In some of my courses, I have begun to integrate the free web annotation tool Hypothesis. Free to use, students all mark up and highlight the same document. In doing so, students engage more with the text, and each other. This is a paradigm shift from approaches that are typically used in learning management systems such as Canvas; rather than read an article and then reply to a prompt in a discussion board, students can converse and reply right on the document itself.
I first learned about social annotation by following the work of friend and colleague Dr. Jeremiah (Remi) Kalir, assistant professor of Learning Design and Technology at the University of Colorado Denver. Kalir coauthored the new book Annotation with Antero Garcia on the history and current practice of social annotation. In fact, the practice is ancient, dating back to a long history of people scribbling in the margins of books. We see this from family cookbooks to medieval European texts. Fast-forward to today where there are several tools that enable anyone to socially and collaboratively annotate the web.
Hypothesis is Kalir’s tool of choice. It is free, and truly open (open source, open code). What’s more, it is multimodal: aside from highlighting text and leaving digital sticky notes, students and educators can respond with YouTube videos, GIFs, or emojis. There are also ways to fully integrate Hypothesis into Canvas, as well as other tools.
To get started, I recommend having students first annotate your course syllabus. Using the free Hypothesis tool DocDrop, any PDF -- your syllabus, an article you are using for your course -- can be dragged in, thus creating a unique link for your students. You can make the document public or private, sharing a simple password with students.
In addition to annotating documents, any website can be marked up as well. Hypothesis can be added as a Chrome browser extension, enabling anyone, anywhere to annotate a website.
Having students annotate a syllabus is a low-stakes way to scaffold its use later in courses. Once students grow accustomed, consider inviting the author of articles to engage in discussions. This past fall I invited Annotation coauthor Garcia to respond to questions as well as to annotate “Dear Future President of the United States”: Analyzing Youth Civic Writing Within the 2016 Letters to the Next President Project, an article he cowrote that was published in SAGE, and with AERA.
Having authors as guest annotators piqued student interest, and created an engaging and unique conversation, much more than had this been linked on a discussion board. After having students collaboratively annotate, Crowdlaaers, a free analytic tool, or “crowd layers” dashboard where educators and researchers can track activity.
To learn more on having students annotate syllabi, check out Kalir’s blog post, Annotate Your Syllabus 2.0.