Anybody remember hypertext?

For a while, online forums were supposed to be the tool that created a learning experience different than that of the traditional classroom. The desirability of these forums seemed so great that often classrooms conducted online discussions among themselves - in real time - instead of what were apparently viewed as the outdated face-to-face discussions that teachers supposedly knew how to conduct.

And of course there was hypertext. Even a cursory perusal of these columns will show that I was among those who thought (or, at least, hoped) that hypertext would have a profound effect on education. The expectation was that when pupils were offered the opportunity to encounter information in a non-linear fashion they would become actively involved in constructing that information into personally meaningful constructs, following leads according to their interests instead of continuing on a predetermined straight and narrow path. Needless to say, that didn't happen - on at least two counts. On the one hand, we seemed to only rarely encounter the inquisitive pupil who fulfilled the prophesy. If pupils followed a hypertextual text they seemed to do so as though they were fulfilling an assignment, rather than following their own interests and inclinations. On the other hand, the hypertextual learning environments they encountered were rather short-lived: at first teachers told their pupils where to click and what to read, negating any individual initiative that might have been blooming, and then these environments, apparently too exotic for something as prosaic as learning, seemed to disappear. The possibility and promise of associative linking yielded to hierarchical linking which served more to give specific directions (and keep the reader from getting lost) than to make multiple directions possible or desirable.

Go to: A magic strand?