Most discussions of hypertext in the classroom have focussed on ways in which hypertext can be used to extend students' reading. But reading, by itself, is a relatively passive activity. (Yes, of course readers actively construct meaning, but I am using "passive" to mean an absence of overt production of text.) But our students also need to write in the new media to be part of the new academic knowledge-making conversation that surrounds them. James Reither argues that
Academic writing, reading, and inquiry are inseparably linked; and all three are learned not by doing any one alone, but by doing them all at the same time. To "teach writing" is thus necessarily to ground writing in reading and inquiry.
In general terms, then, this immersion--this initiation--should image in important ways the "real" world of active, workaday academic inquirers. The course most effectively operates as a workshop in which students read and write not merely for their teacher, but for themselves and for each other. . . . In such a context, writing, reading and inquiry are evaluated according to their pragmatic utility: the important question is not "How good is it?" but, instead, "To what extent and how effectively does it contribute to and further the investigation?"
("Writing and Knowing" 625)
This is why it is so important that hypertext has moved to the WWWeb, which is (however haltingly) becoming much more a writer's medium than the traditional disk-mounted hypertext. If this conversation moves to the Web, our students must follow it there, but not as passive readers. They need to become fully engaged in following threads of conversation throughout this universe of discourse, weaving pieces of it into their own discourse (perhaps clumsily at first, as "patchwriting," but then with growing confidence).
Collaboration will be important, as always, but it will be exceptionally important in the voice- merging environment of the electronic word. And by building these documents in the open spaces of the web, they can participate in the much broader conversation that is proceeding beyond the classroom, where they can be read not just by the teacher and by each other, but by other classes, next year's students, and by the academic and nonacademic "world at large."
Whether large numbers of people actually do read these texts is less important than the fact that they might. Knowing that they are part of the "conversation of mankind," not just the conversation of the classroom, can have a profound effect on the degree to which students take seriously their immersion in an academic community of knowledge.
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