One of my favorite themes to share with educators and administrators in my presentations about learning and technology involves hyperlinked writing. In my workshop about sharing student work online at the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong conference two weeks ago, I asked audience members to repeat the following phrase after me:

Hyperlinked writing is the most powerful form of writing.

Audience members are welcome to disagree with me, but I contend the ability to connect our words to the ideas and thoughts of others as well as online multimedia (via hyperlinked writing) represents communicative power unimagined even a few years ago. For the vast majority of parents and classroom teachers today, who grew up in the 20th century classroom, the concept and power of hyperlinked writing is foreign and unfamiliar.

Shelly Blake-Plock shared the 4 minute YouTube video today, “Jay Rosen of NYU on the Ethic of the Link.” In the video, Rosen explains why mainstream media outlets (which started “repurposing their analog/paper-based content online in the mid-1990s) generally failed to understand and embrace “the ethic of the link.” Rather than generously linking readers and viewers “out” to the knowledge residing online on other websites, many mainstream media sites tended (and still tend) to link visitors to their own site exclusively. (With the exception of advertising links, of course.)

One of the reasons our students and teachers need to be regularly blogging and creating hyperlinked content on wikis is to gain competency and understanding of the power of hyperlinked writing. I addressed this in my May 2009 post, “Why should middle school students blog?” and July 2009 post, “What’s your media platform for knowledge sharing?” That latter post title would probably be a better presentation or workshop title than something like, “Wikis 101” or “Introduction to Educational Blogging.” Many adults are intimidated by terms like “blogs” and “wikis,” yet the idea of “knowledge sharing” is not foreign. Sharing knowledge digitally through hyperlinks and embedded media IS foreign to many, however. Hyperlinked writing is one of the most important topics we can address, share, and encourage educators to learn ABOUT and how to DO personally today.

There is a natural parallel to the behavior we have seen when it comes to mainstream media ‘repurposing content’ online and many school organizations and teachers who see the online world as merely a place to “do school” the same way we’ve done it for decades in face-to-face classes. This tendency is unfortunate and a mistake. While we certainly can (as Marco Torres points out in some of his presentations) to simply ask students to read pages 1 – 10, and answer questions 1 – 10 at the end of the chapter using online websites and electronic whiteboards, such a use of technology fundamentally “misses” the transformative power of digital and social media. Blended learning is about knowledge CREATION and knowledge SHARING, not simply content consumption. We must encourage learners of all ages to become media PROSUMERS rather than simply consumers, to develop media literacy skills as well as a host of other dispositions and skills vital for success in the 21st century knowledge landscape.

Kenyan schoolboy using a Flip camera

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2 Responses to The Ethic of the Link, Hyperlinked Writing, and Mainstream Media Link Hangups

  1. Dan Agins says:

    Well said Wesley. I agree with you about the power of the hyperlink 100%. I teach my students the “art of hyperlinking” early on in the year. There really is an “art” to it, in terms of word choice and link placement. Unfortunately when they move on to the high school (I teach 8th grade) it appears they do less and less of it and more and more traditional work (which is another way of saying hyperlinking and the like ceases and reading for the bold print continues). I’m curious if there is any data out there that shows which schools engage more with technology, meaning: elementary, middle, or high school? In addition, which subjects tend to embed technology more in their lessons? Maybe a topic for a new post? Keep up the good work!

  2. […] begins Wesley Fryer’s excellent (linked) post in defense of the importance of learning to write using hyperlinks. Citing Shelly […]

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