. . . Fil's spelling was proverbial in the form, and was
often of a purely phonetic character. Miss Strong had periodical crusades
to improve it, but generally gave them up as a bad job, and recommended
constant use of a dictionary instead.
[Later, Fil sighs to Ingred] "I wish . . . that someone would invent a typewriter that would just spell the words ready-made when you press a button."
"There's a fortune waiting for the man who does," agreed Ingred. "'The Royal-Road-To-Learning Typewriter: spells of itself.' It would sell by the million, I should think."
(Angela Brazil, A Popular Schoolgirl, Blackie & Son, 1920, pp35, 76-7)
The development of the ebook will have profound effects
on the way in which both teaching and teaching materials are delivered
in the future. Changes in the nature of the book as it moves from a print
medium to an electronic hypermedium will inevitably affect the form and
content of academic and other textbooks. Allied with the development of
other forms of electronic communication, the academy of the late twentieth
century is likely to become unrecognisable by the end of the twenty-first.
The Effects on the Textbook
At the time of writing, 1997, the majority of non-fiction
electronic books are based on the encyclopaedia model, since the superiority
of electronic books for data retrieval has already been demonstrated.
The Virtual Worlds of Girls hypertext cluster is designed to explore
the effects of the ebook on the form and content of the humanities/social
sciences research textbook, and demonstrates that translating the printed
textbook into its electronic form results in some fundamental changes in
the content and structure of research publications, together with the way
in which readers perceive and use them.
First, in 1997, printed theses and research text books share an almost identical structure and length, varying only in their presentation and the numbers produced. (Whereas theses are now word-processed in double-spacing and are then presented as a few handbound A4 hard copies; textbooks have been further processed in single spacing before being professionally printed and bound in multiple copies in a variety of standard sizes.) Printed theses and textbooks are therefore interchangeable from the point of comparison with e-books, and have the following characteristics.
Electronic textbooks, in contrast, give the reader far greater control over the reading process, as well as greater ease of reading.
Second, while the traditional printed textbook exists
in isolation from other texts, the electronic textbook makes the relationship
between texts explicit and actual. For example, in the electronic online
library of the future, the use of hypertext links would allow readers to
enter and read any other book referenced in the footnotes of an electronic
The reading process of the electronic research textbook is therefore fundamentally
different to that of the printed textbook.
Third, both the content and the reading process are further
affected by the ability of the electronic textbook to include moving and
still images and sound, taking "reading" from a purely textual
to an audio-visual experience. Whereas the traditional reader beholds the
subject entirely through the author's eyes, firmly guided by them though
the material, the ebook reader sees further and more independently. Rather
than simply accepting the author's assessment of an interviewee and the
summary of their words, they are able to watch and hear the interview for
themselves. Rather than simply accepting the author's descriptions of people
and places, they are able to see images for themselves. And rather than
following the author's structure, they are able to choose their own route
through the material, following topics at will.
Academics, who adopted photography in the nineteenth century
as a research tool and audio recording in the twentieth, will have to add
picture research and video recording to their skills in the twenty-first
century, following the lead of anthropologists who have traditionally been
quick to make use of new media. As with photography and audio recording,
it will be possible because of technological developments bringing the
necessary equipment within the financial reach and technical expertise
of ordinary people.
Finally, the structure of the electronic research textbook also allows it to be read and used at a number of different levels. In the case of the Virtual Worlds of Girls hypertext cluster:
Ultimately, of course, the author of the electronic textbook
still retains control, choosing the content, presentation and overall structure.
But the printed book's structure is extremely rigid, and in the case of
the footnotes and subject index, difficult to use to gain further information,
while the printed page forms a barrier which the reader cannot penetrate,
leaving them entirely in the hands of the author. The electronic research
textbook, in contrast, allows the reader to see more deeply and to have
greater control over the reading process, and therefore offers them greater
freedom to draw their own conclusions. This is particularly appropriate
for the presentation of research findings in a postmodern world, as well
as offering richer research opportunities to academics of future generations.
The Effects on the Academy
What impact will the ebook have on the academy? The development
of electronic, "online" libraries, where an infinite number of
readers can make digital copies and so have access to the same text at
once, could have a dramatic and liberating effect on the material available
for research and teaching. Teachers would no longer have to limit their
course materials to those which are "affordable", in print and
accessible in a particular geographic area. Instead, teachers and students
would potentially be able to access any text which has ever been published.
Teachers and students would become aware of a much wider selection of material
than previously, through the use of "search engines"
and hypertext links. Landow points out that: "All the qualities of
connectivity, preservation, and accessibility that make hypertext an enormously
valuable teaching resource make it equally valuable as a scholarly tool".
Translation programmes also break down the barriers which presently mean
that few scholars are aware of work being carried out by those writing
in a different language.
(Of course, none of these effects are inevitable. For
example, today's canon of approved printed texts could simply be replaced
by a group of links to approved electronic texts; the power of the critic
replaced by the power of the link-
this hypertext cluster is already linked on the World Wide Web to a number
of academic sites which do just that. If texts are not supported by the
authority of these links, they may be ignored. Equally, the cost of publishing
a text electronically could rise, excluding many texts. And access to particular
texts could also be restricted, to those who can pay or to those who are
members of a particular institution or organisation.)
The nature of academic books and teaching materials will also change. Cotton and Oliver write that:
hypermedia is the supreme medium for bricolage. This,
the bringing together of existing elements to create something new, has
been one of the characteristics of many of the arts heralded as precursors
of hypermedia. At a deeper level, bricolage can be seen as a fundamental
aspect of human creativity. Nothing that any of us creates is totally new.
Everyone, including the most brilliant and original, draws on existing
elements of the culture. What makes something new and original is the organisation
of those existing elements into new and original relationships, combined
with the detail of their expression.
. . . It is hardly suprising if ideas like this fill people with a sense of unease. It is part of our common heritage. Even though most of us know that one of the characteristics of legitimate, respectable and original academic works is that they consist of direct and indirect quotes linked by the author's commentary, most of us still carry the notion that copying is wrong.
It is interesting to note here that Gill Kirkup identifies
bricolage as a characteristically feminine way of working.
Cotton and Oliver go on to point out that "quotes"
can also be modified when reproduced electronically, and that "as
well as text, sound, images and moving images can be sampled and assembled
in new forms". Landow adds that the availability of texts online means
that quoting does not even involve retyping, just the use of the computer's
"copy and paste" function to transfer the desired text into his
Copyright, of course, will never have been more problematic.
But this change in the nature of the book will mean that a new type of
teaching material can be created: part survey, in that it can bring together
quotes from a range of sources on a particular topic, linking back to each
of them; and part notes to the texts being quoted and linked.
Another way in which the nature of academic books and
teaching materials will change is in length. The ebook allows still and
moving images and sound files to be incorporated along with written text,
while its ability to offer a non-linear reading experience is almost certain
to result in more material being included by the author. Increasing the
size of a printed book means increasing the number of pages and thus the
printing costs, as well as increasing the storage requirements and distribution
costs (for example in postage). Increasing the size of an ebook has none
of these implications, as a single CD Rom can store the equivalent of 200,000
A4 pages of text.
And when online, of course, an infinite number of texts can be linked to
each other without needing to be stored in the same place, as the World
Spender prophesies that the first publications to be affected
will be research-based. A reduction in library funding has meant that there
has been "a huge reduction in library subscriptions to print journals"
which has affected their viability, meaning that journals are already being
published electronically. She adds that "it is only a matter of time
before we have research reports and PhDs presented as software or videodisk"-
this hypertext cluster, of course, being a case in point.
Spender warns that electronic publication could lead to
the disappearance of the traditional process of checking, scrutinising
and assessing - "refereeing" - research before it is published,
although she is not greatly disturbed at the prospect. However, while this
is certainly possible and is true of publishing on the World Wide Web today,
it would by no means necessarily be true in the majority of cases in the
future, since online readers may start to demand the very quality controls
which print publishers impose today. It is almost certainly the case that
writers will continue to be able to publish online without regard to editors
or publishers, but whether anyone will wish to read their work without
external recommendation is another issue entirely.
Ultimately, the ebook and other hypermedia technologies may lead to the end of the academy as we know it. Teachers and academics may be replaced by electronic learning programmes; academic communities may be replaced by networks of individuals working from home or industry. Cotton and Oliver warn that:
Hypermedia is the first educational technology that is
likely to become a really effective means of learning. Increasingly, as
this is demonstrated, there will be a strong temptation for those administering
education to shift expenditure away from people, who are relatively expensive,
to technology, which (if adopted on a mass scale) is relatively cheap .
. . A more appropriate strategy would be to accept a change in the role
of teachers away from being a deliverer of content (which in many cases
will be more effectively carried out by hypermedia) towards the role of
"facilitator" or "manager" of learning.
If hypermedia is going to be as powerful a medium for learning as it appears, it is also going to be available in the home and in the workplace. It is highly probable that its adoption there will be considerably quicker than it is within educational institutions, and that learning will be done more effectively at home or at work. The function of schools, colleges and universities will then naturally be questioned.
Spender, however, prophesies that educational institutions will survive, but only by adapting and changing their primary function.
For many reasons (some of them less than admirable) we will probably continue to want young people "institutionalised". But this is to suggest that educational institutions are going to have to find new reasons for their existence and new functions to fulfil. Schools and colleges and universities are going to have to undergo radical restructuring right now, or else find themselves without a role. Because if they are not places to go for information - and for the skills on how to get it, organise it and utilise it - then what are they there for?
Academics will certainly have to develop new skills. Spender prophesies that research will increasingly be presented orally or visually rather than in written form, meaning that academics will have to learn to ""perform" which she describes as a "grave implication". She adds that:
Performance is not confined to going public with the work. It is also reaching into the process of research itself. Action-based research, for instance, illustrates the way in which market research, television and polling research are merging with the traditional academic model.
Perhaps, though, this will have benefits unforeseen by
Spender. In the current academic climate in the UK, "teachers"
are being continually devalued in favour of "researchers", although
this divide is in itself arbitrary and often untenable in reality. Since
teachers must already perform in order to deliver their lessons, their
status may quickly recover with the advent of electronic teaching. Meanwhile
the researcher who is unable to perform must face a future as part of a
team, while the teacher who is a poor performer may finally be recognised
for what they are, a poor teacher - and it is unlikely that the disappearance
of poor teachers will be mourned by anyone but themselves.
There are other implications, too, for the way in which teaching is delivered, particularly in terms of day-to-day contact with other academics. Landow points out that:
Hypertext also obviously provides us with a far more convenient and efficient means than has previously existed of teaching courses in a single discipline that need the support of other disciplines . . . this educational technology permits teachers to teach in the virtual presence of other teachers and other subsections of their own discipline or other closely related disciplines.
As a result, Landow warns that the role of academics will have to change, since the power relationship between teachers and students will be altered.
Educational hypertext redefines the role of instructors by transferring some of their power and authority to students. This technology has the power to make the teacher more a coach than a lecturer, and more an older, more experienced partner in a collaboration than an authenticated leader. Needless to say, not all my colleagues respond to such possibilities with cries of glee and hymns of joy.
The transfer of authority from people to technology will indeed have a profound effect on the balance of power within the academy. Traditionally, as Spender points out:
teachers are the ones who know . . . their task is to channel what they know into the students. Students are supposed to sit there passively in serried rows and take all this in. They become knowers when they store all that they have been taught in their own heads.
But, as she continues:
This theory about knowledge and its transmission is also
becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. In the electronic world, we
don't have knowers: we have users . . .
Even if teachers were to make the shift and become users, and part of the new culture, they would still not be able to regain their status as knowers, as people in possession of a stock of approved information to pass on. Apart from the fact that ""someone who knows" is an irrelevant category in a computer-based world, there is the issue that it is simply not humanly possible to be a knower any more. There is just too much information . . .
How else will students be affected by the use of hypermedia in teaching? Landow points out that it could first widen access to the academy, since physical access would not be essential.
The very qualities that make hypertext an efficient means of supporting interdisciplinary learning also permit students to work without having to be resident at a geographical or spatial site. In other words, the adaptable virtual presence of hypermedia contributors serves both the distant, unconventional learner and the college student in a more conventional setting.
Spender has noted the impact that it will have on the nature of students' work.
It was once the case . . . that in any research project (PhD included), the "review of the literature" was often the most time-consuming task . . . But these days, an electronic search and a data-surf of the bulletin boards takes but a matter of minutes, and provides more detailed and up-to-date information than two years of solid work might have yielded a decade ago.
I think that this is overstating the case somewhat, but there is little doubt that the nature of postgraduate study will change significantly as literature searches take up proportionately less of their time, while undergraduates will become active rather than passive learners as they are empowered to carry out a greater amount of literature research for themselves. And, as Landow points out:
Students making use of hypertext systems participate actively in two related ways: they act as reader-authors both by choosing individual paths through linked primary and secondary texts and by adding texts and links to the docuverse . . .
Students' competence will certainly have to be judged differently. Spender points out that:
The teaching/learning model which currently predominates
is one in which learning is held to take place when students have memorised,
stored, and kept in their heads, the knowledge that their teachers have
taught them . . . Frequently, they can be judged to have passed or failed,
depending on what they have retained in their heads, and the extent to
which they can accurately re-present it . . .
In comparison to electronic retrieval systems, heads are poor storage systems . . .
This sort of knowing isn't going to be of much use any more. No one can know enough in cyberspace.
Perhaps, like Spender, women in the academy will find
the implications of the move to electronic forms of teaching and learning
less threatening than men. After all, women are currently marginalised
within the academy, both in terms of employment and the curriculum,
and in the labour market as a whole women are believed to be more flexible
and to find it easier to adapt to change. Feminist literary critic and
academic Elaine Showalter has already welcomed the trend. She writes that:
"Only the high priesthood of literature is in danger and it is its
own worst enemy. As for me, I'm looking forward to teaching my first course
on 21st century literature, even if it comes with modems, tapes and a lot
Those teachers who don't share this view, Spender prophesies, will become
However, a welcoming attitude to the possibilities offered by electronic media may not be enough, particularly if one is unable to afford the cappucino. And as well as women's more limited incomes making financial access difficult, Spender and many others have demonstrated convincingly that girls' physical access to computers is obstructed by male peers, teachers and parents from pre-school age onwards, and that they face a high level of abuse and harrassment within the computer classroom and laboratory. Spender warns that:
There is ample evidence that women are being further and further marginalised - that in the next century, the verdict will be that women were worse off after the electronic revolution that they were before it, unless drastic changes are made very quickly to ensure access and equity for women in relation to the electronic medium.
As Margaret Lowe Benston points out, achieving change
will not be a simple process, since fundamental to using technology is
a belief in the right - and confidence in the ability - to dominate nature
and to control the physical world; a belief which characterises the male
rather than the female gender role.
Women in the academy therefore need to act now if they are to ensure that
both they and their female students obtain the benefits which electronic
media can bring them. Women need to be visibly using technology before
the perceptions of it as anything but a man's field will change; and women
academics have the power to do this, both in their teaching and in their
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