It was about a year ago that I wrote a piece for English Journal on teaching “blogging” vs. “writing with blogs” that was pretty much a re-hash of some blog posts that I thought were saying something. The trouble is, I wasn’t sure what they were saying. I’ve been fumbling at this one for a while.
I’ve always found something particularly special about writing online, or at least I’ve learned that there’re more options, more possibilities, and plenty of challenges that make writing online much more complicated than cutting and pasting a Word file into a text box and hitting “submit.”
But most folks that I see beginning to use digital writing spaces aren’t treating them any differently. And I can’t quite figure out why. I also can’t quite figure out how to articulate the differences, even though I think I get some, if not several, of them. And if I can’t articulate them, perhaps I can’t teach them. (Not sure about that, actually – but work with me.)
I think one good way to articulate some of the differences is to tell you a story. Here goes.
Tonight, I’m sitting in a local cafe, enjoying a cup of wicked sweet coffee and some tunes. As I wrote that last sentence, and added the links in, I wondered how you would read it. Are you someone who clicks on any link you see in a blog post? Or are you more like me? I use a browser that shows me the URL of the link I’m pointing to, saving me the trouble of traveling here if, after reading the URL, I see that I don’t need to follow the link, perhaps because I already know the site, or I don’t want to go to the site, because I’m worried about pop-ups, or a virus, or something that I don’t actually want to see. I love that browser, except when it leaks memory.
I could continue, but I think (hope) I’m making my point. I could have written that paragraph without the links – but I would’ve need an awful lot more details to tell you as much as I did with the links. And you each will have worked your way through that paragraph differently. Some of you read and clicked and fiddled. Others of you read differently. (Oh – and here’s a minor nit – but how many of you, in that last sentence, read, ahem, “read” in the past tense? Present tense? Language is hard. But anyway.)
I don’t know what my students do/did when they see blocks of text with links. And I’m 98 percent sure that there wasn’t another teacher in my school who was thinking about how to explain that to students, much less about how they read that text themselves.
Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.
Will Richardson asked me recently (well, it was two weeks ago – but that counts as recent if you forgive me the week I spent sick. And I do.) about connective writing, and what a course on it might look like. I blame him for the frustrated typing that I’m up to right now. And the posts that I suspect are forthcoming. (And I’m thankful, too. I needed a push.)
What would such a course look like? What would it cover? How would it differ from a “regular” (I know – bogus term.) 9th or 10th grade high school writing course? How would it be the same? (Why wait until high school? I’ve been thinking through blogs as science or inquiry notebooks at the elementary school level.) What happens when we add video(s)? Pictures? Embedded widgets? I’ve got to believe that some analysis of what links do and how they do it would be a necessary piece of any such course. So, too, would be copious quoting and linking to others, building a network of classroom texts that would be added to the greater networks of the world.
I’d kill to teach that class.
Perhaps I’ve stumbled across another thesis idea. Again. Nuts.
Postscript – I had thought that perhaps I’d dig into the research on hypertextual writing a bit before I started down this post. I know these ideas aren’t new. But I couldn’t help myself. I made it four pages into this fascinating article before I started writing. Worth a read, I think.