My "encapsulation" will begin with a few things I've already written about this project. This first entry was written for the m-ICTE 2003 conference in Badajoz, Spain.
(multimedia & Information and Communication Technologies in Education) where I made a poster presentation of this project. Miranda was the only hypertext at the conference.
Carleton, Lee. “"A Brave New Hypertext: Ambivalence and Ambition"
Advances in Technology-Based Education: Toward a Knowledge-Based Society, vol. 1.
Proc. of 2nd International Conference on multimedia Information and Communication Technologies in Education
2003. Badajoz:University of Extremadura, Spain, 2003.
“"A Brave New Hypertext: Ambivalence and Ambition"
IntroductionThe genesis of this infant project was a graduate class on computers and literacy where we discussed not only the pedagogical possibilities of using computers to teach writing but also the philosophical issues that arise with the onrush of technology. My colleagues and I chose Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World as a foundational document for our hypertext because the novel addresses a wide variety of issues and topics of interest to students that are of special relevance to humanity in this 21st Century dawn. Huxley’s novel is especially valuable for hypertext in its clever analysis of the technologies of consumer conditioning as well as its cogent discussion of technologically mediated experience. The complexity and multivalent nature of these conversations allows for nearly unlimited textual linking and exploration.
Though I am currently working solo, I plan to retain our original group project name “Miranda” after Shakespeare’s character in The Tempest because it was she who spoke the well-known phrase “brave new world” and because this phrase reflects her essential naïve enthusiasm towards an unknown world – a naivete evident today regarding the inherent value and unlimited possibilities of technology. Ellen Barton captures this concern succinctly in Literacy and Computers where she advocates a more critical perspective:
There are two prevailing discourses of technology: one is
a dominant discourse characterized by an optimistic
interpretation of technology’s progress in American culture
and by traditional views of the relations between technology
literacy, and education; the other is an antidominant discourse
characterized by a skeptical interpretation of technology’s
integration in contemporary culture and education. (56)
I also come to this project in full agreement with Purpel’s pedagogy in The Moral and Spiritual Crisis in Education where he writes: “given the elements of our political, economic, and cultural crises, educational discourse must focus on the urgent task of transforming many of our basic cultural institutions and belief systems.” (3)
A utilitarian concept of education is insufficient to the needs of a healthy democracy, so we must do much more than simply promote software mastery and job-skill training.
Huxley had a similar sense of our modern crisis and the central role of education in working towards positive solutions. Brave New World is a novel of unique contemporary relevance. Although Huxley did not forsee computer technology, hypertext or the atomic bomb, he did understand the complex problems facing our species and the increasing necessity of technological, psychological and organizational solutions. In the novel, a tightly organized, technologically empowered World State rises from the ashes of world war to control the chaos and manage human life from before conception to after cremation. In 1932 the genetic engineering Huxley portrays was mostly science fiction, now it is a hotly debated reality. The conditioning techniques described in the novel have been demonstrated by Pavlov, Skinner and others. The ubiquitous advertising industry (our own “hypnopaedia”) deploys these techniques with an investment of $200 billion per year. The mandate to consume, what Huxley calls “the conscription of consumption” is not only the dogma of the “free market” West, it has most recently been suggested as a patriotic duty by George Bush in the aftermath of 9/11.
Miranda will be an opportunity to simultaneously explore the uses and value of hypertext in teaching while maintaining an important, critical questioning of technology and its applications. Evidence for favorable bias in discussions of technology is found in how easily accusations of “Luddite” are made whenever the legitimacy and efficacy of technology is challenged. While I am not a knee-jerk opponent to technology, I am a Luddite in the sense that their original concern was for workers displaced by technology. The Luddites were concerned with how technology affected the majority of workers rather than how it could be used for the profit of a tiny minority of owners.
Use of hypertext and other computer teaching programs like Blackboard, make it easy to imagine the teacherless classroom of the future where “education” is standardized and controlled by the corporations who create the technology and who run the schools. This gloomy vision, once in the realm of paranoia or science fiction, is no longer completely ridiculous. The “privatization” of education encourages this trend with its emphasis on efficiency and profit. And as increasing cutbacks are made to funding for public education, highly paid administrators will be happy to cut teacher costs by adopting a technology that is paid for only once, does not seek tenure and never needs health care or retirement benefits. This scenario may not be around the corner, but it is not an impossibility. Because of this, I believe teachers should actively engage in the conversation about teaching technology. We need to develop and deploy various technologies according to pedagogical rather than corporate priorities, and do so creatively but with a critical perspective.
- Definition and Methods
Bush wished to replace the essentially linear fixed methods
that had produced the triumphs of capitalism and industrialism
with what are essentially poetic machines…that work according
to analogy and association, machines that capture and create
the anarchic brilliance of the human imagination. (10)
Not only does a hypertext allow greater freedom and empowerment to the reader, it encourages a completely different kind of thinking than traditional linear, rational approaches to text. The value of this is that more often than we realize, our best ideas and solutions come to us intuitively rather than as a result of conscious reasoning - our “anarchic brilliance” may hold the solution to many of our most perennial human problems.
But there is another more academically oriented reason to value hypertext. As a teacher of writing, I have found that freshman writers often have difficulty with “invention” – they have little practice with coming up with original ideas, questions and theses for writing. This ability is especially important because “real-life” problems are rarely presented in convenient question form. We must consider the information available and formulate our own analysis of the situation that supports our suggestions for solution. A hypertext with open-ended writing assignments that place this responsibility for invention on the student can provide the opportunity to develop this skill in an exciting, information rich environment that includes audio and video samples as well as still images and plenty of text. Hypertext is also useful for group projects where the vastness of the text can be navigated and discussed collaboratively.
In the initial version of Miranda, we used Storyspace software, but for my current version of the hypertext, I have chosen FrontPage. I maintain the option of trying other software programs for comparative purposes as this project matures. My choice of FrontPage is conflicted however. While Microsoft’s domination of the market may make this software more widely accessible for students and compatible with other software, legitimate concerns about the influence of corporate control cannot easily be dismissed. My hope is that student exploration of the Miranda hypertext will, in addition to providing opportunities for invention, awaken them to the ways technology can be used as a mechanism of control so they are more critical in their interaction with it.
Control is a central issue with hypertext and I am aware of the irony of my concern about corporate control when, as the hypertext composer, I exercise a certain amount of control over potential users of Miranda simply by virtue of which texts I have chosen to link where and in what way. For example, Miranda includes short video clips and my choice of film segments is a form of control or influence on the reader – in spite of my desire to encourage greater reader independence, I still seek to shape his experience in some way.
However, the inclusion of significant and linkable writing space will allow the students plenty of freedom as they navigate the hypertext, annotate it and eventually collect their various annotations into a thoughtful and coherent whole or a series of effectively linked documents. I am still considering how I want to deploy this hypertext. Miranda almost necessitates its placement on the Web rather than on a CD so that students could read one another’s writing and respond, however web posting could entail some copyright restrictions. I am hoping that a password protected website will be sufficient to satisfy copyright requirements for a non-profit educational work.
One of my original inspirations for this hypertext is Ann Woodlief’s “American Transcendentalism Web”. Hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University, this hypertext was favorably reviewed in The Chronicle of Higher Education in November of 2002.
Dr. Woodlief’s intricately linked, cross-referenced hypertext includes primary and secondary source materials and contextual links. The index page includes basic divisions such as: “Authors & Texts”, “Roots & Influences” and “Criticism”, a division that is further divided into literary and historical subsets. Dr. Woodlief has been working on this hypertext for about ten years alternately working solo and collaborating with colleagues and students in its continued development.
The most pedagogically useful hypertext will be one that allows readers and students to add to the text by including their own writing, so Dr. Woodlief includes a “communication” page where potential submissions can be emailed to her for pre-posting review. This allows for greater reader/writer interaction without making the text totally vulnerable to random, unrelated postings or those of poor quality. An issue I must address in the development of Miranda is how to incorporate this writing space and what software to use. Initially, “American Transcendentalist Web” used GUIDE but this program is no longer available so Dr. Woodlief has students write in WORD and upload it through Blackboard.
To maximize the potential of available media, I am including audio and video clips where relevant. For example, I have an excellent and illuminating recording of one of Huxley’s last interviews although even with modern technology, the sound quality is poor. In the early chapters of Huxley’s novel we are introduced to the various castes of the brave new world and the mass production of human beings, so at the phrase “mass production” I have placed multiple links. When a user clicks on the phrase, a page pops up with links to historical and technical descriptions and links to two different film clips. One clip is from a PBS documentary about the rise of industry and one is from Chaplain’s classic film Modern Times which is an amusing yet pointed critique of industrialism and its effect on the human being. As the designer of Miranda, I seek to empower the reader but I am not under the illusion that I have relinquished all control or guidance of the reading process. While “hypertext does not permit a tyrannical, univocal voice” it is not completely devoid of authorial influence. (Landow 36)
Hypertext Theory & ApplicationAn interesting point about hypertext is that it expands the concept of authorship. Huxley is the author of Brave New World but in Miranda, his novel will be joined with many, many other texts by different authors and of course, I am “authoring” Miranda, not only through the commentary and exercises that I write but also through the choices I make regarding which texts to use and where to link them. “Composing” might be a better word. Many hypertexts also allow the reader to interact with the text, to contribute his own notes and insights thus echoing Barthes’ concept of the reader/writer who participates in the construction of meaning.
Although Jerome McGann claims that “these documentary networks may or may
not be interactively organized”, Miranda does include significant writing space so students can record their notes as they peruse the hypertext and add their own writing to the text. Without the possibility of significant participation in the creation of the text, there would be little to distinguish a hypertext from a simple website. While a website is clearly a hypertext, without interactivity it cannot test the claims of post-structuralism and is less likely to stimulate critical thought in the form of writing.
It is this interactivity that most connects recent literary theory with the technology of hypertext. The “decentering” that Derrida mentions is brought to life when the student explores a hypertext according to his own interests rather than according to the dictates of the text and its structure. Student interest becomes the center. This is simultaneously a new freedom and a new responsibility: he must make sense of the knowledge he has gained from his self-directed reading of hypertext. This is where hypertext is able to encourage critical thinking and increased metacognition. When discussing CSILE, a “networked multimedia environment” Sherman & Kurshan explain:
Ideas and understandings become meaningful when they are
examined as part of the knowledge construction process. Students
interact with others to explain, defend, discuss, and assess their
own ideas and challenge, question, and comprehend the ideas of
others in order to be sure of their own understanding.
Finally, let us not forget the fragility and vulnerability of technology. Worms and viruses prowl the Web looking for programs to destroy and information to compromise. The massive blackouts that occurred recently in the northeastern US and Italy remind us that our wonderful machines can be rendered useless in a moment and that we might want to be prepared with a paper-text backup if not an alternative energy supply. Until we create a less vulnerable technology, human error, lightning and other natural disasters will continue to disrupt and destroy.
New technologies can be wonderfully empowering, but they need to be kept in perspective. Considering the amount of frivolous material on the Web
(spam, porn, fan sites, pop-up ads) and the often trivial applications of our most powerful inventions, we might also remember Thoreau’s observations about new technology from Walden:
"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract
our attention from serious things. They are but improved
means to an unimproved end...We are in great haste to
construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but
Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to
Barton, Ellen. “Interpreting the Discourses of Technology.” Literacy and Computers.
Eds. Cynthia Selfe and Susan Hilligoss. New York: Modern Language
Association of America, 1994.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0 : The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory
and Technology. Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore. 1997.
McGann, Jerome. “The Rationale of Hypertext.” Jefferson Village.
University of Virginia. 2 October, 2003
Purpel, David E. The Moral & Spiritual Crisis in Education. Bergin & Garvey,
New York. 1989.
Sherman, T. M. and B. L. Kurshan. “Using Technology to Support Teaching for
Understanding.” Unpublished Manuscript: Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.
Woodlief, Ann. American Transcendentalism Web. Spring, 1999. English Web,
Virginia Commonwealth University. 8 October, 2003
Yellowlees, Douglas J. “Nature Versus Nurture: The Three Paradoxes of Hypertext.”
The Emerging Cyberculture. Ed. Stephanie Gibson. Cresskill, NJ, Hampton
Press, 2000. 325-349.
One of the grad-school colleagues that gave birth to this hypertext is Clary Washington, who is now my wife and who contributes to Miranda regularly through discussion and shared materials. She teaches a literature survey entitled "The Future Is Now" at a small progressive public school, and has been pursuing future studies on her own for about ten years.
Other contributors will be included as well: Michelle Smith, UR English Graduate 2004, who is the first student researcher to add to this text. Student responses, papers and questions will also become a part of Miranda as she takes on a life of her own - constant contribution & growth are what will make Miranda different than a simple website which is also a hypertext.