertext requires a specific reading practice, one that is no more arbitrary or complex that what we apply to more traditional texts, and that the hegemonic authority of existing paradigms of print literacy tends to obscure and obfuscate the actual qualities of hypertextual forms.
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