ICT in the Language Curriculum
written 11 Oct 2002 - revised May 2006
What will become of the subject once known as English? Here are some views:
The Humanities in Cyberspace
This article, though written in 1994, brings up some interesting issues. As we embrace the age of the net, to what extent will what we teach become dependant on what is available. Will we become increasingly dependant on American material on CD or DVD for source material? We are already aware of the effect that American TV and movies have in dominating the world of entertainment. Of course this is not an issue in America, but in NZ it certainly is.
The Voice of the Shuttle has links to many more resources on the subject of the Humanities in Cyberspace, also called Cyberculture.
2 Communication and Interpretation
3 Basic Level Projects
The Introductory Chapter gives a preamble on Hyperfiction. Hyperfiction is the first step in the chain of fictional writing technology. The chain is based on 3 levels of technology which correspond to Basic, Intermediate and Advanced in the webscool structure.
This section covers writing static hyperfiction.
- Static hyperfiction is a story written as a collection of webpages with interconnecting links. Stories with a simple structural framework can be written collaboratively.
- Dynamic hyperfiction is a story written as a collection of webpages but where the links and story content are influenced by cgi spcripts.
- Interactive Fiction (IF) is a script program typically written using a special tool which provides appropriate functions. The story is interpreted by a driver, and the reader interacts with the story on a sentence by sentence level. IF is a time-consumiong and skilled activity. Due to its internal complexity an IF story is usually written by one person.
The static webpage story can be implemented by using a sequence of interlinking web pages. Many technical reference books have this quality even in printed form and often have a roadmap at the start. Page xiii of ''The Art of Computer Programming Volume 1'' by D. Knuth, provides a good example spiced with some wry humour. However its purpose is more pedagogical, providing an example of a flowchart, than instructional.
The technology for constructing simple nonlinear stories is hypertext. At some point in the text the reader has an opportunity to click on a hyperlink and follow the text on that page rather than continue to read the text on the current page. At the foot of a page several alternative paths can be offered. Students need only to be able to understand basic <html> tags familiar from previous web-authoring exercises such as the class webpage.
Books have a closed quality. Literature in particular presents as a self-contained object. There are examples in literature of exploration outside this closed quality, such as the James Cary trilogy ''Herself Surprised'' in which three novels look at the same subject matter from the point of view of three characters. But even in the case of Cary's trilogy, each novel is self-contained and stands independently.
Web documents make use of the fact that the next page can just as easily be outside the author's ambit as inside. This document is an example. Web documents have an open structure. An open structure by itself may not be conducive to good storytelling which demands an opening, a development and a closure, but within this structure hypertext allows for an exploration of variable structure that cannot be delivered convincingly in a book.
A non-linear story needs to have its strands integrated on some level. The trick with hyperfiction is to choose a very loose structure in the story so that keeping the strands coordinated does not become a chore. Complex interrelating structure is better suited to writing as Interactive Fiction. A nonlinear story can be written to a loose format easily by using a subject. Some basic structures can be used and this is an interesting aspect of hyperfiction because it introduces students to formal information structures such as : tree, cyclic and ladder structures.
3.2 Tree Structure
Tree structure starts with a basic root and each page offers likns which divaricate to new pages. This kind of story has as many endings as branches in the story ad to get the full picture you have to traverse the tree many times covering your previous steps many times. Even so this structures has its uses in giving children the means to turn what they learn into a fun game. Here is a nice example:
A Bug's Adventure
3.3 The Haunted House
This format does not rely on narrative sequence, but rather on a variety of shock events as one moves through the rooms of a Haunted House. Being a Haunted House there does not need to be a strict physical relationship between rooms (pages) as there is in a real house. In addition there is a simple but handy trick: some pages can be made to be almost identical so that they represent the same room in different states, or Ghost room versions of the original room. The story consists of arriving at the door and exploring the house, exiting by the front door again. Upon entering there is a hallway and the first page involves walking the length of the hallway and back again to the front door, passing by rooms on each side of the hallway. The reader finishes the story at the foot of the first page, exiting by the front door. The reader may choose to enter a room. Events occur in the various rooms. Each room is handled the same way as the hall, by writing a sequence which performs a circumlocution of the room back to the first door.
The events that occur in each room don't really have to link up, but they could follow a theme that builds up a complex picture. There are thousands of themes. The trick is to find something that allows a theme to be expressed from a number of different points of view. Being a haunted house, the themes could be uniformly maudlin, but there are plenty of themes that can avoid death as a persistent element. Being a haunted house, noone expects anything to make sense; the comic, the dada and the surreal can be explored. Here are some sample themes, some about ghosts, some about living things, and of course the house can simply be empty but full of suggestive imagery.
Lewis Carrol's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is an obvious linear version of this kind of subject matter, but Carrol's theme was the different views that adults and children have of existential philosophy. He uses "Down the Rabbit Hole" and "Through the Looking Glass" as his vehicles instead of a Haunted House, though he does use the Hallway with curious doors technique. Other vehicles are "The Desert Island" (Robinson Crusoe - the first modern English novel), "The Dragon's Cave" (The Hobbit and leading to The Lord Of The Rings), "The Forbidden Planet" and "The Magic Mountain". These titles will suggest famous works of literature, but it is important to remember that we are not attempting to present a coherent work with interrelating characters and action that resolves here. We are using this genre for its freedom from these constraints.
The principle features of this structure are that each page represents a cyclic path of movement through space and back to the starting point. When you leave the bottom of a page you link back to the anchor which brought you to the top of the page in the first place. There are occasions when you arrive in a room from two different doors. Both entrances can be to the top of the page, but the page is written so that the way you enter the room is not significant. "This room has a musty smell. As you walk across the persian rug small clouds of dust billow around your feet. You stop in the center of the room and look around. . . ." At the bottom of the page you can choose which exit you want.
The Haunted House is also the title of a topic on creative writing for Y7-8. The goals of this topic, which emphasizes plot and character development, should not be confused with the use of this genre to explore loose structures in nonlinear narrative. However the use of illustrations on all these stories should be promoted, and they serve to break up the text so that following hyperlinks is more natural.
Karen Bellnier offers this hypertext mystery for Y8-9 written by adults. It comes with an assessment rubric for the problems contained in the story.
- Generic characters who died in World War 2. Their ghosts' actions could indicate how they feel and react to the way they died.
- Particular historical figures who were protagonists, e.g. Stalin, Hitler and Churchill. Many famous plays are written on a similar premise.
- Animals living in the house, or the ghosts of pets which have died by various means.
- The house could be inhabited by strange living people of the likes of Dickens' Miss Haversham.
- Cartoon characters or the ghosts of circus clowns.
- The deserted house of some famous person. Readers try to guess who the person is from the objects found in the house.
3.4 Multiple Perspectives
WEBSCOOL is an example of just such a multi-narrative book. Certain themes form strands which span the Chapters, such as this topic of writing stories, or tools for working with music or with images. The reader can follow these strands progressively missing out other aspects which are not of interest. This document is also open ended. Many links lead outside this document and into other websites that are organized according to an entirely different set of narrative strands. For instance Te Kete Ipurangi is structured according to curriculum strands, whereas this document is structured according to levels of ICT sophistication.
This observation opens the way to see how some nonlinear narratives can be written. It is possible to use the same content but access it in different ways. A story can be written from the point of view of the various characters in the story. Although they are present at the same events - they see different things, and interpret events differently. Much literature has been written along these lines but ultimately it is all defeated by the linear nature of the book (or movie) medium.
One way that this structure has been handled in the past is the Detective Genre. Here the Detective acts as the reader's agent, and interviews the witnesses, collecting their facets of memory of events to build up a complete picture, solve a problem and be able to see the whole story which none of the witnesses could see individually. The information provided can be muddied by misinformation just to make the reconstruction process a little more difficult.
Using nonlinear media, the need for the Detective intermediary can be dispensed with. We can simply observe the individual characters separately. This opens the way for explorations of events other than secretive murders.
Alternatively, this genre can use simple plot, and explore character more, perhaps in keeping with the style of Katherine Mansfield.
A ladder like structure is used to portray these stories. Several long webpages have links between each other which maintain the narrative sequence down the page.
3.5 Interlocking Structure and Graphs
If we try to develop more structure in the story:
Then the writer needs to plan structure carefully using flowchart techniques. This Pathways resource provides materials for learning how to use flowcharts to structure stories.
One way to usefully accomplish this and introduce the notion of graph as a way of managing complex structures is to have a board with the story planned out on it and the links connected by pins and string. It may be useful to attach a note to each piece of string to say what assumptions about the story the reader carries with through the link. Each page will be read differently depending on what was read prior to reaching the page. You can then read a page knowing the different sets of assumptions that each reader will have. You will also be able to check if the reader reachess the end the story with a full understanding of it. This is a practical example of an information network.
- with characters meeting on certain pages for certain events,
- maintaining a braided time narrative,
- and have a story which develops and resolves:
The Beacon School in New York NY uses this material. 2000 appears to havwe been the last year they did hyperfiction, Chris Lehmann left Beacon in 2004.
4 Intermediate Level Projects
4.1 Dynamic Hyperfiction
Dynamic Hyperfiction goes a step beyond Basic Hyperfiction by using CGI scripts to manage the delivery of webpages. This allows for a better control of narrative flow. The readers knowledge base can also be tracked and the pages that are delivered can be edited to reflect what the reader currently knows.
While this form of hyperfiction is not common, it may become so as children writing basic hyperfiction become frustrated with its limitations. The availability of webservers such as tclhttpd that are easy to use and can make your home computer into a webserver will also mak this develop easier to pursue.
The simplest technique for managing dynamic hyperfiction is to use a reader's cookie which has the reader's linkage path sequence. This path represents what the reader has read and can know at any point in the traversal of the story. The path sequence represents a sequence of letters (each link being a letter) and the set of all possible paths can be represented by a regular expression. A finite automoton can be used to read the path and calculate the readers understanding at any point. This might be story writing but it now includes important aspects of mathematics and ICT theory, and could be used in conjunction with teching these at Y10-
5 Material for specific Years or Levels
5.1 Level 1 Year 1
5.2 Level 6-8 Year 12-13
184.108.40.206 Intensity of Experience
220.127.116.11 Persistence of Memory
18.104.22.168.1 The Crucible by Henry Miller
Resource Material for The Crucible is available at Unitech Auckland.
Resource material and an historians view. This raises the question, to what extent did Miller rearrange history to create a "Fatal Attraction" type story which the Washington Post Reviewer of the 1996 movie by Miller's screenplay subtitled "Revenge of the Blood Crazed Teenage Bimbos from Inner Space"? In other words, Miller creates a story in which the moral polemic is just a ploy to sanitise the story and keep the rational mind engaged while the play does its dirty work in presenting a public domination/humiliation scene leading to ultimate autoerotic strangulation fantasy of the male (at least) subconscious. Yes, a sexploitation movie of the teenage rape horror genre. All Miller deviations from record go in that direction, a younger hero, naked virgins dancing in the forest ( shades of Golden Bough ), vengeful rejected teenage girl, multiple hangings.... Miller himself alludes to an obsessive quality to the story that he cant pin down ( my ass!) in his post premier interview. Oddly enough the reviewers are not unaware of what the movie is really about. But compare Miller's treatment of this subject to Shakespeare's treatment of Romeo and Juliet and you may develop a cynical view of theatre.
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