You undoubtedly used a hyperlink to get to this post. You’re so used to them that the instinct to click or tap on blue, underlined text can probably drive you to distraction.
Students work the same way, living in a world saturated with interconnected documents that have been created to lead readers from one resource to another, in a chain of citation, explanation, and elaboration that has been growing exponentially for the past 25 years. Students know about hyperlinks; we don’t need to teach them how to use them. But do our students know how to create hyperlinks and how ubiquitous hyperlinking tools are? Do they know when it’s appropriate to create them, and what effect they can have on a piece of writing?
From my experiences teaching high-school and college writing classes, I’ve found that students don’t often think to add hyperlinks to their documents created for class because most of their assignments have been designed with print-centric expectations. They create documents designed for an 8½ × 11-inch page, double-spaced (a convention adopted to make room for proofreaders’ marks (remember those?), and with an MLA-standard list of Works Cited at the end. (Who, besides the teacher, ever reads lists of citations, anyway? I now believe many teachers use them as little more than a schadenfreude-generating device.) Their work looks the same as work created centuries ago on typewriters. Except now, that work is created on an expensive, powerful typewriter that is connected to millions of other expensive, powerful typewriters all around the world. Even so, student work is typically designed for paper, even if it’s created, submitted, scored, and revised electronically.
Because so many of our documents spend so much of their lives as digital files, we should take advantage of digital opportunities and let go of our paper-derived standards or limitations. One of the simplest and most flexible tools for moving away from a paper-based mindset is by adding hyperlinks. Most any text-editing program supports the addition of hyperlinks, including Word, the world’s most commonly used word processor. All other major word-processing programs and online publication systems support hyperlink creation. Here’s how to do it in Pages, OpenOffice Writer, WordPress, and Blogger. Once a student learns how and why to make hyperlinks in one environment, transferring that practice into another is trivial. The icon is even nearly universal.
Hyperlinks could be integrated into students’ essay-writing process in several ways.
Elaboration — Students could show audience awareness by linking concepts potentially unfamiliar to their audience to sources of background information.
Corroboration — Rather than being tempted to plagiarize from other sources, students could foreground the ideas of other authors by linking to source material that supports their own ideas or providing links to complete sources when they quote excerpts.
Refutation — Students love pointing out when someone on the Internet is wrong. They could highlight the exigence of their writing by pointing out the source with which they disagree. Not only does that give students an opportunity to connect their work with the world around them; it also shows how writing can be a response to a real situation, rather than an arbitrary in-class scenario.
Citation — Perhaps the most relevant use of hyperlinks in student writing comes from their Works Cited lists. Students prefer the convenience and simplicity of online sources, so why not encourage their responsible use by having students provide well-documented links to their original sources within their Works Cited lists? Even better, students could make the parenthetical citations within their documents link to the relevant entry in the Works Cited list, which itself could link to the external source.
Conversation — With a little extra collaboration, students could have their documents refer to one another’s writing, engaging other authors in direct conversation, using peers as sources for their discussions. This use requires that student work be accessible online, so it’s likely only to work within environments like Google Drive, but if students cite one another in their own writing, they would add credibility and purpose to one another’s texts.
Our world is saturated with interconnected documents. It’s time we show our students how to be a part of that world and create documents that refer to one another. If we show students that even their standard word processor can create interconnected documents, they could apply that practice to their future writing scenarios, expecting their own documents to spread beyond the digital page.