Marginal Syllabus Author Partnerships

This post first appeared on Remi Kalir’s blog.

“I was thrilled to do it. It gave me a ton of perspective on how to look at these things and how to think about it. And fortunately, it [participants’ annotations] will all still be there the next time I go there [the text].”

“That’s the thing with putting your work out in public. I mean, often you’re not face-to-face with them [readers] in the way you would be in [web annotation].”

– Chris Gilliard (Marginal Syllabus partner author, August, 2016)

This post discusses the importance of partner authors to the Marginal Syllabus. The Marginal Syllabus sparks and sustains educators’ interest-driven learning about equity in teaching and learning. Organized around open and collaborative web annotation conversations, this experimental approach to educator learning is rooted in public discussions that mark up and comment upon openly accessible online texts. Marginal Syllabus conversations transform digital texts into discursive contexts. In order for that transformation (and subsequent collaborative learning) to happen, a source text is needed. And a provocative source text – that is, a text generative of meaningful conversation about educational equity – doesn’t just appear out of the digital ether. It is partner authors and their texts that center a project committed to engaging ideas that are contrary to dominant education discourse (i.e. marginal counter-narratives) through participatory web annotation (i.e. commentary in the margins of texts).

Were it not for the generosity of Marginal Syllabus partner authors – authors who graciously contribute their writing for the purpose of public conversation – this so-called geeky book club would not be possible. The 2016-17 Marginal Syllabus featured 10 partner authors, such as Chris Gilliard, whose reflective quotes about his Marginal Syllabus participation opened this post. The current 2017-18 syllabus, hosted by the National Writing Project and organized to explore the theme Writing Our Civic Futures, features 12 partner authors. All 22 authors are a mix of K-12 classroom teachers, higher education faculty, educational researchers, critics, and teacher educators. Whether with a blog post or book chapter, scholarly article or critical commentary, all of the authors agreed to have their writing opened up as a forum situating public discussion via collaborative web annotation.

Before sharing the perspectives of a few partner authors, I’d like to briefly note why author partnerships matter to the Marginal Syllabus. Here are three compelling reasons why partner authors are essential for an educator learning effort whose social and technological backbone is open web annotation.

Consent: Marginal Syllabus partner authors consent to have their writing publicly annotated. The proliferation of web annotation platforms has, over the past few years, witnessed parallel and robust debate about what online texts can (and should) be annotated, how such tools are ethically used, who has the power to annotate or block annotation, and the ways in which annotation may be exercised as a form of personal abuse or political resistance. Esther Dyson’s keynote at last spring’s I Annotate conference masterfully examined tensions and opportunities associated with the relationships among annotation, ownership of content, freedom of speech, and the organizations (or, as she suggested, “moderating entities”) that are shaping these sociotechnical practices (here’s my reflection on Esther’s keynote, and I highly recommend you watch it, too). Author permission is not a requirement of web annotation and, in fact, crucial fact-checking efforts Climate Feedback and Digipo might be stymied if all web annotation required author or publisher consent. However, in our case, the consent of partner authors is a prerequisite of all Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation.

Democratizing Inquiry: Now in its second year, the Marginal Syllabus is an emergent “social design experiment.” As described by Kris Gutierrez and Shirin Vossoughi, social design experiments are design-based approaches to teacher education oriented toward both inquiry and change. In this case, the Marginal Syllabus is part public experiment in educators’ open learning and part research into how educators learn via collaborative web annotation. Multiple stakeholders are often needed to grow social design experiments as a “democratizing form of inquiry.” For the Marginal Syllabus, our multi-stakeholder partnership includes university researchers, K-12 educators and administrators, the web annotation organization, the National Writing Project, and – of course – partner authors. As Francisco Perez and I detail in a forthcoming book chapter about the Marginal Syllabus mediating educator learning across sociopolitical texts and contexts, author partnerships are critical to this social design experiment: “The Marginal Syllabus is predicated upon the need to create and maintain open learning contexts within which educators can exercise political agency through dialogue, question dominant schooling narratives, and critique inequitable educational practices.” The efforts of partner authors – both their texts and their consent – make that possible.

Open Access: Partner authors have helped to facilitate important inroads with publishers of academic content, expanding open access to both information (i.e. original texts) and conversation (i.e. annotated texts). As I noted following our recent November conversation:
The article, published earlier this year, appears in the journal Review of Research in Education; as such, openly accessing, sharing, and annotating this text meant that Marginal Syllabus organizers had to partner not only with Nicole and Antero but also with Sage Publishing, the journal’s publisher. This multi-tiered partnership (i.e. scholars as partner authors, publishers of academic content, and Marginal Syllabus organizers) is a new and exciting aspect of the Marginal Syllabus that suggests important inroads for curating public learning opportunities that open access to knowledge.

To date, author partnerships have helped the Marginal Syllabus open up for public annotation scholarship published by Corwin, NYU Press, Teachers College Press, Sage, the National Council of Teachers of English, WW Norton, and Heinemann. While facilitating more open access to academic content wasn’t an intended goal of the Marginal Syllabus, such outcomes are very promising and we are most appreciative of these publishers’ flexibility and commitments to accessibility.

Even when already published, obtaining consent to annotate scholarship – and, in particular, scholarship related to educational equity – matters. Moreover, creating democratizing forms of inquiry about educator learning – and doing so in partnership with scholars vested in fostering transformative approaches to teacher education – matters. And opening access to annotatable scholarship – scholarship previously published behind a paywall, or scholarship published in a digital form preventing annotation – also matters for creating a more equitable and participatory intellectual commons. For the Marginal Syllabus, author partnerships help to make all of this happen.

Having sketched out a few reasons why author partnerships are critical to the Marginal Syllabus, let’s hear from a few partner authors. The following three perspectives are presented chronologically, include a bit of context, and are followed by a thank you to all Marginal Syllabus partner authors who have contributed to this project.

Liana Gamber-Thompson (April, 2017)

Last April, Liana Gamber-Thompson helped to broker a connection with the team of researchers responsible for co-authoring By any media necessary: The new youth activism (including Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Arely Zimmerman, and Liana). Our Marginal Syllabus conversation focused upon Sangita’s chapter “Between storytelling and surveillance: The precarious public of American Muslim youth.” Then this past August, and in anticipation of launching the 2017-18 Marginal Syllabus, Liana subsequently participated in a National Writing Project Radio podcast and shared the following (from the 28-minute mark, and lightly edited for clarity):

“As a co-author, you don’t always know how people are going to react to your book outside of formal book reviews or in academic journals or elsewhere. So it was really fascinating and wonderful to see people’s first impressions and thinking as they read the chapter. And also to really engage with them, to read and think with and alongside readers… it was such a valuable experience for us. And it’s been a few years since we did the research, so it enabled us to really come back to it with fresh sets of eyes and think about how the current context applies, apply current events to the topic, too. I feel like it was such a valuable experience for me as a co-author, but also to see all of the learnings that emerged full from the annotation… how it pulled out findings that were really unexpected but really valuable moving forward.”
Nicole Mirra (November, 2017)
In November, we read and annotated Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia’s article Civic participation reimagined: Youth interrogation and innovation in the multimodal public sphere.” In addition to sharing her scholarship and participating in a related webinar, Nicole also wrote a blog post for DML Central titled “Fostering democratic dialogue with digital annotation.” Among Nicole’s reflective observations, she shares a number of key insights about her participation as a partner author:
  • “I was struck by the ease with which annotation fostered productive conversations between individuals who soon became collaborators.”
  • “I enjoyed the experience of seeing my work challenged because it helped me to clarify my arguments and consider how I might present my claims differently moving forward.”
  • “This experience makes me long for a future (one I hope is not too far off) in which annotation becomes more prevalent across the academic community as a catalyst for public conversation. I see this process as teaching and learning made visible.”
Linda Christensen (December, 2017)
The recent December conversation occurred in the margins of Linda Christensen’s article “Critical literacy and our students’ lives.” Whereas both Liana and Nicole used various public media (i.e. podcast, blog post) to reflect upon their involvement as partner authors, Linda has been distinctively present in the ongoing annotation conversation of her article. To date, Linda has contributed 16 replies (among the 139 total annotations) to nine different text-participants (of the 19 total participants). Some of Linda’s replies are pithy and humorous (“When I grow up, I want to learn to add these cool images” and “Tonight’s homework“), others are paragraphs in length and discuss exploding the literacy canon because of excluded voices, #MeToo and breaking codes of silence through literacy education, and the importance of students as intellectuals. Linda’s annotations have also included linked resources and, in one reply that expands upon a “read around” activity discussed in her article, an additional example of student writing.


And prior to our public annotation conversation, Linda also participated in a related webinar which featured a great exchange about the challenges of “writing in silence” and how public web annotation is a means of providing feedback to such “resounding silence” in order to improve effective communication – watch her response here.

Thank You

Marginal Syllabus organizers are thankful for the involvement of the following partner authors (listed in order of their participation). Your texts have created expansive and experimental contexts for educator professional learning grounded in both the sociopolitical complexities of education and new expressions of media practice.

2016-17 Marginal Syllabus: Chris Gilliard, Mia Zamora, Antero Garcia, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, Helen Beetham, Dawn Reed, Troy Hicks, Christopher Emdin, Sangita Shresthova (and the entire By any media necessary team), and Bronwyn Clare LaMay.

2017-18 Marginal Syllabus: Henry Jenkins, Nicole Mirra, Antero Garcia, Linda Christensen, Danielle Allen, Joseph Kahne, Benjamin Bowyer, April Baker-Bell, Raven Jones Stanbrough, Sakeena Everett, Erica Hodgin, and Steven Zemelman.

Leave a Reply