One challenge of General Education is that of finding ways to develop student interest in and enthusiasm for reading written texts or critically viewing visual texts. Yet too often educators have presented students with texts that supposedly are the unquestioned product of some notion of sacred genius, and students have been treated as if they are merely the passive receptacles for knowledge. Recent developments in philosophy, cognition, poststructuralist theory, and pedagogy suggest otherwise. We feel that our students benefit when they approach cultural texts as co-creators of meaning rather than passive hampers for unmediated "truths" that reside in the text.

In order to involve students as active readers/viewers, we also need to question assumptions about form that can be limiting. In particular, we question the persistence of the linear plot as the only or the primary vehicle for narrative in writing or the visual arts. As the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky observed: "Writing which links images through the linear, rigidly logical development of plot . . . usually involves arbitrarily forcing them into sequence in obedience with some abstract notion of order. And even when this is not so, even when the plot is governed by characters, one finds that the links which hold it together rest of a facile interpretation of life's complexities".

CHAOSity questions this "linear, rigidly logical development of plot" and the "facile interpretation of life's complexities" that strict adherence to linearity - what author Carole Maso calls "the tyranny of narrative" - can imply. Ideally, Maso suggests, works of art and literary texts can allow room and time for everything. This will include missteps, mistakes, speaking out of turn. Amendments, erasures, illusions. The creation of a kind of original space."

We were also intrigued about whether the increasing pervasiveness of the Web (in particular the nonlinear information experience it can afford) may be changing how readers "read," and perhaps increasing their level of comfort "reading" nonlinear narratives.

CHAOSity began with analysis of existing works and theory, and ended with the creation of a collaborative, original cultural work that involves individual readers as co-creators. The resulting multi-threaded story, told in text, animation, images and sound, permits both linear and nonlinear reading. We are developing a way to track the navigational choices made by individual readers, which will permit us to investigate how student learning styles work in an empirical setting, and how readers exhibit their learning styles through their choices. Our readers can create a distinct textual experience each time they navigate the story on their own terms, with their active participation in the "amendments, erasures, illusions," and to create a kind of "original space" in their individual constructions. CHAOSity allows readers to inhabit the space and to make it their own. By creating a visual and written text that invites and provides for active participation and co-creation, we hope to empower students to become more interested, informed, and enthusiastic readers, writers, and artists.


Niki Nolin - Karen Osborne - Wade Roberts - Maureen Seaton Art Humanities Grant Summer 2000 Sponsored by the office of the Provost/Academic Dean, Dr. Samuel A. Floyd Columbia College Chicago.