Throughout my 34-plus years as a teacher, my life as a writer has powerfully informed my work as a writing teacher. Often, however, my teaching of writing has lagged just behind my writer self.
For example, my two most distinct writer selves are as a poet and (for lack of better labels) as a scholar/public scholar. Despite my early urge to write short fiction and novels, my career as a writer took a much different turn once I completed my doctorate and moved to higher education.
I have a robust publishing record as an academic and blog as well as publish public work as a regular part of my daily writing life.
As a first-year writing professor, I remain deeply committed to teach more effectively writing to students, and one aspect of that has been inviting students to write on-line essays that use hyperlinks for citation and as a scaffolding process for their submitting a traditionally cited essay using APA and sources anchored with high-quality peer-reviewed journal articles.
So when I found David Theriault’s The Missing Link In Student Writing, I was inspired to examine here more fully both my process and reasoning for teaching citation, and to address my own use of hyperlinks in my poetry, much as the student assignment in Theriault’s post.
Citation as a Concept and Real-World Essays
Currently, I ask students to produce four multi-draft essays over a semester. That requirement includes a first full submission of the essay (with evidence of rough drafting), a conference with me after I provide written feedback (using Word, track changes, and comments), and then at least one revision (students are allowed to revise as often as they like until the final portfolio).
The four essay are broadly scaffolded: the first grounded in personal narrative and coming to rethink what the essay form is; the second, an on-line essay that incorporates hyperlinks for citation and images/video; the third, a scholarly essay using APA citation and format guidelines, and then the fourth, a choice essay that helps me see what students have learned about the essay form, writer choices, and audience.
Let me focus here on Essay 2.
Students, I find, come to college with a distorted concept of the essay as a form (usually something akin to the five-paragraph essay and mostly an act driven by a prompt and limited to literary analysis). Students also tend to see MLA as a universal, not discipline-based, approach to citation and essay formatting.
On-line essays using hyperlinks as citation help expand students’ awareness of form and purpose, but it also forces students to become better at evaluating on-line sources, which too often are simply banned in many classrooms. Requiring students to incorporate images or video also addresses copyright, fair use, and what counts as “text” in communication.
This on-line essay assignment allows students to focus on choosing and incorporating support and evidence without the tedium of scholarly citation formats that govern in-text citations and bibliographies.
The unique and important aspects of hyperlinking, however, offer something scholarly citing does not: stylistic concerns about what words to hyperlink (and how hyperlinking actually emphasizes words for effect) and writing in a way that assumes readers do not click the links (links are essential as evidence but the writer must write in a way that readers do not need to click the link).
The on-line essay continues my emphasis on openings and closings begun in the first essay and then transitions the students on their journey to so-called academic citation and library-based research for scholarly support for their own original writing.
As well, the on-line essay assignment affords students a wide and engaging range of mentor texts [ 1] that help build their form awareness about what sorts of essays people write: movie, book, and music reviews; analysis of current events; Op-Eds and commentary; personal essays and thought pieces; examination for the public of research from many different disciplines, etc.
One interesting aspect of my process is that many students choose to do an on-line essay for their fourth, choice essay.
Another important element of hyperlinking and asking students to focus on the unique formatting requirements of on-line text (single spacing, block paragraphing [no indents], etc.) is fostering students’ word processor skills, something they sorely lack (see Theriault’s post, which guides students through hyperlinking in a Word document).
In both the on-line and then the formal APA essay, students in my class are required to use Word effectively (margins, spacing, block quoting, paragraphing, font style and size, etc.) as well as learning how to navigate track changes and comments when they revise.
And while students often find all formatting requirements drudgery, the on-line essay and formal scholarly essay assignments help them develop their own care for submitting work as required and understanding that formatting is context-based (my samples for them are my on-line and scholarly submission files, for example).
Poetry and Hyperlinks
The process above reflects my own journey as a writer who teaches writing and how that has informed my teaching writing since I do much more public and on-line writing than traditional scholarship. Further, Theriault’s lesson asking students to incorporate hyperlinks in original poetry also overlaps with my own work as a poet.
While I mostly abandoned my pursuits as a fiction writer, I have been an active poet for over thirty years, publishing occasionally, but focusing primarily, as with my public writing, on posting my poetry through a blog.
One experiment because of that on-line medium has been incorporating hyperlinks into my poetry. A recent poem, ‘Merica (Charles Manson is dead), shows how hyperlinks can weave in current events and literary/ historical allusions.
I also often use hyperlinks in opening quotes from music, essays, and poetry as well.
The use of hyperlinks as a craft elements, then, as Theriault argues, is both a powerful and real-world aspect of writing that all students should have incorporated into their journeys as writers, and thinkers.
With any luck, hyperlinking — more elegant and immediate — will soon replace the drudgery and mind-numbing variety that academic citation poses for even the most seasoned scholar.
 Essay 2 assignment from my syllabus:
Essay 2: Compose and draft an essay of about 1250–1500 words in blog/online format (see examples below) that offers an expository or argumentative mode for a general public audience from the perspective of expertise. Incorporate images, video, or other media.
[See scholarly version: Can Superhero Comics Defeat Racism?]