Developing Text for
Diane J. Davis
University of Pittsburgh
One of the major issues that faculty encounter as they design Web-based courses is how to incorporate the vast amounts of textual materials common in college-level courses. There is ample evidence to suggest that the use of text, at least in any substantive quantity, is problematic for online instruction. Faculty are told that learners seem to prefer to read textual materials in hard-copy form and will print to read any lengthy online instructional text. In these cases, the Web becomes a text file dissemination device for online or Web-enhanced courses.
Most instruction in higher education, regardless of pedagogical approach, requires use of text. Whether an instructor is providing course enhancement through the Web or a complete online course, text will be an integral part of the instruction. This chapter examines literature related to the use of online text. Specifically, it focuses on how research and practice can inform our use of electronic text for instruction.
Electronic text comes in a variety of forms. Some authors differentiate between hypertext, which is characterized by embedded links and nodes (see Unz & Hesse, 1999, for example), and serial text, which is designed to be read in a linear, sequential manner. Thuring, Hannemann, and Haake (1995) further distinguish between hyperbases, browsable databases that can be freely explored by the reader, and hyperdocuments “that intentionally guide readers through an information space, controlling their exploration along the lines of a predetermined structure” (p. 57). The term hypermedia typically refers to hypertext that incorporates other media such as audio, video, and graphics. For the purpose of this chapter, the term continuous hypertext is used to refer to the kinds of text we are most likely to encounter in Web-based courses. This term is adapted from Muter (1996) to refer to hypertext that is intended to be used in a manner predetermined by the designer, and that may or may not include graphics, audio, or video.