The Legacy of the Memex

This is a project of re-designing our Writing from Sources course (CW 1102) openly as a memex course: a course where the method is ostensibly centered on the technology.

From one angle, this is nothing new. All writing courses center their methodology on a particular technology. Traditional FYC courses center on writing for paper and typewriting (now word processor to paper). The teaching methods (journals, face to face discussions, workshopping) are all centered on moving from handwritten text production to a linear word processed, double-spaced document of 250 words to the page. The points of intervention - where other students or teacher might intercede - is in keeping with the paper model of text production. We have brainstorming sessions (others help us get started); then draft workshops (we create a draft entity solo); then transfer the text to word processed paper for product approval and comment.

No one learns to write in the abstract: Writing, as it is typically conceived, entails learning to use the current technologies of text production and the rhetorical strategies for production and distribution on paper. So, if we shift the writing technology from paper to wiki, we change teaching methods, material production, rhetorical strategies - and what can be learned.

This course would enact writing as using wikis / hypertext as a research and development spaces. Because wiki space isn't codified like paper or word processing, it doesn't carry the social baggage of "research paper"; and so wiki space is well suited to teaching research. The characteristics of wiki writing and wiki text make it amenable to what we want to teach about writing, and particularly so in CW II. Consider how wiki characteristics suit the characteristics of teaching research when research is re-conceived as something more than the research report, and when research is thought of as process rather than format.

Further, wiki writing strategies (ThreadMode > DocumentMode > ReFactoring) are well suited for research work because

As before: What we teach about writing is going to be grounded in the materiality of the medium. The new medium means teaching a new act of process.

[A note about designing interfaces to suit the kinds of pedagogical tasks learners are being asked to engage in: Giving students more tools than hammers. The omnium project seeks to do this for teaching Design The need for well-tooled interface design is becoming more and more clear as generic IMSs proliferate. The question is to consider what the wiki interface and capabilities encourages / makes possible, and how to better adapt it if necessary. ie: the wikimedia engine might prove one of the better for teaching writing because it better supports page history and page discussion. By the same token, it's hard to see what kind of learning - except lecture and response - an IMS supports. In being generic, it supports less and less.

An IMS demands that we adapt method to its constraints. The design approach starts with methods and designs to facilitate those methods. We can see this design-to-practice at work in Bush's design of the memex. I'd like to see it practiced again in incorporating wikis. Here's an overview of the MemexAsMethod.

Layout of the Course


I found a mention setting Ted Nelson's conception of hypertext against V Bush's conception. Nelson's was privileged because of its egalitarianism over Bush's: Bush's vision of the memex posited an expert (re) creating the same old hierarchies and sense of knowledge; the research trails are passed on to other experts who, it seems, may add to them but not literally re-cast or re-write them. Nelson, on the other hand, saw Xanadu as collective of readers-become-writers, more like the utopian sense of WikiPedia. This is not a software issue so much as a social power issue. However, if we take the historical moment to define hypertext as a text that all may revise, then Xanadu makes an inroad.

In hypertext, re-writing becomes significant, volatile. If the original author doesn't re-write, some one else will for her.
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