What is hypertext and why would one want to use it? Because it sometimes seems that terms can be used loosely when we talk about new technologies, it's best to start a discussion of this subject with a definition of hypertext itself:
A term coined by Ted Nelson around 1965 for a collection of documents (or "nodes") containing cross-references or "links" which, with the aid of an interactive browser program, allow the reader to move easily from one document to another. The extension of hypertext to include other media - sound, graphics, and video - has been termed "hypermedia", but is usually just called "hypertext", especially since the advent of the World-Wide Web and HTML. ( The Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing, Accessed 28 November 2000)In other words, the term hypertext refers to electronic texts that offer the possibility for connections to other texts, images, sounds, videos, etc. Our most common experiences with hypertexts are web pages.
The advantages of hypertext to medievalists are easy to see. When we teach older texts, we have to bridge the gaps that exist between our students and the language, culture and history surrounding those texts. Hypertext allows us to create documents that link literature with art, maps, dictionaries, and other pieces of literature.
Rationales for using hypertext should be carefully considered, however. As with anything new we incorporate into our teaching, we must ask, why adopt these strategies? Any of the lessons that follow could certainly be done the old-fashioned way. People have been teaching Middle English songs for a long time without making use of web annotators. However, if the use of web technology can in some way enhance student's interactions with texts both in and out of class, then they must be considered worthwhile endeavors. As with anything new and different, though, also expect there to be a learning curve for your students. Anticipate that you'll have to spend a little extra time teaching students how to use each of these tools for hypertext.
No one doubts the usefulness of annotations to assist in reading and understanding unfamiliar texts. However, encouraging students to engage more actively with the text by reading such annotations can often be difficult. One option for encouraging students to become involved with understanding the difficult sections of a text is to ask them to create annotations themselves. Web pages provide an ideal format for this type of class annotation in that they can be universally accessible and updatable publications of students' thoughts. They offer an easy way for students to exchange ideas, and they create a written record of class dialogue.
A Guide to Creating an Annotator
A description of an Annotator Tool from the University of Texas at Austin
The Instructional Tool Forge from the Studio for Instructional Technology and English Studies at UNC
Annotation Examples and Ideas from SITES at UNC
Sample Lesson Plan: The General Prologue
Creating Web Pages
When you tell a class that one of their projects for the semester is to create a web page, the usual reaction is one of mixed enthusiasm and fear. If you ease students into the idea gradually, the fear can diminish quite rapidly. How you choose to begin that process of easing them in to the idea of creating web pages is up to you. Time constraints are an important issue to consider. How much information can you convey in one 50-minute class? As with any technical application that forces students to learn new skills, you should also consider it in light of the focus of your course. How much time do you want to take away from teaching Dante to teach HTML?
My recommendation is to use one of the quick and easy methods for web publishing available to your students. Purists will object to the ďmaskingĒ qualities of these programs. Their argument claims that, if students donít understand the underlying HTML, they will never fully be able to have control over their creations. However, whether itís the place for a literature instructor to teach computing skills is also an area for debate. My personal philosophy is that literature instructors should not feel guilty about utilizing user-friendly web publishing tools as long as they meet our pedagogical goals. For us, web pages are a means to the end of teaching literature. If anything, small web skills learned in a medieval literature class could inspire our students to further exploration of HTML outside of class.
Web pages, first and foremost, are simply a means of permitting students to publish work. Consider what kind of things your students would like to publish and why they would be interested. A web page simply isn't interesting if the content isn't interesting.
Another issue is whether your students have web space on which to create such pages. If they donít, itís possible for them to submit their html documents to the instructor for posting on a class web page. Ideally, your institution will support student web pages. If your school does not support either student or instructor web space, there are many options for acquiring free web space through private companies.
Teaching students how to use Microsoft Word or Netscape Composer to create web pages.
A detailed instruction sheet on file transfer for students.
A more comprehensive guide to putting pages on the web by Todd Taylor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Web Style Guidelines from UNC's help pages
Sample Lesson Plan: Costuming in The Canterbury Tales
Incorporating multimedia into your hypertext can enhance the sense of immediacy your students feel when they interact with texts. Hearing audio and seeing video can serve the purposes of engaging, entertaining, and educating students. Again, though, consider your reasons for using multimedia. What is the net benefit of spending your time incorporating this technology?
Some very good uses of audio include linking to sound files of texts being read aloud. This possibility is very useful for instructors who want their students to hear the way that other professionals in the field read and pronounce old texts. Because we have no recordings from the middle ages, there are often different interpretations of pronunciation. With audio files, you can let your students hear other voices. Linking to sound files is also very useful for incorporating medieval songs, such as the Carmina Burana, which might be relevant to the lesson.
Your use of video might simply include linking a short video of a documentary. Another possibility, though, is use of animation to prove a point. Scholars have created animated pages to demonstrate changes over historical periods, such as the Great Vowel Shift or the Evolution of Alphabets.
It is beyond the scope of this site to explain how to create sound files, video files, or animations. The lesson plans below, however, offer ideas for incorporating the multimedia possibilities you can currently make use of from the web.
Sample Lesson Plan: Listening to the General Prologue
Sample Lesson Plan: Understanding the Great Vowel Shift