Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Online writing: the power of hyperlinks

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

I read this great blog post from Bud the Teacher this week called "Thinking 'bout Linking." I always get something meaningful from reading Bud's blog, but this particular post was timely. It came closely upon the heels of the recent definition of 21st Century Literacies from NCTE which made it even more germane.

I just spent some time working with kids on a research project/paper. The teacher & I decided to turn the assignment into a mini-wikipedia. Since all of his students had researched a topic, we created a page for each student so that s/he could make a separate entry into the mini-pedia.

To be honest, what I thought was pretty cool was the fact that they could read each other's research, make comments, and basically see their work online. I'd forgotten how cool links can be, probably because I'm used to using them in writing.

However, when I showed the kids how they could link their embedded citations to the actual page where they got the information, I saw some lights go on. It really struck me that kids may be used to seeing links, but they have little practice in writing their own. This is one powerful way to make citations come alive, and you can only do it if your paper is in electronic format.

Sure, you can do this in Microsoft Word. However, what I see most kids do is type in Word, hit the print button, and give the hard copy to the teacher. When we made this assignment web-based, the context of the writing totally changed. After all, the wiki is a web page. In the eyes of a student, Word lives on a computer somewhere. Why would you connect words in MS Word to something online? Chances are, the link will go unnoticed since the page prints in b/w.

Kids read A LOT of web pages, and they know what links look like. Bud's post reminded me that online writing taps into a different conceptual area in the brain, and it reiterated the fact that our brain actually works in a hyperlink way, not a linear way. I hope that I can see this happen more often in writing assignments. Why are we not doing this more?