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The University of Florida offers an alternative to the first-year Writing About Literature course called Writing Through Media (ENG 1131), which can be taught in either a traditional classroom or an electronic environment. Its requirements are as follows: to introduce students to the transition underway between literacy and post-literacy in contemporary culture, to the basic principles of semiotics, and to the basic modes of organizing information that underlie and make coherent the apparent diversity of popular media narrative (enigma), argument (enthymeme), and image (trope).

I have now taught the Writing Through Media course for four semesters, teaching nearly the same course content each time, which has allowed me to refine my approach to using hypertext. Having been oriented a few years ago to the transition underway from print to online writing, I was generally enthusiastic about teaching hypertext. I initially approached the course through Greg Ulmer's framework called the mystory,
which he describes as a new genre of academic research. The mystory, a neologism, reflects the development of any individual's education. In Text Book, he writes: "[M]ystory is to the individual learning experience what history is to the nation" (p. 277). Mystorical writing is the act of researching and composing by way of one's personal style. A number of Ulmer's electronic classes have been guided by such writing. For examples, visit

I assumed that since I myself had created a number of mystorical projects in the past, I would not encounter any difficulty in teaching the approach. The first time I taught hypertext, however, I was quietly dissatisfied with the work I received, and I assumed full responsibility for any of those shortcomings. Most of the projects reflected the sentiment I have been reading about in some of the more recent posts on the Techrhet listserv: Students less preoccupied with content, and more concerned with flashy design. I realized a couple of other things that semester: 1) that my math instructor in community college has been correct after all these years in saying that simply knowing how to complete a task does not necessarily translating into knowing how to teach it; this point is surely common sense for most people, but it is a point of which we as educators need to be reminded, as the National Education Association and the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education both mindfully do. In the April 2002 issue of "Thriving in Academe" in the Advocate, Tim Riordan, Lucy Cromwell, and Sheryl Slocum who teach at Alverno College in Wisconsin offer the following helpful advice:

We need to select teaching strategies carefully, always keeping in mind what we want students to know and be able to do. And we need to design classroom assignments that in themselves are occasions for learning and that provide opportunities for students to practice important skills of self-assessment. Only then will students learn to take responsibility for their own learning both in their curricula and in their lives following graduation. (online)

This advice leads me to my second point: that I had not asked of my students what I truly expected. I quote at length another passage from the Advocate:

We need to be as clear as we can about our expectations for students at various points in the curriculum and communicate these expectations clearly to ourselves and our students. Without this shared understanding, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to take collective responsibility for our students' learning. (Online)

What seemed to be lacking in my pedagogy was nothing short of telos, an end goal, a sense of purpose. The first semester I taught in the NWE, I intentionally assigned projects that had seemingly little in common with one another, articulated few expectations, and purposely introduced material in confusing ways, hoping that students might be encouraged to develop their own ideas about how to complete the assignments. And while my methodology may have made sense to the students at the end of the semester--I asked students at the beginning of the semester to watch and discuss a clip from the film Philadelphia. At the end of the semester, I showed them the same clip and asked them how the clip relates to the course, to which they all answered illustriously--they seemed desperate and hopeless throughout. The teacher evaluations I received for that semester were eye-opening and disheartening, but honest and accurate. Students expressed largely a need for more direction. One thing I realized after reading the evaluations was that I always need to provide students with more information, even if I am attempting to try a new style of writing. I decided that I needed to foreground at the outset of the following semester some differences between print and online writing, and language in general. If I expected students to write mystorically, in favor of their own personal styles, then I needed to demonstrate why and how the formal essay may differ from a personal style. The second thing I decided to do was create a sense of purpose when designing the projects. This new, goal-oriented approach prompted me to declare in subsequent semesters that "everything I teach is interconnected," that "the class deals specifically with interconnectivity."