Teaching Hyperlinked Writing & Reading

Wes Fryer on Nuggets from NECC 2008 said

Hyperlinked writing is the most powerful form of writing, and provides one of the most important aspects of complexity in writing for a global audience. There is great power as well as responsibility when you link to the ideas of another.

Wow! A brand new way of writing… a new genre… And it can’t be only about hyperlinked writing, but should also be about hyperlinked reading. We, as life long learners and teachers, have to get that in order to pass that on to our students.

What if no one points that out to you/them? Will you/they learn it anyway? Will our students automatically grow up with the knowledge of how to read hyperlinked content and include hyperlinks to all kinds of media into their writing?

I do enjoy reading traditional books tremendously, but I do have to admit that sometimes I secretly yearn for a tiny little hyperlink on that paper. Oh please,  just allow me that one click to take me to an explanation, a reference to another place, person or date. 🙂

The following questions come to mind:

  • Does the addition of hyperlinks directly relate to the quality of writing, depending on the quality of the hyperlinked sites?
  • Do the hyperlinks support a thought process?
  • Is the ability to link or the lack thereof the key to the relevance of the content?
  • Is the ability to link the key to taking your place in the chain of the thought process of others around your classroom, country, world?
  • How do we prepare our students for the hyperlinked world of thoughts?

If we feel that the answer to these question is yes, then why aren’t we teaching it in the school? Why aren’t we starting at the elementary school level? Why aren’t we showing our students to link to each others work in their writing? Students, of course, need to be introduced to writing the traditional genres, such as expository, narrative, descriptive or persuasive among others,  but shouldn’t hyperlinked writing at least deserve a spot among these writing genres. Can’t we be teaching those “traditional” genres with the help of the hyperlinked one?

Budtheteacher plurked me a link that took me to a post of his “Thinking ’bout linking” which connected me to a series of thoughts that he and some of his readers were having on the subject.

Hey, look at that sentence above. How did you feel about reading that sentence? Perplexed? Wondering? Something missing? Would you feel the same way if you would have read it the following way below:

Budtheteacher plurked me a link that took me to a post of his Thinking ’bout linking which connected me to a series of thoughts that he and some of his readers were having on the subject.

I think the comparison of the two sentences above (with the same words in them) makes a point.

Bud talks about making a juicy mess of a linear experience. I like that analogy: Hyperlinked writing is like making a juicy mess out of a linear experience. Mmmhhh…

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

Do I know how to teach “that way” yet? How can I walk into school this week and approach the subject of hyperlinked writing and reading with my teachers during our planning time. How can I link that skill to their curriculum? How can I demonstrate that hyperlinked reading and writing is an essential new genre?

Remember baby steps! Don’t overwhelm teachers by throwing “one more thing at them”. 🙂

From a logistical point of view, we need to teach the mechanics of creating/inserting a link. How to link in a blog post? How to insert a link in a comment section where only HTML code is accepted and no visual editor? How do you follow a link without loosing the original text you are reading? How to you backtrack on links?

From a curriculum point of view, I want to catch their attention with examples. They have to see the difference between a hyperlinked text vs. a linear text.

  • Maybe a game such as a commenter on Bud’s post suggest in the style of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
  • Maybe play three links out- write about something on a webpage and make it relate to another webpage that you arrived on after clicking yourself through three times.
  • Let your elementary school students become “Link Detectives”. Allow them to go through a pre-created wiki or blog and challenge them to make the links/connections for you. What kind of links can they come up with? Do these links/connections show their understanding of the content?

From a kinesthetic point of view ( since I AM talking about elementary school children here), give students each an index card with information about a subject that they are studying. Have them arrange each other in groups, so that they connect the information from one point that is being made on a card to another. Have them pass yarn of different colors from one person to another, when they are “linking” to them. Point out that several facts/opinions can be “linked” to more than one info card. The end should be a “juicy mess of a linear experience”.

Let me know your thoughts on : How do we teach hyperlinked writing and reading in school?