Saturday, December 27th, 2003
I said that skateboarding is a favorite of the Great Lettuce Head. But, it seems to me, really, that the subject matters only in so far as it can fit the requirement teachers propose for a freshman comp course. In this case the student has “chosen” skateboarding as “his/her” subject of academic pursuit.
In this case the writer uses a fairly straightforward map to visualize topics related to the subject. The topics may have come from a brainstorm or a conversation. The subject/topic relationship could easily lead to divisions in a paper, in this case: skateboarding, its history and its qualities as a sport. Of course, each related topic could also become a focus of research, and it should in this it’s a good idea. In the skateboard case each topic is deep enough for study. The map is a visualization of the thought process and helps writers “see” how the subject fits in the big picture.
The next image illustrates how topic development can be organized in a weblog environment. For example, each topic generated from the cluster map could be given its own Moveable Type category. In this scheme, the weblog looks like a double-entry journal in a conventional loose paper organization scheme. It also allows writers to concentrate their study onto the topics, providing a space for development. The students own reflections and analysis on a topic can develop over time as insight occurs. Students can also react to various readings on the law and history as they concern the subject, isolating sources, source types, listing links to online works, and “writing” in quotations, analysis, paraphrase practice, and bibliographic notations.
The work that develops here is also open for viewing by other students and the professor, where comments may allow questions and the introducing of other ideas that the writer may have missed. In the online environment, the work becomes fluid, flexible, and open to critique. This use of the weblog is devoted only to the writing, student response to critique, and collection of ideas, so that the tool becomes a procedural and storage space. Drafts of paper sections, writing exercises, and other issues could each be organized into categories in this type of work log. Here the technology becomes an organizational aide. Moreover, the writer isn’t tied to any one type of category or post. Weblog organization mirrors the original mapping scheme of the subject “skateboarding” and its topics.
As the writer works, the tool’s hypertextual applicability becomes more obvious, and the student can play with it to suite their needs. This is the importance of understanding the tool. Butcherpaper and charcoal pencils might do just as well, however. Thus no specific tool has to play a required role in learning. In other words, Word doesn’t need to be the only game in town.
The word processor is another matter altogether since its working document structures are file dependent, hence its use as a writing process tool is more “hidden.” In my mind, hypertext tool more closely match thought process schemes. Others may disagree about this, but the disagreement is not damaging to conclusions having to do with preference. In Creative Writing I have students create mutiple files of a poem in progress. The word processor in this case works well as a “part” of the process leading to the completion of the skateboard study. In a expository or research task, the student may cut/paste writing into the WP from the weblog, reformat, revise in Word or WordPerfect, get all the Works Cited forms correct according the standards, print and submit for evaluation.
All of this, it must be emphasized, sounds easier than it actually is in practice, as all veteran writers know. There is no “best” way to develop ideas in writing. The methods must be understood and controlled, however. The pencil/paper method is fluid and dynamic. The writer may list, draw arrows and circles, lay numerous pages onto the table top for assessment and evaluation. This is impossible in a word processor (more closely matched in hypertext, though). The writer cannot, however, format the physical paper into draft copy by some sort of magical folding; they still have to “transfer” information onto other pieces of paper or type their ideas into the word processor’s “headspace.”