Power to the pupil

10th March 2000 at 00:00
Advances in computing hardware and software and the Internet and email, mean that teachers and pupils are sharing a refreshing enthusiasm for creativity. Stephen Heppell and other writers dig the new breed.

Any computer bought recently enables you to talk to people across the world, run films, record sound, edit video and images, synthesise and sequence sound. If you're lucky, you can even talk into it and see your words produced as text.

You can paint, draw and produce fonts. You can link pages and ideas with pages and ideas across the world. You can publish your work for the world. You can collaborate in real time with someone thousands of miles away. You can store books, music, sounds. You can link all these together in multimedia form. All that is impressive but still the most powerful avenue open is the enhancement of the writing process, particularly editing.

Think of film - usually the editing takes longer than the filming. Transfer that process to writing - they are not dissimilar - and you can see that editing is neglected in many classrooms. There are good reasons: it was labour intensive. In one of The Paris Review's interviews with writers, Ernest Hemingway describes how he works. He wrote the opening to a Farewell to Arms over 40 times. Hemingway, of course, depended on secretarial assistance. He would draft in pencil, pass it to his secretary who would type it up for him to work on, and then he would pass it backI The great man was working before the word processor and that technology gives everyone the freedom to change, to reflect, to rework. The modern word processor is the most creative piece of technology to be given to teachers and students. It opens up areas that were out of bounds previously, enabling us to do things that were out of reach, or were beyond the imagination.

"Writing is 50 years behind painting. I propose to apply the painters' techniques to writing things as simple and immediate as collage or montage," says Brion Gysin, an artist and friend of William Burroughs who announced his intentions some time ago. A website, http:userpage.fu-berlin.decantsingysincut-up.cgi is devoted to some of his theories. Why is writing so far behind the other arts? Joyce is still considered avant-garde, yet Ulysses was published over 70 years ago.

Hypertext and fiction looks made for use with a group of writers. One of the pioneers is Michael Joyce and you can sample his work on http:iberia.vassar.edumijoycehtexts.html. Hypertext is just another way of wandering through a text by clicking on highlighted words or phrases. It takes away the linearity of fiction. You can do moe than start at the beginning and go to the end. It is possible to do this in the latest version of Word where you can put in links to other files, or to sites on the Net. The exciting thing with hypertext is that no one has yet written a text that is good. It is a green field site. Maybe fractured narratives will never be accepted, but we shall have to wait until the hypertext Dostoyevsky has worked some multimedia magic.

Learning how to use Web publication is important. The motivation that many feel when they realise that their work has a potential audience of millions is real. Front Page Express is part of Internet Explorer and is a good free Web page package to start on.

Stagecraft Creator is a fascinating way of building new worlds. It is one of the most intriguing and creative programs to hit the hard disks for some time. It also introduces children to simulations and modelling, as well as stimulating some focused language work.

Including speech or music within a multimedia text is not only possible, but easy. Again this has vast possibilities for joint working. It will be possible for more of the talents within a group to be used in a project. It will also help to challenge the belief that creativity is the product of an individual tortured soul working in a garret. A great deal of creativity comes from teamwork. Unfortunately, our assessment procedures are not recognising that as yet. Packages such as Textease, Hyperstudio and Mediator 5 will all bring together the disparate elements of a project.

Jack Kenny is a freelance writer and head of English examiners at Edexcel


Writers' Workshop and Junior Writers' Workshop from Granada Learning

Price: pound;49 each


Inspiration from TAG Developments

Price: pound;199

Hyperstudio from TAG Developments

Price: pound;99.95


Stagecast Creator from Textease

Price: 69.95


Mediator 5

Price: pound;249



The Arrow


Garbl's Writing Process Links


Electronic Texts


Story Starters


Creativity Using Mind Mapping


Outta Ray's Head


Electronic Poetry


The Voice of the Shuttle


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