Hypertext and Composition
Tamara Kendig  

I hope that this document will become a compendium of useful information about hypertext and composition.  These ideas apply particularly to a first-year composition course, though they may be helpful for more advanced English courses on literature or writing.  Some of the information is personal experience, some from the personal experience of others, and some from the scholarly and theoretical work of those who have pondered the larger implications of hypertext and writing.  My objectives are to highlight areas that are currently of particular interest in the field of composition pedagogy and to encourage further exploration in the area of hypertext.
Definitions of Hypertext  Our Unit
Hypertext and the Classroom Endnotes
Hypertext Reading Appendix A: Storyspace visuals 
Reading Traditional Works in Hypertext  Appendix B: Charles May's Claims Summarized
Hypertext Writing Appendix C: Student Comments 
Group hypertext projects: Hyperessays Appendix D: The Writing Process 
My Project Appendix E: Student Papers
A Web Project Bibliography
Definitions of Hypertext

What is hypertext?  As with any academic question, the answer is more complicated than one would at first anticipate. "Hypertext" is often treated as a noun, when in fact the term very often functions as an adverb.  We write or read hypertext, but what that really means is that we participate in a form of communication that is not linear but, instead, jumps between various piece of texts (which may include sound and visual texts.)1  If you just read this endnote, you've operated in hypertext.  If you saved it for later, you have also operated in hypertext, by choosing to skip the link for now.  Either way, you have the option of checking out the endnote at some point.  Hypertext, I say, is adverbial in its main function, because it explains how we do reading and writing. The text is complete-- everything is still there, somewhere. Hypertext just points out that there are other ways to read and write besides starting from the beginning and going to the end.

The above paragraph is only one definition of hypertext.  Hypertext resides in many forms of communication already existent: books and papers with footnotes, indexes, magazines whose articles begin on page 30 and then jump to page 86.  Even novels whose intertextual allusions point to other works of literature or times in history utilize hypertext, as do time travel, quantum physics, and movies with flashbacks.  While all of these things are "hyper textual," which only means that there is more than one "space" of text available almost simultaneously, the phrase was initially invented to refer to computerized versions of hypertext.  Hypertext refers to "links" on a computer screen that, when activated, will bring the reader immediately to a new site of text, audio, video, etc.  A link may lead to only a brief sentence, to a paragraph, or to whole pages of new text.  These new texts may themselves contain links to even more new pieces of information.  These links are "hypertext" because they immediately bring the user out of one text and into another one that was, only moments ago, unavailable and un-accessible.

Hypertext is a very recent development that mainly appears on the "Internet" or the "World Wide Web," where highlighted words or buttons will take the user to any of a wide possibility of new sites relevant to the text to which it is linked.  This new site will have, most likely, a number of links in it as well.  In fact, the world wide web is comprised of a vast number of "linked" sites, all of which are examples of hypertext.  The system is open, meaning that any one web page can link to anything else on the web, including web pages produced by others.  To include a link to any site from one's own site is merely a matter of choosing to do so (and, according to the rules of "netiquette," asking permission).

This overwhelmingly large web of information is not the only place where one reads hypertext, however.  Also available are computer packages such as Storyspace and HyperCard.  These programs allow the construction of "closed" hypertext documents.  Links lead to other parts of the document, but none of the links leads outside the document.  The programs have been used to create a variety of resources: games, stories, and research documents are most familiar.  Computer games, in fact, are the prototype of hypertext in action.  These programs, like the Internet, allow the reader/player/researcher to exercise control over what will be read/played/examined next.

Hypertext and the Classroom

The fact that hypertext exists in many forms means that any discussion of hypertext is subject to the confusion of not knowing which type of hypertext is being discussed.  The contributions that hypertext in its many forms may make to the contemporary composition course are many, depending on which aspect of hypertext is under consideration.  For example, proponents of hypertext are quick to cite the increased "control" of the reader of hypertext as one of the benefits that reading hypertext provides.  Such a statement refers primarily to a closed hypertext document--a hypertext story or non-fiction reference work might be a good example.  In these types of hypertext, readers do, in a sense, have some control over their reading experience, though there is substantial support for the notion that hypertext links allow little more than the illusion of control.  The nature of the links is such that it is the writer, not the reader, who decides where links will actually go.  Furthermore, it is the writer who has full control over which parts of the text should have a link, and which should not.  The reader, then, is merely making choices within the parameters allowed by the writer.  It is also true that the reader often has no idea where a link will go, except to someplace somehow relevant to that part of the text now being read.  To actually find out what is there can be a matter of old-fashioned trial-and-error.

Such assessment is true to a more limited extent on the web, where a reader has the total field of the web to make choices about reading.  In fact, reading hypertext on the web, even more than in a closed hypertext document, presents the problem of accessing those sites that one wishes to read and avoiding those one doesn't in a system so large as to make a comprehensible visual diagram of all the options--which is often provided in a closed hypertext system--impossible.

Either form of hypertext could provide a valuable reading experience in a composition classroom such as the one described in the "Lehigh University First-Year Writing Program Policy Guidelines." Web-browsing certainly seems to "foster an inquisitive and questioning habit of mind" (Assumption 1).  For example, students already familiar with the web--even those not familiar with other aspects of computer technology--are apt to turn to the web for quick information on the subjects they are discussing in class.  I have had students look up a painting by Vermeer, only to discover that it's "real" name is different from the one printed in their reader--a discovery that suggested an entirely new meaning in the work.  The web had enabled many of them to "see" what the contextual words surrounding a painting can do to its "meaning."2  Other students found different links of value, which enabled us to discuss not only the value of "research" but also to see that what constituted "truth" was really a product of visibility (access on the web) and the "ethos" created by the writer.  Reading hypertext on the web opens up discussion for what makes a good "link," a profound example of why writing a paper requires not just "research," but "good research."

Moreover, by using hypertext on the web we are demonstrating for students "connected learning," (Assumption 3) particularly since so much information on the web is the unmediated product of personal interest locating and connecting to information that is the product of someone else's personal interest.  The web, perhaps more than any other form of communication, is a way of "listening in on public conversations about consequential issues" (Assumption 4) and, simultaneously, an illustration of how these conversations intersect and collide.  Research on the web is covered in Harold William Halbert's paper, but it seems important to note here that the research one does on the web is always already displayed inter-textually, as a discourse whose components connect in particular ways.  Highlighting this fact actually may further discussions of the decisions we make as we connect the ideas of others, fostering the notion that there is always a multiplicity of ways to combine and present information.

Even more than the endless supply of hypertext on the web, closed hypertext systems also contribute to current composition pedagogy.  Like hypertext on the web, these "closed" systems can be used to highlight the connections between pieces of information.  While the web increases an awareness of audience in one way (a larger audience than peers, but one whose feedback may never be heard), working with closed systems can demonstrate rhetorical components such as audience in an immediate way (a corollary of Assumption 2), as discussed by Stuart Moulthrop and Nancy Kaplan below.  Furthermore, writers using hypertext links need to provide the reader with a sense of "place" within the text.  They need to maintain a sense of continuity within an ongoing site, so that readers will be able to follow the flow of ideas even while they take note of the links available.  In Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing, Jay David Bolter asserts that hypertext may require MORE work on transitions than paper-bound writing because it requires both "departure" information and "arrival" information at the links.  The reasons for going to and for leaving a particular "writing space" need to be at any place within the document (Writing Space 61). This has not happened much on current hypertext documents, however.  In fact, hypertext fiction seems deliberately (sometimes almost viciously) contemptuous of the reader's need for transitions. Developing an appreciation for "good" links in writing class is certainly a challenging prospect; nevertheless, writing hypertext may be a useful process for discussion of the needs and demands of the audience.

Writing on closed hypertext systems can foster "connected learning" in ways similar to that on the web, but using more local "resources," such as the hyperessay project by Joel Haefner discussed below.  Closed hypertext systems such as Encyclopedia Britannica or on-line journals certainly are conducive to reading by "providing sources for the interpretations, analyses, and arguments that students wish to advance in their own essays," as suggested under Assumption 4 in the Policy Guidelines, but reading hypertext or constructing hypertext also can be useful in helping students make connections to others, particularly classmates, in their writing (again, Haefner discusses this). Bolter asserts that hypertext "might be the ideal medium for oral history" ("Bazaar" 7).  Group projects emphasizes personal narrative could be enriched wonderfully if the collaboration entailed hypertextualizing the various narratives of class members, whose coincidental or divergent experiences could be juxtaposed as a demonstration of differences and similarities of experience and how they make up our identity.

Because of this collaborative impulse, Assumption 5 under the Policy Guidelines may be the most affected by hypertext reading and writing.  Because hypertext work on the web is largely collaborative, the social construction of knowledge is readily apparent.  Nonetheless, closed hypertext documents, such as a class "hyperessay," would make readily apparent the community in which knowledge and writing are produced.  Interactive hypertext reading and writing projects are easily adapted to collaborative writing situations.  The notion of writing as process rather than product (Assumption 6) also is supported by hypertext programs and projects that encourage students to revise both locally and globally.  Jeanie Crain's article below demonstrates these possibilities.

One thing we need to be concerned with is whether students will begin using hypertext as a writing model.  Writing "hypertextually" is discussed below, under "Using hypertext programs for hypertext essays."  Here I will simply note that a single writer writing a hypertext essay presents some problems: first, it seems reasonable to think that our job actually consists of teaching first-year students, whose thinking is already rather hypertextual (associative, rather than linear), how to hammer those ideas into linear form.  In Writing Space, Bolter argues that hypertext collapses, or at least begins to collapse, the gap between thinking and writing (217).  Hypertext writing, from this perspective, can be an important part of moving toward linear writing but may be detrimental if students are encouraged to submit their work in hypertext form.  Group hypertext documents also are problematic.  Even though we lean toward a social epistemic paradigm and encourage our students to believe that knowledge is socially constructed, we still hold students individually responsible for the essays they write as individual authors--a requirement to which we apportion the overwhelming majority of their grade.  Group hypertext projects, like any group work, is difficult to evaluate on this individual basis.  In addition, hypertext documents must necessarily be graded on criteria additional to linear essays (not only links, but presentation, conception and "lay-out" of a multiple-dimension work), criteria on which we do not at this time wish to concentrate.  Finally, Bolter's assertion that hypertext will replace single authorship with pure collaboration presents an ethical dilemma to our current viewpoint on scholarship and copyrights.

Assumption 6, which emphasizes the process of writing over its product, may find hypertext writing a valuable ally.  Johndan Johnson-Eilola argues, based on his reading of Bolter's book, that hypertext is a must-have for any instructor who wishes to emphasize process over product.  For while the current paradigm stresses drafting and revision, it requires a final draft, suggesting that the work has been completed at a particular point: "Many writers do not consider the idea that re-drafting might allow them towork with multiple, equally valid texts; for such writers (who are, I would argue, the most common type of student writers), Draft (n) of an essay is necessarily superseded by Draft (n+1).  The process is lost in the product" (100).

Hypertext writing will allow them to work on their drafts without assuming that all must be discarded in favor of one perfect draft.  Their papers, then, do not need to be pared down to one claim supported by a linear arrangement of viable supporting arguments.  Their document can remain an ongoing work, something that they can add to and rearrange indefinitely.  Johnson- Eilola seems to be relying here on web-page examples.  Obviously, a deadline in a class setting would require that a students present an official "final" version of the document.  Johnson-Eilola's assessment, however, suggests that we could envision students' hypertext documents as "unfinished" because they are never printed out and submitted on paper.  Teacher or peer comments could be linked automatically to various parts of the paper and, in fact, become part of the document itself.

Johnson-Eilola also asserts that using a hypertext program such as Storyspace adds the additional burden of "visual rhetoric," the notion that computer-based writing may encourage accumulation over contemplation.  Because intertextual linking is so easy, links tend to accumulate without the necessary cognition and consideration we encourage students to give to their own ideas as well as their sources.

Since hypertext can easily become hypermedia, the expansion of student projects to include non-written materials must be considered.  While the novelty of additional media (video, audio) may distract students from their writing, it also may provide interest in, motivation for and increased relevance to student writing situations.  We will discuss this option below using an article by Mike and Anne DiPardos, but Daniel Anderson also discusses this possibility in his on-line article, "Not Maimed But  Malted: Nodes, Text and Graphics in Freshman Composition."  Anderson's article warns against the possibility that students utilizing visual images in their hypertext productions may naively assume that these visual images take the place of written examples.  In addition, hypertext writing often receives little editing attention because, he surmises, the focus is often drawn to other concerns, particularly the inclusion of additional media such as artwork or graphics (an observation that concurs with the assertions of Johnson-Eilola).  Rather than insisting that students avoid visual imagery, Anderson suggests that instructors use their inclusion as an opportunity to discuss the necessity of written commentary and explication for visual images students utilize in their work.  Since beginning writers often tend to struggle with the need to provide substantial explanation of the relevance of the quotes that they use in their papers, students stand to benefit from encouragement to pay particular attention to explanations of additional media.

Hypertext Reading

As we have seen, hypertext can be examined from a variety of perspectives.  For the sake of organization, we will look first at hypertext from the reader's perspective before moving on to think about hypertext and the writer.  Readers tend to find that reading hypertext can be both exhilarating and frustrating.  Because it is, in many cases, nearly impossible to find out how much of a hypertext document one has read, it is difficult to feel that one has ever finished reading.  This may be either encouraging (from the perspective of pedagogy), typical (from the perspective of post-modernism), or downright aggravating (from the perspective of the fact-finder).  We will work with "aggravating" first.

A typical hypertext experience that can result in frustration is research on the web. Halbert is covering this topic, so for now we will merely note what seems most basic.  Searching for information on the web can result in a severe case of information overload.  So does searching for information in libraries, one might argue, but libraries are arranged in such a way that you can tell fairly quickly whether a particular source is worth reading, or at least looking into.  Furthermore, readers of traditional books can know immediately how much of the book is left to read.  Readers of hypertext on the web usually do not have that option.  They didn't name it the web for nothing.  The same is true for closed hypertext works such as hypertext novels.  Also frustrating is the disorientation and confusion that results from arriving in the "middle" of a site.  Nor can readers of Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story ever "finish" reading the work, since there is no one site that is the "end."

The post-modern perspective recognizes that we are all rather disoriented anyway, and what happens in hypertext is no different from, say, reading a linear work by Pynchon or Borges, whose "Garden of the Forking Paths" frequently has been compared to hypertext fiction.  To move from one text to another is, as we have already seen, a rather common occurrence in other mediums. Hypertext documents, then, merely highlight an activity in which we already participate.  Reading a hypertext work provides a valuable insight into the way we make and store knowledge. Who, after all, hasn't read a book by its index?  Furthermore, since students today have grown up during a period of "choose-your-own-adventure video games," they do not share the sense of discomfort felt by many teachers.  In my class, students seemed, initially, unfazed by the notion of hypertext--either on the web or on a closed system.  Yet once we actually started to do research on the web, and once they actually experienced reading hypertext fiction, students were much more impressed with what hypertext could mean and do.  Hypertext seems most useful, in fact, when it is seen as strange or "messed up," as one student put it, particularly when its "differentness" is used to illuminate the expectations we hold for reading that linear texts have both created and fulfilled for so long. Similarly, post-modernism itself exists more concretely through descriptions of what it is not rather than what it is.

Because computerized hypertext is a new medium, reading hypertext can provide some exciting opportunities to read in new ways.  Hypertext fiction is, as Howard Becker asserts, a new art form, one that focuses our attention on the art of reading like nothing else (1).  Because links are still new, they catch our eyes, make us stop and think.  Where would we like to go next?  Why is "here" a good place to branch off into "there"?  What reactionary train of thought are we boarding now? What will we "lose" if we choose not to go?  By suggesting that there is more to the story than meets the eye, the hypertext reading experience also complicates our reading, requiring new levels of cognition in which we hold many pieces of a story or a topic in our minds at once, not knowing when a new piece will be added that will join them together or complicate them further.  We can become more aware of the choices the writer is making as we follow links in a particular direction, go back, follow a link in a new direction, and so on.

Hypertext can, in fact, make us part of the writing process as well.  Each combination of links that we choose in a hypertext fiction, for example, creates a whole new story, one that we ourselves help to write.  Likewise, our pathways through the web are uniquely ours because of the order in which we decide to link. Thus, reading hypertext suggests what we have been asking our students to consider for years: each text asks the reader to put together a particular reading, one based on the reader's interests and needs as much as the writer's.  In this sense hypertext does relinquish some control of the text as it is assumed by the reader.

Projects for Hypertext Reading

It may be helpful to consider some concrete ways in which reading hypertext has been used in the classroom.  These projects have been attempted by various English teachers at the college level who have used hypertext to add complexity and depth to student reading experience, help students identify and understand the narrative choices made by writers in traditional works of fiction, or focus students on the act of writing.  We will consider here two types of projects, reading hypertext stories and reading traditional works in hypertext.

Reading Hypertext Stories

In an article entitled "Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction," Stuart Moulthrop and Nancy Kaplan discuss their use of Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story and other hypertext fictions as assignments for their first-year students.  The most compelling claim that Moulthrop and Kaplan make for their experiment is that interactive fiction--fiction in which the reader makes decisions about where in the text to go next--helps students to gain a sense of power in their reading and in their writing.  Because "the literary object lies outside them," students tend to rely on the authority of the teacher to either confirm or deny their attempts at finding that "right" object: "As readers of literature, students tended to find themselves passive receivers of an authorized canon, a set of static objects to be contemplated," a "social act" (8-9).  This approach toward reading is at odds with what we try to teach students about their own writing, in which we emphasize "spontaneity, collaboration, and process."  Interactive fiction, argue Moulthrop and Kaplan, refuses to yield a closed, empirically "correct" reading, and in doing so confirms our assertions about writing as a process always open to input and adjustment.

As teachers of writing, we encourage students to assume authority even as, as teachers of literature, we encourage them to appreciate the genius and originality of a particular author.  Since students have learned through years of schooling that "knowledge is not developed communally but disseminated hierarchically," their attempts to assert authority are often empty imitations, valiant attempts to enter a community from which they are excluded (10).  Interactive fiction puts some degree of control into the hands of these students, who can begin to take a role in the works that they read.  Their reading experience benefits from this spontaneity, even as they become aware of the conventions of reading fiction that their choices must violate (12).

Because Joyce's hypertext is more complex than many, it yields a particularly interesting reading experience.5  It cannot be read as if it were a printed book whose texts can be read in a predictable order.  Reading afternoon: a story is a different experience for every reader, and each reader comes away from the story with a different version of what happened.  As Moulthrop and Kaplan point out, there is no one right way to read the work.  More importantly, the reader must take an active role in shaping the narrative.

The theoretical benefits of having students read a work like Joyce's are many, and my own hypertext "experiment" simulates Kaplan's and Mouthrop's.  Most important is the way that it allows students to analyze literature without coming up with the "correct," reductive reading.  Furthermore, the reading experience takes place on the same computer screen at which the students themselves create their own work, bringing the sense of reading and writing closer together.  Finally, Moulthrop and Kaplan's students felt "enfranchised" in their relationship to literature and also in their own writing. There were some glitches, of course.  Students, like any reader of hypertext, were perplexed by the difficulty of knowing when they were finished.  Initial responses voiced confusion at the seemingly irrational disorder of the stories they read.  Benefits included the tendency to read in groups to discuss their reading strategies and impressions.  Most rewarding was the sense that students felt engaged because they were no longer waiting for a decree on the "correct" meaning of the works: "By initiating a sharing of authority over the structure of the text, [hypertext fictions] specifically empower readers to ask how and why the narrative has been delimited" (17).  This gesture toward interaction is, Moulthrop and Kaplan note, not truly interactive, but the occasional (or pervasive) sense that one is being controlled contributes all the more to a critical approach toward these works. Several of their students were motivated to try writing interactive fictions themselves.  The novelty and aura of subversion surrounding the medium did seem to be responsible for the extra work that students produced.

Moulthrop and Kaplan do not speculate much on how reading interactive fiction might have affected their students' writing non-fiction, linear essays.  They suggest that a positive hypertext fiction reading experience would contribute to a greater understanding of point of view, narrative authority and causal sequence, though they do not discuss any student essays that exhibit this development.  A closer connection made between reading hypertext and writing linear text does seem to have good potential for increasing student awareness of elements of writing such as these.  As far as I know, such a project has yet to be undertaken.

Reading Traditional Works in Hypertext

In the 1995, Charles May published an anthology, Fiction's Many Worlds, through D.C. Heath. Included with the anthology was a software package that included both the stories in the anthology, and, arranged hypertextually, reading "prompts" dispersed throughout the story.  The program was developed by May in an effort to get his own students to read more closely and thoughtfully the traditional works of fiction he was assigning.  May asserts that this approach dramatically increased his students' performance both as readers and writers.

May relates his approach to teaching fiction to Edgar Allan Poe's aesthetic of plot development. Poe, says May, suggested that plot should be created so that no part of it could be omitted without the story falling apart.  (Ironically, this is precisely what Michael Joyce insists cannot--or at least should not--be the objective for his hypertext fiction.)  The point, according to May, is that a story's "theme" or "value" is not the product of linear plot development; instead it is "something not measured by minutes or hours, but by intensity."  Of course, stories cannot be entirely removed from time, or they threaten their own coherence.  We'll discuss this tension further in a later section, but for now we will focus on May's program, which "frees" stories from their necessarily linear development by asking students, as they are reading through the story, to stop and think about what the story is presenting simultaneously with the plot's development.

Using Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" as an example,  May describes how the story is interrupted by "pop-ups"--light bulbs that appear on the screen along with a question about the story's development.  Typical questions include "Why does the story take place at carnival time?  Consider the theme of 'supreme madness' and the way Fortunato is dressed."  Students are then directed to an empty writing space in which they can write their response before reading on.  At other points, the story is interrupted by an icon that asks students to brainstorm some connections and write a few paragraphs about the story: "Write a paragraph in which you discuss the relationships between the following themes in the story: Montresor's coat of arms, the motto of Montresor's family, the criteria for a successful revenge Montresor sets up, the basic relationship between Fortunato and Montresor."

May's program offers several advantages, which I have included in Appendix B to save space.  A few things seem particularly relevant to our concerns here.  First, May's prompts are, he admits, an imposition of "control" in a situation where students gain the impression that they are making their own meaning from the story.  They seem, from the illustrations he offers, to be able to go on and apply their new reading "technique" to other works of fiction, an activity some have found increased enjoyment in doing.  He seems to be provoking something along the lines of a new critical "close reading" on the part of his students.  While this is certainly a desirable skill, he freely admits that this is a highly directed reading process which, from my perspective, offers little creativity for his students (see point 6 in the Appendix).  How can they avoid all writing the same paper if they are responding to prompts at the same points in the story?  Explorations of other themes in the story are severely restricted, and yet students leave the experience with the understanding that their one reading of the story is "correct."  Thus May's approach counteracts the advantage of hypertext posited by Moulthrop and Kaplan that every reading is a misreading that we alone must create.

Thus, the software seems a valuable way of empowering student readers even as it subtly denies them the power to which they feel they have access.  In the end, the students may become closer readers and write better papers, but the individual instructor may decide that the aftertaste of dishonesty is not worth it.  Others, of course, will argue that imposing a particular viewpoint on a piece of literature comprises a majority of traditional teaching activities anyway.  Point taken.

May also suggests that simply having students read on the computer makes them sit up and pay attention more than reading out of a book.  The down side, of course, is that students need dependable access to a computer to complete their assignment, something not always available to students living off-campus who can't afford a computer or, like one of my students, athletes whose only chance of getting work done is on the team bus after a game.  This obstacle, though, seems negotiable for most and, in the future, probably all.  Then again, one wonders if computers will be as stimulating for readers once reading on computers becomes more naturalized.

While May's software idea does have its drawbacks, it certainly seems worth exploring. Particularly intriguing is May's assertion that his software helps students focus on "patterns" rather than "particulars."  May asserts that students were able to transfer the reading skills gained using the hypertext program to their reading of traditional paper-bound works: "Students were able to isolate the significant issues, focus on the meaningful nodes, link motifs in the story to related motifs and generalize about these issues without getting bogged down in simple plot summary or the mere citation of specific details."  The ability to "subordinate all other issues" to an abstracted pattern is valuable, so long as students do go on to insist on one particular pattern throughout all their future readings.  In other words, pattern, according to May, is within the arrangement of the language of the story.  Suppose the prompts embedded in a story were not new critical, but psychoanalytic.  It is quite possible that students would begin to read all works psychoanalytically, to the exclusion of other viable "patterns" in the story.  This contention may seem a bit extreme, and it seems likely that once this type of software becomes more widely available, a whole range of critical approaches could be embedded into the fiction we assign to students.  The method, then, seems promising, even if it needs some more discussion.

Hypertext Writing

We will move on now to the topic of hypertext writing, where we will discuss four aspects: linear essays written with the hypertext software Storyspace, more collaborative essays written with Hypercard, hypertext essays, and collaborative hypertext essays.  Writing hypertext (here we are using the term adverbially) can mean several things.  One can use hypertext to construct a document that will be arranged linearly in its final form.  Or one can write a hypertext document by using a closed hypertext writing system, such as Storyspace or HyperCard, or even a multi-media project that involves not only writing but video, liquid crystal display, audio CDs, and so on.  A third option is to design a web site using a program that converts word processing into web-readable format. Each of these options presents new challenges and opportunities for writers to sharpen their skills and their understanding of writing.
Using Storyspace for linear essays

Storyspace is just one of many available hypertext programs available for IBM-compatible or MacIntosh systems, and it should be coming to Lehigh in the fall of 1997.  Its familiarity in English departments may be due to the fact that Michael Joyce designed most of its functions before (or while) going on to become one of the most recognizable authors of hypertext fictions.  I will include Howard Becker's easy summation of what Storyspace can do: Storyspace "allows you to do the following: create pieces of text of any size, symbolized on the screen by a small box with a title; link those pieces of text by drawing a line between them; control the reader's access to these texts by specifying that Text B, for instance, can only be read by those who have already read text A and have also chosen a particular word in Text A; make many links, if desired, from one text, so that the reader may return to the same material from many places, each reading being conditioned by the differing materials which have preceded it; make all these mechanisms as clear or as opaque as the author wishes."  The author can also see and overview of the resulting organizational plan, thus gaining a holistic view of the texts and links (See Appendix A).   Reorganization is a matter of changing links between various boxes.  The resulting work can be exported into a linear document, or remain in hypertext on the computer.

Eastgate systems, producers of Storyspace, have included at their web site an article on using Storyspace in a writing class. Jeannie Crain describes her experiences using Storyspace in her writing courses at Missouri Western State College.  Crain used the program to design prompted pre-writing, drafting, and revision exercises used in several writing assignments. Because Storyspace allows the opening of texts "behind" texts, Crain was able to place prompts in various "boxes" in which students constructed parts of their drafts in a series of steps.  Once a prompt was read, the student could open a box and begin writing behind that prompt.  The writing could then be linked to the prompted writing in other boxes to form a more substantial piece of writing.  The result was a "remarkable" increase in detail and organization.

One of the benefits Crain cites is the ability, using Storyspace, to focus on process.  Because the prompts are already there to "assist" students as they begin writing, the teacher is available as a sort of Elbow-Murray-ish consultant for students using an AI program, "responding to real writing problems" rather than, presumably, responding to the confusion of students who don't know how to get started and tend to goof off because of it.  The program encourages large scale revision rather than merely editing, since large chunks of text can be moved around easily and since one can try out or discard any number of possible links.  Other perks are the adaptability of the program, which is great for note-taking, collaborative writing, and sound or video media (which could certainly add interest to an assignment).  Comments, by the teacher or by peers, can be nested behind words or whole paragraphs.  Storyspace, she says, is easy to use, since it operates with a button menu whose functions are quickly apparent.  Furthermore, documents can be examined in outline, chart or map mode, allowing a visual image of organization.

Since more complex documents will involve a larger number of screens and links, the potential for one to be "lost" in one's own document increases as the document grows.  This did not seem to be a problem in Crain's classes, though should certainly be considered by those planning to implement Storyspace for longer papers or collaborative works.  Crain does not detail how a hypertextual draft becomes a linear paper, although that is clearly the end product she required.  Since Storyspace documents can be exported into most word processing programs, drafting linear papers in hypertext is feasible.  How hypertext becomes linear is not addressed in this article, and the process (and logic) of going from one to the other certainly needs to be addressed before such a teaching tool is implemented. Crain remains enthusiastic: "In short, I have found no tool more useful in teaching students the writing process--or, as some of us prefer to say, the writing processes."  I might add that, while focusing on process is certainly something most writing teachers are committed to these days, the demand for product--a linear, paper-text product--still stands.

Some questions remain.  However user-friendly the program may seem to be, it will still require a certain amount of time to orient one's self to using the program.  Thus, it might be most useful not for one-time assignments but rather, as Crain herself demonstrates, through a series of papers in which students will become more familiar with the technology as they go.  This leads to another question: if using Storyspace or some other hypertext program becomes part of one's writing process, what will one do without it?  Can one take the process-oriented steps learned in Storyspace and utilize them for writing when the program is no longer available?  One would hope so.  This has yet to be shown, however, and it seems likely that, while the prompts themselves may be valuable coaching tools, a high level of experimentation and large-scale organizational revision may not continue if they are no longer supported by the technology.

Using Hypercard

A similar project is described by Anne DiPardo and Mike DiPardo, a teacher and a computer analyst who worked together to design a composition project on Hypercard.  At this point, Hypercard is only available for MacIntosh systems.  Their project involved a five-step process that assisted students in writing a "metapersonal essay," a narrative essay that led to some analytical discovery.  The project was warranted, contend the DiPardos, because of the difficulty students having taking personal narratives in the direction desired by writing teachers: a synthesis of personal experience and analytical thinking that describes an event in a person's life leading to a revelation about some truth.

Their discussion includes a brief overview of current thought on the appropriateness of personal narrative in composition class, citing Linda Flower's discussion of "writer-based" narratives that describe an event but avoid any meaningful analysis.  Harold Rosen, they point out, objects to her concerns on the grounds that improved storytelling ability is in itself a worthwhile goal, at least as worthwhile as expository writing (10).  They find somewhat of a compromise in Robert Connors, who points out that the important part of narration is its relevance to abstract generalization.  The DiPardos agree: "Certainly one of the major challenges before any teacher, but especially a teacher of writing, is to locate those dynamic points of connection where experience gives rise to inquiry--to meet students on their own turf, yes; but also to guide them to a vision of how their own worlds connect to the larger human experience" (11).

The DiPardos also anticipate concerns by those who think that writing traditional essays is difficult enough for students.  Asking students to work in a more complex format is "yet another ball to keep airborne" (12).  They point out that student writing assignments ask students to make connections, between themselves and others, between their thoughts and their words.  In this way, hypertext can become "a container well-suited to the burgeoning networks of a writer's richer thoughts."  Hypertext encourages exploration that is not constrained by the demands of a linear format, something that students can then work on later.

Hypercard terms each series of links "stacks," and the project the DiPardos designed provides "help stacks" that work much like the prompts included by Crain in Storyspace.  Their project also is designed to be somewhat collaborative: students brainstorm on their papers together, work-in-progress is stored in a class "databank" where peer responses could be entered in the stacks as well.  They also envisioned a final class "magazine" of collected papers accessible to future students.

The bulk of their project consisted of a series of five assignments that led students from a personal narrative toward a "metapersonal" narrative that was more reflective and analytical.  The first stack was an assignment to write a personal story, while the second assignment stack focused on writing an expository essay that will be linked to the first story.  The third and fourth stacks allowed students to move between personal narrative and expository writing, and the fifth stack was an assignment that asked students to create a linear essay from the two different tracks they had been exploring. Included in the stacks were prompts to help students focus their ideas and sample essays.  Also included was a stack of pictures the DiPardos called "LifeScenes" that could inspire students during brainstorming, a space for taking notes during pre-writing, and a stack where students could record their questions and concerns for the teacher to address.

The students thus wrote a narrative essay that was available on screen as they wrote an expository essay stemming from a generalized issue or idea that their story evoked.  Students could then design links between their narrative essay and their expository essay to demonstrate the relevance of the experience to the idea.  The next two assignments mirrored each other: in one, students wrote a narrative essay with links (the DiPardos call them "pop-up windows") to expository idea exploration, while the other asked students to write an expository essay with links to narrative examples.  The goal is the final essay, in which students write an essay that is both "exploratory" and "metapersonal" (14):

        Our hope is that the earlier assignments will make students more conscious
        of their navigations between personal and public interests, and that this awareness
        will encourage them to compose linear texts that are at once spirited and inclusive,
        both personally engaged and attentive to a reader's needs and interests. We hold
        that our best writing (and thinking) always dances between the private and public;
        and while hypertext can make it more alien, it is the dynamic of this dance that
        makes any writing--including linear, academic discourse--both powerful and
        engaging. (14)

The DiPardos admit that their project is "minimally hypertextual" (15) and in fact is a piece of CAI (Computer-Aided Instruction) whose value lies in the ability of the teacher to manipulate it to conform to his/her own pedagogical aspirations.  They encourage individual use of computer technology and look forward to shared information about how computers can be used to aid composition instruction in a variety of ways.

What the DiPardos encourage, however, means little without shared information about what and how well a particular approach can achieve, where that achievement fits into the composition theory of a particular instructor, and so on.  In fact, the DiPardos omit any information about how well their program "worked": What kinds of writing did their students produce that they did not produce before?  Was it more reflective?  More concise?  Clearer?  Longer?  Did it lead students to a new conception of writing as a way to make sense of their experience?  The implications are such that we would expect students to utilize this program to better understand the relationship between personal experience and communal knowledge.  Did this happen?

Crain's and the DiPardos' articles leave us with the sense that computer-aided writing is something that could very well rely on hypertext programs that utilize Storyspace or Hypercard.  How and why a teacher would decide to use it depends on that teacher's own beliefs about writing: what it is for, how it gets done, and why it matters.  I would echo the DiPardos suggestion that teachers begin experimenting; however, sharing the results of those experimentations is much less valuable if the results do not discuss what has been changed for the students themselves as they write using these new adaptations.

Using hypertext programs for hypertext essays

Another option for hypertext writing involves students using hypertext to create hypertext documents.  Instead of using a hypertext writing program during the production of a linear essay, the hypertext process remains a hypertext product.  In fact, Jay David Bolter asserts that the appropriate medium for hypertext writing is hypertext reading ("Alone" 11).  In other words, using hypertext to create paper documents constricts the form; hypertext should be read hypertextually. This may affect composition pedagogy in a variety of ways.  For example, hypertext writing resists maintaining a single viewpoint.  Therefore, argumentation could remain unresolved, suggesting that the writer doesn't have to choose a position for a position paper.   All viewpoints can be incorporated into a hypertext document, and none needs to emerge the "winner."  According to Bolter, electronic writing "suggests that the writer need not and perhaps cannot reduce a complex network of evidence to a single line of argumentation" ("Alone" 11).  While many would agree that this can certainly be valuable, it does seem to alter what we expect of our students when it comes to making claims and supporting them.  Hypertext writing might free them from a reductive approach to a particular topic, but it may also alleviate their responsibility for making decisions or for supporting their opinions as worthwhile opinions.

In a sense, this is what social epistemicists have been striving for in recent years.6  The notion that "consensus" is a collaborative, polyvalent process is confirmed in hypertext.  Bolter refers to hypertext as the "electronic bazaar."  Writing becomes "a collection of communal interest groups held together by associations that cross and recross" ("Alone" 13).  To abandon linear essays in favor of hypertext, he suggests, is to "sacrifice the orderly sense of traditional community in order to achieve the spontaneity of the bazaar."  However apocalyptic this may sound, it does sort of echo the post-modern notion that there is no longer a set of "shared values" constructing our sense of knowledge.

John Madritch wrote a very interesting paper discussing the relationship Bolter describes between deconstruction and hypertext.  Both emphasize the "signness of the sign," thus breaking down the hierarchical authority of the writer over the reader.  Deconstruction and composition pedagogy seem to have a pretty tense relationship, and it seems like hypertext, for Bolter at least, is working on the side of deconstruction.  Yet there remains the potential problem of how to maintain for our students their sense of authority in their writing.  Hypertext, because it makes obvious its abdication of some of this authority to the reader, may compromise that effort.  In the context of the Bartholomae-Elbow debate, Bartholomae, who argues that students should learn right off that their "authority" is constructed, would seem to appreciate the implications of hypertext, while Elbow, because he insists that we need to clear a "space" for student writing, might consider hypertext an obstruction for students attempting to gain authority in their writing.

Whether or not one cares to incorporate post-modern theory into composition pedagogy, hypertext does seem to promote a sense of collaboration between writers--and their readers.  Again Bolter's work becomes important, since his claims for hypertext include the blurred distinction between writers as a positive contribution.  Because computers "solve once and for all the problem of retrieval," they tend to encourage a collapse of the gap between thinking and writing.  Using "links" to refer the reader to another's work, or to other parts of one's own work, would seem to transcend the need for transitions, for carefully arranged linear organization, and even, in a way, paragraphing. Nevertheless, Bolter asserts, hypertext may actually require MORE work on transitions, since readers need to understand immediately where they are in the context of the site to which they have just arrived.7  Thus assignments that ask students to design hypertext may actually enforce our efforts to encourage audience awareness.  Furthermore, since publishing hypertext documents on the web suggests a wider audience than students could realistically consider addressing in standard essays, publishing students' work on the web may expand their concept of audience awareness even more.
Group hypertext projects: Hyperessays

Joel Haefner experimented with group hypertext writing assignments at Illinois State University, with some rather surprising results.  He assigned a "hyperessay" in his advanced writing course in which each student contributed an essay that was then linked to essays from other students in the class. Haefner's expectation was that students would see their hyperessay as a "cultural product," the result of the community speaking.  The students used Writing Circles, a program similar to HyperCard. The concept that changed most for these students, however, was not audience, but author.

The students had the capability to choose which blocks of text they would link to other blocks of text.  They could also "stack" blocks of commentary to any block of original text they chose and link these commentaries to the original essays.  In addition, they could import any of their other essays and link blocks or whole essays to their blocks of comments that could also be linked to the class essay.

While collaborative writing has become an important paradigm for writing pedagogy, writing a hyperessay as a class tended to diminish students' sense of authority to what was, for some of them, an alarming degree.  Haefner reports that many of the students felt a decreased sense of ownership over their work, describing the experience, in one very extreme case, as rape.  Haefner adds that student essays were made public in other forms: posted on a conference board, on-line discussion groups (Daedalus), peer reviews and workshops, though none of these other "publications" of students essays seemed as disturbing as the hyperessay project.

Haefner theorizes that these responses were the result of the class authorizing links and commentary not favored by the writers themselves, who saw their essays lose shape and "completeness" as they were linked to the hyperessay.  Students understood immediately that their essays were no longer their own, but the product of the community.  This assignment proved more disturbing for women students than men, he notes, suggesting that gender plays an important role in the use of technology.

Haefner argues that what emerged from the hyperessay assignment was actually something of a new type of rhetoric: "What would a rhetoric of the hyperessay look like? To speculate, based
on my own and my students' experience: we may retain some questions of voice, style, reader response, content, but they will be reshaped, recontextualized.  What will be important is a rhetoric of the link--the dynamics of hypertextual links, how links change voice, style, argument, reader response, content, etc. (9)

The implication is that writing group hypertext essays is really a different type of writing entirely.
The question remains whether or not, as society becomes increasingly dependent on computerized versions of knowledge, this new rhetoric will be a more central form of communication.  If so, group hypertext projects may become an important addition to writing pedagogy.  As for what the hyperessay contributes to traditional essay writing, more research is needed.  Such an assignment could quite possibly increase an understanding of authority even in personal essays, since students are now more aware of what they are NOT including as well as what they are.  Voice could be similarly affected from students attempting to distinguish their own voice from that of their peers.  An increased perception of audience, too, may result from a hyperessay, whose contributors have observed what their collaborators--who are also their audience--could add to their work.

My Project

Several options seemed possible to me as I contemplated the incorporation of hypertext "experiments" with my students.  Some were discarded immediately, while others were given serious consideration before they, too, hit the floor.  Because it seemed unfair to drag my students too far into unknown territory, I did not want to engage them in a project entirely different from our study of "Themes in Multicultural Literature."  Nor did I want to invest more class time than necessary on learning new technologies.  In the end, my use of hypertext in the course was minimal, and focus on the experience of reading hypertext rather than writing it.  This is due, in part, to lack of access to any hypertext software and a concern that the project remain within the guidelines of the "Student Guide to First-Year English."


Having borrowed a demonstration disk of Storyspace, I thought about what having such a program might do for a writing course.  Detailed descriptions of Storyspace abound, so I will relay only personal impressions of the demo version.  The technology seemed easy enough, since many of its functions seem similar to a windows-based word processing program.  The functions of the additional buttons along the side, which allowed highlighting, linking, tunneling, and note-making seemed fairly clear and easy to learn.  Somewhat more disorienting were the various options for viewing the text, either as a map (with blocks arranged spatially), a tree (set sideways), an outline (traditional looking) or a chart (which looked a lot like the other three).  Another initial difficulty was returning to a link once I had moved on. Some personal time with the program would definitely be needed to orient one's self.

Although I would have liked to use Storyspace in my course, I remained a bit skeptical of how beneficial a program like this would be for a first-year writing class.  While Storyspace seemed enormously useful to me for writing things like dissertations or even longer research papers, using it to write a three-to-five page paper might be like using a chain saw to sharpen a pencil.  How much "linking" do we really ask of students?  Transitions are something I often emphasize, and Storyspace actually might make them seem irrelevant--at least until it came time to hand in the linear final paper. While they are in much of our communication, transitions (and the logical train of thought that they demonstrate) are an important part of the kinds of writing we ask of students.  On the other hand, I imagine students would find the options for visually contemplating their organization helpful; as Jeanie Crain asserts, it might even encourage them to focus on "global" revision issues such as reorganizing paragraphs.  And, as Crain demonstrates, Storyspace allows the teacher to provide the students with prompts as they write, helping to keep them focused in a particular direction.

Since we do not have access to Storyspace, I was unable to try any use of Storyspace in class.  If I were to try it, I would probably try to emulate Crain's experience and then move on to explore Storyspace as a tool for other group projects--peer revision, collaborative writing assignments, or "research" work may yield some interesting and helpful assignments on Storyspace.

A Web Project

The next project I did not try was to use the discussions of the book we were reading to create a hypertext document on the web.  For this unit we read Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, an assignment that my students found both easy and difficult.  Erdrich's prose is straightforward and not sentimental, her contemporary subject matter is something new for many students, and her characters are complex but likeable.  The novel, however, is actually a series of short stories that are not arranged in chronological order.  There are many characters, none of which can be identified as the main character, and several interwoven family trees.  Students seemed absorbed by these characters as their personalities and relationships unfolded, yet, as one student put it, "I can't ever remember what happened when."

After working out the several family trees and identifying important dates in the book, we were still struggling to keep things straight.  It was at this point that I thought that we, as a class, could publish a Love Medicine web page that would link the characters, their deeds, and their relationships with each other, to the major themes that we had identified in the novel.  The project would involve each member of the class becoming a "specialist" on a particular character, whose actions, relationships, and personal history would all be "linked" to the other characters.  That we are inextricably bound to one another is one of Erdrich's main themes; we would demonstrate this.  These different blocks of information would also be linked to relevant themes.  The project would allow all of the members of the class quick answers to any questions they had about the nuts and bolts of the novel.  It would get them writing about the novel as a way to understand it.  It would make them rely on each other, and on themselves, as readers and observers.  It would fulfill my case study for my computer class.

It would also complicate things immensely.  When would we get this done?  Would this "count" as a paper?  If not, would we use the time we would be spending writing our papers doing something else?  Something more valuable?

In a way, yes.  My students were, as yet, not familiar enough with the novel to write about it, and writing about it would be a way to enforce the notion that we write to learn.  Yet as useful as I thought this project might be, I simply hadn't built that sort of time frame into our course schedule. We needed time to learn a new technology (or I could have put together the page myself after class using their instructions for what should link where).  We needed time to hammer out what characters, actions, themes, and relationships were important enough to write about and where we should put links.  However much I wanted to do this project, I--or they--would have been linking the papers after they had written them, when they no longer would find the web page of use or interest.  In addition, the only paper assignment I could think of at the time involved something like a character analysis, which we had already worked on for an earlier work (I had asked them what "causes" were behind various characters' behavior in August Wilson's Fences).

Furthermore, wouldn't nailing down all of the components of the story once and for all sort of defeat the purpose?  Isn't that why I refused to hand out an pre-designed family tree and time line that provided students an easy reference--a too easy reference?  Wasn't that the point Erdrich was making by deliberately arranging her collection as a novel and by refusing to explain all of the characters in a clear and consistent, up-front way?  Aren't we trying to make a multi-cultural work more, well, digestible for minds trained to read and appreciate only "traditional" literature?  Why did my students feel that they had to work so hard to make a clear, linear story when the author might not necessarily insist that they do so?

This thinking led me to the idea of asking students to focus on their experience reading the novel rather than asking them to develop a claim about the novel itself.  Since it can be difficult to get students to understand that writing--anyone's writing--is a set of authorial strategies rather than divine inspiration, a comparison to another set of authorial strategies seemed like a good way to ask students to relax in their attempts to nail down the details of the story and instead examine the way that the story was put together.  Our experiment involved hypertext reading more than hypertext writing. Janet Wright Starner and David Leight had asked their class to read both Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story and Carolyn Guyer's Quibbling.  After reading afternoon: a story myself, I remembered feeling terribly disoriented, with no firm grasp of how to go about putting the pieces back together, and I made some immediate connections between my reading experience and that of my students with Love Medicine.  The refusal to deliver a linear story, the haphazard and casual introduction of characters, and the increasingly complex relationships between characters were, to me, very similar. I decided to ask students to read hypertext fiction to determine if they, too, had a similar reading experience.

The resulting writing assignments are attached.  Students were given two options: write a paper comparing their reading experience with Love Medicine to their reading experience of either afternoon: a story or Quibbling, or, using their experience with reading hypertext, devise a way to go about writing a web document that would explain the novel and its many "links" in a clear and organized way.  There were several reasons why I chose these two options.

First, I have been working very hard to get students to discuss works of literature as pieces of creation, the product of authorial decisions rather than a divinely inspired occurrence.  So far, students had become so absorbed in the novel that they had a hard time not discussing the characters as real, as people to "love" or "hate."  While I was glad that they were connecting to the work so closely, it seemed important to make them understand that these "people" are the result of an extensive amount of work by Erdrich.  This assignment would ask them to focus not so much on the daily drama of the novel but on its design and function as a piece of communication.

Second, our discussion of multi-cultural literature has focused particularly on language and on alternative ways of communicating.  Erdrich's novel uses techniques found in works by many contemporary writers of color, and the first assignment would further that discussion by asking students to compare Erdrich's innovations with other innovative techniques.  The second assignment, I surmised, would lead students to the conclusion that understanding the novel as a whole (which one student compared to putting together a jigsaw with some pieces always missing) can only yield another complicated and interconnected system--a truth implicit in many multi-cultural works.

Third, the assignment would honor the students' experiences.  Instead of insisting that they make sense of a perplexing reading experience, the assignment asks them to focus on what they do know: what it was like for them to read the work.  Since there were some students who had an easier time putting the parts of the novel together and were therefore able to contribute more to discussions of theme and organization, the second assignment would, hopefully, provide a way for these students to display their mastery.

Fourth, students were asked to spend at least an hour reading one of the two hypertext works.  Since they were not required to read every link in the works, they could concentrate on what it was like to read the work rather than what the work was about.  Their time investment, then, was not terribly strenuous.  For students choosing the second paper option, the experience of reading hypertext for an hour or so was to give them a sense of the possibilities that links "open up" in a text. This knowledge could be used when designing their own hypertext document.

Fifth, since our next unit would involve students reading a variety of novels and reporting to the class about their experiences, a paper asking them to work with an outside text that we did not discuss fully in class seemed like a good transition into independent reading.  Even if students chose the second paper option, they were still required to read a hypertext fiction and contemplate its existence within a particular medium.

Sixth, both paper options asked students to work on more complex "claim" paradigms than we had used before.  The first option was a description and comparison; the second, a description and "how-to." Both of these options seemed rather exploratory rather than argumentative. While students seemed comfortable using argumentative techniques, they were still unsure why anyone would bother writing a paper that didn't involve "proving" that one side was "right."  These assignments would help them work toward a notion of writing that, hopefully, would not insist on the objective of persuasion.

An article by Kathleen Manley concurs with my sense that Erdrich's novel has something in common with hypertext.  Manley's 1995 article, "Decreasing the Distance: Contemporary Native American Texts, Hypertext, and the Concept of Audience" asserts that both hypertext and novels written by contemporary Native American authors (including Erdrich, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gerald Vizenor) draw the "reader" into a closer relationship with the author than traditional works of fiction.  Native American writers often use direct address, contextualization of story material, and other narrative strategies that make the reader aware not just of the story, but the act of storytelling as well.  Narrative strategies such as repetition, second person address, and conversational style ("you know," "I told you once before...") and contextualizing strategies such as personal history, photographs, poems close the gap between audience and storyteller, making the audience more aware of their situation within the dynamic.  The reader, then, becomes part of the performance, something more like the oral tradition of storytelling than the literary tradition of reading.

Louise Erdrich, Manley notes, reflects the common notion in oral storytelling that the story is never "finished" by publishing Love Medicine in a new form (storytellers are notorious for adding and embellishing as they retell their tales).  Her use of multiple narrators, popular not only with modernist writers such as Faulkner but also with Native American writers, make the audience part of the novel by requiring them to put the story together piece by piece.  Unreliable narrators, such as those in Erdrich's novels, require even more involvement by the audience.  The focus of the novel, says Manley, is storytelling itself, and the community for which it is told rather than the story alone.

Manley relates these works of fiction to works of hypertext:

The type of storytelling Manley describes resembles both "exploratory" (Michael Joyce's term for hypertext programs where the reader chooses which pieces of information to investigate) and "constructive" (where the author constructs a closed system that the audience can read in any order) (132).  In both oral storytelling and hypertext, the story changes each time, depending not only on the author's design , but on the responses of the audience.  Both mediums tend to blur the definition of "text" by actually leaving the text to include "outside" information (this is true of exploratory hypertext).

While Manley's article concurs in important ways with the ideas I hope my students will also discover, I was also hoping that they will be able to discuss other similarities: the way that Erdrich asks the reader to jump into the midst of a confusing extended family is disconcerting, as is the way Joyce and Guyer ask readers of their hypertext works to learn about their characters in an even more random manner.  The plot development, which Manley discusses only tangentially, develops in "loops" through which various characters appear and then move off-screen.  Themes such as alcoholism, family, feminist issues, and identity must be pieced together through the various pieces of the story.  All of these observations might lead to similar conclusion: the telling of the story becomes, in many ways, more noticeable than the story itself.

Our Unit

Students read Love Medicine with very little introduction.  They completed sixty pages of reading for the first day of discussion--enough to see where things were going but not enough to provide much in the way of a concrete discussion of the plot.  In general, the responses were a sympathetic interest with the characters and a sense of impatience with Erdrich--usually from the same people. Erdrich's characters were so believable that students were actually arguing over whose behavior was more reprehensible, how characters became the way they were, and so on.  Most students were perplexed by the number of characters introduced by a first-person narrator in the second chapter, who described her relatives as if, we decided, she had taken her boyfriend home for a family picnic and was giving a brief biography of the passengers in each car pulling up the driveway.  The effect, as at most family gatherings, was mass confusion, a mix of emotions, and a guest--the reader--left puzzled by the relationships and the motivations of these many characters.

Students continued to struggle to understand the complex relationships.  Kissing cousins, abandoned children, extra-marital affairs and mid-life name changes were responsible for much of their puzzlement.  Each day we would redraw the various family trees in an attempt to see how things were shaping up as new characters were introduced.  Also problematic were the frequent time shifts--from 1981 to 1937, to the 50s, and so on--that kept the plot from developing in any linear way.  Finally, students concluded, the "plot" was really the construction of the families on the reservation more than any series of climactic events.

Other discussions focused on cause and effect. It was hard to decipher which came first, the helplessness and despair, or the alcoholism.  Who was to "blame" was never clear either. Discussions expanded to include the roles women played in the novel.  Were they drudges? Matriarchs?  Sluts or saints?  Erdrich never let us decide for sure.  We were putting together a puzzle, one student said, and others nodded.  The ending, said another, was a let-down.  There were still so many pieces missing.  What happened to Lipsha? they wanted to know.  They remained terribly concerned with what Charles May would call the "particulars," rather than the "patterns" in the work.

I asked students to spend some time in Interchange contemplating possible paper topics.  Some of them had great ideas.  Others felt they did not yet "understand" the novel well enough to write about it.  Then I hit them with the hypertext idea.

One of the problems of reading hypertext is, as with other computerized forms of information, you need computer access.  Our problem was that there were two computers that students could use. Since Drown was closed for almost all of Easter weekend, students had trouble getting to the computer to do the reading, particularly those who lived off campus.  Some arranged to read the work together, others read alone, and about a third of the students were extremely put-out by the extra headache of getting to the computer room and onto the right computer to do the assignment.

The universal response to Joyce's novel was "I hated it."  Students were bewildered by the plot and questioned whether they had even read the same book as their classmates.  They were still unsure where the work took place (Zurich? The U.S.? A mythical forest?).  The characters doubled as narrators, and since all of them used the first person, figuring out who was speaking was a problem. The various heterosexual and homosexual relations kept them guessing even further.  Most students felt victimized, at the mercy of "some guy with way too much time on his hands."  "Just when the story got really interesting," noted one student in frustration, "every word I clicked on brought me back to the beginning screen. I couldn't go anywhere." The story, then, was to them only an obstruction to their understanding of the details.  Now was my chance to link their reading experiences with Joyce and Erdrich.

I launched into a brief discussion of literary "trends."  Modernism and post-modernism, I told them, were both strenuous attempts to move away from what had already been done.  The same was true with the newer medium of hypertext.  These avant-garde works, I assured them, are supposed to be difficult to read, because they are supposed to be like nothing you have ever read before.  To my surprise, they bought it.  The discussion moved to movies.  How many prefer to watch a movie than read? I asked.  Almost everyone.  Why?  Students argued.  Some said that movies are "better" because they provide more imagery, while others insisted that movies constrict the possibility for imagery because they present one "right" way to understand things.  One student noted that we all might have different readings of a book but generally only one understanding of a movie, because we all see the same people and the same scenery.

Eventually, I asked students to consider their role as audience--at the movies, reading a "traditional" novel, reading Erdrich, and reading Michael Joyce.  The consensus was that there was a continuum of "work" required by the audience: very little for movies, more for books, much more for Erdrich, and a staggering amount for Joyce's hypertext novel.  I couldn't stop myself from explaining to them Manley's assertions about hypertext and orality.  We're not only moving forward, I said with a perky smile, but we're moving back around to where we started, too.

After I had effectively strangled discussion, I turned to the second paper topic and asked them to use Alta Vista to find Louise Erdrich and Love Medicine on the web.  I knew that the first "hit" would be a web page constructed by a class in Arizona that they found very useful.  They went on to look at other web pages, while I reminded them that every web site has a "home" page that imposes an organizing structure over their information.  What would their organizing structure be?

Many students had a very difficult time visualizing the paper that I was asking them to produce.  At one point during the writing process I asked them to write down their thoughts and feelings about how their papers were going.  Typical responses included:

In general, students were struggling to make connections and to write about them in any meaningful way. I was concerned that they not give up or write off this paper as something that was "too hard," so I began encouraging class discussions around what students had tried so far and what might be stopping them from going further.  In many cases, students had plenty to say but had not considered including examples from either text to support their claims.  After they understood that their audience needed these examples to be able to follow their complex analyses, they relaxed about the page requirement and started synthesizing their ideas with examples from the texts.  In some cases, refocusing on when and where the text was important inspired students to even deeper readings of the text, leading them to new ideas about the implications of hypertext on reading experience as it compared to what Erdrich might be trying to do in her work.

After students had finished their papers, I again asked them to tell me what they thought of their work.  The responses were much more positive, with many students feeling that they had written a good paper.  I matched samples of initial responses with final responses in Appendix D.  In general, after they wrote their papers students said that:

In spite of this, several students thought that the paper was interesting, or at least thought-provoking. They had learned that "creating stories and novels is not easy."  A simplistic response, perhaps, but a profound one for many students who had never before considered how a story came into being.  For them, they just existed.

Although I had not scheduled conferences for this paper, several of them met with me anyway or asked questions via e-mail.  When we met in class to discuss our drafts, several of them informed me that they were still very confused.  Rather than give them more direction, I asked one student to share her draft via a shared computer file.  The class read her draft and made notations about their observations before I projected the paper on the viewing screen for us to discuss as a group.  The student's claim was that the two works--Erdrich's and Joyce's--were both hypertext.  She seemed to have trouble focusing her support for this claim, however, and we ended up discussing options for comparison/contrast papers.  Given her points of comparison, arranging them by point, so that one paragraph discussed one work and the next discussed the same point of comparison in the other work, proved to be the most effective arrangement.  One thing I stressed was that comparisons could be made to decide in favor of one thing or another, but, in this case, the comparison should instead be used to explain one thing in terms of another.  Students, then, could use Joyce as a way of explaining how Erdrich's text functions.  As we worked, the student feverishly took notes as new alternatives dawned.  She was very pleased with the work the class did, and the rest of the class seemed somewhat clearer on how they could approach the topic themselves.

The papers were very interesting, for a variety of reasons.  First, students were able to avoid obsessing about the particulars of the story and discuss Erdrich's work as a product of the author's decisions.  Second, though their findings often echoed class discussion--several of them used "post-modern" as a descriptor--most were able to provide examples of how the narration used, for example, various techniques to "draw in" the reader in spite of ways the text also eluded a concrete reading.  In addition, although some students were unable to compare the two works without declaring a "winner," many were able to see that both Joyce and Erdrich were presenting works that were "separate but equal"(find quote) in terms of what the author was attempting to accomplish. Finally, students discussed the works much more concretely because of their perception of these works, not as the product of some mysterious, incidental, and inexplicable magic but as the sum of a whole process of decision-making by a writer with a plan.

All but a few students decided to compare Joyce's narrative decisions to Erdrich's.  Most students, even those who were initially frustrated by Erdrich's work, were appeased by the knowledge that things could be even more difficult.  Several of them noted that, while both authors shifted narrators frequently, at least Erdrich let the reader know which narrator was speaking.  One student went a step further and compared both Erdrich and Joyce to Homer, the prototypical "hypertextual" writer. (Not bad for someone who's never read Ulysses!)

After the paper were collected, I asked students to complete a questionnaire that I posted on the conference board (see Appendix C).  The general consensus was that, while hypertext was "interesting" for 75% of the students, only 25% found it "enjoyable." 80% of the students found it "weird," 100% found it "confusing" and "frustrating" but 50% said they would describe it as "neat or cool."  A little less than half said it was "fun."

From these responses, one can conjecture that, although students were interested in the concept of hypertext, they were far less enchanted with Joyce's particular use of it.  For example, one student said the hypertext reading was "interesting in the fact that it made me think about the nuances and hidden meanings and the possible direction(s) that the story might be going, but not as a general term used for the plot."  Another student concurred: "I don't believe the medium was a source of frustration at all. [Joyce's] story was the thing that was frustrating. The way he structured his story made things very difficult to understand. I couldn't follow it."  I found these statements rather heartening, for they seemed to underscore the issues concerning hypertext that I thought would be most helpful in their analysis of Louise Erdrich's strategies.  Her basic story was compelling, but my hope was that students would be able to focus on the way she puts her stories together, the how of her storytelling.

Students who worked in groups tended to decide by consensus which word to click.  There seemed to be no correlation between the reading satisfaction of those working in groups versus those working independently.  One student said the experience was "fun because we did it in a group and I liked the interaction with the computer."  On the other hand, a student working alone wrote that he enjoyed "the newly found ability of the reader to choose his/her own destiny."

Perhaps most interesting about the survey is that, unlike my prediction (based on the findings of Moulthrop and Kaplan), students felt that they did not have any sense of empowerment when reading Joyce's work in hypertext.  In fact, almost all of them--including those working in groups--reported that they had little or no control over their reading of afternoon: a story:
"Basically, we all had a say in what link to choose or what word to click on. After about 20 minutes though we were just clicking on anything in a desperate attempt to understand what was going on."

When asked if reading hypertext helped them understand Erdrich's narrative strategies, students gave varying responses.  A typical "yes" response found the comparison similar: "Not really, but possibly in the way that all the scenes and sections were related, differing in only time, setting and person, but had an interlocking relationship between these people."  A typical "no" response seemed to indicate that the experience made understanding Erdrich's style more complex than it needed to be: "The only thing the hypert text [sic] did was make me confused in no way did it help my understanding of love medicine."

In retrospect, one response seems to identify a problem that I did not anticipate.  A student said of Joyce's work: "I think it would have been [helpful to understanding Erdrich's narrative strategies] but maybe a different hypertext."  Students found Joyce's work unsatisfactory not only because of the medium, but because of how Joyce chose to work with the medium.  It did not occur to most of them that Joyce himself was making strategic authorial decisions by not letting the reader know who was speaking in the first person on a particular screen.  His use of many different settings and both heterosexual and homosexual affairs were authorial decisions that did not depend on, though certainly were made more confusing by, the hypertext medium.

So while reading hypertext did seem to help students understand Erdrich's narrative strategies, it seemed to blind some students to narrative strategies that were not hypertextual.

Other students were able to identify Joyce's strategy without actually analyzing their implications in any theoretical way (which, really, was more than I asked them to do):

In general, students were able to make thesis statements that gave some sort of overarching structure to the papers. In most cases, they were rather general: Some approached the topic a bit more energetically: And others seemed to have a point: Others tried to work their reading experience into their larger life experience: Or, to give an even more philosophical example:

        Life is like a hyper text [sic]. We click on something keeping it with us as we enter another
        screen.  Without introspection (checking the history) we truly do not see how far we have
        gone until we hit the same screen twice.

In general, it seemed that students were capable of delineating the differences and connecting the similarities of the two works, but not everyone was willing or able to think about why these two works might be similar or different from the perspective of an author trying to achieve a particular objective.  There persisted the sense that Joyce had "too much time on his hands" and Erdrich couldn't be bothered to make her short stories connect into something more like a novel (in spite of the fact that students knew they were reading a second, substantially revised edition).

The experiment, I think, was partially successful.  Most students did a very good job of showing where the two works were similar and different in their construction, and some ventured into the larger, unknown territory of why this might be.  They were able to discuss the way Erdrich's story was told without getting bogged down in plot summaries that tried to clarify the content of the novel. On the other hand, students remained somewhat ignorant of Joyce's role as author and concentrated mostly on his medium.  This is what I asked of them, and this is what I got. In retrospect, we should have spent more time discussing the Joyce work in class so that I could help students think about where Joyce was deliberately confusing the reader because of his reliance on the medium of hypertext.  Although at the time I didn't want them to focus too much time on unraveling the plot, character and setting elements of Joyce's story, I now think that it might have helped them to think more deeply about how a writer uses the medium in their creation.

The final unit, in which I asked the students to form groups and give presentations on their own novels, almost all of the groups found ways to discuss Erdrich's narrative style as a counterpoint to other multi-cultural works.  One of the groups read Louise Erdrich's Tracks.  In their group analysis, they were able to discuss Tracks as an attempt by Erdrich to "fill in the gaps" that Love Medicine created.  This novel, they said, was linear, with only a handful of characters and a measly two narrators, each of whom had something to "win" by convincing the reader/listener that their side of the story was correct.  While they found Tracks to contain some useful information, one of the students noted that it was not only easy to read, but that Erdrich's use of a more traditional linear narrative in Tracks was "a little boring too."

After all this work, I do not have much of a statement to make about hypertext and writing class. There are some advantages and some disadvantages, neither of which has been explored in enough depth for anyone to make a conclusive statement.  Hypertext certainly represents a cutting edge in composition pedagogy, one that will be explored more and more as software becomes available on campus and hypertext authors begin to proliferate.  Stay tuned.

1This endnote, for example, is a form of hypertext, a way of reading text that involves leaving one visual field of text, page 1, to another field of text, this page. Of course, nobody every does this hypertext thing on paper (or maybe I'm just lazy). Usually people read the thing through and then if they have the interest, read the endnotes and the works cited to see if they have missed anything interesting . For our purposes, it might be helpful to note that end noting is a form of hypertext that is in a sense more useful for the writer than the reader. I have something I need to tell you that would interrupt the flow of discourse if I included it where it seems most relevant. Eventually, this endnote may appear in the text somewhere, and I can erase it from my endnote page. For now, it is safely on paper, and I can go back to my original paragraph.

2 The students had been reading a chapter out of John Berger's book Ways of Seeing, in which Berger asserts that the words in a museum or an art history book actually get in the way of how we, uneducated viewers of art, experience it. The Vermeer painting that Berger refers to is more democratically called "Woman Pouring Milk" by Berger, while the Web site called it by its earlier title, "The Milkmaid." Seeing the woman as a milkmaid rather than just a woman pouring milk made the students suddenly more sympathetic to her rather poor surroundings--the broken window, etc., and they found her an immediately more touching figure. Berger, they decided, was a cool guy, even if he was the one who gave the painting the "wrong" name in their book. What made the lesson convincing, however, was not that I said it (I didn't even know it), and neither did Berger. Their research on the web led them to their "own" conclusion, one that confirmed for them in a very convincing way that Berger was on to something.

3In a 1945 Atlantic Monthly article, Vannever Bush, considered by many to be the forefather of hypertext, stated that newer, faster technologies were needed, ones that did not work by traditional systems of indexing (alphabetically, numerically), but rather by association. The most useful technologies will be those whose operations mimic the movement of the human mind, which moves from one idea to the next idea that it suggests, "in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain" (6).

4 Bush imagined a machine called a "memex" that would allow someone to store any books, records, or other types of information from the vast stores of knowledge now accumulated in the world. Each individual could select and store information that pertained to his or her particular interests, passing on relevant information should a casual conversation lead to that topic, and so on. Thus hypertext has always been perceived of as "individualizable."

5Joyce's work is more complicated than many hypertext fictions, because the program on which it runs (Storyspace) keeps track of the reader's path through the story and changes the links accordingly. Thus, if one chooses a particular word on one screen the first time that screen appears, choosing that word the second time that screen appears may yield a different link--and thus a whole different set of options. Joyce's novel is held in the media center in both MacIntosh and IBM-compatible formats.

6See Bartholomae's article "Writing Assignments: Where Writing Begins" for a more detailed descriptions of how his class "constructs" knowledge socially.

7Bolter's assertion that writing hypertext will require that links provide contextual information is clearly flaunted by many writers of hypertext fiction. Non-fiction hypertext is more clear about transitions, yet doesn't focus as much on writing content as on where else one could be besides a given site. This contrast possibly could be reconciled in the same way that we ask students to read any avant-garde fiction writer, but not to emulate that style.

Appendix A: Storyspace visuals

One of the benefits of Storyspace is that it offers a variety of ways for the writer to visualize the text boxes as they are linked. These visuals are included with Jeanie Crain's Storyspace testimonial.
Also advantageous are the easy-to-use command buttons on the Storyspace toolbar, which allows students to (clockwise) open a new space, use the cursor as an arrow to create links between text boxes (otherwise it's just a cursor), set text spaces side by side (I think), create links, create tunnels, embed text boxes into others, and make notations within the text. I don't know that the four directions box is for.
Appendix B: Charles May's Claims Summarized

Charles May lists several reasons why his Hyperstory may be so effective for his teaching.

1) Reading texts on a computer screen makes readers read slower, thus providing the opportunity for more analytical reading.

2) Reading on a computer is less comfortable and less like a pastime, so students are encouraged to think more carefully because they are less comfortable physically.

3) The "machine" medium automatically puts students in a more analytically frame of mind, drawing attention to the complexity of the reading process.

4) Reading hypertext disrupts student assumptions that fiction should be read linearly and without interruption.

5) Hyperstory assignments are not as easy to draft away from, and the analytical assignment is embedded within the text, so that students cannot read hurriedly just to finish the assignment.

6) Hyperstory required students to find their own answers rather than waiting for the teacher to explain the story in the next class.

7) Hyperstory shows students where to stop and reflect.

8) Hyperstory encourages students to read and analyze at the same time, rather than doing first one and then another, so that students develop a "metalinguistic awareness" as they read.

9) Hyperstory helps students notice details and turn them into patterns, focusing on both the particular and the general together.

10) Students felt more involved with the story because they were "working within it."

11) Asking Socratic questions in Hyperstory frees students from the worry of giving a "wrong" answer in class.

12) With Hyperstory, students have the sense that the story, rather than the teacher, is asking questions--a frequent component of CAI programs.

13) Answering questions on their own using Hyperstory gives students more confidence in their reading.

14) Prompt symbols like light bulbs are rarely ignored because their arouse the students' curiosity.

15) May conducted a study that showed that all the students using Hyperstory got the story questions "right," while students were less successful answering multiple-choice questions in class. (The questions were "on the conceptual and conventional nature of the story," suggesting that detail questions were not the focus of the reading assignment.)

16) Students using Hyperstory were able to transfer their new reading skills to stories in other formats.
Appendix C: Student Comments

All students who completed the survey were asked the following question:

"Did you find that a hypertext reading experience was useful to your understanding of Louise Erdrich's narrative strategies (the way she wrote her book)? Please explain either way."

A sample of their mixed responses follows:

Appendix D: The Writing Process

I asked students during the writing process to describe for me how they thought things were going with their papers. After the papers were written, I asked them to tell me how it went. Attached are a few samples of matched student responses.

Appendix E: Student Papers

Attached are sample papers that demonstrate a range of "success" with the assignment. Although there were a few As and A-s in the class, there were no papers below a C+. In general, grades were fairly high. This may be due to my decision to prioritize complexity of thought and arrangement over diction and syntax, or my sympathy toward the class in general for working so hard at a unit that was specifically designed to benefit me. Or maybe they were just good, thoughtful, interesting papers. Most of these papers went through at least three drafts before students turned in the final, and I admired their writing process as much as their product.

Anderson, Daniel. "Not Maimed but Malted: Nodes, Text and Graphics in Freshman Compositions." Computer Writing, Rhetoric and Literature 1:1

Bartholomae, David. "Writing Assignments: Where Writing Begins." FFORUM:Essays on Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing. Patricia Stock (ed.) Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1983.   300-12.

Becker, Howard S. "A New Art Form: Hypertext Fiction"

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991.

---. "Alone and Together in the Electronic Bazaar." Computers and Composition 10:2 (1992): 5-18.

Bush, Vannever. "As We May Think." (Hyperizons)

Crain, Jeanie C. "Courseware Review: Storyspace Hypertext Writing Environment"

DiPardos, Anne and Mike DiPardos. "Towards the Metapersonal Essay: Exploring the Potential of Hypertext in the Composition Class." Computers and Composition 7 (1990): 7-22.

Haefner, Joel. "Towards a Rhetoric o the Hyperessay." Paper delivered at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, March 1995.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. "Structure & Text: Writing Space & Storyspace." Computers and Composition 9:2 (1991): 95-129.

Madritch, John. "Lay(er)in it on? Hypertext's Rhetoric of Empowerment." Paper delivered, 1994.

Manley, Kathleen E. B. "Decreasing the Distance: Contemporary Native American Texts, Hypertext, and the Concept of Audience." Southern Folklore 51:2 (1994): 121-35.

May, Charles. Unpublished article on Epiphany listserve.

Moulthrop, Stuart. "Traveling in the Breakdown Lane: A Principle of Resistance for Hypertext." Mosaic 28:4 (1995): 55-77.

Moulthrop and Nancy Kaplan, "Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction." Computers and Composition 9:1 (1991): 7-23. 

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, email me at ltk2@lehigh.edu
URL: http://www.lehigh.edu/~ejg1/Tammy.html ~ Updated: 5/98
Lehigh English Department