Presentation Abstract

Reading and Writing Hypertext in a World of Lecture Notes

Theorists of the electronic text, from Richard Lanham to Jay David Bolter, have focused on the liberatory potential of reading and writing on the internet, largely by associating hypertext with a postmodern literary aesthetic. Within institutions of higher learning, however, tools available to teachers tend to stress teacher-centered learning and the accumulation of banks of information made available for passive consumption by students. (My university uses WebCT.) As students become more familiar with these tools, both the teaching styles of individual instructors and the sheer weight of institutional practice have a greater influence on student expectations and on their actual reading and writing practices.

This presentation will involve a comparative analysis of the rhetoric and reception of two web sites for teaching English 231, the sophomore survey of English literature, Beowulfsto Milton. Both are taught in large lecture sections by the same instructor (me), one in the winter of 1997 and one in the spring of 1998. I began a preliminary study of teaching with the web in this class last year, and preliminary findings from student surveys can be found at sites are also available through the University of Georgia Home Page at Follow "Academics" to the "English Department" to "Faculty Web Pages" to "Christy Desmet" to "Web Materials.")

I concluded that the lecture format, physical availability and configuration of computers on campus, previous experience with web-based courses in the biological sciences, and certain features of the class itself that were magnified by the web site's construction reinforced the students' expectations that a class web site existed as a conduit for "hard" information rather than as an opportunity for individualized reading and writing. In other words, student attitudes toward and use of the web are conditioned by a complete academic culture.

After redesigning the class web page to encourage more interaction with class materials, I will repeat the survey, conduct an ethnographic survey of the class, and analyze data acquired through the Department ofsEnglish Website Access Statistics ( The end result will be a rhetorical analysis of reading/writing on the web in the context of a large lecture class on literature at a large public university. The presentation will place the study of these two particular classes within the context of theoretical writing about reading and writing hypertext, composition theory, and current study and polemic about the curriculum.

Author: Christy Desmet


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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