Understanding Impacts and Implementations of New Knowledge Environments

Ray Siemens, INKE Team

Full Text: VIDEO


No form of human knowledge passes into a new medium unchanged. Digital technology is fundamentally altering the way we relate to writing, reading, and the human record itself. The pace of that change has created a gap between core cultural and social practices that depend on stable reading and writing environments, and the new kinds of digital artifacts – electronic books, being just one type of many – that must sustain those practices into the future. Our project will bridge this gap by theorizing the transmission of culture in pre- and post-electronic media, by documenting the facets of how people experience information as readers and writers, by designing new kinds of interfaces and artifacts that afford readers new abilities, and by sharing those designs in online prototypes that implement new knowledge environments for researchers and the Canadian public. Some 1.1 billion people worldwide – over 231 million from North America alone – use the Internet to access and generate documents, including e-mail, books, and newspaper, magazine and journal articles (Internet World Statistics 2007). Professionals involved in producing new cultural artifacts now work primarily electronically, and the next generation of Canadians already recognizes digital media as its chief information source. Although we celebrate our adoption of the electronic medium as our predominant reading environment, we must also confront some difficult truths about our understanding of the textual materials at its core. While the use of digital reading, writing, and communicative environments is already pervasive, the digital materials that we read, write, and disseminate are in their developmental infancy. Recognizing the pressing need for practical innovation, we will integrate theory and design by building prototype electronic reading interfaces that promote active reading patterns and draw on integrated collections of supporting reading materials. In this context, the process of prototyping involves building a functional computational model of a text that embodies the results of research endeavour and making iterative modifications to that model in response to our ongoing research; by thinking through making in the best traditions of the digital humanities, we foster the vital link between the human record and the digital reader’s experience of it. Building on the SSHRC Strategic Research Cluster Development grant “Implementing the New Knowledge Machine: Human Computer Interaction and the Electronic Book” (2005/6), our program of research contributes to the essential development of new digital knowledge environments that build on the most effective textual practices of the past, and innovate based on our knowledge of readers and users in modern knowledge environments. Our team comprises leading researchers and partners in fields relating to Textual Studies, User Experience, Interface Design, and Information Management, and has already articulated a foundation for identifying the characteristics of digital textual interfaces that respond to the expectations and needs of a broad constituency of professional and lay readers. Necessarily interdisciplinary and international, and based in the humanities and social sciences, our group has already established pertinent networks, integrating research partners and stakeholders. Together, our work provides functional reading interface prototypes that have the potential to transform the way we engage with the digital materials that comprise our personal and professional reading. Our Textual Studies (TS) research responds to the need for understanding further what components of existing textual artifacts are essential to represent in new digital objects and reading devices; our User Experience (UX) research identifies characteristics of user engagement with print and digital environments; our Interface Design (ID) research focuses on extending continuous reading and scholarship involving digital environments through interface; and, through iterative processes involving all groups, our Information Management (IM) research builds prototypical digital reading interfaces that promote active reading and draw on richly integrated collections of supporting materials.


electronic textuality; digital humanities; informatics; interface; electronic publication