Historical and theoretical studies is an integral part of virtually ail courses in art and design education. In this educational context students are exposed to a wide range of visual media and courses and projects are designed to provide students with sophisticated two dimensional and three dimensional manipulative and visualisation skills. The introduction of hypertext into the theoretical studies curriculum is designed to introduce students to aspects of computing which are relevant both to theory and research based projects and to the practical, image manipulation skills associated with studio and workshop practice.
Theoretical studies departments in colleges of art and design, as with many humanities courses, usually demand that students present their ideas and the results of their theoretical researches by means of the strict linear narrative of an essay or thesis. However, with the advent of electronic interactive documents opportunities are available for the studenVauthor to develop approaches to knowledge/text manipulation and presentation which can draw upon non-linear modes of thinking. The construction of documents in hypertext develops students' visualisation and design skills in ways that are not encountered in the linear narrative of the conventional essay or thesis.
This case study, examining research and text management through hypertext authoring, is specifically concerned with the relationship between theory and practice in art and design and with ways in which theory might be managed and presented using the visualisation skills derived from practice.
In art and design education attempts are regularly made to identify new media which have genuine potential for creative authoring. Such media must possess features traditionally associated with art and design practice. They must show a high degree of flexibility so they can be moulded and shaped according to the intuitions, flights of fancy, or communication needs of the individual artist and designer.
Clearly in an educational environment where students are exposed to a wide range of visual media and where courses involve Ihe development of creative visualisation and design skills the construction of graphic images provides students with familiar models for the interrelating of ideas, images and text. This makes students' graphic constructions valuable aids to perception, learning, data organisation, concept manipulation and communication. Such processes are also fundamental to the construction of hypertext documents.
Similarly, problems of navigation, mapping, management of multiple pathways which are intrinsic to hypertext systems are also central to art and design practice. The ability to create pictures, 3D constructions, diagrams, symbols, graphic signs, even simple box/arrow structures should give art and design students a ready purchase on the processes by which theoretical material is organised in hypertext systems. Furthermore It should enable tutors to approach students' theoretical material in ways which, from the point of view of critical discussion, have much in common with critical tutoring in studio and workshop contexts.
In schools of art and design courses in history and complementary
theory enable students to extend and deepen their intellectual
understanding of art and design practice, to develop their powers of
critical thinking, to increase their visual and formal awareness of
works of art, to gain a deeper insight into the social, political and
ideological factors which influence the production and interpretation
of visual media and to generally introduce them to the knowledge and
perspectives derived from a wide range of humanities disciplines. The
case for introducing hypertext authoring systems into the theoretical
studies curriculum is that it might enable students to manipulate
information and concepts in ways which mal
Sometimes described as 'concept mapping' this authoring device permits text based descriptions of ideas or concepts to be interconnected and displayed employing linking devices which show structural and functional relationships between discrete bodies of information.
The introduction of hypertext into the theoretical studies curriculum is designed to introduce students to aspects of computing which are directly relevant to theory-based projects situated in an art and design school where courses are predominantly devoted to the teaching of practical, image manipulation skills. Through the design of hypertext based concept maps the student author can deploy sophisticated graphic visualisation skills to enhance the conceptual management of the theoretical research material.
Such visualisation skills permit the design not only of categories and sub-categories of information as in conventional database design but of linking structures showing 'meaningful' relationships between categories of information. The degree of 'meaningfulness' would be directly related to the author's selection of elements for presentation together with the patterns of links by means of which the discrete elements are interconnected. A variety of terms are currently being employed in the various explorations of this mode of authoring. King (1984 p17) for example refers to similar authoring features as Frames:
These are also processes fundamental to the construction of hypertext documents. The use of such teaching and learning techniques in the context of art and design education allows students to engage in theoretical investigations while deploying techniques and processes which have many formal simiiarities with their studio-based practical projects.
It might be argued that even in documents which consist wholly of text based information the devising of navigation routes relating to potential meanings becomes a problem of overview or map-making. Although graphic images might not be included within the body of information, the design and manipulation of the system as a whole could be dependent upon those object and image manipulation skills which are an integral part of art and design practice. If it is the case that information management in hypertext systems necessitates plans, maps, charts or diagrams for navigational purposes then clearly a fruitful relationship exists between theoretical research presentation in hypertext and the characteristics of art and design production.
During the 1980's the advent of low priced computers (particularly the Apple Macintosh) and easy to use hypertext software made it possible to explore the potential for introducing students to a medium which seemed ideally suited to art and design courses. One of the first systems to be tried at Coventry was Filevision which is essentially a graphics based multiple linking system. Later Guide provided similar characteristics but was specifically dedicated to text handling. More recently students have been using HyperCard which permits the author to modify the system through its built-in programming language, HyperTalk. The following examples give an indication of the capabilities of the three packages referred to and illustrate some of the possibilities for their use in projects where students are taught to relate theoretical concepts and text to pictures, charts, diagrams and maps.
Filevision is a flexible graphics-based data-base package designed for use on the Macintosh computer. The system's special feature is that it allows the user to put pictures and diagrams together with attached data fields. It thus encourages the user to organise data by means of graphic displays. Filevision helps the user to visualise ideas and bodies of information. It integrates graphics and information management.
The Filevision system enables the user to create, manipulate, store and retrieve information through a picture or syrnbol of what that information means in visual terms. Students learn to design a networked data-base or filing system through a picture, diagram or visual model of that information. The data is thus structured in the system in a way which represents, to the author, a recognisable aspect of the real world.
Guide is essentially a text based system which runs on the Macintosh computer. It has been described as a 'three dimensional outliner'. Although Guide allows a user to to browse through documents following individually determined routes the studenVauthor must pay considerable attention to the design and construction of the document.
Potential 'meaningful' routes have to be structured in advance of text production in order to allow the user to brows' through the finished document. Guide can be used to create research presentations, proposals, instruction manuals, reports, works of fiction, poetic and dramatic narratives or any document where information needs to be communicated in some structured form. It is this process of designing and structuring which, from an educational point of view, can provide insights into the conceptual and intellectual problems associated with the development of an idea into some communicable end product.
HyperCard is an authoring system and an information organiser designed by Apple for the macintosh computer. The author generates 'stacks' of information. HyperCard can be used to create, store and retrieve information - words, diagrams, charts, pictures, digitised photographs, statistics, etc., - on any subject the author decides The 'stack' consists of any number of electronic 'cards'. The card is screen size and can hold graphics or text. Any of the elements of infommation on a card can be connected to any other piece of information (another card in the same stack, a separate stack or a document produced in a different application by means of 'buttons'. It is through the use of buttons that the author designs and generates the network of routes and pathways through the information system. It is possible for users to plot their own routes through a body of information based on the network of routes made available by the author of the document.
The key to HyperCard's authoring environment is 'Hypertalk'. This is a simple programming language built into the HyperCard system. HyperTalk will permit students who have little or no programming skill to design and build information systems which meet their particular needs or research requirements. In this way HyperCard can draw upon and develop the non-computing expertise of the author. It allows the studenVauthor, trained in visual image manipulation skills, to construct elaborate knowledge structwes relating to both visual and theoretical research projects.
It is now possible to use relatively inexpensive computer systems to design non-linear knowledge structures combining text and image within the one document. Hypertext is beginning to permit the introduction of such systems into education allowing students to engage in the visual mapping of specific bodies of research material. What remains is to examine carefully the real benefits of this electronic medium. Filevision, Guide and HyperCard are systems which have been the subject of the research work described in this case study. They have been examined for their appropriateness to the organising of theoretical material in art and design education. Currently numerous other examples of hypertext software - Intermedia, StrathTutor (Mayes, Kibby & Anderson 1990); Leaming Tool, Semnet, FrameMaker(King 1994); ToolBook (McKenna 1994) - are being examined by other researchers for their special authoring characteristics in the education field.
Theoretical studies departments in colleges of art and design, as with many humanities courses, usually demand that students present their ideas, and the results of their theoretical research by means of the stricti linear narrative of an essay or thesis. However, as described above, with the advent of electronic interactive documents opportunities are available for the studenVauthor to develop approaches to knowledge manipulation and presentation which can draw upon non-linear modes of thinking. The construction of documents in hypertext systems develops students' visualisation and design skills in ways that are not encountered in the conventional essay or thesis.
Following the advent of recent debates on research methodology arlsing out of the conferring of PhD awards on art and design practice the place of theory, written documentation and research presentation has become highly topical. To what extent should practical work be accompanied by text based documentation? Do models for text based research presentation in art and design have to be imported from other disciplines whose models might be inappropriate for research in the visual arts? Can research presentation models be found which are sufficiently sensitive to art and design methodologies to enable the practitioner to engage in genuine research activity while still retaining the integrity of art and design practice?
It is not the aim of the research informing this case study to suggest that hypertext provides an authoring and presentation model which answers all these questions. Nevertheless, it is an ideal that art and design research practitioners should avoid drawing upon the potentially inappropriate discourses of other disciplines and should try to develop their own discourses and presentation methodologies which arise naturally out of the discipline itself - that is, the research and presentation models should have features in common with the basic characteristics of art and design practice.
Hypertext authoring is not seen as a replacement for traditional art and design media or the standard essaythesis. However, its ability to bring together the qualities of a number of different media in one piece of work makes it exciting to students. There have been numerous instances where students who have already come to appreciate the potential of this new medium in the studio have asked if they could submit a hypertext document in place of an essay or thesis. It is evident from their work that analytical and theoretical work can be contained within hypertext, but no clearly established criteria currently exist for the assessment of such documents. Figs 1 and 2 are examples of different structural models devised by students in the production of hypertext-based essays.
It remains to be seen, as more art and design students are introduced to this new medium, whether it will indeed form a bridge between two and three dimensional image manipulation practices and the accompanying historical theoretical research components of courses. In the meantime it must be noted that the application of hypertext systems to theoretical research presentation raises some interesting problems for the assessment of students' theoretical research presentation.
Having looked at the institutional and educational context within which hypertext systems might fruitfully operate and having looked briefly at examples of available hypertext packages it remains to describe the way in which these systems might be made available to students through the devising of carefuny prepared project guidelines. The following 'Notes for Guidance' model proposes a framework within which students might adopt a hypertext based model for the production of theoretical work.
'It will be possible for students to present their research in the form of computer based structures. This will depend upon the availability of equipment and staff expertise, and on students' own understanding of the appropriate technology.
A computer-based presentation of theoretical research is not simply a matter of typing a normal thesis into a word processor and having a reader access it from the screen. There should be good reasons why the material needs to be authored and accessed electronically. There are a number of systems currently available which permit text and images to be manipulated and presented in ways which conventional print on paper does not allow. The general term 'hypertext' has been attached to such systems, several of which could be appropriate to research presentation in the art and design context.
In general terms, hypertext refers to the handling of electronic information in particular ways. The handling of information in such systems extends beyond conventional infomnation structures which employ linear narratives, lists, indexes and sequential card systems etc.
Hypertext systems do not require either the author or the user to follow predetermined structures and access routes through bodies of information. The body of data within the system can be repeatedly cross- referenced. Topics that might have relationships either for the author or the accessor can be directly connected even though in a conventional thesis they might be many pages apart. Elements of data within this type of presentation, then, become networked in such a way that fixed linear routing becomes unnecessary. The information system is 'designed' by the author in such a way that routing can be determined by the user. If the information system has been organised appropriately then multiple pathways and therefore multiple meanings can be created according to the disposition or needs of a reader. Thus, what might best be described as a three-dimensional knowledge structure is constructed allowing information to interact in an aimost fluid way, depending upon the number of links and connections which the author builds into the system.
Hypertext systems can be particularly useful where an author wishes to establish links across traditional subject and discipline boundaries. For example, when studying a period in the history of art, where reference is made to a particular philosophical theory, a user might want to examine in more detail the philosopher referred to. One hypertext link could connect the historical period to the philosopher's biographical information. This information might be located in a separate document dealing with the history of philosophy as distinct from the history of art.
Similarly, other documents might be created which describe technical details of design processes, social and political events, etc. These can be 'stand-alone' documents so far as their location within the computer system is concerned. The effort on the part of a student/author will be invested in the design of the networked structure which permits the user to become an author through the possibility of generating multiple-pathways.
Finally, it should be emphasised that preparing a body of information and building it into a hypertext system can be extremely demanding both intellectually and technically and should only be embarked upon for a research project after detailed discussion with a tutor who understands both the system and the research subiect proposed.
Although many features of hypertext authoring in an academic context are now relatively unproblematic the particular characteristics of the software throw up some interesting issues which are currently the subject of ongoing research. The capacity of hypertext as an authoring medium, to bring together graphic visualisation skills and theoretical text management skills, is well recognised particularly in the design of interactive multimedia documents. However, the traditional research thesis, as evidence of individual scholarship, assumes the establishment of a 'point of view' or an 'argument'. In other words a thesis should be a uniquely authored and logically unfolding narrative. Since Hypertext documents specialise in multiple routing and are often designed to transfer control of narratives to users, difficulties may arise when attempting to assess quality of research in hypertext documents through evidence of personal authorship. The ESRC quidelines on research thesis writing state: (my underlining)
"Although it is not possible for a student to envisage at the outset the exact form and the subdivisions of the thesis, it should be possible, once the literature survey has been completed and the primary sources have been tested, for an outline of the eventual thesis to be prepared. This outline will be a man which, at the outset, will contain only a few major landmarks. But as the detail is assembled, some lines will become more significant, and others less so. It is probable that the outline will still be visible in the final thesis but the preliminary desiqn will be overlaid by subsequently assembled data. nevertheless, the outline should never be undervalued, since it provides the basic shape." (ESRC p.9)
Clearly the guidelines refer to features of research presentation which have much in common with the material outlined in this case study. Terms such as 'map', 'design' and 'shape' are part of the vocabulary of the designer and call upon basic visualisation skills. However, the same guidelines state that:
"Whereas the function of the first draft is to solve the problems of organising and presenting evidence, the function of the second draft is to improve the clarity of expression and to ensure that the thesis as a whole has been organised as a connected argument, adequately paced and expounded." (ESRC p.12)
The thesis as a whole should be organised as a connected argument. Such a model suggests a high degree of authorial control over the reader and the designing of a logical and linear narrative thread by means of which the argument with supporting evidence is unfolded from initial aims to concluding proofs. Perhaps the presentation of the 'research thesis' demands a form of authoring which cannot be non-linear, involving multiple routing and the transferring of route selection to the reader. Alternatively, the particular characteristics of hypertext documents might be highly appropriate to other forms of research presentation where the single linear narrative is not necessarily the norm. The author's research to date has shown, however, that the management of text and image in hypertext documents is ideally suited to the visualisation and design skills of the graphic artist.
A.Dyer November 1994
ESRC The Preparation and Supervision of Research Theses in the Social Sciences Economic and Social Research Council, 1984, 1986
King, T. Authoring for distance learning. The CTISS File 17 (July 1994)
Mayes, J.T., Kibby, M. R., and Anderson A. Signposts for conceptual orientation: some requirements for learning from hypertext. In R. McAleese and C. Green, (eds), Hypertext: State of the Art. (Oxford: Intellect, 1990)
McKenna, P. A hypermedia wasteland. In Computers and Texts CTI Centre for Textual Studies & Office for Humanities Communication (Newsletter No.7: July 1994)