HyperStory: Teaching Short Fiction with Computers
The use of computers in the college English classroom has largely focused on word processing for the teaching of writing because such programs make tangible and more manageable an essential writing process that was previously elusive--the creation of a virtual page that is more solid than what goes on in the mind yet more flexible than what goes on a piece of paper. Other computer programs have not been so successful. Faculty have largely rejected drill-and- practice grammar programs because they do not embody an essential paradigm of learning how to write; indeed, research has shown that the conventions of English usage are better mastered within the context of the reading/writing process than in the isolated memorization of rules. Other programs, such as grammar and style checkers are less than helpful because they are not sensitive to context and therefore can flag only the most rule-bound violations of grammar and usage. No application has been created that embodies or objectifies an essential but previously elusive element of that other significant skill English faculty have traditionally taught--the reading of literature.
What it means to "teach literature" has become problematical in the last few years as graduate student and faculty interest in literary theory and cultural studies has pushed undergraduate instruction in literature classes farther and farther out to the fringes of the English curriculum. In the special January 1997 issue of PMLA on The Teaching of Literature, a panel discussion begins, predictably, with the graduate student question: "Is there such a thing as literature?" Although the discussion raised the usual theoretical, cultural, and gender-based considerations on this issue, there was little disagreement with one participant's conviction that literature, whatever it is, must be experienced, and that teachers should find ways to engage students in that experience. Another discussant, again without any disagreement, argued that teaching literature,