Marginal Syllabus as OER and OEP

Yesterday, thanks to authors Dawn Reed and Troy Hicks, we launched the sixth Marginal Syllabus monthly flash mob via our emerging model of public and collaborative web annotation-as-conversation. We’re now more than halfway through the academic year, and as a Marginal Syllabus organizer I’ve been thinking a lot about how this experiment in equity-oriented, publicly networked, and interest-driven educator learning relates to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). This post is a rough attempt to connect dots by addressing the following question: How are everyday digital spaces transformed into open learning environments, and what might this look like for educator learning?

My motivation to explore the Marginal Syllabus as both OER and OEP can be traced, most immediately, to a few influences. First, I recently read Leo Havemann’s chapter “Open Educational Resources,” which will appear in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (here’s the preprint).

This brief and easy-to-digest encyclopedia entry traces the history of educational openness, defines OER and summarizes pertinent debates in policy and practice, and includes an important discussion of OEP as a means of shifting from static (and presumed to be freely available) “resources” toward the messier (and – here’s my bias – more organic and transformative) efforts “to open educational spaces, or open other spaces for education.” Havemann concludes by suggesting: “Openness in education is not a movement for the emancipation of resources, but of people and practice.” This is a great piece and useful foundation for practitioners and scholars alike who appreciate both historical perspective and conceptual clarity. Moreover, Havemann’s analysis helps to frame the Marginal Syllabus as a dynamic OER – a curated document of texts, and texts which contain layers of conversation. And as the Marginal Syllabus grows from month-to-month, dialogical and intertextual conversation using the web annotation platform Hypothesis evidences OEP that open these curated texts as educational spaces.

The second influence motivating this exploration of the Marginal Syllabus as OER and OEP is an emergent collaboration also opening new educational spaces and spaces for education. January’s Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation was organized in partnership with Christina Cantrill, Associate Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. In addition to wearing her NWP hat, Christina teaches ED677 Seeking Equity in Connected Learning and Teaching at Arcadia University for preservice and in-service educators. Whereas the first five Marginal Syllabus conversations partnered with authors to discuss their texts (and so, too, yesterday with Dawn and Troy), in January we partnered with Christina and her course to read an excerpt from John Dewey’s The School and Society. Christina recently wrote about her course design and decision-making processes that led to our collaboration, and it’s illustrative to quote at length:

In the past I asked everyone to engage in recent work by John Seely Brown and the authors of the Connected Learning Design and Research Agenda while also reading the first chapter of School and Society by John Dewey, a publication of lectures he gave at the turn of the 20th century.

In the past, the Dewey piece has got short shrift from participants in my class and I kept wondering about it – maybe it was less interesting or relevant than I think it is when I read it. So I read it again. No, I decided – this article, despite a few archaic words and gendered descriptions, is still interesting and relevant today, 100+ years later. And JSB, in his 2012 keynote, directly challenges us to tackle Dewey’s ideas in the context of flowing on the tides of change today. So I decided to try something new this time around…

That “something new” was pairing both instructor facilitation and students’ social reading with participation in January’s Marginal Syllabus flash mob. In a distinctive pedagogical move embracing openly networked collaboration, Christina aligned formal course work (something that may be solitary and private) with the less formal – and rather improvisational – public activities of a conversation mediated by web annotation. As much as the Marginal Syllabus values partnership with authors to seed conversation, this decision emphasized the importance of partnering an emergent OEP collective with ED677’s established community of practice.

Because ED677 encourages public blogging, it’s possible to share some of Christina’s students’ reflections on their Marginal Syllabus participation. And in sharing their thoughts, let’s recall that these learners are themselves preservice and in-service educators; as such, their responses directly concern how everyday digital spaces can be transformed into open learning environments, and what this might look like in support of educator learning.

On the differences between independent and social reading:

Typically, in my online graduate classes, my study is conducted independently or through interaction with the teacher. The marginal syllabus allowed me to follow the thinking process of my classmates as they read an article and therefore broadened my own learning experience as I read.

On peer-to-peer exchange:

This method allows for a wonderfully free exchange of ideas and information, where future educators like myself can learn from each other.

On annotation as a teaching method:

I have already shared our annotating activity with my colleagues and I have decided to try to use it in my classroom… annotation is another skill that I would like my students to acquire, so when I introduce Romero Britto this week, I am going to require my students to create a Hypothes.is account to annotate the reading.

On pacing and thoughtfulness during the flash mob:

I initially anticipated that the annotation flash mob would resemble a Twitter chat… While I find these types of exchanges to be valuable and exciting, they can also sometimes stress me out. So many people respond to questions and prompts at once that the experience can feel a little overwhelming. It was to my pleasant surprise, then, that I was able to annotate through the Marginal Syllabus event at my own pace. I felt no pressure to rush through comments or responses. Rather, I was able to carefully construct my thoughts before sharing them.

And on active contributions to communal learning:

My appreciation for online annotation has grown significantly.  I LOVE the fact that I can read an article first then click annotations on so that I get insight into what sparked other readers’ interest.  I read through everyone’s annotations and felt as if I was in an actual class discussion of the text.  Leaving my own responses to other readers’ questions made me feel like I was not just passively learning but actively contributing to the understanding.  I had a definite feel of belonging to a group of communal learners.

These are powerful reflections and indicate generative learning opportunities associated with open and collaborative web annotation. Furthermore, the testimonials may be useful evidence for other educators and designers who are interested in open education and open pedagogy, and in particular the types of OER and OEP that usefully support such approaches to online and digitally mediated learning.

Perhaps because of these students’ enthusiasm and satisfaction, Christina made a second distinctive instructional decision. In the weeks following January’s flash mob, she encouraged her ED677 students to read and contribute to the Marginal Syllabus’ October text by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This marks the first time that a group has taken advantage of the curated feature of this syllabus and re/turned to a previous text to reinvigorate those layers of conversation. As this took place, I shared a few comments on Twitter about why this was notable:

I hope other educators follow Christina and ED677’s lead, and find useful perspectives and learning opportunities layered among the many texts and conversations curated within the Marginal Syllabus.

The Marginal Syllabus is both a OER and a source of OEP because some online platforms are particularly well-suited for architecting the technical and social conditions of collaborative and open learning. In this regard, the web annotation platform Hypothesis is an exemplar. Collaborative web annotation affords a repertoire of OEP, and the social practices afforded by collaborative web annotation have the potential to transform static online texts – whether news media or scholarship – into dynamic OER. As such, web annotation is a promising means for creating more open – and participatory – educational spaces, and the Marginal Syllabus’ advocacy and modeling of collaborative annotation-as-conversation is opening documents as new educational spaces for learning.

A New Year, a Few Thoughts, and More Conversation

The Marginal Syllabus is moving into 2017 building upon a successful and meaningful first semester during the fall of 2016. Throughout the 2016-17 academic school year, the Marginal Syllabus aims to foster a participatory and open experiment in educator professional development through critical conversations about education and equity. The Marginal Syllabus primarily does so by convening monthly web annotation flash mobs. These flash mob conversations use the annotation platform Hypothes.is to provoke interest-driven discourse among educators and the authors of consequential and equity-oriented texts. This past fall we discussed digital redlining and information accessibility with Chris Gilliard (in August), curriculum design in a “writing race” course with Mia Zamora (September), critical and culturally proactive literacy education from Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s book Pose, Wobble, Flow (October), and the politics and contradictions of educational technology with Helen Beetham (November).

The next Marginal Syllabus conversation will occur this Wednesday, January 25th at 6p ET/4p MT/3p PT with Christina Cantrill, Associate Director of National Programs for the National Writing Project. Join Christina – and some of participants in her ED677 course at Arcadia University – in discussing via annotation the first chapter from John Dewey’s classic book The School and Society. Visit our resources for additional information, including directions for using the Hypothes.is platform and joining the public conversation. And in the coming months, anticipate additional updates about our developing collaborations with the National Writing Project and other NWP-affiliated authors.

As much as we’re excited about moving forward into 2017, the remainder of this post looks back at what happened during 2016. The following table provides some additional context and descriptive statistics that help to summarize Marginal Syllabus activity from this past fall. The table was put together over a month ago, in early December, so the total number of participants and annotations may have increased just a bit (such is the case with Helen’s post Ed Tech and the Circus of Unreason). Nonetheless, a few notable trends emerge from this data and provide useful reminders about the ongoing design and facilitation of Marginal Syllabus conversations via annotation flash mobs.

First, participation gets stretched over time. The term “flash mob,” by definition, connotes intense activity over a short period of time. In one sense, Marginal Syllabus annotation flash mobs echo related approaches to educator interest-driven and openly networked professional learning, such as Twitter chats (which occur at a designated time, last about an hour, and are facilitated following a set question-and-answer structure).

The activity of an annotation flash mob has also occurred for about an hour… kind of, but also not so much. Unlike a Twitter chat, participants have conversed based upon their availability, regularly annotating a text, interacting with the text’s authors and other readers, and receiving replies both prior to and after the designated flash mob. As noted above, sustained activity typically gets stretched across at least a few days (August seems to be an outlier, at least at this point). Given that annotation-as-conversation is anchored in an easily referenced source text (unlike the more ephemeral threads of a Twitter chat), our team is learning an important lesson about social annotation – such activity has blurred beginnings, remains open-ended, and there is no hard start and stop. To test a playful analogy, the Marginal Syllabus creates both the temporal conditions for a scrimmage (that is, people playing together at the same time) as well as the field upon which activity occurs (that is, the playground where people show up to play at varied and different times).

A second trend: We have had, on average, about a dozen participants each month, including k-12 educators and administrators, higher education professionals, graduate students, non-profit leaders, and others. With groups of this size regularly participating, focal texts tend to get pretty saturated with annotations and replies. This raises some interesting questions about facilitation, as well as what might occur over the coming months. What if closer to 20 people participated regularly, would that overwhelm the text and create too many incoherent conversational threads? On a related technical note, a big thanks to Hypothes.is for the recent updates feature which really helps people to manage the flow of information during a live event like our flash mobs. And what if our participation numbers grow to the point where a flash mob structure creates more noise than signal? In that case, perhaps we might shift to an “annotathon” approach that can be scheduled over multiple days, as modeled by Maha Bali and Nadine Aboulmagd during a recent annotation conversation grounded in Maha’s text about digital literacies. These are but a few questions, among many, that have emerged as a result of our ongoing activity. Perhaps regular participants might raise other questions you care to see our organizing team address – our thanks in advance.

And finally, something else that happened at the tail end of 2016: A conversation between Remi Kalir and Jeremy Dean about Web Annotation as Conversation and Interruption for the Journal of Media Practice. It wasn’t too surprising to see some regular Marginal Syllabus participants jump into that conversation, too, and our thanks for growing an important exploration of web annotation as disruptive media.

Annotation: Toward Resistance and Solidarity

An update on Marginal Syllabus activities is long overdue. Here are a few thoughts about what this emergent experiment in informal educator learning has done, where it may be going, and what some of us are thinking – particularly in a post-election context that demands critical thinking, resistance, solidarity, and activism. As a complement to this post, please read Joe Dillon’s rough thinking about annotation and online activism (Joe is a Marginal Syllabus organizer).

What has the Marginal Syllabus accomplished over the past three months?

The Marginal Syllabus has begun to:

  • Establish a community of practice that is driven by interest and curiosity;
  • Curate public conversations about education and equity that are grounded in texts and guided by experts; and
  • Leverage an open online platform (Hypothesis) and the social practices of collaborative web annotation as a sociotechnical learning environment for educators’ informal professional development.

Monthly annotation “flash mobs” are a hallmark of the Marginal Syllabus. These flash mobs are interest-driven conversations with educators and authors about issues of equity in teaching, learning, and education. For the past three months we’ve partnered with authors who are advancing necessary and critical conversations about digital redlining, emergent design, and critical literacy (these links will automatically open Hypothesis so that you can read – and join! – conversation in the text margins). Our thanks to the authors of these texts – Chris Gilliard, Mia Zamora, Antero Garcia, and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. Moreover, during our August and September flash mobs, Chris and Mia joined in real time, providing a distinctive opportunity to converse with authors via annotation. We have had, on average, 12 people participate in each flash mob, including classroom teachers and university professors, school administrators and graduate students.

Regarding these flash mobs, we are excited to announce our November author and text! We’ll be reading and annotating Helen Beetham’s blog post Ed Tech and the Circus of Unreason on Wednesday, November 30th at 6p ET (Helen has graciously agreed to join us at 11p GMT – thank you!). Helen is an education consultant, writer, researcher and commentator whose work concerns digital capability, digital citizenship and digital wellbeing, the learning experience, and curriculum design. Prior to our next flash mob please visit Helen’s site and follow her on Twitter (@helenbeetham). And thanks Britni Brown O’Donnell for suggesting that we read Helen’s post and for making an initial introduction.

Where – and how – might the Marginal Syllabus expand?

In spite of our accomplishments, the Marginal Syllabus remains somewhat centralized. Of course it’s important to have a hub. And – by design – this site offers a curated and growing set of resources for others to access, learn from, and share. On the other hand, it is necessary to always question the organization and leadership of these conversations. As noted on our home page, this project draws inspiration from, and seeks to encourage, what bell hooks calls “the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”

So yes, monthly flash mobs will continue throughout this academic year. Please send our small organizing team your text suggestions, connect us with provocative authors, and challenge our blind spots and assumptions about the types of public conversations that are necessary in this historic moment. And yet, we also need to encourage new social and technical practices that are more distributed and divergent.

What might this look like? It may be reasonable to assume that if you have participated in a previous annotation flash mob, that if you are reading this post, and/or that if you are interested in public and creative acts of resistance and solidarity, then you may be inclined to read and annotate other texts of social and political importance. In the wake of the presidential election, perhaps you want to read and annotate:

Whatever you may chose to read, if you annotate a text with Hypothesis you are invited to include the tag marginalsyllabus. That’s marginalsyllabus (all one word), with no # (as when tagging something on Twitter). If needed, here is a tutorial on how to add a Hypothesis tag to an annotation. As an example, check out how the educator Kris Shaffer and his students have publicly annotated Edward R. Murrow’s famous “wires and lights in a box” speech, including the tag marginalsyllabus in many of their annotations (thanks Kris and students!).

Why include the tag marginalsyllabus when publicly annotating a text with Hypothesis? In the coming days we are going to update this site with a public aggregator that will pull together all annotations tagged with marginalsyllabus into an easy-to-read feed. Right now it is possible to visit the Hypothesis stream and filter by the tag marginalsyllabus. However, we’re going to create something like this “latest activity” feed that will feature information about who is publicly annotating with the tag marginalsyllabus, what text they are reading and annotating (with a link to the text), and the content of both the annotated selection and the annotation. We hope this encourages people to:

  • Annotate any text that they deem to be important, knowing that tagged annotations will subsequently appear in an aggregated feed;
  • Visit the feed to learn about other texts that people are reading and annotating with the marginalsyllabus tag;
  • Jump off to other texts that have been annotated and tagged as part of the growing marginalsyllabus; and
  • Expand conversation in the margins of multiple texts about divergent topics, concerns, and curiosities.

Stay tuned for updates, and please send feedback (or add atop this post via Hypothesis!). Reading and writing has long served as forms of creative resistance and solidarity. Let’s add public and collaborative web annotation to the mix. Do take care.

– Remi

How to Join an Annotation Conversation

This brief post describes how to join an annotation flash mob using the platform Hypothesis.

If you are new to open web annotation and want to join Hypothesis:

  1. Use Google Chrome as your browser
  2. Visit Hypothesis and select the red “Get Started” button (mid-page)
  3. When prompted, select “Add Extension”
  4. Follow instructions in the newly opened tab – create a username and password, and voila!
  5. Also, at hypothes.is/welcome note how to toggle the annotation menu via a button in Chrome’s location bar, as well as the different types of annotation you can add to a text – including page notes, highlights, comments, and replies to annotations.

Complementing these steps, Hypothesis’ Quick Start Guide for Teachers is also quite helpful (and highly recommended as many people participating in The Marginal Syllabus are likely educators). You can also add links, images, and videos to your annotation.

While participating in a public annotation flash mob associated with The Marginal Syllabus, you are encouraged to tag your annotation marginalsyllabus (there is an area beneath the annotation editor to “Add tags…”).

And if you want to follow along without installing Hypothesis, then you can use a “via” proxy link to access a given webpage or text. Here’s the via proxy link for Chris Gilliard’s piece that we will be annotating on Wednesday, 8/31 at 6:30p EST.

Finally, it is very likely that Hypothesis annotation during a flash mob will spill over into other public forums, such as Twitter. Twitter conversations such as #digped, #connectedlearning, and #techquity are very likely appropriate hashtags to share and grow the conversation. And perhaps #marginalsyllabus will appear, too!

Introducing The Marginal Syllabus

I always enjoy the start of a new school year; it’s an exciting transition, a time to play with new ideas, launch projects, and (most importantly!) collaborate with – and learn from – other people. This year, I’m excited to help organize and facilitate The Marginal Syllabus in partnership with colleagues from Hypothesis and Aurora Public Schools.

Why this project? There are many reasons to create and curate an open and participatory space for educator professional development that (re)marks upon education and equity. There are also many people and influences who have helped create the conditions for us to plant this seed.

  • Educators like Paul Allison, and efforts like Youth Voices and Letters to the Next President 2.0, have helped lead creative and critical conversations via social reading and writing, many of which leverage web annotation tools.
  • Designers, educators, and scholars – all learners! – are regularly using web annotation platforms like Hypothesis to deepen equity-oriented conversation about, for example, the openness and ownership of school work, whose voices are included and listened to when designing learning, and how to define and critique disciplinary commitments.
  • Among some critical education communities, such as the Digital Pedagogy Lab (#digped), there is ongoing interest about – and commitment to – the ways in which our digital tools and practices support professional development in service of more inclusive and equitable learning.
  • In my own teaching, I have been experimenting with annotation flash mobs as a means to spontaneously – perhaps even playfully – leverage in/formal networks for more open-ended, connected, and interest-driven learning. Here’s one reflection on an annotation flash mob about online teaching and learning from this past spring.
  • Regularly scheduled Twitter chats have become an indelible staple of educators’ interest-driven professional learning. Yet the scale and speed of certain chats, alongside notable limitations of Twitter as a platform, have motivated some to consider other approaches to multimodal and networked conversation. The affordance of web annotation to ground such conversation in the margins of a shared text – and to also include text authors in the layered discourse – is a promising avenue to explore. Hence our approach to monthly annotation flash mobs.

In many respects, The Marginal Syllabus is a blank canvas anticipating unknown brushstrokes and emergent brilliance over the coming days and months. Most immediately, my thanks to Chris Gilliard for joining as our inaugural author. We’ll be reading and annotating Chris’ co-authored piece Digital Redlining, Access, and Privacy via Common Sense Education. You can learn more about Hypothesis, web annotation, and annotation flash mobs in our Resources section – we hope to learn with you this coming Wednesday!

– Remi