For too many years the structural linchpin of classroom instruction has been the textbook, an increasingly bloated artifact dedicated far more to attracting national sales than to supporting the learning of students. No matter how individual teachers and program administrators attempt to respond to current instructional practices and local needs, a traditional reliance on the textbook, as the central knowledge delivery device in a course, has continued to give publishers an inordinate influence in how people teach and how students are required to learn. In effect, innovation is hampered by market forces.
Then too, the overwhelming influence of a textbook within the learning arena necessarily weighs down learning practices with activities and forms of knowledge best supported by the book format. Simply the "fact" of a textbook guiding readings and exercises and explanations tends to suck learning behaviors away from self-sponsored and active engagement with the course's domain of knowledge into passive "reception" of knowledge, an oppressive one-way transmission from the institutionally sanctioned and purposefully stable fount of information to the far less informed and therefore cowed student, aggressively reinforcing Freire's "banking concept" of teaching and the impotency of student participation.
But the digital capabilities of the World Wide Web allow a different "knowledge center" to develop in classes, one not nearly so dependent upon either commercial packages or even the instructor. When coupled with reduced classrooms meetings and intense email interaction, as I have taught freshman composition over several years, other texts can loosen the centralizing grip of (principally) the textbook. A set of web pages is constructed that allows multiple texts to be assembled for the student in a pastiche that is at once liberating, involving for the student (as a "hot" medium in the McLuhan sense), and yet at the same time coherent and comprehensible. I have taken to calling these course web pages a "MultiText," a rewritten (continuously during the course) set of class "texts" that combine to present the student with flexible learning opportunities which encourage, not repel, the student's natural desire to contribute to his or her own learning.
I include in the MultiText a variety of knowledge sources, such as outlines and notes I use for presentation, my book notes on various assigned readings,sa focused bibliography (increasingly expanded and annotated as books are mentioned and included in the class online discussion), archived student email itself, the student's own papers, and a variety of links to global sources relevant to the continuing discussion. As the class interaction proceeds, hypertext linkages grow throughout the MultiText, making both diachronic and synchronic connections, increasingly drawing together in thematic ways an expanding collection of concepts that always threaten to fragment. It is, in fact, the ever-present tension between the need to construct knowledge outward and the need to gather the MultiText thematically inward that drives the students' and my engagement in the entire process.
Author: Fred Kemp
Target Audience: Not Applicable