Linked text is different

2/14/2012 10:23:00 pm

Reading (318/365)
cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Jack Amick
A few years back my friend Bud Hunt published an unusual post on his blog; it was titled Going South. In just a few short sentences he shared that he'd be spending a week visiting his grandfather's garden. "As best as I can determine, the first reference on the Internet to my grandfather, a man that I know far too little about, is this one." he wrote. There was one link in the entire post; the words "this one". You can tell from the comments, not every reader followed the link.

I was talking with a couple of English Language Arts teachers today. They're planning to have their classes do most of their writing online this semester. We were talking about how they might use a Mother Blog model to do that. They'll use Google Reader to monitor the community; subscribing to both the posts and  comments of their students' blogs.

I wanted the two teachers I was talking with understand how to help their students learn to read and write hyperlinked text effectively. I shared with them the story of Bud's "Going South" blog post. It's a poignant lesson in reading and writing linked text. (In the privacy of my own thoughts: This will also be a nice memorial to Bud's granddad. In a way, he'll teach and touch the lives of generations beyond his immediate family.)

A Better Metaphor for Life Long Learning
In his book, Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger talks about the difference between writing on paper and writing hyperlinked text. Paper has physical limitations that digital text doesn't. It starts and ends. It's only so wide and so long. A paper book can only contain so much content. Even if it's one of many volumes in a larger work.

Have you ever started reading an article online, say in Wikipedia, clicked a link, then another? And another. Only to find yourself two hours later having explored a web of ideas unique to your personal interests along the way. Eventually you stop. Not because you're "finished" but because life imposes other demands on your time.

Digital text is different. It's a much better metaphor for life long learning. And you can't write linked text if you aren't reading. Lots. (It's taken me years of reading to write this blog post.)

New Media, New Process
Not too long ago Dean published a post about writing hyperlinked text. He had collected a number of comments in a storify archive and reshared a video Will had made about his writing process. (Think that through as a writing process.) Watch:

This sort of process is another thing I shared with the teachers I was talking with:

  • Using a mind mapping tool, like mindmeister, that includes hyperlinks is different.
  • Clipping ideas contained in text, images and video using a tool like Evernote, which allows you to create web pages & hyperlinks is different.
  • Writing by stitching your ideas together from hyperlinked sources is different.
  • Reading that text is different too. It matters where you publish it, online or off. Different media (paper or digital) carry different messages. 

I'm fascinated to see the student writing that emerges from this semester.

I'm also curious; is there anything different about how you teach reading and writing digital text? Any advice for us?

UPDATE 20 Feb 2012
Check out Bud's thought provoking digital writing workshop (a network of Google Docs): 
Reading 1.0 - How Digital Changes Nothing. And Everything. Is All.

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  1. Hi Darren,

    I'm always amazed by how much some educators are in love with paper. Examples like these just reinforce my beliefs that paper just doesn't fit 21st century standards. I use Evernote all the time, as well as Diigo, with lists and groups.

    I like this mindmapping idea from Will. He probably collect more stories by email, so this makes a lot of sense to me.

    As the curator of my learning, I try to be deliberate in how I find, store, retrieve, and share stories. This post exposes my personal process.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi,

    I'm an Undergraduate TA for English 101 at the University of Maryland. I am a TA for a blending learning section (half in class, half online) and I have to say, learning to teach writing online has been an interesting process.

    A lot of online teaching relies on the fact that the students are going to put in the time and the effort to really understand the material. It also depends on whether or not the students are able to teach themselves certain aspects of the material.

    I have had a lot of challenges with the blending learning class but overall, I think that this is a great initiative. In a society that is so focused on digital technology, students have to be able to read, write, and learn in a digital environment. I think that such classes reinforce these ideas and force students to take more responsibility in their own learning.

  3. Although shifting with the times is important, paper will always have some value to good writers. It serves well for rough drafts, and a printout gives the writer a look at the work from a different angle. Good writing is good writing, no matter whether it's on paper, a PC, or the Internet.

    That said, teaching students to use their skills in a digital environment is extremely important. Working only with paper is a loser's game. Dinosaurs end up extinct.

  4. Great bit, Darren.

    I think one of the challenges in this conversation are the constant attacks against the "scattered-ness" of teens and tweens with supposedly short attention spans.

    Think about Nick Carr's bit about "The Shallows" and "Google is Making us Stupid." The assumption is that deeper reading isn't possible in online spaces.

    Where I've always pushed back is that hyperlinks actually make deeper reading MORE possible simply because of the kind of immediate extension and exploration of a topic that you describe.

    Of course, kids need to be taught how to make choices about which links to explore and what they're likely to lead to based on the anchor text, but those are lessons that we can -- and should -- be teaching.

    The question is how many teachers realize that those are lessons that students should be learning.

    Enjoyed thinking with you this morning!

    Rock on,

  5. Hi Darren,

    The 'out of date-ness' of paper learning is something we should aim to do something more about, I agree. The problem comes, however, when we introduce linked writing which detracts from the original article.

    There are a growing number of bloggers now coming through online, who are refusing to place links in their text as this removes the attention from the message they were originally trying to portray.

    It would be interesting to read about any studies on retention of information for linked content, vs non-linked content, as the last thing we need to do these days is introduce further distractions for our students and pupils.

  6. At the heart of the problem is the question, "How Much do we trust teenagers to be responsible for their own learning?"

    If a teacher gives a teenager a computer and says, "You have an hour to learn as much as you can about this subject and write a one page report. Go."


    "Read pages 79 to 84 in this text book and answer the discussion questions on page 85"

    Which is going to generate more learning?

    Which classroom would you want your child to be in?


  7. Hey,
    It is certainly amazing to see how much technology has consumed our lives. it has come to the point where schools have no choice but to use it and if they are being forced to use it why not use it to the fullest extent. blogging may not seem like it is something that has any place in a school, but i think it is a great idea. it is another way for students to be creative and express themselves and learn at the same time. I am glad educators are looking for fun and innovative ways to teach students in todays society.

  8. Hi,
    I am a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and a nurse for many years. I have seen the transition from paper to ipad in the hospital. Nurses now use electronic equipment to document nurse assessments and doctor notes. Therefore, I agree that in the 21st century, it is imperative for studetns to adapt to the changing educational environment.

    Thank You,

  9. Anonymous30/4/12 22:51

    Hi all
    I am new to this blog and have been reading some your posts. I am currently a student doctoral student at Walden University. I am enjoying my studies and I am currently learning how culture impacts adult preference to learning. I was wondering if any of you have experienced how this effects learning in the classroom or online environment.

  10. Okay, I believe what you are saying and am highly interested. However, I must ask, how have you convinced your school district to allow for more online writing? What web sites are you using? How are you protecting student privacy?

  11. I find this blog post fascinating. Cultural impact has a lot to do with learning. The young adult learners I work with fight tooth and nail when I am trying to teach them something new. They want to know "why" they have to learn it. Its the same thing when I show them anything with technology. They are okay with something if it pertains to their iphone etc. But if it has to do with a learning skill like writing via the internet, forget it. Any suggestions on how to cope with this?

  12. How much diversity is really available to these students? Are they exposed to other cultures? Or do they keep to themselves and not branch out?

  13. I have found that diversity amongst students helps to enlighten students into "what else is out there" so to speak. By learning other cultures, students become more educated and learn there are other ways to do things that are beyond their initial experiences.

  14. I think we can use technology to explore other cultures. It is hard not to want to learn more once one is exposed to things.

  15. How can technology be used? Blogging is a good way-- you can touch base with someone from across the states or around the globe. Also follow other people's experiences.

  16. With my students, I find it challenging at times to introduce them to new ideas. Some of my students may be termed "narrow minded" by some. I think its more about fear of the unknown than anything. Technology seems to play a "safe" way for them to reach out an learn new things. They aren't faced by actually metting someone-- atleast not at first.

  17. How have your students been viewed as "narrow minded"? Have you found interesting ways to challenge them?

  18. My students have been trying out several educational blogs. They currently are corresponding with other students in Europe and sharing experiences. One student has found if funny how American students are viewed versus how American view Europeans.