Sandra Jamieson, Drew University
October 7, 2000. Louisville, KY.
Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition.
The idea for the print-linked structure of the text you have heard described today (Coming of Age, Shamoon et al., 2000) was one Becky Howard and I had been discussing for a while as we imagined ways that new technologies might influence and shape pedagogy and the writing texts that support it. While the academic text you have heard described here was first a response to the economic demands of the marketplace that also has sound intellectual and practical merit, the print-linked textbook is first and foremost a response to the need for a new pedagogy, and secondarily a solution to an economic problemeven as it causes economic problems of its own. The impact of hypertext and the combination print and digital textbooks it makes possible can be imagined in several ways, as I will discuss in this paper. Our students, the children of MTV, have learned to value a variety of sites and literacies. They tend to value image over text and expect information to be delivered in a multimedia format, only one element of which occurs in the form of the printed book. While they seem ready for the fully integrated print-linked textbook, however, neither the academic world nor the publishers seem quite so ready, and both need to work through some of the issues already described in relation to the print-linked scholarly publication.
In Hypertext 2.0, George Landow describes hypertext as making
possible a "paradigm shift," which, he says, "marks a revolution of human
thought" requiring that we "abandon conceptual systems founded upon ideas
of center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them with ones
of multilinearity, nodes, links, and networks" and recognize "electronic
writing as a direct response to the strengths and weaknesses of the printed
book" (2). He quotes J. David Bolter's claim that "what is
unnatural in print becomes natural in the electronic medium and will soon
no longer need
In her book of the same name, Kathleen Welch argues that Electric Rhetoric, "the new merger of the written and the oral . . . brings a new performance, Sophistic performance, which is postmodern in its dispensing with unity, in its repetitive constructions, and in its commitment to mixing and fragmenting the images of mass and high modernist culture" (108). In addition to Welch and Landow, who I quoted earlier, Michael Hiem, Richard Lanham, Cynthia Selfe, Susan Hilligoss, and Myron Tuman all come to mind as theorists of the impact of hypertext or "electric rhetoric" on thought and literacy. I think we have yet to fully realize the relationship between the simultaneously seamlessly integrated and totally fragmented oral, visual, and print literacies of hypertext. Hypertextual literacy is a new literacy, yet, as Welch observes, it is still heavily influenced by print literacy because the values and intellectual structures of print literacy still dominate our thought patterns and structures of reasoning and value. To deny this is to risk being seduced by the new and exciting and thus to fail to see the importance of also teaching students to understand and operate in a print-dominated culture.
As prophetic as ever, Marshall McLuhan said in 1962:
If a technology is introduced either from within or from without a culture,We need to teach writing at the site of this interplay among our senses,never allowing the visual-or the electric-to numb us to the power of the traditional written word, but at the same time never ignoring the impact of the visual and the oral on the thought structures that underlay our shifting and developing modern literacies.
A print-linked textbook is, above all things, then, an integrated text.
Unlike electronic textbooks published solely on the web as part of distance
learning programs or as a response to the mass market requirement that
forces commercial textbooks to be general, the print-linked text has a
print component as well as an electronic component. The print component
is not simply part of the electronic text printed out by the user or mailed
by the instructor as an adjunct to the electronic text. Nor is the electronic
component simply an adjunct to the printed part, as is the case with the
Students using a print-linked text, on the other hand, are invited into
a world of textual inter-dependency. Neither the print text nor the electronic
text stands alone. Students may find introductions to topics, reading
and review questions, and writing assignments in print form and
College and high school students tend to find such a non hierarchical
relationship quite natural. They are used to receiving different
but complimentary information simultaneously from words, images, and sound.
They are used to the nonlinear hyperactivity of music videos, video games,
While many of us are rightly concerned about the digital divide that
separates the rich and poor in this country, few express concern about
the print-text divide. The science textbooks that ring up at over
$100 a piece and are reissued too regularly to make used copies available.
The anthologies that contain three times the material any one class could
use, and subsequently cost three times the price. The texts that
have been "dumbed down" and "flattened out" so they can appeal to the broadest
possible audience, and still cost over $40 a piece. These things
should give us cause for concern. Every US college campus has Internet
access and public computers but few libraries can keep up with the flood
of new textbook editions. In contrast, the print portion of a print-linked
So, what are the downsides of this utopic pedagogy I propose?
I think they are the same as those faced by any new information delivery
system. Unscrupulous capitalists could charge the same amount for
print-linked texts as for traditional printed texts because they can get
away with it.
Teachers could fail to spend the time learning to teach these new literacies and so resort to the information delivery systems and pedagogical practices they have always used, making these textbooks just another publishing fad that ends up having no real educational value because the theories behind it are ignored or deliberately undermined. You can no doubt continue this list for me.
These are real intellectual and workplace concerns. Learning a new way of teaching takes time and it takes that time from other activities that might be more necessary, like earning money or engaging in the intellectual work required for finding full time employment or for those lucky few who have already done so, earning promotion and tenure. And in this age of unbelievably exploited contingent labor we cannot ignore these limitations. Yet the patronizing assumption that part time teachers lack the ability to design their own courses, develop new ideas, or respond to innovation is one of the main forces that encourages textbooks to be dumbed down and prevents full time faculty from challenging the hierarchy that too often confuses time and luck with ability. I've heard too many WPAs say "well, that is an interesting textbook, but my teachers would never understand it / never be able to teach it." The issue of working conditions and academic labor tend to be the invisible forces limiting pedagogical innovation, and aside from the ethical issues of employing contingent labor at below poverty level wages, I think we need to address the related issues of hierarchy and professional respect before they totally undermine our programs and prevent us from providing the literacy education we owe our students. Teaching with technology is more time consuming than assigning readings with prepackaged questions and assignments. Active teaching is more time consuming than passive information delivery, and challenges to traditional pedagogy need to be explored in the institutional contexts in which they occur.
I believe that print-linked textbooks offer incredible pedagogical advantages
to our students, and to us as teachers who care about the development of
our students. They challenge traditional hierarchies of value, with the
printed text of the professional, published, author being given primacy.
By ceasing to valorize the printed text by the professional author, they
help students to value different texts, including their own. They
invite students to see connections between different media. They
encourage different literacies and help students see the mechanisms and
values of each kind. They teach students to critique texts in different
formats rather than just print-text. They require active learning
in place of passive information absorption. They promote two way-communication
rather than static one-way instruction and regurgitation. They
allow students to learn in the non-linear way that most of them find natural.
They are less expensive to produce and offer more flexibility of content.
Thus they allow textbooks to once again be produced for specific niches
rather than being forced to appeal to the greatest possible number of audiences.
This, in turn, offers teachers more flexibility and a more active relationship
to the material they teach. But before such texts can be produced
and have the revolutionary impact I believe they can have, we need to challenge
a lot of cultural baggage that still shapes our pedagogy and working conditions.
I hope we can do that.
Bolter, J. David. Writing Space: The Computer, Hytpertext, and the
History of Writing.
Hiem, Michael. Electric Language: A Philosophical Study
of Word Processing. New
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0: The convergence
of Contemporary Critical Theory
Lanham, Richard A. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology,
and the Arts. Chicago:
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Susan Hilligoss, eds. Literacy and Computers:
The Complications of
Shamoon, Linda K., Rebecca Moore Hopward, Sandra Jamieson, & Robert
A. Schwegler. eds.
Tuman, Myron C. Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age.
Pittsburgh: U. of Pittsburgh
Welch, Kathleen E. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism,
and a New Literacy.
c. Sandra Jamieson, 2000.