Title: Computer modelling: students' use of hypermedia tools in analysing oral texts
Students in the University of Pavia specialising in English undergo a two-year course in computer-assisted text linguistics referring mainly to the characteristics of oral texts in English. The course is characterised by three phases:
LEARNING ABOUT ORAL TEXTS: interpreting a text as a unit of meaning; exploring the relationship between a text and its context of situation; understanding theme-rheme structure, information structure, mood and modality, cohesion and transitivity structures.
DESCRIBING ORAL TEXTS: using the concepts listed above in such a way as to illustrate the constraints, social and linguistic, placed on the interactants in a particular piece of discourse; the way the discourse proceeds, in particular in terms of turn-taking and next speaker selection; the changing status of the relationships between the interactants; the pattern of cause-effect relationships; changes in the shared information that occur with respect to the point of departure of the discourse.
MODELLING ORAL TEXTS IN THE FORM OF A HYPERMEDIA UNIT: deciding the balance between the presentation of a text as content (reading comprehension) and as meaning structure (text analysis); deciding the form of interaction to be adopted with the user (multiple choice or typed input); learning to exploit hypermedia's capacity to present the same text from alternative standpoints, such as a macroanalysis of an entire text as well as a microanalysis of each utterance in a text; introducing remedial pathways and so on.
Although traditional lecturing is given, the course depends heavily on the use of self-access hypermedia modules in all its three phases. During end-of-year exams, students are required to demonstrate their text analysis skills by presenting a hypermedia analysis of a text of their own choice and discussing its characteristics with the examiners. The existence of prototype models which students can imitate, and in many cases improve on, is crucial to the success of such a course. The paper describes the characteristics of one such prototype which deals with an analysis of primary school children's narrative discourse and provides some examples of the way this prototype has been re-interpreted by various students. In this way, the paper hopes to show that undergraduate students -- using the hypermedia tools and presentation techniques worked out in research carried out by the Universities of Pavia, Pisa and Trieste -- are capable of carrying out complex field experiments relating to oral discourse. Students who have decided to present such analyses as part of their graduating exam are often invited to illustrate their projects to students who are just starting the course. In this way, the motivation to achieving high standards in text analysis is further reinforced.