4/03/2012

Language Arts and the Internet

There are specific differences between traditional language arts and the reading/ writing that is done for the internet. Since the amount and variety of online materials is exploding, it's important to understand some of those differences.

1) Hyperlinks

This is perhaps the most significant difference between online and offline writing. In simplest terms, a hyperlink is something you can click on in order to bring you somewhere else. It could be a word, a paragraph, a picture or even just an area on a web page. It can bring you to a different part of the page or another website. A hyperlink can also tell your computer to start downloading a file or program. (Be careful with this!)
For students to use hyperlinked writing, they have to understand the broader idea of interconnection. Writing inherently contains words and phrases that refer to other ideas and other writing. Hyperlinks are a way to make those connections explicit. It is similar to the process of citation, but is more interactive and doesn’t interfere with the flow of reading.

2) Copy, Paste ( C,  
V on Mac or Control-C, Control-V on PC)
Copying is as old as writing itself. However, until the advent of the copy/paste function in word processors, it has never been so effortless. Students don’t have to read everything they copy anymore. The intellectual theft doesn’t even result in the student looking at the material and (hopefully) absorbing some of it on accident. Worse yet, it confounds plagiarism issues. I’ve heard many students honestly state they believe they can just change a few words in a copied sentence and not worry about citations. These are dangers that need to be discussed carefully with students. Simply saying “don’t copy” is about as effective as saying “don’t cheat”.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Copy/paste is an important part of the editing process. Students just need guidance in using this important tool.

3) Embedding
Illustrations are common in writing. A simple, thoughtful sketch can help to illustrate a subtle idea. Online, these illustrations can be still pictures, videos or audio segments. This can be a complex process since it involves copyright, design principles and technical skills to pull off. The skills are valuable, though and worth teaching.

4) Social
While privacy and reputation issues are vitally important, I want to focus on how social networks affect the writing process. In most cases, these sites involve writing small, sensible and frequent notes. These mediums can help students understand the concept and importance of summary. Since there isn’t much room, students have write what is most important and leave the rest behind. This can serve as a good tie-in to quality note taking.

5) Mobile
Smartphones and tablets are changing the way a lot of the world works. That includes the way we write. Please don’t dismiss them as portable personal entertainment. These are powerful business tools and will become increasingly important to your students. (Check out the new app Snapguide.) One important issue is the small size of the screen. While text can be resized pretty easily, be careful with the pictures and diagrams.

Smartphones are not only used to consume content but to create it. Are your students able to put together a meaningful, coherent and professional message on a smartphone? Good writing is hard to produce using just your thumb especially for students who are used to using cryptic text shorthand. Professionals text important information to one another. Students need to learn how text well.

While this is certainly not a comprehensive list, I trust that it has provided you with a starting point. I would love to hear of other ways that writing online differs from its offline corollary.