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Virginia Journal of Education


Twenty-First Century Authoring Tools

by Glen Bull

At the dawn of the graphical computing age, Bill Atkinson, a member of the original Macintosh development team, created a paint program for the Macintosh, called MacPaint, which allowed anyone to create art on a computer. Atkinson subsequently developed HyperCard, a graphical authoring tool for the Macintosh, based on the metaphor of a deck of note cards. Buttons could be created to move users from one card to another via hyperlinks. HyperCard supported integration of pictures, audio and video and was used to create applications that ranged from games to scientific data tools to educational reports.

Apple provided a copy of HyperCard on every Macintosh computer when it was introduced. It was widely used in schools, allowing individuals to become programmers and hypermedia authors. With the advent of the World Wide Web, attention shifted away from desktop applications to cloud-based information links.

The Web became increasingly complex as standards such as cascading style sheets were implemented. The range of capabilities increased greatly at the same time that these capabilities became more inaccessible to the average user without specialized technical expertise. Social media such as Facebook pages now allow ordinary users to post information on the Web without special expertise. Facebook and platforms like it are effective in meeting the social needs of users; however, these platforms were not designed as learning tools in the same way that HyperCard was.

HyperCard is no longer available and no longer runs on today’s Macintosh computers. However, another developer, Roger Wagner, has created an authoring tool that incorporates the best characteristics of HyperCard, updated for the 21st century. HyperStudio is a cross-platform tool that runs on both PCs and Macintoshes. It has many of HyperCard’s capabilities, but the most recent version of HyperStudio is Web-aware. For example, the link on one card not only can link to other cards within the HyperStudio stack, it can also link to a page in Google maps, or a view in Google Earth.

A Tool for Creativity and Innovation
HyperStudio can be used to create a podcast or a digital story. A HyperStudio stack can be published on the Web or exported as a movie. A folder of images can be dragged into HyperStudio to instantly create a stack of hyperlinked cards. When images are downloaded from the Web, attribution information is incorporated into the card containing the image.
This blending of the original metaphor underlying HyperCard with the power of the Web provides a powerful tool for creativity and innovation. It enables students to create projects ranging from a hyperlinked graphic novel to a jigsaw puzzle with drag-able objects.

A typical development cycle might consist of aggregation of resources that are dragged from Web pages onto a HyperStudio stack. These Web pages can be hyperlinked to create a product that can be used either as a stand-alone application on the desktop or published to the Web. For example, a sample stack on the solar system provides a card for each planet. An illustration of this example can be viewed at

The images used to create the hyperstack were transferred from NASA’s “Welcome to the Planets” website. Additional information was gathered from a variety of sources for planetary profiles. The completed stack includes hyperlinks back to the original Web pages from which the information was drawn, along with attributions where appropriate. The completed project can be published on the Web where it can be accessed through a browser, or exported to YouTube or to a smart phone as a movie.

Low Threshold, High Ceiling
HyperStudio is a tool with a very low threshold that anyone can begin using almost immediately, but also is capable of surprisingly sophisticated development. David Thornburg, another educational technology pioneer, is using HyperStudio for management and control of his Educational Holodeck as well as for iPad development.

The result is a technology tool that combines many of the best of past and future worlds. For example, Wagner suggests a account to shorten the urls to HyperStudio stacks published on the Web. These shortened links can then be placed in Twitter – and can be used to track how many people go to the project page, and where they are located around the globe. Placing a “Re-Tweet” on a HyperStudio card allows others to also re-tweet the links.

A trial version of HyperStudio can be obtained from It offers a way of accessing sophisticated Web and social media features with a low threshold that makes it possible to begin developing projects almost immediately. It provides schools and teachers who have limited time with a useful tool for creativity and innovation.

Bull is co-director of the Center for Technology and Teacher Education in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. He may be reached at


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